Showing posts with label meretz. Show all posts
Showing posts with label meretz. Show all posts

Sunday, February 7, 2021

February 2021: Covid Update, Election Preview and...

We didn't have Groundhog Day in Israel but we had "Tu Be'Shvat" about a week ago - where we marked the "New Year of the Trees."  People plant trees, eat a variety of dried fruits and, of course, have a bit of wine, to mark this minor holiday, which has made a major comeback in Jewish life since the founding of the State of  Israel in 1948.  Many synagogues and even some  secular organizations hold variants of a Tu B'Shvat Seder - a meal during which a variety of different fruits are eaten, a variety of wines are consumed and there is lots of discussion about the environment as well as other contemporary Israeli issues.  I actually attended two different Zoom events with participants from all over the  world.  A different way to celebrate than most years.   But a nice holiday concept.

So here we are in February 2021, and I thought I would cover a few different topics, which will be familiar to the readers of this blog.  I'll try and think of a few different things to add at the end.

Covid-19 Developments

This type of update could probably take up a whole blog but I will try to keep it relatively short.   As you may know, Israel has been vaccinating its residents at a blazing pace (compared to many other countries).  At its peak, the inoculation rate was up to about 200,000 shots a day.  For a population of 9.5 million, that is a very promising rate.

In fact, Prime Minister Netanyahu held a press conference about a month ago, where he promised Israelis that they would all be able to get  together with their extended families for Passover Seders in person this year.

In the  meantime, however, he warned that the virus was spreading at an alarming rate and the country needed a full shutdown.  So Israeli instituted a lockdown including a shutdown of the airport until the vaccination program could be closer to completion.

Weeks later, the virus is still spreading in Israel at an extraordinary rate.  54 people died over the weekend.  It is hard to project when things will really improve.  Experts are predicting that Netanyahu's Passover promise will not likely come to fruition and it may be a second consecutive year of Zoom Seders.  We will soon start to cook the virtual brisket.

According to some studies, the vaccinations are dramatically reducing the rate of infections for people over 60, of whom approximately 75% have been vaccinated.  But the virus is spreading rapidly among younger people, especially some of the mutated  versions of it.

On the good  news side, the Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv reported that it had developed a treatment that was successful in treating 29 of 31 seriously ill patients.  The hospital has requested approval to roll  out a wider test group and is confident that this relatively inexpensive treatment may be a very positive development.

At the same time, as the rate of vaccination continues to increase, Israel expects that the infection rate will begin to drop dramatically. It remains to be seen how long it will take to approach herd immunity or anything close to it.  Some commentators have estimated that it may not be until June or July 2021, even with the high rate of vaccination.

Despite all of this, including the high infection rate as of the time of writing, the government is reopening a  significant  part of the economy today - including many stores, hair salons, take out restaurants (up until now it was delivery only), and many schools.  There is an anticipation that there will be an increased infection rate over the coming weeks though the government is hoping that the vaccination rate will offset that.  I guess we may still wind up with a 4th closure.

Political Developments

As you might know, Israel has an election scheduled for March 23, 2021, the 4th election in the past 2 1/2 years.  This past Thursday was the deadline for the official entry of parties and  their respective slates.  A few newly formed  parties dropped out and there was also an amalgamation.  As of now, there are 14 different parties running.

The largest party is still Netanyahu's governing "Likud" party, a right wing nationalist party that is running at estimates of between 28 and 32 seats in the 120 seat Knesset.  There are also two ultra-orthodox parties that will almost certainly support  Netanyahu and they are estimated at having between 13 and 16 seats.  There is a newly merged ultra-right nationalist party running that is polling at between 0 and 5 seats.  It could be zero because the cut-off is 4 seats.  If a party  winds up with less than 3.5% of the popular vote, it does not make it into the Knesset and its votes are dispersed proportionately.  Netanyahu is hoping that this "Otzma-Noam" coalition makes it into the Knesset, since it would almost certainly support him.  So in this "Pro-Netanyahu" camp, early predictions put his potential coalition at between 41 and 53.  There are still more than 6 weeks to go, so a great deal can change.

Of course, Netanyahu would still need between 8 and 20 seats to put together a  coalition based on these numbers.  Where would that come from?  There are two more  right wing parties.

"Yamina" is a right wing party led by Naftali Bennett.  Yamina has been trying to outflank Netanyahu on the right.  It is crowded territory since it is also occupied by two other parties.  From interviews that I have seen, Yamina does not rule out joining a Netanyahu-led coalition, even though Bennett has Prime-Ministerial aspirations himself.  Nevertheless, they are predicted to get between 10 and 13 seats.  If they were to join Netanyahu, that could  get Likud to between 51 and 66.  Depending on actual numbers, that could be enough to form a very right wing government.

The other right wing party running is Gideon Saar's "New Hope" party which is a split-off from the  Likud.  This is the first election in which New Hope will be running.  Its leader has vowed not to enter a coalition with Netanyahu and has signed a live televised pledge to confirm his intentions.  But, of course, Israelis all remember the last election.  The previous  leader of the Labour party, Amir Peretz had vowed that he would  not join Netanyahu.  He had a large bushy  moustache that  was his trademark image.  He shaved  it as part of a "read my lips" promise not to join Netanyahu.  But shortly after the election, he joined in exchange for a cabinet position....He is now no longer the leader of the Labour party - or even a member.  

Saar is a very different candidate and has much more support  than Peretz had.  But ultimately, his agenda is very similar to Netanyahu's - much closer to Netanyahu than Peretz was.  He supports a continued expansion of the  settlements.  He is happy to enter a  coalition with the ultra-Orthodox.  He has, at times, defended  Netanyahu against some of Netanyahu's criminal charges.  In short, the only real difference is that he claims that is "not-corrupt" and is willing to put the country's needs ahead of his own.  Saarry but I have a hard time seeing it.  I believe that if Saar's only hope of being in the government is with a Netanyahu led coalition, he will make that decision even though he may negotiate a better deal than Gantz signed.  Saar's party is running at between 11 and 16 estimated seats, though I sense that their support could decrease between now and the election.

So at this  point, it looks like Netanyahu could have potential coalition members of between 62 and 80 assuming that he can leverage Yamina and Saar against each other, or get them both to join.  One of these options seems likely.

All that being said, the numbers can still change quite a bit.  These are, after all, only polls.

The leader of the opposition group is now Yair Lapid, still heading the Yesh Atid ("there is a Future") party.   Lapid's party seems to have some increasing momentum and is running at between 14 and 17 seats.   The party still has room to grow but there is a great deal of antagonism towards Lapid, especially among the Ultra-Orthodox and even many in the Orthodox sector.  For the last election, Lapid ran with Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party.  Together, the two parties  received more than 30 seats.  But Gantz's half  of the party cut a deal with Netanyahu, joined the government and left the merged party.  As a result, the remaining part of Blue and White, led by Gantz, is polling at between 0 and 5 seats down from about 15.  They have been eviscerated since Gantz went against his whole raison d'etre and  joined Netanyahu.  Lapid, who refused to join Bibi and will continue to refuse, has kept his party's support.  He has also retained much more support from the public than Gantz.

The right wing secular party Yisrael Beitenu, led by Avigdor Lieberman is polling at 6-8 seats.  This party could  join Lapid or Saar but has said it will not join a Netanyahu  government.  It has held out  now for 3 elections so there is no reason to assume that they will fold.

Two left wing parties, Labour and Meretz are running at between 10 and 14 seats total.   Labour has had a resurgence. It has elected a woman as its  leader, the only Israeli party with a woman at the helm.  Merav Michaeli promptly held democratic elections for  the Labour slate and staked  out more traditional Labour-supported positions.  Under her leadership, the party has been growing and could rise much higher than its current polling numbers of 5 to 9 seats.  Labour will certainly not join Netanyahu but could  join Lapid or Saar if either have viable options to cobble a governing coalition together, provided  that  the Labour party can extract a reasonable  price for its support.

Meretz is a left wing secular party with focus on equality.  It has remained constant at about 5 seats and would also be willing to join Lapid or Saar  under the right conditions.  Meretz will definitely not join a Netanyahu led government.

Adding all of these numbers up, as of now, it appears that a centre-left coalition could cobble together between 35 and 40 seats.  If they were to add in the "New Hope Party" that could get them to between 50 and 55 seats.  Still short of being able to form a government. 

Rounding out the list of parties - we now have a fracture in the Arab parties.  In the last three elections, they ran as a coalition and received as many as 16 seats.  They have now splintered into two camps - one with estimates of 0-4 seats, the other with estimate of between 8 and 12.  The real issue is whether the Arab parties could  join the left-Centre coalition to string  together more than 61 and block Netanyahu.  Hard to say, though it is possible with the current  numbers.  It may all depend on what Saar wants to do with his New Hope.

Netanyahu has been courting the 4 seat Arab bloc and has met with its leader on several occasions.  He may even be hoping that these 4 will support his far right wing coalition bloc and enable him to get to 61 with Arab support.  This would be an incredibly cynical position to take since Netanyahu railed against the possibility of a left-centre coalition after the last election, which would have required the support of the  Arab parties.  Netanyahu called this type of government illegitimate, since it didn't have a "Jewish majority."  

There is one more centrist party called the "Economic Party" which is also running as an anti-Bibi party.  But they are currently not projected to pass the minimum threshold.  Led by three economics professors, they are confident that they will get between 5 and 8 seats and hope to focus on fixing the Israeli economy.  Hard to predict where they will wind up.

In short, after the next election, Saar may face the same choice that Benny Gantz had - either  make a deal with the Arab parties and somehow get to more than 61, make a deal with Netanyahu or call  yet another election.  Given that Saar is somewhat more to the right politically  than Gantz, it seems to me unlikely that he would enter a coalition deal with the Arab parties.  Much more likely that he would enter  an agreement with Netanyahu, despite his written pledge - if Netanyahu can get to 61 or more with his support.   

I have written more  than I planned about this, but it is all still premature.  We will have to watch polling numbers and see if anything changes between  now and March 23, 2021.  If the election were  held today, based on current numbers, I think Netanyahu would be  able to form another  government.  But things  could change drastically so the  next 7 weeks or so will be very interesting, especially if the economic party  and/or the Labour party can pick up seats at expense of Likud support.

Netanyahu's Trial

A short note to mention that Netanyahu's criminal trial is scheduled to resume tomorrow.  He is facing a variety of charges including bribery, corruption and breach of trust.  The trial has been delayed several times at Netanyahu's request for a variety of reasons - including the change of legal counsel, the political situation, Covid-19 and any number of other reasons.  His team has indicated that he will ask for another delay of the  trial  until after the  coming election. Of course, Netanyahu  is hoping that he can delay the matter until after the election and form a right wing coalition that will agree to a retroactive immunity bill.  There is a chance that a government made up of Likud, Yamina, Otzma and the two ultra religious parties would agree to this request but it is not clear at all, as of today, that this group alone could get to 61 seats and form a government.

If the trial does proceed, it will be a  fascinating legal and political event.  It is bound to be heated, dramatic and thoroughly entertaining - quite a spectacle.  From a legal perspective, I am very much looking forward to it. That being said, I doubt that it will ever take place - or at least, that it will not be completed.  In my view, it is likely to end  in one  of three ways - politically - with the retroactive immunity bill; legally with some type of plea-bargain deal; or hybrid politically/legally with a pre-emptive pardon from the President of Israel as part of a political/legal deal.  Based on the content of the various charges and Netanyahu's defences, it seems to me highly unlikely that he would take his chances with the defences he has put forward all the way through a trial.  But I guess we will find out soon enough - or perhaps over the next few years if Netanyahu's defence team can continue to drag things out as long as possible.

Other Notes

It is also Super Bowl Sunday today.  That means watching the game from 1:30 a.m. to about 5 a.m. Israel time.  I am up for it  - since it could be a fantastic game.   Two  very exciting teams.   Not too many people are interested in joining me at that time - and especially in the midst of  a pandemic - even though many of us have been vaccinated.  I'll be lucky if one or two other family members stay awake.  Also doubtful that there would be anywhere  to order a pizza from at that time - or that anyone would want to eat pizza at that time anyways, especially Israeli pizza, which for the most part is not particularly good.  In fairness, there are some decent places nearby that we have discovered during this lockdown year - so I guess pizza is still an option, as long as we order early and reheat it at half time.

We watched the Toronto Maple Leafs play last night.  That also started at about  2 a.m. Israel time.  The Leafs are off to an exciting start and have made some great line-up  changes.  They are  only playing other Canadian teams this year - so the competition level is not that high.    It is quite a challenge  to follow ice hockey here in Israel but every now and then I stay up to watch a game.  More so during the playoffs.

Overall, I haven't really been watching that much in the way of sports this year - other than  football, which will officially end today for a while.   I have no real interest in Israeli soccer or basketball - other than international competitions in which the Israeli national team is participating.  

Ben Gurion Airport is officially closed to most  travel until at least February 28th.  Air Canada has indicated that it is now only scheduling flights starting again on March 6, 2021.  These dates could still change.   But with the combination of new Canadian travel restrictions  and Israeli airport restrictions, it looks like those  of us who spend time in both Canada and Israel will be grounded for the foreseeable future.  

I wish everyone the best of health and will probably put together at least one more blog before the end of the month.









Monday, March 16, 2015

Last Israel Pre-Election Blog 2015 and Predictions


Isaac Herzog and Tsipi Livni
Netanyahu and Bennett
 We are nearing the finish line.  Or perhaps, one could say, we are nearing the starting line, given the Israeli political system.  In some ways the real drama begins when the coalition building starts after the votes are all counted.  But tomorrow is a big day.  Israelis across the country will cast their ballots and it will then probably take quite a period of time to sort out and spin the results.  Students are thrilled - they have a day off school since in Israel, an election day is almost a national holiday.

Under Israeli law, the last pre-election polls could only be published Friday March 13, 2015.  But over the past few days, there has been a flurry of activity from all sides, jockeying for last minute position.  Here are a few last-minute highlights of some of the really interesting things that are going on (in my view anyways).


1.  Netanyahu is in Desperation Mode

Prime Minister Netanyahu is pulling out all the stops in a bid to retain his position.  He attended a large rally on Saturday night in Tel-Aviv with Bayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett.  He has publicly appealed to his constituency by pledging that Bennett will be a key part of his government.  He has attacked Herzog and Livni as "weak" and claimed that they will divide Jerusalem and create "Hamastan" in Jerusalem.  In short, he has made every effort to appeal to his right wing base, seemingly ceding much of the centrist vote on issues involving the Palestinians.  He has renounced any previous speeches in which he indicated that he would be willing to agree to a Palestinian State and he has wooed the right wing and the Israeli religious voters feverishly.  At the same time, he has urged Moshe Kahlon (leader of the Kulanu party) to support him and he has pledged to provide economic assistance to the middle class despite the perception that he has a failed record in this regard.  While Netanyahu's calculation is that the Likud voters will be frightened into bolstering his party at the last minute, there is some danger that this will backfire.  There is a palpable sense of desperation.  The momentum has been moving in the other direction and it is certainly unclear that these desperate speeches and statements will stem the tide.

2.  The Zionist Camp is Feeling Confident

Indications are that the Zionist Camp will win a plurality of seats.  However, it still may not be enough to enable the party to build a viable coalition and form a government.  Nevertheless, the party is also making several last minute appeals, changes and pleas in an effort to shore up its support.  Leader Isaac Herzog visited the Kotel and pledged his support for Jerusalem.  He has attacked Lapid's Yesh Atid Party and urged centrist voters to support his party.  Earlier today, he and co-leader Tsipi Livni announced that they would not go through with their plans to have a rotating Prime Minister's office and that Herzog would be the sole Prime Minister if the party wins.  This was seemingly intended to enable the party more flexibility in coalition negotiations - perhaps even opening the door to a rotation with Likud (which may or may not involve Netanyahu).

3.  Meretz is also Desperate

As I have written previously, the Meretz party, the party of left wing social justice, is flirting with elimination from the Knesset.  Under new Israeli electoral law, a party must win 4 seats to be able to sit in the Knesset.  That total has been increased to minimize the number of parties and limit the ability of extremist parties to win Knesset seats.  Meretz is polling at 4 or 5 seats.  Meretz has stepped up its campaigning with ads everywhere.  It is appealing to voters by claiming that the Meretz party is needed for there to be any chance for Herzog to form a government.  In fact, it has used a stylized "Merzog" graphic to bolster the connection, mixing its party name with Herzog.  But many Meretz voters are moving to the Zionist Camp, hoping that this will finally be an opportunity for the left/centre to form a government.  It could be a very close call for Meretz.

4.  Shas and Yachad

As I discussed previously, the ultra-religious Shas party splintered over the course of this most recent Knesset sitting.  Eli Yishai left the party and formed the Yachad party which is now polling at 4 or 5 seats.  Shas is calling on its voters to "come home" to the legacy of the late Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, its former spiritual leader.  Yishai is flailing around in an effort to reunite with Shas or find some other way to make it into the Knesset.  It would be a huge boost for the Israeli centre if Yishai were to fall short since his 4 seats would be redistributed among the other parties, proportionately.  

5.  Centrist Struggle:  Lapid or Kahlon?

In the last Knesset, Yair Lapid's party Yesh Atid had 19 seats.  The party is now polling at 12.  A new party, Kulanu, led by former Likud member Moshe Kahlon is polling at 8.  A simplistic look at these numbers would suggest that these parties are fighting over the same group of voters - approximately 15-18% of the Israeli public who view themselves as true centrists.  Lapid has edged slightly to the left, indicating that it is now highly unlikely that he would join a Netanyahu-led government (again).  Kahlon has been wooed by Likud but has refused to commit to supporting Netanyahu. These two parties could be the real power brokers and could also wind up with surprising numbers.  It is likely that the two parties combined will wind up in the range of 18-25 seats, which is certainly a force to be reckoned with.

Predictions

It is extremely difficult to predict Israeli election results. Many Israelis continue to declare themselves to be "undecided" to pollsters - whether or not that is really true.  Others are still deciding between one or two or even three parties.  Some may not decide until they are in the polling booth.  But what is a political column like this worth without making an effort?  So here goes, based on recent polls, trends, discussions with others, gut instincts and perhaps, a complete lack of qualifications as an election predictor - here is what I am going with:

Zionist Camp:  27
Likud:  21
Yesh Atid:  16
United Arab Parties: 13
Bayit Yehudi 13
Shas 8
Kahlon 7
Degel HaTorah 6
Yisrael Beitenu 5
Meretz 4
Yachad OUT

If this were to occur, Herzog would have 30 days to try and form a government.  He would be able to count on the support of Yesh Atid, Meretz and maybe Kahlon.  That could get the party to 54.  They would still need seats from the religious parties and/or Lieberman to be able to form a government.  Alternatively, they would try to form a unity government agreement with Likud.  I am having a hard time, based on these numbers, seeing how the Zionist Camp could actually form a government.  I am almost forced to predict that we will see another election within a two year period.

On the other hand, if Netanyahu continued to fight over the initial 30 day period and Herzog could not form a government, Netanyahu would get a chance to try.  He could count on Bayit Yehudi, Shas and Degel HaTorah.  That would get him to 48 with these numbers.  Add 5 for Lieberman.  That is 53.  He would still need Kahlon and Yesh Atid or at least Yesh Atid.  At this point, it is highly unlikely that Yesh Atid will bolster a right-wing religious government, since that would involve unraveling all of the changes that Lapid has pushed for.

This all looks like quite a recipe for a political logjam.

Netanyahu is not about to go quietly.  However, looking at all of these results and possibilities, the most likely of the unlikely scenarios is starting to look like a joint Zionist Camp-Likud government, supported by Lapid, Kahlon and Meretz.  It would be quite a shock but there are Israeli precedents.

The alternative would be a Herzog-led government which includes two of the three - Shas, Degel HaTorah, and Lieberman - as well as Kahlon and Lapid.  I'm not seeing it....

So that is the best I can do.  Stay tuned.  We should have a good sense by Wednesday morning as to how these numbers stack up with the official results.



  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

5 Days Left Until Israeli Elections

There is quite a bit of excitement in Israel as the March 17, 2015 election date approaches.  Israelis have very passionate views about political issues, which of course, can have existential consequences.  Politics are very dynamic.  The proportional representation system means that many different parties are represented in the Knesset, with widely disparate views.  And as the final decision time approaches, many Israelis have still not made up their minds, leading to widely fluctuating poll results.

In my view, here are some key stories to watch:

1.  Zionist Camp or Likud:

Five different polls were released in Israel today.  All five of them had the Zionist Camp (Labour party and Tsipi Livni's party, running together) ahead of Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud party.  The average was a 24-21 margin.  It is important to remember that these polls still show anywhere from 15 to 25% of Israelis as "undecided."  So a lot can still change between now and Tuesday.  But there is a growing sense of momentum in favour of the Zionist Camp and it is starting to seem more and more likely that Labour leader Isaac "Boujee" Herzog will have the first opportunity to try and form a government.  Boujee will still need to cobble together a total of at least 61 seats and that will be no easy task even if his party wins a plurality of seats.

2.  Decline of Meretz:

The left wing Meretz party is in a state of panic.  New Israeli changes to the electoral system put the cut off at 3.5% of votes in order to set in the Knesset.  This means that Meretz will need to win at least 4 seats to stay on as a party.  It appears that many Meretz voters have shifted over to the Zionist Camp.  This has caused Meretz to run an all out campaign emphasizing its "social justice" credentials.  It looks like it is going to be very close as to whether there will be a Meretz representation in the next Knesset.  On balance, I think they will squeak in.  But it could be a really close call.

3.  Kulanu and Yesh Atid:

Moshe Kahlon's new party ("Kulanu") seems to be polling at about 9 seats consistently.  Lapid's party is at approximately 12.  That is 21 centrist seats for the new Knesset.  My sense is that Lapid has some momentum and could wind up closer to 15 or 16.  I think some of these seats will come at Kahlon's expense.  Kahlon is probably slightly more likely to join a Likud-led coaltion.  Lapid has been very vigorous in his calls for Netanyahu's defeat.  But it is likely that either of these parties would join a Likud-led coalition with the right offers.  At the same time, Lapid would gladly join a Zionist Camp led coalition and it is probable that Kahlon would do the same thing. 

The real issue is how either side will form a government.  Looking at the current numbers, it is hard to see how the Zionist Camp could actually put together a viable government.  One option would be a "national unity government" where the party cuts a deal with Likud as well as some other centrist parties.  If it cannot get together with Likud, the Zionist Camp will have a very difficult time getting past the magic number of 61 - even with Lapid, Kahlon, and some others.

On the other hand, Likud would also have a difficult time with the current numbers. Even with Bennett's party and the religious parties, it is hard to see how they would get to 61 without the Zionist Camp.  If they were to get to 61, it would be a narrow, right wing coalition including all four of the religious parties (Bennett, Shas, Degel Hatorah and Yishai's party). 

If there are some new developments, I will try to put together one more pre-election blog note.  But this might be it until after the results are released on Tuesday evening.