By Rabbi Dow Marmur.
The election campaign in Israel is going from national to regional to global. The national manifests itself in customary campaign rhetoric, often in bad taste, such as Netanyahu’s ad using children in a nursery school to denigrate his political opponents. (A judge has now banned the ad and made the prime minister’s party pay the legal costs.)
The regional started with a rocket attack on a vehicle carrying Hezbollah big-wigs, allegedly inspecting a potential launching site across the border aimed at Israel. It has put Israelis living in the North on alert in anticipation of retaliation and given rise to reassuring words from those currently in power about defending Israel’s citizens and, of course, implying that Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni wouldn’t know how to do it.
The regional dimension continued with the stabbing spree on a Tel Aviv bus by a Palestinian, apparently a member of Hamas, injuring more than a dozen passengers, several seriously. It didn’t take long for the prime minister to point an accusing finger at Mahmoud Abbas, the chairman of the Palestinian Authority, for his government’s latest “diplomatic” antics, its association with Hamas, its incitement of Palestinians and its deafening silence after the attack. (Needless to say, Hamas has been celebrating it.)
Foreign Minister Lieberman went further. He accused the political leaders of Israel’s Arabs to have an invisible hand in the attack because of what they say about and how they act toward Israel’s democratically elected government.
But now the Israeli elections have gone global with the invitation to Prime Minister Netanyahu to address the Republican dominated US Congress on February 11. It’ll give Netanyahu an opportunity to re-iterate his warnings about Iran and thus implicitly or explicitly attack President Obama’s softly-softly approach reflected in his State of the Union address.
The visit is bound to enhance the Israeli prime minister’s standing in the polls by re-assuring voters that he and he alone knows how to defend the country and stand up to the big boys, including the president of the United States. Netanyahu made similar use of publicity when he came back from the mass rally in Paris recently,
Analysts were telling us that this time the election campaign would be more about social and economic issues and thus favour Herzog & Co. We were also told that Israelis are interested in peace even more than before. Another argument for Herzog and Livni.
However, recent events have changed that or at least seriously modified it. It may also tempt the other major right-wing party – Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi – to join forces with Netanyahu’s Likud . That, according to most recent predictions, would give them some 40 seats in the 120 member Knesset. They’d then easily pick up another 21 plus from smaller parties ready to sell themselves to the highest bidder. They’d thus be able to form a government and leave Herzog-Livni with their stress on social justice and peace out in the cold.
The elections are still some eight weeks away and much can happen in that time. Nevertheless, as things stand today, left-leaning earlier optimism as to the outcome seems to have been premature. The party in government always has an advantage in elections, but sometimes it overplays its hand and the electorate sees through the tricks. Whether or not this will happen in March remains to be seen.