Following Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s endorsement of Likud MK Reuven Rivlin in the June 10 presidential election, Labor MK Binyamin Ben-Eliezer and former Knesset speaker Dalia Itzik stepped up their battle to be able to face off with Rivlin in a runoff race in a second round of voting.
With six candidates splitting the vote, it is seen as unlikely that anyone will garner the 61 votes required to avoid a runoff.
Because Rivlin is expected to win most of the votes on the Right, Ben-Eliezer and Itzik have been meeting with as many MKs as possible among centrist, left-wing and haredi (ultra-Orthodox) legislators, and with anti-Rivlin MKs in Likud Beytenu.
“She is working very hard and the momentum is positive,” Itzik’s spokeswoman said. “She is meeting and speaking on the phone to MKs from every party. Her advantage is that there is no party that will block her from receiving any votes, including the haredi parties.”
A source close to Ben-Eliezer said he met this week with the Arab lawmakers and he was more confident than ever the he would be the one going against Rivlin.
Ben-Eliezer and Itzik’s associates expressed hope that even if Rivlin won the most votes in the first round, their candidate could beat him in the second, when votes in the Center-Left will not be divided among five candidates.
Pressure from women’s organizations has been building on former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner to quit the race if she realizes that her presence in the contest will prevent Itzik from winning.
Dorner said when she entered the race that she was running to prove that a woman could be president.
Asked by The Jerusalem Post if she would quit to enable a woman to win the race, she said: “The rules of the game are you stay until the end. All the candidates are fitting, but I am the most fitting.”
Nobel laureate Dan Shechtman said that in recent days, MKs have been telling him that they will vote for him even though they endorsed other candidates. Hatnua faction chairman Meir Sheetrit advanced, unsuccessfully, the idea of having all the factions in the coalition endorse him.
Rivlin called upon Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman on Thursday to enable the 12 MKs in his Yisrael Beytenu faction to vote their conscience, rather than endorsing a candidate and trying to impose faction discipline in a secret-ballot vote. There are MKs in Yisrael Beytenu, led by Agriculture Minister Yair Shamir, who want to support Rivlin despite Liberman’s fierce opposition to the former Knesset speaker.
Liberman lashed out at Netanyahu on Thursday for endorsing Rivlin behind his back. He told Israel Radio that had Netanyahu spoken to him before the endorsement, the prime minister might have persuaded him to also back Rivlin, but because he did not, he told Rivlin there was no way he would win his support.
“It is a strange thing and improper that the prime minister changed his mind about the race due to pressure without updating or explaining,” Liberman said.
United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni also made clear that there was no way that he and other six MKs in his party would back Rivlin following Netanyahu’s endorsement.
“In the past, I chose the president who would be the best candidate,” Gafni said. “But what was done to [the haredim] in the past year has no precedent in cruelty, so now I have only one consideration: Will the people who caused us this pain pay a price?” Solar pioneer Yosef Abramowitz, who tried unsuccessfully to obtain the endorsements from MKs required to enter the race, conceded on Thursday in a message on his Facebook page.
“I met with nearly half of the members of Knesset to convince them of the importance of pluralism, of creativity, of Israel’s standing in the world, of the social gaps in Israel, of our vital connection to world Jewry and of the need for a normal economy in a nation so challenged,” he wrote. “Each MK that I met was attentive to my ideas, respectful of my candidacy, and hopeful that the vision I presented would turn into the public agenda of the next president. But, traditional politics and party discipline constrained them.”