Media Comment: A third round – good or bad?

The politicians toed the line, playing the blame game.

Tension was evident between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s new session on April 30 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Tension was evident between Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the opening of the Knesset’s new session on April 30
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Israel’s media, in the main, have been messaging that a third election round in Israel is to be avoided at all costs. Haaretz, for example, on September 17, in the aftermath of the second election round, headlined an article by Noa Landau as “Everything must be done to prevent the national disaster of a third election round.” Adrian Filot, on September 21, writing in the Calcalist economic newspaper which belongs to the Yediot Ahronot media conglomerate, played on the economic cost of a third campaign. Its headline was “A third election round will bring with it economic disaster.”
Yuval Karni’s article in Yediot Ahronot on September 18 was headlined “Going to a third election round sounds like a bad dream.” David Horovitz, Times of Israel editor, called a third round a “nightmare” in his September 20 article. On September 23, Nahum Barnea on Ynet declared that a third election “in a year is not an option.” The Manufacturer’s Association let it be known on November 10 that the bill for the consecutive national ballots would be “as high as NIS 12 billion in 18 months.”
And so, the die was cast by the mainstream media: All must be done to prevent a third election round.
There were a few dissenting voices. For example, Yakov Bardugo, in an October 5 Israel Hayom op-ed titled “Who is afraid of a third round?” was of the opinion that it is a necessary evil. But he was in the minority. The message was so dominant that President Reuven Rivlin, when announcing that he had again asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to form a government, stated that his decision “does not reduce by an iota the responsibility of both candidates [Benny Gantz and Netanyahu] as well as all the political parties to create the conditions necessary to solve the political deadlock.”
The politicians toed the line, playing the blame game. At present, Netanyahu, Gantz and Avigdor Liberman are competing among themselves to shift the responsibility for the “disaster” of a third election round onto each other. The perception, cultivated by the media, is that the public does not want a third round and, as Rivlin stated, the politicians must find the solution. But is this really so? Is a third round really a “disaster”?
A thoughtful educated media should have attempted to bring both sides of the question to the fore. A third round is not a “disaster.” It is not an earthquake in which many may lose their lives and their belongings. In fact, the real possibility of a massive earthquake in Israel should strike terror in our hearts much more than this supposed “third-round disaster.” Yet the media do very little to try and influence our politicians to do everything possible to assure that when such an earthquake occurs, the consequences will not be “disastrous.”
Let us first consider the tenet that the politicians must get us out of the deadlock. This is in some sense an anti-democratic statement. The deadlock was created by the people in a free election. This is the true power of democracy. Instead of playing the diplomatic game, the politicians must reckon that the true power of governing lies in the population, and it is Israel’s citizens who must decide what the country needs and where it is going.
A CENTRAL CONTENTION in the previous two elections was that Netanyahu’s central interest is to save his skin rather than that of the country. But if a third round were to take place, this would occur probably in February 2020, by which time according to all the pundits, the attorney-general will have decided whether he will pursue a trial for Netanyahu and on what charges, if at all. In other words, such a third round would provide a clear opportunity for the electorate to state whether they do or do not want Netanyahu to be reelected. Moreover, if people are truly fed up, they will not come to the polls – and that, too, would have repercussions regarding the deadlock.
But what about the economic cost? The Israel Hayom newspaper on October 17 published a long article by Zeev Klein outlining the cost of such a third round. The article was headlined “Another election round will impose a 1.6 billion shekel cut on the budget.” Actually, that is not such bad news, however the true amount might just be a bit lower. The actual direct cost of a third election round is approximately 700 million NIS in the form of a budget for the election committee and the various political parties. In actuality, at least a third of that sum comes back to the government in the form of taxes, and not one of the economic forums dealing with the election cost brought this aspect into consideration.
Moreover, as also discussed by Arye Green in a June article on the Mida website, there is a positive side to the recurring election: The present government cannot waste money on all sorts of goodies to its supporters and coalition partners; it must work within the limits of the previously approved budget and cannot, as all governments do before elections, waste dear money to garner votes.
That is a central difference between elections that occur every few years and the present one, where the government has had the status of a caretaker government already since April. Indeed, a third round would imply that Israel will have had an interim government for almost a full year, and the budgetary savings far outweigh the added direct cost of NIS 700 million.
But, so goes the argument, the indirect economic cost of an additional vacation day is much higher. Israel’s GDP is some five billion shekels per day. The additional vacation day must be paid for by the employer, by the private sector or by the government on behalf of the public sector. True enough. But not all economic activity comes to a standstill.
Many businesses continue to operate and, in fact, Election Day is a wonderful day for the retailers. But, of course, more seriously, the true issue is one of productivity. The productivity of Israel’s workforce is on the low side of the OECD. Its number of vacation days is also on the low side, while the number of working hours is on the high side. This is not the place to discuss in-depth Israel’s productivity crisis, but having an added vacation day can also lead to higher productivity.
In other words, there are many unknowns when considering the economic costs. One thing that is certain is that a third election is not a “disaster” and is a situation much less than the havoc and financial loss created by some of our workforce sectors, such as the transportation employees, when they strike.
What does approach being a “disaster” is the one-dimensional drumming by the media that elections would be a “disaster.” Where is the discussion of all the voices and opinions on the issue?

The authors are members of Israel’s Media Watch, imediaw.org.il.