Six weeks before the election, the focus of campaigning combines personal attacks, accusations of illegality, and bombastic solutions to serious problems that have little chance of implementation.
Call it playing to the low side, or creative innovation. Your choice.
Likud's opponents are making a big deal about Sara's bottles and her management of the Prime Minister's household.
Likud is returning fire with charges of illegality in foreign contributors to campaigners against Likud, and making a point that a professional campaigner from the American left has come to Israel after working for Obama's 2012 election in order to promote "anybody but Bibi."
The media is helping Likud, perhaps not intentionally, by reporting that the Obama administration would agree to let Iran continue refining uranium, and getting close to nuclear weapon capacity.
Anti-Likudniks are returning fire against Israel Hayom. They say that. Sheldon Adelson's ownership of Bibipress may be legal, but is not more kosher than foreigners paying and campaigning against Bibi. Ranking Laborites (now Zionist Camp) have been prominent in campaigns associated with Yedioth Ahronot to pass legislation against the free distribution of a daily paper (i.e., Israel Hayom).
Israel Hayom's latest front page swipe at Yedioth Ahronot by is "The most vulgar election campaign, Noni Moses (editor of Yedioth Ahronot) leading the hatred."
Perhaps that was a response to a lead story in Yedioth Ahronoth asking if the Attorney General is going to begin an investigation against continuing allegations about the first lady.
Both Adelson and American Jews paying and campaigning against Bibi reflect the fuzzy boundaries between Israel and עם ישראל, the people of Israel, i.e., Jews wherever they are. There are too many who are rich, living in Las Vegas or the better neighborhoods of another megalopolis, feeling they know Israel well enough because they have schmoozed with the famous, pouring their money into what they think the country should do.
There are other issues, more exciting than promising of serious reform.
Zionist Camp, Meretz, Lapid and Kahlon are campaigning in behalf of social justice, but they are not on the same page, reading the same definitions of social justice.
Several are promising more resources to hospitals, taking note of the overcrowding that comes along with every winter flu season. Some of their charges are justified, reflecting the failure of budgets to keep pace with population growth and medical advances. Some of it is like politicians promising more roads every morning and evening in response to rush hour.
More spectacular are the promise of Zionist Camp to deal with the shortage of middle class housing with free land, and Kahlon's promise to reform banking and reduce the cost of living via more competition and lower bank fees.
The free land offer suggests the campaign that formed around Henry George's scheme of a single tax, or Abe Lincoln's homesteading innovation in the midst of the Civil War.
It sounds great, but ain't gonna happen.
Israel of 2015 is not the US of 1862. It's not only a lot smaller and a lot more crowded, but there are strong institutions concerned to manage land, protect the environment, and looking after issues of economic balance. Some of the same institutions will look askance at Kahlon's proposal to expand the banking system and competition within it. With current polls showing his difficulty in moving beyond eight Knesset seats, the biggest banks are likely to be more powerful than any ministries he will acquire.
Lapid is campaigning against corruption, including assertions that his is the only party without taint.
That's a dangerous claim, given the spread of non-profit organizations supported by public funds, with strong incentives to give something back (favors or money) to the politicians who look after their budgets. Lapid's ownership of the Finance Ministry for a couple of years doesn't sit well with a campaign against what he did not seek to control.
Palestine is noticeably missing from the criticism of those in power, and the promises of those wanting power.
That may be due to the Palestinians themselves. Even if Tsipi managed by Bibi was not greatly forthcoming in the Kerry round of negotiations, the Palestinians showed little sign of departing from their longstanding posture of "everything for nothing." Then they went in full bombast to the UN and the International Court of Justice, breaking the rules adhered to by most Israeli politicians and the US.
Misery continues in Gaza, made worse by the cold and wet of winter. But that, too, reflects Palestinian infighting as much as anything that can be blamed on Israel. Despite highly publicized agreements between Fatah and Hamas, the realities are far from peace among Palestinians. Squabbles between them, with occasional violence in the West Bank and Gaza, have gotten in the way of what Israel, the UN, and Egypt have demanded for responsible personnel on the Gaza side of borders to prevent the use of construction supplies for fortifications, or the import of munitions.
Cynics might conclude from all of the above that Bibi urged Sara to do something likely to attract criticism in order to turn Israeli attention on her and away from demands for another peace process. Some may see evidence of conspiracy with Tsipi Livni speaking more about impropriety in the Prime Minister's household than peace with the Palestinians. Yet such a tactic by Bibi and Sara would not be necessary. The Palestinians have done all that is needed to keep themselves in the weeds for who knows how many more generations.
With all the problems in relying on media polls with small samples, it appears that Likud may be inching ahead of Zionist Camp, and adding even more to its prospects of forming the next government.
Why? is another problem muddied by the variety of themes in the campaigns of several parties.
Among the reasons
- The public has already factored in the problematic behavior of Sara Netanyahu, and is not moved by yet additional claims about her.
- Mistrust of grandiose promises about land, banks, solving problems of corruption, or producing social justice
- Fatigue with the Palestinians and/or the Obama administration, and feeling that Bibi is the best defense against one and all
- Yet another demonstration of the barbarism associated with Islamic State (death by burning of a Jordanian prisoner), which adds to the support for Israel's status quo