Israel's election campaign is settling down to right vs left, with several of the middle level and marginal parties campaigning on the basis of which camp they will join, a moderate level of nastiness between party leaders, and a higher level of nastiness between the two leading circulation newspapers.
Zionist Union is leading the left, with its theme of anybody but Bibi. That name of what used to be Labor is a peculiar translation of the Hebrew מחנה הציוני. The simple translation is Zionist Camp, but that may sound too much like something from the 1940s in the Catskills. Why don't they call themselves the equivalent of Zionist Union in Hebrew, i.e., איחוד ציוניים? Perhaps because Israelis would recognize that Zionists are not united anymore now than ever. Or perhaps the name would sound too much like National Union (איחוד לאומי), which was an extreme right wing settlers' party that morphed into a segment of Jewish Home.
Bibi and Buji (i.e., Netanyahu and Herzog) have declared their unwillingness to ally with one another after the election. Bibi and Bennett have firmed up their alliance, and are competing for some of the same voters to increase the capacity of each to claim important ministries. The Haredim (SHAS, Torah Judaism, plus Yishai's offshoot from SHAS) and Liebrman have indicated their inclination to join a Bibi-led government. The Haredim and Lapid have signaled their disinclination to join a government along with the other. There is no doubt about the alliance between Buii and Meretz.
Some of the party leaders are campaigning with demands for certain ministries as their price for joining a government. On the serious side is the Jewish Home's demand that its secular woman candidate be named the Minister in charge of Police. That would be an appropriate middle-ranking ministry for a party that may win 12-14 Knesset seats. Naftali Bennett says that he wants the Police Ministry for his party in order to combat the high crime rate of Israeli Arabs. Another reason for putting a woman in charge may be to clean house of the sexual predators who reach high rank among the cops. On the comic opera side of the demands is Lieberman's assertion that he will only join a coalition that makes him Defense Minister, and Yishai's demand for the Interior Ministry. Both Lieberman and Yishai will be lucky to get enough votes to pass the minimum for entering the Knesset.
Moshe Kahlon says that he will request or demand the Ministry of Fiance, but his current poll of eight seats isn't at that level.
Bibi's Washington speech is prominent in the politics of both Israel and the US. It may be setting records for the time, ink, and media effort devoted in advance to what is likely to be 30 minutes of talking.
Assertions are prominently left vs right, with American Democrats opposed to this instance of free speech, and Republicans equally loud in support. Israelis are dividing on the issue depending on whether they are campaigning for anybody but Bibi, or saying they will join a Bibi-led government.
Israeli media is showing its leftist tilt by adopting some of the specious arguments of the left. One example is the notion that Bibi's nastiness toward the President will prevent Congress from overriding a Presidential veto of any bill passed by the Republicans to harden sanctions on Iran. In reality, there would be very chance of an override, even if Bibi had never been invited or never accepted the invitation. Overriding a veto takes a two-thirds majority in both House and Senate, and is damn rare. It's happened to less than 10 percent of Presidential vetoes since counting began more than two centuries ago.
Israeli media is also highlighting what it calls the non-partisan leaders of US Reform Jewry and other prominent Jewish organizations, who have been quoted as asking Bibi to stay at home, or to speak at some other forum than Congress.
Calling US Jewish leaders "non-p[artisan" is a stretch when between 70 and 85 percent of US Jews can be counted on to vote Democratic. For Reform and other non-Orthodox Jews, the percentage is likely to at the higher end of that range.
Individuals at the top of US Jewish organizations may not be loyal Democrats in any personal sense, but to stay in office they had better not go against the political loyalties of most dues paying members.
The theatrics of politics are never far from what is said, and how it is said.
The President's own comments about Netanyahu have come with both humor and barb. Even the humor has been a bit nasty, expressed when he said in the presence of Angela Merkel that she would not ask for a White House invitation two weeks before her election. My own Jewish mind heard Bibi accused as a pushy Jew in between the lines of those comments, but I may be too sensitive.
Less humorous was his comment about reconsidering the financial aid to Israel, which he described as a rich country, less needy than other countries asking for help.
It may not be as easy to downsize US aid to Israel. To some extent, it has been linked to a US-Israel-Egypt deal that involved Israel leaving the Sinai, with both Israel and Egypt receiving US guarantees and financial assistance.
The US Ambassador to Israel tried to downplay the dispute by saying that the inherent alliance between the people and governments of the US and Israel would not suffer from this disagreement about policy details.
John Kerry may have been reflecting Netanyahu's pressure when he said that Iranians must convince the US that they are serious about not developing nuclear weapons, or else the US will get to a place that it does not do not want to go.
Involved in the Washington fight and other issues in the Israeli election is the near bloody feud between Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom. They've been at war ever since Israel Hayom began to eat into and eventually topple the circulation dominance of Yedioth Ahronot. Politicians alligned to each have been active in a Knesset effort to outlaw the free distribution of a daily newspaper.
Now the newspapers are squabbling over the Washington speech.
Yedioth Ahronoth has headlined a list of dangers sure to come as a result of the speech
- Damage to the pro-Israel lobby in the US
- An end of Israel's access to the White House
- US urging of European countries to pressure Israel by the introduction of sanctions on Israeli products
- In re security
- Limited US-Israel strategic cooperation
- Suspension of the delivery of munitions
- Delay in financial aid, as for the Iron Dome anti-missile system
- Limitation on what had been an annual $3 billion in military aid
- Limitations on US investments in Israeli companies, producing a depression in Israel's key economic sector of innovative high-tech companies
- Loss of opportunities for Israelis to work in the US
For its part, Israel Hayom headlines Bibi's outburst against the editor of Yedioth Ahornoth, saying that the editor's economic concerns have led him to campaign in an ugly manner against the Prime Minister, and led the newspaper to its underhanded attacks against Sara.
Tuesday's front page headline in Israel Hayom was "Committed to travel." The article emphasized the Munich location of an international meeting about Iran (hints of Chamberlain) with Obama's comments that it was forbidden to disturb the negotiations, and Netanyahu saying that he would urge Congress to prevent a bad agreement.
Meantime there has been no great change in the polls.
Likud is holding a slight lead with an average of 25 Knesset seats in the three most recent polls, and capable of reaching a coalition totaling 66 seats with its obvious partners Jewish Home, Kahlon, Yisrael Beiteinu, and the Haredim.
Zionist Union begins with 23 seats, and reaches only 39 seat with its most obvious partners Yair Lapid and Meretz.
Speculation is that the united Arab List will vote to support a government led by Zionist Union, and bring its support up to 51 seats. However, that would not be enough to create a government, and the leader of the Arab list has said that it would not join any government, insofar as both Labor and Likud have been anti-Arab in the support that have given to settlements. Whether that statement rules out support "from the outside" (i.e., voting to endorse a proposed government but not joining it) is anybody's guess.
Optimists are seeing this as a promise of Arab-Jewish cooperation in national politics.
If present polls hold for another five weeks, however, we won't have to do much guessing, and we can put that optimism back on the shelf.
It may take a month or more after the election for the parties to maneuver, threaten, and negotiate about which party gets the President's nod to form a government, then actually puts something together that achieves a Knesset majority.
Commentators can predict, but none should bet a fortune.