CJN Article On SAG Skype Event - Israeli Election Too Close To Call, Hebrew U Prof Says

The Speakers Action Group and CFHU partnered with Beth Tikvah Synagogue to present Prof. Reuven Hazan in a special Skype event held at the Beth Tikvah Synagogue on Sunday, February 22 - "Making Sense Of The Elections In Israel".

CJN header - Israeli Election

Reuven HazanTORONTO — WIth only a few weeks left until Israelis head to the polls, security remains the dominant electoral issue, though they remain divided on how to best tackle the problem, says a renowned political science professor in Jerusalem.

Prof. Reuven Hazan, head of the political science department at Hebrew University and a respected adviser to the Israeli government, said the March 17 election is neck and neck between “the hawks and the doves.” Both sides see security as key, he said, but have different approaches to making Israelis feel safe.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hawkish Likud party has released buzzed-about campaign videos that suggest voters who do not side with Likud could play into the hands of Israel’s enemies.

“[Likud] says in the bluntest terms that the Arab world doesn’t want the State of Israel to exist,” Hazan said in a Skype address to a gathering of around 50 people Feb. 21 at Beth Tikvah Synagogue.

“[The party says] we need to send out a message to the countries surrounding us… If they attack us again, they will lose more land, like they did in 1967.”

On the other side of Israel’s political spectrum is the Labor-Hatnua alliance, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who are campaigning on their willingness to tackle economic reform, as well as deliver peace talks with the Palestinians.

“The doves are those parties who say that Israel cannot live by the sword forever,” Hazan said.

Unlike Canada’s electoral process, the proportion of the votes each party receives in Israeli elections determines the number of seats it gets in the Knesset.

With Likud and Labor-Hatnua polling at about 20 per cent each, it will be up to their leaders to negotiate with other parties to form a coalition. The goal is to get at least 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Hazan said he expects a larger turnout for Israel’s Arab population, which comprises 20 per cent of the country’s population.

“They are a sect within Israel society that usually doesn’t poll well,” Hazan noted. Israeli Arab parties currently have 11 MKs, less than 10 per cent of the total seats.

In this election, Israeli Arab parties are running as a unified bloc, which should ensure they become better represented, and more support for this minority could benefit the more left-wing Labor-Hatnua, he said.

Another rising group to keep an eye on is a new party, Kulanu, led by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon. Even with security demands, the centre-right party also wants to focus on the economy.

Although security is the defining issue of this election, it’s not the only thing Israelis are worried about, Hazan said. Israel’s economy remains very important for the middle class.

“Housing prices have skyrocketed [in Israel] and the cost of living has increased dramatically,” Hazan said. “Kahlon [wants to] focus on a domestic economic agenda, on alleviating the burden of the middle class.”

As these economy-focused parties rise in popularity, others are losing some of their influence, Hazan said.

These include Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid Party, which won second place in the 2013 Israeli election. Meanwhile, Shas, an ultra-Orthodox party, is also projected to get fewer seats this time.

Netanyahu’s hardline stance still attracts a lot of support, although since the end of the conflict with Hamas in Gaza last summer, his approval rating has fallen, Hazan noted.

The political divide in Israel has only deepened since Netanyahu decided to address the U.S. Congress on March 3 to discuss Iran’s nuclear program. Hazan said Netanyahu’s address to the U.S. Congress could turn Israel into a partisan issue in the United States.

“I do not think [Netanyahu’s address] is good for the long-term relations between Israel and the United States,” Hazan said. “Netanyahu is, in my mind, overly playing the role of Israeli politics in American politics.”