On Eve of Third Israeli Election, U of Haifa Scholar Predicts a Fourth

Prof. Gabi Weimann predicts Arab parties, Liberman only forces able to contribute to a decisive victory

Haifa, February 27, 2020 — As Israel gears up for its third election in a little over a year, University of Haifa hosted a webinar on Wednesday with one of its leading experts in political communication and mass media, Prof. Gabriel Weimann. 

In the discussion, Weimann explained the backstory behind Israel’s current political logjam and predicted that there doesn’t seem to be an end in sight. 

Highlights from the conversation are provided below:

How is this election different from the last two?

First of all, it’s the third one. But also, Israelis are quite tired. It’s very hard to move anybody. How can you change somebody’s mind when nothing has changed dramatically in the politics of Israel? But there are some changes: We now have a prime minister, who in two weeks after the election, will be standing in court, declaring that he’s’ not guilty. That’s never happened in Israeli history. 

Also, this is not parties fighting anymore, it’s blocs: Right-wing bloc vs. left-of-center bloc.This time, it’s a question of which bloc will get closer to 61, because I can’t imagine either bloc actually getting 61.

What is Blue and White’s Benny Gantz up against?

Gantz will have a very hard time reaching 61 seats without the Arab parties. Now, most Israelis do not approve of the support of Israeli Arabs despite the fact that they’re 20 percent of the population. Can he succeed without some support, even external, from the Arab parties? I would say that would be very hard.

How do you explain the right’s unwavering allegiance to Prime Minister Netanyahu, despite his legal challenges?

Netanyahu has many advantages. He’s a veteran in Israeli politics. He’s the longest-serving prime minister in Israeli history. He’s a great campaigner – we should teach him in courses on political communication. But more than that, he has a very loyal group of supporters who will be with him no matter what. Some of those loyalties have nothing to do with politics, vision and so on; they have to do with political psychology: Following a political leader regardless of what he’s done. 

What do you make of Avigdor Liberman, do you predict he’ll remain staunchly principled about a unity government?

He’s called for a unity government twice. Will he stick to that for a third time? I think he’s leaning now more toward a more practical solution and he’s even declared he won’t allow a fourth election. But he certainly won’t sit with the Arab parties or religious ones, which is another reason we’re in such a deadlock.

How do you seethe Arab parties shaping this election?

In the past, we know that any attack on Israeli Arabs will lead to increased voting in that demographic. The more they’re criticized, the more they will show up and vote. They are three factions banded together, which makes them quite a powerful party which can translate to some 24 seats in the parliament. They will never get that because participation in the Arab population is not that high, but they will probably get 13-15 seats. You can’t ignore that. Where’s the problem? Well, some Arab MKs are anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, who don’t recognize the state of Israel. There’s no way a Jewish-Zionist party will sit in a coalition with factions that consider Israel as an enemy.

In five, 10 years, how do you think historians will frame this crazy, tumultuous time in Israeli politics?

I would use the word crazy, too. We must realize for a year we haven’t had a functioning government in Israel. We don’t have a running budget. No decisions are being made. Can Israel afford another period of time with no government, no budget, no vision? It’s hard to imagine. I really hope that Israelis will find a way, but I doubt it. The Israeli apathy is certainly a price we can’t afford either. Israelis are usually politically involved. In the last election, 69% of the public voted – which is high. We certainly don’t want the public to be alienated from politics. And a more pessimistic public may very well be the price of a fourth election. This is a price the state of Israel can’t afford.

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