Tag Archive: Weekend Perspective


On May 14, 2015, the 34th Government of the State of Israel received the confidence of the Knesset by a razor thin margin of 61-59. In that vote the 24 Zionist Union MKs voted against the appointment of Environmental Protection Minister Avi Gabbay. Following his surprise upset victory in the Labor Party primary Gabbay will now lead the faction that led the vote against the launch of his political career.

Gabbay wasn’t elected to the 20th Knesset or to any previous Knesset. He is a rookie politician with little experience. His political experience can be summarized in one sentence: He worked on the Kulanu campaign and afterwards was appointed as a non-MK minister in Netanyahu’s government. Of the three portfolios that Kulanu received in 2015, he was given the least prestigious. Gabbay was one of the least known Israeli Ministers. He was left out of the great majority of public polling that measured Israel’s top ministers. There was only one public poll that measured the public opinion of all Israeli ministers. Panels conducted it for Maariv & The Jerusalem Post, and it was published on March 18, 2016. It measured the grade of each one of the 19 ministers at the time on a scale from 1 to 10 in terms of how well they did their job. Gabbay finished in the middle with a tie for 9th place and a 4.9 rating.

Many people only learned who Gabbay was when he resigned as minister on May 27, 2016, in protest of Yisrael Beitenu entering the coalition. Gabbay joined the Labor Party in late December, and less than six months later has just been elected to lead it. Gabbay defeated the entire establishment and party machine of the old guard. Gabbay closed the gap of a 1,746 vote deficit with the favorite, Amir Peretz, and defeated him by 1,346 votes. Of the 52,505 eligible primary voters, 30,998 voted in the first round and that number did not drop off in the second round with 30,916. Peretz only improved from 10,141 votes in the first round to 14,734 in the second round. Gabbay almost doubled his numbers from 8,395 votes in the first round to 16,080 votes in the second round.

Now the real questions start. Does Gabbay use his reserved slot in the next election to add his friend Moshe Yaalon, who opposes a two state solution, to the party? Can Gabbay maintain the existing alliance with Livni? Will Gabbay be able to successfully sabotage possible break-off attempts by various MKs? Will Herzog agree to stay on as Opposition Leader for the entire term or will he eventually leave over a future disagreement? If Herzog is removed as Opposition Leader, who replaces him? Will Gabbay be able to work together with Peretz? Despite the bad blood between them, would Kahlon agree to join a future Gabbay coalition? Would Lapid? Are this week’s favorable snap-poll results a sign of things to come or just a temporary artificial fluke? How will Gabbay manage to do all of that with such little political experience? Those questions will take time to answer.

We can start by exploring one question that we might be able to answer: How did Gabbay win?

Democratic primaries are a beautiful thing. It is a real pity that only three of the ten Knesset lists choose their leaders through primaries. Democratic primaries are the only system where each party member has an equal say in choosing their leadership and the direction of their party. It is also an unpredictable system where the entire leadership of a party can find themselves overthrown overnight. That is the reasoning of why seven of the ten Knesset lists object to the democratic primary system. The seasoned and experienced veteran can lose to the naïve and idealistic newcomer.

Amir Peretz is the most senior member of the Israeli Knesset, first elected to the Knesset in 1988. He emerged as the first round winner. For the second round Peretz picked up the endorsements of the first round’s third and fourth place finishers. Overall MK Peretz received endorsements from 10 MKs: Isaac Herzog, Erel Margalit, Merav Michaeli, Itzik Shmuli, Hilik Bar, Nachman Shai, Manuel Trajtenberg, Revital Swid, Eitan Broshi and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin. Additionally, Peretz had the endorsements of Histadrut Chairman Avi Nissenkorn, Jewish National Fund Danny Atar and many other external interest groups. He was clearly the consensus establishment candidate.

Omer Barlev, who finished in fifth place in the first round, decided not to endorse either candidate. Tzipi Livni and her MKs Eyal Ben Reuven, Ksenia Svetlova, Yael Cohen Paran and Yoel Hasson did not endorse either.

Gabbay finished the first round with the backing of former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, a candidate who withdrew (Aviram Levin) and two MKs Michal Biran and Yossi Yonah. He picked up five MKs’ endorsements for the second round: Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel, Stav Shafir, Micky Rosenthal and Zouheir Bahloul.

Gabbay pulled out a victory despite not receiving the support of more than two thirds of the Zionist Union Faction MKs and failing to receive the endorsements of the failed first round candidates. How did Gabbay leapfrog over Peretz? Was it really his last-minute endorsements? His highest profile allies Shelly Yachimovich, Eitan Cabel and Stav Shafir spent a large portion of Election Day in the Knesset and not on the campaign trail. Was it an anti-Peretz sentiment? Most people thought Peretz was going to win.

Perhaps the answer is that Labor voters decided not to be disciplined and instead of falling in line voted against the Zionist Union that they had chosen 28 months beforehand. Perhaps the Labor voters were happy to vote for an outsider that is not responsible for the past, is perceived as a centrist, and had a mediocre 4.9 rating out of 10. Perhaps the Labor voter wanted to send a message to the entire establishment and machine that the vote was actually against them, even if that means that the vote was for someone who until recently served as a minister in the Netanyahu government they want to replace.

Perhaps the Labor party members are done with the old Labor Party that no longer represented them and that is why they voted for a new Labor Party.

 
The “KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls” is currently averaging the seven most recent polls from July 2017: https://knessetjeremy.com/knessetjeremy-polling-average-the-israeli-poll-of-polls/

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Following the 2015 election, between Phase 2 and Phase 3, Netanyahu and his Likud Party signed coalition agreements with each of his original coalition partners – Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and UTJ. One of the key clauses set the number of cabinet ministers at 20, which would require an amendment to the new law that was supposed to limit new governments to 18 ministers, and gave Likud 12 of the 20 ministers.

Four of the original 12 Likud ministers are no longer in the cabinet: Deputy Prime Minister and Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, Science and Technology Minister Danny Danon and Minister without Portfolio Benny Begin. First, Begin was forced out of the government to allow Likud’s #2 Gilad Erdan to re-enter the cabinet. Danon resigned from the cabinet to become Israel’s Ambassador to the UN. Shalom resigned due to scandal. Yaalon chose to resign from Knesset instead of accepting a demotion to Foreign Minister after Avigdor Liberman entered the coalition.

Two Likud Ministers who held two portfolios had to give up their main portfolio. Yariv Levin handed the Homeland Security Ministry to Erdan, and Zeev Elkin handed the Immigration and Absorption Ministry to Yisrael Beitenu’s Sofa Landver.

The Foreign Ministry has been left without a Minister for the entire term. Prime Minister Netanyahu kept it open for Yair Lapid, Issac Herzog or Liberman. The argument that Netanyahu is still keeping it open for Lapid or Herzog is no longer working within Likud circles. Supposedly, Speaker Edelstein was offered the Foreign Ministry and rejected it. The three Likud ministers with the most seniority – Erdan, Yisrael Katz and Yuval Steinitz – are all vying for the job.

While Erdan, Katz and Steinitz – ministers in Netanyahu’s last three cabinets – wait for the Foreign Ministry, the rookie Likud ministers are also hoping for a promotion later in the term and would prefer Netanyahu not add more Likud ministers into the mix. If new ministers are added to the government it would decrease the chances a current minister would be promoted.

Likud has ten ministers, not 12, because Netanyahu has been slow to appoint new ministers. This has led to circumstances that forced him to give the Likud spots away to other parties. Litzman took Danon’s spot when the Supreme Court forced Litzman to be promoted from a Deputy Minister to a Minister. Shalom and Yaalon’s spots were given to Yisrael Beitenu when they joined the coalition. Likud’s Tzachi Hanegbi was able to take the spot of Kulanu’s Avi Gabai when Moshe Kahlon refused to name a new minister to replace the resigning minister and took Gabai’s Environment portfolio for himself. Netanyahu is still bound by the law of 20 ministers – unless he chooses to change it.

There is pressure from the Likud on Netanyahu to increase the government from 20 to 22 ministers. The coalition agreements require 12 Likud Ministers, so it would be difficult for the coalition partners to object. Four Likud MKs view themselves as candidates for the two spots – Former Minister Begin, Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely, Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, and Knesset Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Avi Dichter. The opposition would love the opportunity for a news-cycle where they can vote against the expansion of the government. Kulanu has the right to a third minister, should they request it, which could mean a cabinet of 23 ministers.

Instead, today, the cabinet will approve a mini-reshuffle. Elkin will get Gabai’s old portfolio, Chaim Katz will get the Labor part of the Economy Ministry, and Kahlon will take the Trade part of the Economy Ministry for himself. Hanegbi will remain a minister without portfolio.

 

Netanyahu doesn’t want to appoint Erdan, Katz or Steinitz as Foreign Minister. Netanyahu did not win the last three terms in a row by rewarding popular Likud Ministers with top jobs so they could build their résumé. Netanyahu has been careful not to give a Likud #2 a key position since his first #2 Defense Minister Itzick Mordechai contributed to his downfall in the 1999 Elections. Kahlon (2006), Gideon Saar (2009 & 2013) and Erdan (2015) have won the top spot in last four Likud Knesset Primary Elections. None of them received one of the top three or four portfolios during their time in the Likud. Instead Netanyahu has given the top jobs to Likud MKs that have not finished in the Likud top five such as his decision to give Steinitz the Finance Ministry in 2009 and Yaalon the Defense Ministry in 2013 and 2015. It was a factor that also helped install Edelstein, who was going to lose his minister position, instead of Rivlin, for the Speaker position in 2013. Erdan and Katz are very popular within the Likud and giving one of them the Foreign Ministry would create two potential competitors – one in a key government office and the other as an opposition leader who would become a daily thorn in Netanyahu’s side. Steinitz is less popular than Erdan and Katz, and Netanyahu passed over both the last time he gave Steinitz a senior portfolio. It would be difficult to get away with it twice.

Liberman was a key Netanyahu ally in the 1990s and became his first Prime Minister Office Director General. Liberman realized that he could get more out of Netanyahu from outside the Likud. Over the last three terms he has received the Foreign Ministry twice and is now Defense Minister, despite holding just five Knesset seats. Naftali Bennett was Netanyahu’s Chief-of-Staff during the important time he re-branded himself as Opposition Leader following the Second Lebanon War. Bennett, and Ayelet Shaked (Netanyahu’s Chief-of-Bureau) joined the Bayit Yehudi Party and are now both sitting on the Security Cabinet. Kahlon created his own Kulanu Party and finally receive the Finance Ministry that he desired. Previously Saar, and more recently Yaalon, have flirted with the idea of creating their own party in order to get a top portfolio position. For Saar it would be the first time he received a top post. For Yaalon it would be getting his position back.

Netanyahu doesn’t want to expand his cabinet. The opposition will have a field day. He has 20 ministers, he just had a reshuffle, and he still doesn’t have a portfolio to give the newest member Hanegbi. Even if he did increase his cabinet, how would he choose two of the four candidates and get away with it? If he does promote a Deputy Minister or a Knesset Chairman it would require him to reshuffle the backbenchers which he would prefer avoiding.

The Knesset will go on recess at the end of this week. Netanyahu will not need to worry about the Knesset until it reconvenes on October 31st. That is when Netanyahu needs his other 29 Likud MKs to start voting for his bi-annual budget that is designed to ensure the coalition lasts until at least late 2018/early 2019. Kulanu, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, UTJ and Yisrael Beitenu are loyal coalition partners who are all ready for this government’s biggest test. With the current infighting in his own party – it is Netanyahu who needs to worry if his house is in order.

The silver lining for the Prime Minister is that the Likud is leading the polls. The current KnessetJeremy Polling Average has Likud with 25.0 seats and Yesh Atid in second with 19.8 seats. The Zionist Union led by Opposition Leader Issac Herzog has dropped to fifth place, and the numbers of seats have been cut in half from 24 seats to 12 seats. The current coalition averages 68.5 seats to the opposition’s 51.5 seats.

 

If Netanyahu, who is a master politician, is able to survive the cabinet reshuffle that wasn’t, then he will push off elections until 2019.

Of course, even if he does, in Israel – anything can happen.

The media loves “what if” polls a lot more than polls that measure public opinion of the current parties. It is understandable because they probably sell a lot more papers, increase the traffic on their sites, and boost television and radio ratings that way. The rumor mill will always focus on the “what if” because it is a whole lot sexier than talking about the same players in the current configuration over and over again.

Sometimes theses scenario polls can be used to promote various individuals’ political stock and increase their asking price in the pick-a-new-MK Knesset market. Other times they can be used to try to shift public opinion to the direction that the chances of Netanyahu going home have suddenly increased overnight.

The problem is that these scenario polls are almost always inaccurate, either because the number of egos in one ticket would be impossible, or because the personalities have not yet entered the political stage and therefore have not been properly vetted by the public and their peers. Another issue is that the polls might provide encouraging results to win an election in Phase 1, yet provide no path forward for the nomination of forming a government in Phase 2 or enough votes to approve a coalition government in Phase 3. You can ask Tzipi Livni, who defeated Benjamin Netanyahu in the 2009 Knesset Elections, how that Phase 1 victory worked out for her.

The latest scenario polls are measuring the performance of a list including any combination of former Netanyhau #2 Gidon Saar, former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon, former IDF COS Gabi Ashkenazi and/or Benny Gantz, Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, renegade Yisrael Beitenu MK Orly Levy, and – the latest in private polling – former Environment Minister Avi Gabai. Most variations of the list come out even or ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud.

The latest political developments have altered public opinion, and it will take some time before we can assess what the long term implications are. Snap polls are useful, but they are not always indicative of the future.

 

Over the last seven years the polling companies have conducted hundreds of scenario polls, public and private, which indicated public opinion could be manipulated in a particular way to finally defeat Prime Minister Netanyahu if a particular formula was used.

The most common scenario poll in December 2014, a month before the deadline of submitting the lists to the Central Election Committee for the March 2015 elections, was a Lapid-Kahlon joint ticket. TRI polled Lapid-Kahlon at 21 to Likud’s 20, Panels polled Lapid-Kahlon at 22 to Likud’s 20, and Dialog had Lapid-Kahlon at 24 to Likud’s 21. The grapevine, at the time, said talks of that joint list ended when Kahlon decided he wasn’t interested in being Lapid’s #2 and went off to negotiate a joint ticket with Likud, which Kahlon would ultimately also reject to go off on his own.

Other popular December 2014 scenario polls included previous combinations of what would become the Zionist Union. A Panels poll predicted a Labor-Livni-Mofaz-Trachtenberg ticket would win 35 seats compared to Likud’s 21. A Dialog poll of a Labor-Livni-Mofaz joint ticket would win 22 seats to Likud’s 20. Herzog decided to go with Livni and Trachtenberg but passed on Mofaz. The Zionist Union went into the election with 21 seats and received 24 seats, an increase of just three.

Leading up to the 2013 election there was a wide range of scenario polls. Among the most popular was an August 2011 Smith Poll in which a new Social Economic Party led by protest leaders Itzick Shmueli and Stav Shapir was predicted to come out of nowhere to win 20 seats to Likud’s 22. Labor’s leader at the time, Shelly Yacimovich, was able to persuade Shmueli to join Labor. Shapir weighed an offer from Lapid before also going with Yacimovich. An October 2012 Dialog poll gave 25 seats to a new “Super Kadima” led by former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, Livni and Lapid to Likud’s 24. There was also a January 2012 Dahaf Poll with Lapid leading Kadima to 29 seats compared to the Likud’s 27. Various meetings with a combination of Olmert, Livni, Lapid, Yacimovich, Mofaz and Zahava Gal-On led nowhere. Supposedly Livni rejected an offer from Olmert to be his #2 and started her own party. Olmert responded with endorsing Kadima. Kadima split into pieces and dropped from being the largest party in Knesset with 28 seats to 2.

Scenarios polling on new parties have shown mixed results. For most of 2010-2012 Lapid enjoyed polling numbers in the early 20s and high teens, and Yesh Atid eventually finished with 19 seats in the 2013 election. For most of 2012 to 2014 a new Kahlon party was polling from 13-19 seats.  Kulanu would win ten seats in 2015. A new Deri party aligned with the left was predicted to win double digits but never came to fruition.

I do believe that a joint list of Saar, Yaalon, Ashkenazi , Gantz, Huldai, Kahlon, Levy and Gabai would win the next election. I just don’t see that many egos fitting into one list. I’m also not sure the number of portfolios that would need to be distributed internally to create such a list would leave enough room to build a coalition government with additional partners. The only thing in common with the group is that most of them would prefer to see someone other than Netanyahu, preferably themselves, as Prime Minister. The above group has a wide spectrum of opinions on the issues of the day.

If Olmert, Livni, Mofaz, Yacimovich and Lapid, who had more in common with each other than the current group of scenario candidates, couldn’t join together why should we believe that this current group that is more divided in their opinions will be able to?

 

Former MK Haim Ramon, the architect of Kadima, tried for years to create a centrist super-party and was smart enough to stay out of the failed Center Party of 1999. Itzik Mordechai, who was Netanyahu’s first #2 in the Likud, created a party with former IDF COS Amnon  Shahak; Dan Meridor, another disgruntled liberal Likud Minister who viewed himself as Prime Minister material; and former Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo.

Does a scenario of a former Likud #2, former COS, an additional former Likud leading Minister, and a big-city-mayor sound familiar? The initial polls looked promising and it looked like Mordechai might be Israel’s next Prime Minister. On Election Day they won just six seats.

Ramon believed the key to creating a real super-party is a sitting Prime Minister. When Prime Minister Sharon formed Kadima in 2005 he had support from many Likud ministers, top Labor figures, an MK from Yisrael Beitenu, a former Yisrael B’Aliyah MK, a former Shas MK, and unofficial help from a renegade Shinui MK.

Kadima lasted longer than the previous attempts at creating a new list because it had all shades of the spectrum and politicians at all levels of the ladder with a Prime Minister in office. The opposition is a difficult place to be for a party that is based on personality and minister appointments over ideology and parliamentary work. Kadima fell apart when Livni, who had lost the previous primary, decided to cause serious issues for Mofaz, the person who defeated her, that eventually led to a split in the party. After the Livni split other Kadima MKs started to seek refuge elsewhere and the party collapsed as many MKs returned to their previous parties.

It is much easier to get a lot of egos into a room when you are the Prime Minister and everyone in the room is willing to help you remain there in exchange for a piece of the pie. It is easier to rationalize not running for #1 when you are working with the current #1. It is a much more difficult task to ask a Prime Minister candidate to endorse a different challenger in return for the same job they used to have when they were working with the incumbent #1.

 

So don’t get too excited the next time a scenario poll comes out. Chances are the people who are being grouped with each other will not agree to run on the same list, and the new personalities on the joint list will lose some appeal after they are properly vetted by their other opponents and the press.

The real key towards determining the next Prime Minister is the proven Knesset Jeremy formula of Phase 1, Phase 2, and Phase 3.

KnessetJeremy Polling Average – The Israeli Poll of Polls

Likud 26.7, Yesh Atid 19.9, Zionist Union 13.1, Joint List 12.9, Bayit Yehudi 11.3