Israel Elections Preview

Mar 1, 2020
Originally published on March 1, 2020 10:53 pm
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MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

On Monday, Israel will hold its third round of elections in less than a year. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not able to muster a parliamentary majority after two earlier votes, and neither could his competitors. This time, voter fatigue could determine the results. NPR's Daniel Estrin has this report from Jerusalem.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: How do you convince voters to show up to the polls for a repeat election when the last two were inconclusive? Israel's elections committee is using guilt. Its TV ads have teens stare at the camera.

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UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Through interpreter) Mom, if you don't vote, you're putting my future into someone else's hands. Why?

ESTRIN: The commercials may not be enough.

MATAN ELIMELECH: I have a daughter, and every time I see that commercial, I have a raging - it's upset me because I truly concern for my daughter's future. But no, I don't believe in any of you. And I'm not voting for any of you.

ESTRIN: Matan Elimelech sips an espresso in Jerusalem. He did vote in the last two elections for right wing parties that support Benjamin Netanyahu. But he's sick of the barrage of election ads and sees no one worth voting for.

ELIMELECH: Netanyahu did what he can do. He did the best he can do. He finished I think.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu has been in office for over a decade. He called elections seeking yet another term. But in part because of his corruption charges that have reduced his popularity, the results were inconclusive, so he kept trying again and again. Natalie Simantov, who I met walking her dog, says she'll still vote for Netanyahu, but...

NATALIE SIMANTOV: It's an ego trip. You know, he's never going to go away apparently. He doesn't want to go away.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu has been holding daily rallies.

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PRIME MINISTER BENJAMIN NETANYAHU: (Speaking Hebrew).

ESTRIN: He's imploring supporters to drag their friends to vote. He has reason to worry. Polls suggest his right-wing supporters are less likely to go vote than those supporting his rival, the centrist former Army General Benny Gantz. Hebrew University politics professor Gayil Talshir.

GAYIL TALSHIR: The upper middle classes believe much more in the representative democracy. And they are enthusiastic about changing the government and throwing Netanyahu. And this is why they might vote in a higher proportion than the right.

ESTRIN: There is one big new issue in these elections. Netanyahu promises he'll annex Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank. That move would raise objections from most countries and Palestinians but has a thumbs up from President Trump. The centrist candidate Gantz says he would not annex settlements without international support. Palestinians in the West Bank cannot vote Monday. Activist Anas Abu Srour wouldn't want to vote anyway.

ANAS ABU SROUR: I think there's no difference between all Israeli leaders. All of them, like, especially like Netanyahu, Gantz, they are coming from a military background. And all of them, they, like, do the crimes against Palestinian people and they like kill innocent people. I think the one who control Israel nowadays is the settlers.

ESTRIN: In polls of Israeli voters, the prospect of West Bank annexation hasn't seemed to shift the political map. Israeli journalist Danny Zaken.

DANNY ZAKEN: America changes dramatically its views about the settlements and basically give the permission to annex them, which is huge. Nonetheless, it's almost a non-issue in this elections. I mean, it's unbelievable. And that shows that the elections are not ideological, show the elections are personal, totally personal, Netanyahu or those against Netanyahu.

ESTRIN: Netanyahu and Gantz are telling their supporters they need to come out and help them win or face a dreaded fourth election. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.