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January 3, 2019 6:08 am

In Israeli Elections, the Mudslinging Is Only Beginning

avatar by Mati Tuchfeld / JNS.org

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun / File.

JNS.orgIsraeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Likud ‎officials’ sharp criticism of former Habayit Hayehudi leader ‎Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked ‎over their decision to split from the religious-‎Zionist faction and form the New Right party is only ‎expected to grow.‎

The two have already been lambasted for making a ‎move that jeopardizes Netanyahu’s chances of forming ‎a stable right-wing coalition following the April ‎‎9 election, assuming that Likud wins, as all the ‎polls currently predict. The mudslinging has a very specific point: to paint ‎Bennett and Shaked into a corner in which they ‎have to endorse Netanyahu as their candidate for ‎prime minister. If and when that happens, Likud will ‎rethink its position on the New Right. ‎

Until they endorse him, Netanyahu is expected to ‎paint the New Right’s leaders as being actually affiliated ‎with the left. This is why he has repeatedly implied ‎that Bennett may rekindle his political alliance ‎with Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid ‎party, something that would essentially clear the way for ‎Bennett to join a left-wing coalition. ‎

The longer that Bennett and Shaked take to endorse ‎Netanyahu, the harder Likud officials will try to ‎undermine their credibility; and if the two announce that ‎they will hold off on endorsing any one candidate ‎until after the elections, Likud will undoubtedly ‎try to paint them as having teamed with Meretz and ‎the Joint Arab List, no less.‎

But if there is something Netanyahu is truly ‎wary of, it’s that Bennett and Shaked’s move may ‎result in one of the current right-wing parties ‎failing to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, which ‎may translate into the Israeli Right losing power. ‎

In conversations with close associates, Netanyahu ‎said he plans to run an aggressive election ‎campaign. Likud, which is currently projected to win ‎between 27 and 30 Knesset seats, may go up in the ‎polls, but it would probably be at the expense of ‎other right-wing parties, which come April may find ‎themselves ousted from parliament. ‎

Without them, Netanyahu would struggle to form a ‎coalition, and a scenario where the opposition is ‎able to form a political bloc against him could ‎become a reality.‎

Mati Tuchfeld writes for Israel Hayom.

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