Campaign Frenzy in Final Week Before Israeli Elections

YERUSHALAYIM -

With only a week remaining before elections, the 15 parties vying for Knesset seats are plastering Israeli media, billboards and buses with ads in a frenzy of last-minute campaigning that will determine the nation’s political configuration for as long as five years.

In the overheated electoral atmosphere, parties are crossing legal and ethical boundaries. The Central Election Committee (CEC) decided to disqualify several campaign ads sponsored by Likud-Beiteinu, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua and Kadima parties, because they illegally featured IDF soldiers.

Judge Elyakim Rubinstein, who heads the committee, ordered the parties to eliminate the troops from the ads, which were scheduled to be launched
elections, Knesset, Likud-Beiteinu, Hatnua, Kadima, CEC, Elyakim Rubinstein next Monday. Election laws prohibit making use of soldiers in a way that suggests the army is associated with any political body.

On Monday, representatives from across the political spectrum participated in a hearing at the CEC to protest what they argued is Rubinstein’s interference with their rights to free speech in a political campaign.

The right-wing party Strong Israel was there to protest the banning of a broadcast using the slogan “not an Arab country, and not a country of infiltrators,” while the Arab party Balad claimed its right to parody the Israeli national anthem.

Regarding the latter, Justice Rubinstein had stated “contempt of the symbols of the state … is not acceptable to me.”

The same committee ruled recently that Kadima bus ads targeting kollel students were acceptable even though the claims made in the ads were discredited.

Rubenstein was expected to issue a decision by Tuesday.

As part of the final push, Likud-Beiteinu is about to launch a new campaign on billboards, and Labor leader Shelly Yacimovich will be calling undecided voters herself from party headquarters.

Since, by all poll predictions, Binyamin Netanyahu will be chosen again as prime minister, the intense campaigning is all about how many seats in the Knesset each party will win, which in turn will give them bargaining power in the post-election government coalition-making. And since Likud-Beiteinu is not expected to garner more than 35 seats of the total 120, it will once again have to negotiate with other parties to form a ruling majority.

The most recent polls predict that Labor will receive 17 seats, Jewish Home 14, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid 11, Shas 9, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah 8, United Torah Judaism 5, and Meretz 5. A Panels Politics poll predicted on Monday that Kadima — until recently the Knesset’s largest party with 28 seats but which has faced doubt whether it would continue to exist at all — will get three seats.

However, word of the unexpectedly big budget deficit may hurt Likud-Beiteinu’s showing. Also, a poll released a few days ago indicated that some 25 percent of eligible voters are undecided.