‘It’s Us or Them/Him’

YERUSHALAYIM -

Likud and Zionist Camp are slugging it out in an election campaign that portends to be one of the fiercest and nastiest in Israeli political history.

“It’s us or him,” has become the unofficial slogan of the Labor Movement alliance going by the name Zionist Union, which is striving to unseat Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu.

Proving that they’re not to be trifled with and can give as good as it gets, the Likud has shot back, “It’s us or them.”

When the Likud ran an ad featuring a 3:00 a.m. phone call from the White House, it showed Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni bickering over who should pick it up. They responded with an ad saying that if Netanyahu wins, the president would not even call.

The rhetoric of villification and derision may spill over into the courts as well. This week, Likud officials accused Herzog of taking money for his campaign illegally from foreign donors, which the latter denied, while accusing Netanyahu of profligate use of public funds for private luxuries. A state comptroller’s report on that is due in a couple of weeks, which promises to determine whether the Prime Minister’s Office has been guilty of any criminality in the handling of taxpayers’ money.

Meanwhile, polls show the two parties running very close. A monthly opinion sampling in Haaretz showed Likud with 25 seats in Knesset, versus 23 for Zionist Union. Last month, the score was Likud 22, Zionist Union 23.

Apparently, Netanyahu has benefited from the resurgence of security as a major concern, after months of polls and punditry saying that socio-economic issues would dominate the campaign, where Herzog and Livni have stronger appeal.

But with the recent lethal incident on the Lebanese border and terrorist threats everywhere, Netanyahu’s reputation as being strong on security has helped to raise his approval rating to 51 percent from 46 percent in January.

In his role as commander-in-chief, Netanyahu visited Israel’s northern border on Wednesday, where he said that Iran was trying to use the civil war in Syria to open a new front against Israel.

Zionist Camp on Tuesday wheeled out its big social justice gun, economist Manuel Trajtenberg, their nominee for Finance minister.

In a statement of the party’s economic platform, he called for the release of state-owned land for housing developments for free and to increase overall government expenditure.

Trajtenberg claimed that the 7 billion shekel spending plan he has in mind to benefit poor and working Israelis would not necessitate a raise in taxes, nor would it blow away the deficit ceiling.

The plan addresses the chronic problems of housing, education, health, cost of living, poverty, inequality, elder care and employment.

The would-be Finance minister said that state spending should return to and stay at a level of 40 percent of GDP.

“Over the course of 30 years, the share of government’s budget share of output fell all the time, including last year. We fell below 40%, which is lower than the OECD average,” he said, promising to maintain responsible spending. “We always said we have to decrease [the deficit], but we crossed the threshold long ago. We won’t allow the government share to fall any further.”