Transcript: Israel’s Upcoming Elections with Chemi Shalev

Ori Nir  00:00

Hi, everyone. Thanks for joining us. Welcome to our webinar on Israeli politics. We are heading toward the November elections, fewer than 90 days left before the elections. I'm Ori Nir, and with me is my colleague, Madeleine Cereghino. She's APN's, Director of Government Relations. Before I introduce our guest, Chemi Shalev, I will remind you as we usually do of  our usual housekeeping notes. This webinar, as you probably know by now is recorded, you will be able to view the video on our YouTube channel, hopefully sometime tomorrow, and listen to the audio on our podcast, PeaceCast, hopefully sometime today. That's the first thing. The second thing is that as always, you're invited and even encouraged to ask questions. Please do that using the q&a tool that's on the bottom of your screen, not the raise hand tool, but the q&a tool. And please keep your questions short. We're reading them, you know, as we go along during the webinar, and we don't have the ability at the time to process long questions and long statements. So short questions, please. And with that, I'd like to introduce to you our guests today. My friend, Chemi Shalev, he's a seasoned analyst of Israeli and American politics, and of Israeli US relations. He covered these topics for in other things, of course, for over four decades. As a senior correspondent and columnist for a wide variety of Israeli newspapers, including the Jerusaem Post, Davar, Maariv, Israel Hayom, and most rece ntly Haaretz, including a five year stint as the newspapers correspondent in New York. He also served as the Jerusalem correspondent of the foreword, I had the pleasure of working with Chemi at the Forward, and I'm sure that many of you have read his excellent analysis analysis English edition. I found after reading his columns at Haaretz in recent years that I always say to myself after reading such a column, here's someone who expressed my thoughts much better than I could have ever done. So Chemi joining us from his home in Giv'atayim, Israel, just outside of Tel Aviv. Thank you, Chemi, for being our guest.

Chemi Shalev  02:36

My pleasure.

Ori Nir  02:39

Madeline, would you like to start?

Madeleine Cereghino  02:40

I would love to- thank you for joining us, Chemi. So I'm sure you've been getting this a lot. But this is the fourth time in less than five years that the Israelis have gone to the polls to elect a new Knesset. And I was just wondering how this round is different from the last ones. Is this round, like previous ones more recent ones, a referendum on Netanyahu? Or is it something else now that we've actually had a successful, successful government between elections?

Chemi Shalev  03:15

Well, that is the big difference, in fact, between these elections and previous elections that we've had in the past few years, I don't know  how much of an impact or a difference it will make, and that is that Netanyahu is not the incumbent Prime Minister. He does not have all the powers of the state to use to advance his political aims. And, and that right is now belongs to Yair Lapid. So that could make a difference. There is also a difference that, you know, people are sick of these elections. And there is a difference that players have moved around. Whether that means that in any way the tie that has, in fact paralyzed Israel, the political tie, whether any of these things are going to break the tie? I don't know. But as toyour your question on a referendum of Netanyahu. Let me-- here I'm going to, and this is going to be the only time we're going to take like a little bit more time. Imagine that Donald Trump is running for president, you know, he gets he gets elected by the Republican Party. We are in 2024. And he's running nevermind against who. Now, just by the same token, one, those elections are going to be all about Trump, just like our elections are all about Bibi. And two, those elections are going to be about the future of the United States. Every elections are but these are two, you know, where you know that whatever results you get, the country is going to go in one of two diametrically opposed directions. If Trump gets elected, you have one America and if whoever is Democrat, the Democratic party, we are the same in 2024.Despite the fact that we have two different systems and every time Americans say "yes, you have this, you know, you have a very complex system with lots of parties and nobody ever wins," in this case, no one is better situated in the world than Americans to understand what elections we're having, because we are having elections as if Donald Trump is running. Now, I'm not saying that Bibi and Trump are the same. But when you look at the forces arrayed one against the other, anti democratic forces, on the one hand, fundamentalist religious forces on the on the one hand, people that are not too appreciative of democracy, and a large section of disaffected in the American case, white middle class Americans. And on the other hand, you have this very strange coalition of people that we used to call lifting, right, who are defending democracy. I mean, if you look at you know, at Cheney, and the committee, we have our Cheney's, meaning people who are still on the right, but have defected to the left. What am I trying to say that there is Americans and anybody who's interested to look at our elections, and view them as more or less in the grand scheme of things, the same questions are going to be decided in Israel as they will be in the United States. And that is because of this unique situation we have of these two people, Trump and Netanyahu and the historical circumstances that they that they bring with them. Yeah, okay.

Ori Nir  06:40

So, Chemi, I'm trying to figure out where the energy is in this election campaign. I just came back from three weeks in Israel. I was in Jerusalem for the entire three weeks. And I have to tell you, during those three weeks, the only billboards and flyers that I've seen on the street in Jerusalem, were for the extremist Kahanist Party, the religious Zionism party. Now, this is Jerusalem granted, I know that Jerusalem doesn't reflect the, you know, overall sentiments, political sentiments in Israel. But still, it's the largest city in Israel. And so my question to you is, do you agree or do you do you have the same sense that this party is going to be the story of these elections? And that that's where the energy is, this time around?

Chemi Shalev  07:36

The story of these are, first of all, I agree that they will do well, unfortunately, and all the indications are that they will do well. There was a recent poll of young Israelis where they are, I think, 40% support or 30% support. So they are going to do well. But whether that means that they will be the story of the elections depends on everything else that happens, because even if they do spectacularly well say and get 10 seats, if all together, the anti Netanyahu forces have a majority, that it doesn't matter that they are except for the fact that we're going to make a lot of trouble inside parliament. As to the energy one, yes, you're right. The only place where you can see real energy is on the far right among young people. I don't know how much that's going to translate into but don't forget, this is July. I mean, I know we have a long election campaign, supposedly, but it's not really long, because two months, our summer vacation, no Israeli in his right mind is going to pay attention to politics. So this campaign starts on September 1. And even that only on condition that the schools open on time, which isn't, which is never certain. And if the schools don't open on time, then Israelis won't get around to this, you know, like, only until a few weeks before the election. And by then I don't know where the energy will be. Whether it's coming or going, I can't tell you that the right is very confident. And the left is and I say left with quotation marks. And the left is, as usual, very afraid. And we can go on but sure.

Madeleine Cereghino  09:14

Speaking of the left I see most of our participants are interested in the dynamics in Israel-- center and left of center. How are they faring in as we get into November? Understanding of course that this is August, a lot can change.

Chemi Shalev  09:31

Well, we don't know anything right now. The only thing we know for sure is that Merav Michaeli, will be the leader of labor. But we don't know what their list will look like. It'll have a lot of women in it. I'll go party by party and then just say, but she is not doing as well as people expected. And even though Labor is not close yet, or Not very close to the threshold vote, you know, we have a threshold vote where if you don't make it past the threshold, you don't you don't get into the parliament and all the people and the votes of all the people that voted for you get thrown away.

Ori Nir  10:10

And that was  3.5%.

Chemi Shalev  10:12

Yeah. And so this is a disaster for-- 3.5? I think they lowered it to 2.5. But I, you know, we can play. And this is where whichever side of the map this happens to it's a disaster because like, say a party was supposed to get four seats, but didn't make it past the threshold. That's four seats gone from that side. And that is actually, first of all the name of the game and these elections, will there be among the major parties, a party that won't make it past the threshold, which is why I mentioned that Labor as of now, is not yet in danger. But there,  are circumstances in which it could very well be in danger. The Meretz, which I think, I don't know, really, maybe I thought I would say it's the party people here most identify with, but maybe that's not true. It's facing a leadership battle between the hub the veterans Zahava Galon and the general seems sort of out of place, in Meretz, Yair Golan. The conventional wisdom and everybody who knows anything about millage says that, as Zahava Galon will win. I'm not so sure. But I'm taking them at their word. And that means that Meretz will have a traditional list. And that means that it will hover around the threshold vote, and there's going to be a lot of pressure on labor and Meretz to run together. I'll just give a short word about the Arab, the Arab sector, the hero of the past year amongst all of us, on Saturday, this upcoming Saturday will name his list or the party will name their list. And he's supposed to get a list that will be more cooperative this time and doing whatever it is that Mansour Abbas wants to do. And in the joint list, last party on the left, there's the leader is supposed to be replaced. It's not there, they're not ready yet. But we have to mention that this is a critical factor. And there are, say, very deep concerns on the left, that the Arab vote is going to be lower this time than it was even last time. And that this will, you know, this will sort of negate any efforts to achieve a majority. But it's too early to tell if Netanyahu says, you know, it's enough that Netanyahu will insult the Arabs and for one thing or another, and they'll come out in droves, as he said, famously once all in all the left is demoralized, does not have a leadership that, that they're I mean, they they they may support their leaders, but they don't have a leader that they think will take them out of their, you know, take them out of their misery. And, frankly, I'm sorry to say that the fact that we're talking here about 12 members of the Knesset of the Jewish left, that more or less accurately reflects the strength of the left. And don't forget that a lot of these lefties are not interested in the same issues as somebody other lefties. Yair Golan, the candidate for America said the other day that he doesn't think climate change is so important. And people jumped all over him. But there were other people who you know, inside Meretz and talking, who completely supported him and said, Yeah, talking about climate change is a luxury. The left does not have any hope or any wish to gain power. It has invested itself completely in Yair Lapid, which we should, you know, get to next but Yair Lapid is not Left. The parties that I mentioned are the left and it's not a very, you know, we've seen better days. And there is a chance that this the sad state of affairs will turn into catastrophe if one of these two parties doesn't pass the threshold.

Madeleine Cereghino  14:13

Thank you so much. While we're talking about, you know, platforms and what different candidates are prioritizing here. I did have a follow up question for you. And that's you know, there was an interview with Zahava Galon today at Haaretz. And this time around, she said she's running on a social justice platform. Similarly for Yair Golan. Is the occupation a losing issue to campaign on, are people just losing interest or? I mean, even for Meretz it seems no longer something that they're focusing on.

Chemi Shalev  14:48

It's a non issue. Amazing is that many seem it's a non issue. I am making one reservation and that is that it is also events dependent So then if we have a flare up in Gaza, and it's a flare up and Gaza moves over to the West Bank, it will take place, it'll take central place again. But the occupation is hardly covered in the media, it is hardly talked about in living rooms anymore. And the politicians if they can they try to stay away from it. And it's not because I mean, there there is. It's true that positions of people, according to most polls have moved to the right. But it's not that hasn't been as so dramatic as a sense of futility. And that in the sense that there's no point in talking about it. The only caveat I have for that heard a rumor today. And I can't say if it's more than a rumor that when it comes to New York in September, that period, might meet Abu Mazen. A one on one meeting, now, he is probably carrying out polls right now to see if it pays off or doesn't pay off. But if such a meeting does take place, that will be a quite a significant public, dramatic raising of the public profile. And it would mean that lippiett is running on a piece ticket, and he's or at least a partial peace ticket. And he's been one of the people that's been running away from the Palestinian. So that would be a significant development of, or vice versa. If he doesn't meet with Abu Mazen, then it's more of the same. But yes, that's the situation. There is talk of settlements. Usually, from the point of view of why the government isn't making illegal outposts legal any faster. And an individual incidents are discussed. But Israelis and this is not completely unconnected, are much more distressed these days by what is going on one inside the crime rate inside the Israeli Arab sector, which bothers them theoretically. But the developing situation in the south of the Bedouins is getting out of hand. And it's becoming dangerous, and it could blow up before the elections and become a hot potato. I don't know, you know, it's hard to tell who would be hurt and who would benefit. But that has only a tangential, you know, a connection to their two patients. So yes, it's crazy. But the occupation is the non issue.

Ori Nir  17:24

We already have some questions in the q&a. And I'd like to encourage people to keep on asking our board member Bob Friedman reminds us that the threshold, the election threshold is 3.25%. That's right. Yeah. And and we have a question about the the likely outcome of these elections. If you look at polls, there is a trend that shows that Likud is gaining power. Do you see, Chemi, as the most likely scenario, a coalition headed by recode, therefore by Netanyahu, with a variety of right wing parties? And religious parties, of course,

Chemi Shalev  18:09

but you mean the whole block like,the Netenyahu block? Right? So first of all, I don't believe in... it's not that I don't believe in polls, because I in fact, used to handle polls in one of my jobs for many years in Maariv. But I don't trust the current polls, because contrary to I mean, they're done by all sorts of people in all sorts of ways. It's very difficult to tell, which is, you know, which is, and we don't have any code for who the broadcasters put on. And but so I don't know about the polls, first of all. Second of all, if you ask me right now, it's everything is open. Meaning I don't think I think it's too early. I don't think people's minds have gelled about who they're going to vote for. And I, I think that part of this, there is this buzz in the media that yes, Netanyahu is going to win. Yes. And then I was going to wait, I think this is a Nataniel spin. And I don't think this is important. I don't think this time Yahweh is part of it, in the sense that I don't think he shares the confidence that these people are showing. Because, first of all, remind you that when there were the context to set the date, suddenly, you know, he wasn't in a hurry, and he didn't really seem he didn't want to election he was looking for a way to set up the government without without going to elections. And if and eaten. And people who know him also say that he's completely not sure. And if nothing, I always ensure that's something that should be very seriously taken into account because, you know, I, he has a lot of false then, you know, reading polls is not one of them. And if he's worried then he has a reason to be worried and if he has a reason to be worried, then I have a reason not to be as worried perhaps you know as I was and And we don't, we don't know, I have to mention his name, even though I think it's a failing possibility that he will join. But there's still the question of the former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot, who is widely liked, and who said that he was going to join politics, and who has been courted by both Benny Gantz and Lapid and Labor even. And who has not made a decision, I can tell you that he's told people that he's going to make a decision in two weeks. But it might be his decision might be not to join so that that would have jolted something but and we have to see how there's so many things that are still have to happen, for example, the makeup of the liquid list, is it going to be a list made up of excuse me, convicts, cranks and you know, I read this about Trump, so I'm just using it. Convicts, cranks and coconspirators or something or you know, again, Bibi, who brought to the floor, anybody who was willing to defend him in his criminal case, and so the Likud became a party of really kooks, people, you know, I'm not going to get into names, but most of the people who are now have been representing Likud in the media are kooks. And that was fine with Bibi, because the people who weren't kooks weren't willing to defend him. Now that he has elections, he doesn't want these kooks to lead the list because he knows the people, the voters, even Likud voters, they don't want to list just a kooks. So he is now making a furious effort to make sure that in the primaries that are going to be held in the Likud, later this month, that he doesn't get a list of kooks, which would hurt him and change the equation. So there are too many known unknowns, as Mr. Rumsfeld said, and certainly too many unknown unknowns, because even now we're looking at a situation where at any moment, there could be a flare up in Gaza. And if there's a flare up in Gaza, doesn't matter what we've been talking about everything is going to be it's going to be start, you know, start all over if the government does, if there's a successful, obviously, if there is a successful military operation, you know, does the government well, if it takes too long, and there are too many casualties, that could finish the elections. Now, just to get to the last, your last question. You want one looks at the Israeli elections, one should never lose sight of the fact that Netanyahu never loses sight of the fact that his main goal in life is not to be Prime Minister. And it is not to deal with the Iranian nuclear agreement, but it is to get out of jail. He has been he has devoted the last two years just that not to anything else. We went to five elections because of that. Because if that was not true, then I would tell you that if not, then yeah, we'll get 61 is not going to set up an elect a government with eternal bandwidth. What is he crazy? The old Netanyahu, the pre trial Netanyahu. Now, he would set up a government with Gantz with Zaar and with whoever and the Prime Minister and he'd be happy with. But that that kind of government won't give him what he wants, which is a Get Out of Jail Free card, and the only government that will give him what he wants is the most radical right wing government Israel has ever seen. And the people who are going to be joining this government, the other parties except for the code, they know that Netenyahu will pay anything in order to. So that is why that situation is different and dangerous. There is no there is no scenario that will become suddenly this moderate Prime Minister and that's not going to happen. It's either he'll he'll do something else, he'll sign a plea bargain if you know, if he even if he becomes prime minister. But it's not a government that gives him what he wants, you probably assign a plea bargain before he goes.

Ori Nir  23:55

Okay, so what I'd like to do is I'd like to touch upon two other sectors in Israeli political life. In our coming two questions. The first one, I guess, will be the ultra orthodox and we have a question coming from one of our participants who's asking and I think the answer is pretty easy here. Is there any chance that Shas would join a center left party that's headed by the Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz?

Chemi Shalev  24:22

do but no, but there is a chance that Agudat Yisrael, Yahadut HaTorah, they get up to what are called the Ashkenazi ultra orthodox party is not going to join a Lapid-led coalition if Bibi can form a government. If Bibi cannot form a government, then contrary to the situation that we had up until now, there is a good chance that Agudat Yisrael would join a coalition. And if that happens, I think eventually Shas would come around but in the first instance Shas is not a candidate to join a people coalition, Agudat Yisrael is, and that could change things. But just we have to remember the the, the reverse of that. And that is that the Mansour Abbas's, Arab Muslim party would also join under certain circumstances a Netanyahu governement. I don't think those circumstances are realistic, because as I said, he needs a complete right wing. You know, he needs a full right wing coalition, but that could happen, they could move. So those are the options. We haven't got a right wing coalition, we get another repeat of this somehow appeared, you know, brings it in for their or what people thinking and we're gonna go to the six elections. I think I personally, I'm just adding this because we spoke about it before. I think that Netanyahu, if there's if there's subterranean energy, I'm talking about your, your energy question. I think that..what is it that Trump used to call Biden used to call low energy? Something like that? Was it I think it was low energy?

Madeleine Cereghino  26:10

Sleepy Joe?

Chemi Shalev  26:12

Sleepy Joe. Something that is not, you know, not ticking this time around for Netanyahu as well as in previous things are not necessarily going well. They're not going his way. But he is in control of the agenda. When has to, you know, when I have to admit that we can get into it. I mean, it's a separate issue. But the Israeli media has also changed. By the way, what has changed? The Israeli media is much more sympathetic to Bibi than you would imagine. And it is cooperating with him in the sense that it is setting his agenda for the elections. And that's a separate issue with Israeli media. But the media in this case is definitely not on one side or another. It's also a sad state of affairs. But--

Ori Nir  27:14

you're muted.

Madeleine Cereghino  27:15

Sorry, I was muted. I have a question for you about the Arab parties. We have one in the chat. I'll start there. And I'll move into another question we had. But the question was, did monster a boss deliver for his constituents enough where he could pull votes from the joint list? And, more generally, what is the situation among the Arab sector? And how did his breaking of the taboo of participations of Arab parties in the coalition make a significant change? Is that change going to carry forward through this election?

Chemi Shalev  27:53

I'm not an expert on the Israeli Arab population. And I think even the experts are stymied to explain exactly what the currents are. Most of the people who voted for him syllabus, were satisfied with his performance in the coalition. A lot of people in the joint list were angry at their party that they weren't that they didn't do what none of us did before them, because the joint list had been talking all these years about doing what most of us actually did. But I and Mansour Abbas, I think, is quite he's not 100% Sure, but he's quite sure of getting over the threshold at which it wasn't last time. So that would be perhaps a manifestation of the change in this position. But what is it? I'm asking you because I don't know the answer. Why is it or how is it possible that after all, this, the Arabs would go to vote 40% 30%? I don't know. And when you talk, when Jews try to tell Arabs to go vote, they are offended because they feel that it's condescending, and I'm not going to judge them, maybe it is condescending. And they are especially offended when you tell them you have to go vote for yourself, not you know, not for me the Juba for yourself. And I cannot explain how they can respond, which is an many, you know, it doesn't make any difference to us whether it's this or that. And I have no explanation for how this is possible. And I just want to point out that the Arabs comprise 21% of the population, and about close to 18% of the voting population. And 18% of the voting population is I will now how much is it a fifth? It is plenty. No, no, we're frequently 21 How much is it always 18 times 1.2, 3.6? Yeah. 25 I think 25 Knesset seats., but nevermind.

Ori Nir  30:02

Potentially, yeah.

Chemi Shalev  30:03

yeah, if they all went to vote, that would they would, if they went to vote, just like the Jews went to vote, they would have 17 or 18 seats. And for the end, they wouldn't in the first case, they would just control parliament. In the second case, they would be the kingmakers. For the life of me, I cannot understand. I mean, I can understand, but it is frustrating for Jewish leftist, to confront the fact that whatever he does, we could lose the elections, because the Arabs have decided not to come and vote for their own reasons, which, you know, may or may not be valid, but they are not what we feel is the is the main event right now, which is a battle for democracy. And anyway, I told you, I failed to understand why they can't differentiate between a coalition that swears by democracy and another coalition that swears by actually by the destruction of democracy. It's, well, I don't have the answer for that. It worries us a lot. And the only thing is that things could change. Because, you know, something could happen.

Ori Nir  31:12

You know, having covered that before for Haaretz years ago, I covered Israel's Arab population, between 2000, 2002 very, you know, decisive years in that in that field. I've read a lot about and there are many reasons why Arab citizens votes, you know, are not enthusiastic voters, but we won't get into it. Now. We can, you know, talk about it some more.

Chemi Shalev  31:37

not although there have been elections where they voted in significant numbers, right.

Ori Nir  31:43

But never as high as the, yeah. Chemi, I want to ask you a little bit about so you know, you were the one who made the... who brought Trump and the US situation into the, the the picture earlier. There's a there's a strong feeling here in the United States, as you probably know that if Trump is elected, in a little more than two years, he will come back with a vengeance. So what I'd like you to to describe and analyze is what would be the agenda other than staying out of prison? As you pointed out before for Netanyahu? What would be the broader agenda for Netanyahu headed coalition?

Chemi Shalev  32:32

Well, first of all, I'm not sure it would be the agenda of Netanyahu, but w ould be the agenda extorted by the by the parties that want to join his coalition. And he has no choice but to give in, because some of the things that interests them don't necessarily interest him. The tragedy, I think, is that his personal issue meshes with their overall or their number one priority, and the number one priority of the rabid, rabid right wing or extreme right wing has been to undermine the justice system. So that for many reasons, among them that, you know, the  settlers would be able to do whatever they want, whenever they want, and nobody would, which might soon be the situation anyway. And so  their first target is to disrupt the justice system. And here, just by if there is ever a thing, like if there's a talk of maybe the legislative French law, which would mean that you can't prosecute Prime Ministers right. Now, that supposedly is just a legal thing, but it would change it would be it would be a breakdown of the of the system. And they would, and they would then and coordinate. They say that openly. I mean, at best, they're going to purge, the top echelons of the justice ministry. There are-- and they have a similar agenda with the territories, some of them are for full annexation, none of them are for improving anything to do with the Palestinians. They will try to extend the control of the chief robbing. It's a nationalistic, fundamentalist religious agenda, which has piggybacked on a Prime Minister who is very influential and very talented. Whereas it's something completely different in mind. But if the conditions are right, they could both achieve their goals. And so if you're, if you're asking me, you know, we always say that before every election, we say, oh, it's going to be terrible. True, but, you know, one, we only need one for it to come true. And if ever it's going to come true, it's going to be this turn. That is on the assumption and I want to mention something that is only assumption one that you'll win the elections. And I want to say A few just if you'll allow me even though you didn't ask about Lapid and Gantz.

Ori Nir  35:03

Please go ahead.

Chemi Shalev  35:04

Lapid is the most underestimated politician in Israeli history, perhaps. anybody who knew him as a journalist, and I knew him as a journalist, everybody knew him as a journalist or as a TV presenter, never thought for a second that he could he would want to be Prime Minister that he would have the patience, you know, the diligence, or that he would have. And he has confounded people along the way. All along the way. He's always done what people said he's never going to do. So now that people are saying he certainly is certain to lose the elections. I take that with a grain of salt and I take that with a grain of salt among other things. Netenyahu has not faced a consummate TV person, like Lapid before. I mean, you know, that was his that was Netanyahu's thing he ruled the airwaves. That's not true with Lapid. And also, and this for me, is an important point. Whatever, you know, people admire BiBi they idolize, maybe nobody thinks BB reflects Israeli-ness, nobody thinks that BB is a typical Israeli nobody was the one thing that has accompanied Lapid from the start of his career is that he has this uncanny ability to express Israeli views. And I think that in an election campaign, if you do it right, expressing, you know, the essence of the nationhood could be a very powerful weapon, and therefore, I'm not writing him off. I just want to point out that he is today the greatest danger to Meretz and to Labor. Because there are a lot of lefties who want to vote for him, who think he deserves it, who think he's done a wonderful job, they owe him. And if too many of these people vote for him, then you know, he's going to lose everything, because then both parties might not pass the threshold. The second thing is Benny Gantz. Gantz thought when he you know, he recently united with Gideon Saar to his right. And he thought that this would be sort of a deal breaker a game changer. That would put him on a par with Lapid. And that he could then claim to be the man who's supposed to be Prime Minister by virtue of the fact that he can bring in other partners Lapid can't, but the polls have not supported or have not lived up to his hopes. And I think it's quite obvious to me that for some people voting for Benny Gantz, Gideon Saar, even though you know, we appreciate the stand against Netenyahu was just too much right wing, and they won't and they're leaving him. And there could even be people by the way on the other side. So unless something dramatic happens, Gantz's bid  to have a two headed race against Netenyahu is going to fail. It will be Lapid against Netanyahu. And even though if you would have asked me, you know a few years ago, okay, we have this race of Lapid against Netanyahu, I would have laughed my head off. I don't know, Lapid has got hidden, I don't know, talent, he's got hidden strengths and hidden talents that might come forth in the right timing. And you have to say, though, this is my final comment on this. For Lapid, it's much harder to set up the government, he doesn't have a natural coalition. And if Bibi doesn't get a say Bibi doesn't get 15, right? It doesn't get 61 and he gets 58. So one, you have to you have to make sure that nobody you don't have a lot of people who are going to be tried to... Bibi will try and buy them to join the coalition including Mansour Abbas. So so the other possibility is say what does that mean? If maybe get 50 and it means that the Lapid side has 62. But we have the same problem as we always have. Who are these 62? is a lot of they don't necessarily agree to sit with each other final party I won't go on with this anymore. Is the the party set up by Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister, and formerly Bennett, who haven't mentioned either, Bennett's deputy along with you as handled, and one thing is for sure they are the two most beautiful politicians ever in Israeli politics. And if they if they're together, it's like, wow. You know,

Ori Nir  39:18

They call their party the Zionist Spirit, right?

Chemi Shalev  39:21

The Zionist Spirit. Yeah, I mean, he's like, you know, he's like a movie star. And anyway, so right now they're doing well. And because they're doing well in the polls, it is people are starting to think about, you know, whether they are going to supposedly they're part of the anti BiBi block, but they will go with BiBi as, as Shaked has already said. I'm not sure that they can maintain this level in the polls because other than the fact that they're good looking. And the fact that you know they were in the headlines this week. I'm not sure they can generate the kind and I think that when things get tough, they're going to lose their support and they will not get it done. See, that's fine.

Ori Nir  40:03

If they if they do cross the threshold, Chemi, do you think they they will join a Netenyahu-headed coalition?

Chemi Shalev  40:11

Look, Shaked says that they and both of them say they will join only if it's a broad based government meaning they won't join this kind of right wing Looney Tunes government that we've been talking about. Now, that would be logical, it would be logical to assume that if that was the case, and they will impose on BiBi, more, you know, more moderate sort of broad based coalition with guns and so on. Again, all of that would be true in a theoretical sense, we're not for the fact that that is not what interests me,  Bibi has to get out of jail. And you have to keep on reminding yourself that that is his only target in mind. There's no other there's no other point to anything. And that won't serve him. Shaked's coalition doesn't serve Bibi's interests. And so it's hard to see how it would happen. If he wouldn't have a choice maybe. But it's certainly not his first choice or second choice. I'm not sure she would join, by the way, a government on the other side, either. I mean, she had a lot of sort of very difficult time living with Lapid before and I don't think it's going to get any easier for her afterwards.

Madeleine Cereghino  41:16

So I have another question for you about BiBi. And that's whether or not you think this anti BiBi sentiment among members of the current coalition is going to hold steady? Or are do you think some of them are gonna cave and would be willing to join a coalition with him?

Chemi Shalev  41:36

Look, first of all, it's certainly we said the Mansour Abbas's Arab party would be willing. The other joint list, can I don't see how they can join Netenyahu? Yeah, well, I mean, it's more difficult for them to work out the kinds of deal that Mansour Abbas worked out by the fact that they are a nationalistic party, and he has nothing to give them on that. Whereas Abbas can, you know, can you can, it's easier for Abbas. Let's put it that way. And so I don't think that they will do it, Meretz certainly not. Labor, certainly not. Lapid, certainly not. Ayelet Shaked, we already said would. Now we come to the big question of Gantz, the Gantz-Saar party. And it's interesting that of those two, there's a bigger chance that Gantz would want to join Netanyahu coalition than Saar, Saar, as has been I mean, you have to hand it to me, it's been like a man of steel concerning his refusal to join Netanyahu and Gantz is always playing on dancing in several weddings, and you have to always take into account that Gantz is very angry, very insulted. Very, I don't know what I'm looking for whether towards Lapid. He is not full of goodwill towards Lapid. And so that's not reason enough. Of course, I did a lot. It'll be difficult for Gantz to take his party into a coalition with Bibi. But if everything I say, say without them, they have. But with right say no chicken goes and they have 62 or 63. Without Gantz and Saar, if Netenyahu willing to accept them, then I would assume they would go yes. If they you know, because if they would be saving the country, which is what Shaked's claimed was going to be saving the country from all the bad things that Netenyahu would do if he had, you know, he had a minority coalition. But as I said, again, he's not interested in anything else.

Ori Nir  43:39

I mean, you've been a BiBi watcher for many years. And you and you point out I think correctly.


Chemi Shalev  43:48

That was trying to figure it out. It is now 38 years.

Ori Nir  43:53

Wow. Okay, so you're pointing out that his main motivation now to stay out of prison? Now? I'm interested in what you think is was his motivation in previous in his in, you know, before he was indicted? Was it and there's a great deal of kind of debate about this among other Bibi watchers and something that it's some think that his main motivation was just to stay in power for the for the sake of staying in power because he's power hungry. And others think that he actually views himself as someone who's been put by history at a certain place to to save Israel to save Israel and the Jewish people from disaster, that his agenda and that is self perception is much, much broader and much larger. Where do you stand? What do you think?

Chemi Shalev  44:49

First of all, a saying in Hebrew. I don't know exactly how you translate it, but his personality is at odds with its with itself. And so there are many cross streams and so on. And also I have to tell you, I don't think that Netanyahu, that is of today is the Netanyahu that I knew. And I knew, you know, well into a second premiership, but somehow around 2015, it's a big mystery. Something happened, something changed in him. And this was even before the indictment. It may have had something to do with Sheldon Adelson and the whole Iran thing. But definitely since his indictment, he has become a different person. Now, I don't want to say and Bibi has always talked about the fact you know that the media is against him, and the justice system is against him. And you can't say-- I used to think you know, he such is an elitist after all, and everything came to him so easy. So it must be an act, a sham, but it never was. He always felt deprived, no matter what size the golden spoon in his mouth, he was always deprived, his his rivals are always treated much better. This is this has been a constant theme with him. Even when he you know when he won, when he fantastically beat Shimon Perez. In 1996, after the Rabin assassination, he still complained about the media all the time. And don't forget, he comes from a family, especially a father, who, when he when we grew up, his father told him all the time how the leftists are going to, you know, deprive him of his rights. But I think it was the realization that this thing got serious like, yes, you know, if he does, he's going to go to jail. If he doesn't get out of this thing, I and the fact that all of his tactics and whatever he did, nothing helped. And the fact that I don't want to, you know, I don't know that much, and I don't want to get into it, his family situation got more aggravated, or say family members that more and more aggravated as their situation as their legal situation got worse. And something snapped in him and he didn't snap completely became a different person. So that yes, up until 2015, if you ask me, he saw himself as a as a historic figure. And he at least believed that he had other you know, exalted motivations for being in politics, not only as and I think he was a very, he's a very smart person. He's very well read, he has a well constructed ideology, and I'm sure that is true, but but then when it became a fight for himself, everything got everything got overt evil, everything got distorted. distorted. Yeah. And so his complaint, you know, he's a story complaints about water or or recording it was, was, was not treated fairly by it all became personal, it's all suddenly became personal for him. And I'll remind you of really the most horrific scene, it's, I don't want to compare it, it's not your it's not our January 6, but the scene where Netanyahu stands with his ministers behind him with their COVID Masks on and they look like some group of evil angels and he stands there and, and he's, that was the day of the story of his trial. And he preaches against the system, there was something we crossed the red line there, and especially since nothing happened. Nothing now in and of himself does not seek say, to change the justice system from one you know, from to become a completely right wing religion. It's not as if it's a price, but yes, it is a price that he will be willing to pay. Because, in my opinion, he will be willing to pay any price in order to achieve his aim. Because he you know, I don't know really, in the normal world, maybe once he was indicted, you would have resigned, you would have gone to trial. And if he's innocent, he would have been exonerated. Instead, we've got this soap opera that's been going on for so many years. And it all revolves around the same thing. Supposedly, and I'm saying supposedly, because this is a just like in America, or maybe a bit more. So this is a war of cultures. There is a war of cultures, which happens to have been distilled into BiBi's own personal thing. There is a... BiBi represents the resentment, all the people who are resentful of the way the establishment treated them. And that includes a lot of North African Jews. People who, you know, the system didn't do well by them system, people who are not doing that. Well. And I just read a report in The New York Times about how the American population is stratified into two separate entities, the Republicans or the I think they were rural and you know, less educated was a there's a big article,  how it's  getting worse and worse. There's like two different people. There is some of that in Israel too. The gap. It's not it's not so much geographic, but the gap, instead of getting better, has gotten worse. And Netanyahu and Trump live, they thrive off of these resentments. And in order to thrive off of them, they have to make them worse, which is what they do both have been quite successful.

Madeleine Cereghino  50:27

We've talked about a lot of the key players, but I was reminded by a question that chat that we haven't actually had a chance to talk about Avigdor Lieberman and how he plays into this and where we see his career going in the next election?

Chemi Shalev  50:42

Well, I think, first of all, I have to say, is also one of these surprising people who, when he said he wasn't going to go with Netanyahu, nobody believed him. And it turned out a little, you know, he's like rock solid in that. Also, he has he had the time of his life over the past year, because he was Minister of Finance. They didn't care about anything, he did what he wanted. And it was like, you know, it was quintessential Lieberman, he's king of the hill. And by virtue of the fact that he held the most powerful ministerial portfolio in which you can reward the people that need rewarding. His electoral situation hasn't fluctuated all that much. And he is apparently assured of getting in. Again, not like last time. And I assume that if there is a if there is another government, you'll be in opposition. I have to I don't know, you know, after thinking between the government and saw, who would be the first to capitulate and go with Netanyahu? I don't know what the answer is. I mean, they're both of them very tough cookies. And, and Lieberman is also I have to ask myself, whether he has also kept a low profile. You know, he's been actually he hasn't been that much in the headlines. And perhaps one of the reasons is that, I guess, the backdrop of the Russia Ukrainian war, and with him being sort of identified with Russia, perhaps he wanted to lower profile, although I think that's neither here myself saying it, I don't think it's true.

Ori Nir  52:19

You use pretty unflattering terms to describe the Likud Knesset members or the people on the slate of Likud. My question to you is, if Netanyahu leaves the scene, whether because of legal reasons, or political reasons, or otherwise, are there any more serious people in Likud? Who are natural candidates to replace him?

Chemi Shalev  52:45

There are no natural candidates to replace him. His preferred successor is Yariv Levin, the former Speaker of the Knesset, and I really believe in is a formidable politician. And he's, he's not, you know, he's not loud or garish. He's very, very smart. And he only gives the appearances of being a moderate because he's, in fact, he's much more extreme than some of these people that we'd like to call extremists, but he is a candidate. The former mayor of Jerusalem,  oh, Barkat.  Yeah, Barkat. Nir Barkat.I don't know. You know, he spends a lot of money. I don't think he has it. He doesn't have you know, he doesn't I don't think he speaks to Likudniks. And there's Yisrael Katz, who is very strong. He's also a former Minister of finances very strong with the organization. You know, I don't know of any other surprise candidates. And if you asked me, and there could be somebody coming, you know, Miri Regev, for example, who is a firebrand. But she has a large following, and she will certainly compete for the job. And I don't know, you know, I can't gauge the mood of the Likudnikim on the day, they're going to have their primary so she... I couldn't help see her as an outside candidate as well. But if I had to put my money on somebody would be Yariv Levin. And that is not good news for his rivals, because he's a formidable person. And he will he'll, one thing he'll do. He'll return he'll give back the record the veneer of respectability, which is there now he's not worried that they've lost and he wouldn't give it back. And if any, oh, by the way, he could go any day, because I am certain, I mean, I've heard I don't have it as a that there are ongoing contracts on on a plea deal. They go up or they go down, and it also depends on what's going on with the trial. But at a certain point, I understand I was going to have to decide and so he could disappear from today till tomorrow.

Ori Nir  54:59

You really think that 's that's, that's possible and maybe likely?

Chemi Shalev  55:04

I think that Netenyahu thinks that this whole elections Prime Minister thing is not working out. And yes, you'll see he'll think of something else.

Ori Nir  55:14

Cool. Chemi, anything we left out, anything you'd like to add? We're nearing the top of the hour. So if there any, like Final thoughts or ideas or things that we left out in our in the questions, this is the time.

Chemi Shalev  55:28

Yeah, look, the only thing that I, I just started out with it so I'm ending with it. I don't know that American even those who follow realize that we're in a very similar situation. You know, when the January 6 committee started out on purpose they did their the nucleus of their presentation was the big lie, right? They call it the big lie. The Big Lie was this invention that there was massive forgeries in the, in the elections. And so now made up a big lie. And the big lie of Netanyahu is that he is being persecuted by a cabal by a conspiracy, which includes policemen and journalists and judges, for which that one iota of evidence has ever been presented anywhere, at least Trump had, you know, he had some machines that had conked out or something Netanyahu doesn't have anything. And yet, I don't know if it's half a little bit less, a little bit more, believe him. And if he wins the elections, they'll go with him, you know, wherever he goes. I don't want I don't like historic comparisons, even though I'm surprised that the committee use the term big lie. This is like a make or break situation. And I'm hopeful that it that it won't happen and that, you know, somehow things will work out, right. Why shouldn't I hope that in the last minute that citizens enough citizens will get enough brains in order to do what's right so that we don't get into this nightmare scenario. Because the one thing that you have to remember if there is this right wing government that we talked about, it'll be a major nightmare for American Jews. They've never faced such a situation. This is not begging you know, settlements. This is hardcore Hungary Orban, Iran and whatever. And there will be an anti Israeli left, which is, which usually talks to the American Jews, they will be up in arms and hysterical. And it will be a very, very unprecedented difficult situation for American Jews, if that happens. On that happy note...

Ori Nir  57:42

On that happy note, yeah. Yeah. So I want to thank everyone who joined us. I want you to I want to let you know that next week, we're going to have another interesting webinar on a different topic, focusing on the bureaucracy of the occupation. I think it'd be really interesting. Madeleine, thank you for joining us and Chemi, Thanks for a fascinating briefing.

Chemi Shalev  58:07

Thank you.

Ori Nir  58:08

And that brings our webinar to an end. Thank you, everyone.