As the country sinks into turmoil spurred on by a spike in COVID-19 cases, mass protests against shutdowns, a sinking economy and a drastic drop in public trust of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli media was swirling yesterday with speculation that the country was headed for new elections.
With the nation in a state of general unrest, Netanyahu would appear to be the biggest loser in another election. And yet, the rumors about new elections stem from sources within his own office crediting the prime minister himself for suggesting the move.
“It’s an exceedingly bad time for Netanyahu to throw those dice,” wrote Haviv Rettig Gur in the Times of Israel. "But it’s still an excellent moment, from the prime minister’s perspective, to threaten elections.”
According to media reports, Netanyahu plans to use the elections in an attempt to take over the Justice Ministry so he can continue to lead when his corruption trial proceeds.
Currently, the party of Netanyahu rival and alternate Prime Minister, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, has Justice Ministry portfolio. Even since they signed a deal that forged them as coalition partners, very few Israelis believe that Netanyahu has any intention of honoring a rotation agreement to give Gantz the prime minister position in November 2021.
If elections went forward in November, it would mark the fourth time Israelis went to the polls since April 9, 2019. Since then, not one clear leader stable government has emerged except for Netanyahu who has managed to cobble together a coalition and an emergency government a few weeks ago due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Adding to the possibility of new elections, Netanyahu’s coalition suffered a blow after the Knesset passed a law on Wednesday banning gay conversion therapy — drawing the ire of ultra-Orthodox parties that comprise Netanyahu’s coalition.
“We’re on the brink of an abyss. This isn’t an exaggeration. The country can’t allow itself political paralysis like this while we’re stuck in a severe health, social and economic crisis,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, head of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, told HaDerech. “The destruction of the coalition and moving up of elections can’t be allowed. The people of Israel won’t forgive whoever leads them to elections at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Recent polls show that Netanyahu’s Likud would still secure a majority of seats in the Knesset despite a sharp drop in his approval rating and economic fallout due to the pandemic.
The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.