The gloves are on: 6 things to know for February 26

1. Oh yeah, elections: With five days to go until March 2, Israelis seem to have finally woken up to the fact that there is an election afoot.

  • Campaigns have seemingly stepped up their messaging, and mudslinging, which is pushing through (and becoming infected with) coronavirus coverage to make it to the top of the news agenda.
  • Both the Yedioth Ahronoth and Israel Hayom tabloids feature election campaigning as their top stories, and political bluster rings out from TV newscasts, talk radio and the tops of many news sites Wednesday morning.
  • “Gantz is Bibi from Ali Express,” “Netanyahu wants a law to escape justice,” read side by side headlines in Yedioth, quoting from the top two candidates.
  • The paper notes that though recent polls have shown Likud taking the lead, the party is not becoming complacent but pushing even harder against its Blue and White rival.
  • Blue and White meanwhile, appears to be pushing just as hard with its comparison of Netanyahu to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
  • Yedioth columnist Yuval Karni writes that it seems Gantz has actually gotten worse at campaigning the more he has done it, and is shying from taking the fight to Netanyahu. Meanwhile, he writes, Netanyahu and Likud are learning from past mistakes, like voters being unhappy with race baiting and using “gevald” campaigns that pretend the party is on the cusp of disaster.
  • “The change has worked not bad for Netanyahu in the meantime: Despite the charges against him he’s managed to be closer to victory than his rival,” he writes.
  • Nonetheless, Channel 12 news reports that Netanyahu has in fact launched a “gevald” campaign, though the channel appears to just be using the term as a catch-all for Likud’s push claiming that it’s within striking distance of a coalition, just two seats short.
  • In Israel Hayom, seen as a Likud mouthpiece, columnist Sophie Ron-Moriah goes after Yisrael Beytenu writes that the party has changed from one “with a more or less known ideology, into one where its politics are not known. Anyone who casts a vote for it is throwing their vote away” (literally, putting it on the antlers of a deer).

2. May the fourth be with you: In a sign that Likud is not going to try to snatch votes away from Yamina, Israel Hayom runs as a lead story an interview with party leader and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, who says he’d rather have a fourth vote than join Gantz.

  • Bennett isn’t the only one talking about dreaded fourth elections.
  • Knesset Finance Committee head Moshe Gafni (UTJ) tells Army Radio that a fourth vote would be an “economic disaster.” “We can deal with a deficit, but not with a freeze.”
  • Nonetheless, the station reports that a group has emerged calling itself The Movement to Advance Repeat Elections and Stalemates in Israel, with a whopping 370 members, including Yigal Sheffer, who tells the station that the government’s inability to act has actually been a boon and that they are hoping for elections forever. “Israel saves NIS 60 billion in a transition government, 3 billion for repeat elections is chump change,” the budding anarchist says. “If you want [Israel] to close its deficit, vote for a party that won’t cross the threshold.”
  • “With Israel’s third national election in a year, it may be dispiriting to consider that it actually will take yet a fourth election to finally nail down a national government. However, if it does come to that – and it very well may – the good news is that the fourth try should be the charm,” Rabbi Dov Fisher writes in Israel Hayom.

3. ‘Not again’: Haaretz ‘s Allison Kaplan Sommer writes that coronavirus fears are about the only interesting thing about the elections, with Israelis just sick of all of it.

  • “The national mood is ‘Oh no, not again,’” Hebrew U Prof. Reuven Hazan is quoted telling the paper. “Israelis are tired. They don’t want to hear politicians campaigning anymore. And you can tell that even the politicians themselves don’t want to be campaigning.”
  • (A similar article was published ahead of the second election, which actually had higher than expected turnout in the end.)
  • But a poll published by Walla shows that most Israelis are actually somehow not yet sick of elections, with some 70 percent saying they plan on going out to vote.
  • Plus there’s ice cream, in honor of the Israeli saying “third time, ice cream.”

4. The coronavote: The Walla poll also reveals that only 9% of voters think the coronavirus will affect their decision to vote on March 2.

  • For those in quarantine, several Israeli news sites report on special voting booths that will be set up in some Israeli cities for those in quarantine, staffed by Magen David Adom volunteers.
  • A total of 15 such booths will be set up in central Israel and each voting station’s committee, a panel responsible for overseeing proper procedure during voting, will wear protective clothing and be kept separated from the voters.
  • A video published by Kan shows exactly how the booths will be set up.
  • But some questions remain, such as how the quarantined voters will reach the booths.
  • Army Radio reports that the 11 Israelis from the Diamond Princess cruise now in hospital quarantine will not be allowed to go to the booths to vote.
  • A map published by Yedioth shows that while most in quarantine are in the Tel Aviv area, dozens more people are spread out from Kiryat Shmona to Beersheba. (Not to mention that the map doesn’t include places where fewer than 10 people are in quarantine.)

5. Viral fears: The paper also reports, though, that Israel may soon be in the clear, at least from a group of South Korean tourists who found they had the virus after leaving the country, setting off a minor panic.

  • “The most comprehensive study so far on victims found that most carriers showed symptoms in some way or another between two and 11 days of contracting it. It’s been 11 days since the group left Israel, and there still has not been a single case of it being contracted in Israel.”
  • Fears of the virus are still running rampant though, especially given the news that Iran is a hotspot. Channel 12’s Ehud Yaari claims that 18,000 people in the country have contracted the virus, despite official numbers of just a few hundred.
  • He notes that Iran doesn’t have enough masks, since the regime controls their production and import out of fears they could be used in protests, marking what may be the first time Iran is criticized for not having its people cover up enough.
  • “You don’t need to be an expert to understand that the virus will continue to spread in and out of Iran. It will leak into Arab countries on our borders … From our point of view, it will reach Jordan, and then make its way to the Palestinians,” he predicts.
  • Army Radio reports that President Reuven Rivlin, in Australia, has told Foreign Minister Israel Katz and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman that Australians are worried that Israel will add it to the list of countries where returnees need to be quarantined: “There’s no doubt that you are concerned with the health of our citizens, but before you make a decision, understand the consequences.”

6. Goodbye, cold friend: The death of ousted Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak also gets wide coverage in the press.

  • ToI’s Adam Rasgon writes that Mubarak’s relationship with Israel was one of getting close, but not too close.
  • “During his years in power, Mubarak fulfilled his pledge in preserving the landmark Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty — which restored the Sinai Peninsula to Egypt and ended decades of hostilities — but he limited the development of relations between Israel and Egypt,” he writes.
  • Former ambassador Yitzhak Levanon tells him that “he kept the framework of the treaty intact — which the Americans wanted — but emptied it of much of its contents related to bilateral relations.”
  • Mubarak seemingly enjoyed his ties with Israeli journalists, several of whom recall their talks with him.
  • Yedioth’s Smadar Peri writes that she has a “special relationship” with Mubarak, though he initially hated her for reporting on an attempted coup against him.
  • “I met him at least 30 times, under clear rules. The part I wasn’t allowed to publish was always more interesting. During this part he would always ask me: What’s new on the streets of Cairo? What was your impression this time?”
  • Oded Granot in Israel Hayom says he was the last Israeli journalist to interview Mubarak.
  • “The peace he managed with us for 30 years was a cold peace, but a peace kept without disturbance, or being cut off, which held strong even in tough times,” he writes.
  • Granot also tells Kan radio that Mubarak predicted to him that Tzipi Livni would never be prime minister and that he accused Israel of being behind 9/11.
  • “He was only half joking,” he says.

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