Gantz’s Party Gears Up to Siphon Off Votes From Left-wing Alliance

Labor-Gesher-Meretz says the most recent polls before the March 2 election give it around nine of the Knesset’s 120 seats, reflecting its maximum strength, as parties try to make inroads with new demographics

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Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz at a party meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem. February 14, 2020.
Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz at a party meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem. February 14, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Kahol Lavan will launch a campaign in the next few days targeting voters from Labor-Gesher-Meretz, sources in the left-wing troika say, so that Benny Gantz’s party can try to increase its lead over Likud in the March 2 election.

Sources in Labor-Gesher-Meretz say Gantz is opting for this tactical maneuver because Kahol Lavan and Likud will be neck and neck for the third straight election.

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If Kahol Lavan becomes the biggest party in the Knesset with a large lead, it will be boosted significantly in coalition talks with the other parties, the sources said.

Amir Peretz, the head of Labor-Gesher-Meretz, called on Gantz to abandon the move. According to Peretz, if his grouping wins fewer seats in the Knesset than in the last election, Gantz’s chances to form a government will be lowered.

“It doesn’t matter how many more seats Kahol Lavan has than Likud,” Peretz said. “What matters is the size of the bloc, and Kahol Lavan would be better off investing efforts in gaining new votes from the right, because our seats will be key in the bloc that replaces Netanyahu and his policies.”

Labor-Gesher-Meretz said that the most recent polls give it around nine seats, reflecting its maximum electoral strength. All three parties in the slate are working to increase their strength by one seat, but they believe that a rigorous campaign by Kahol Lavan could dilute their showing on Election Day.

Sources in the left-wing alliance say they are also concerned about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s recent declaration that he would appoint Likud MK Nir Barkat as the next finance minister. They believe this could gain Likud a seat among Likud voters who supported Likud’s Moshe Kahlon, the current finance minister who is retiring from politics.

“Kahlon was a social-affairs-minded minister,” an official from Labor-Gesher-Meretz said. “His supporters see Barkat as the exact opposite. In this point of view, Netanyahu shot himself in the foot in appointing Barkat, and we believe that quite a few of Kahlon’s supporters will be divided between Kahol Lavan and us.”

In the final lap of the campaign, Labor-Gesher-Meretz is expected to renew its blitz on communities in outlying parts of the country, as Peretz and Gesher chief Orli Levi-Abekasis did in the last election. Though last time, in September, this effort by Labor-Gesher had little success.

Meanwhile, as Kahol Lavan and Likud try to siphon off religious-Zionist voters from the right-wing Yamina alliance, the ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism is trying much the same tactic. UTJ intends to seek as many votes as possible from among nationalist ultra-Orthodox voters who are disappointed with the record of the religious parties on religious issues.

And as in the previous campaign, the Degel Hatorah faction of United Torah Judaism believes that it’s the most right-wing party in the Knesset. “I’ve never voted to return parts of the Land of Israel,” Degel Hatorah leader Moshe Gafni said Wednesday at a meeting at party headquarters in Jerusalem.

“We were against Oslo,” he said, referring to the peace process with the Palestinians in the ‘90s. “We were against disengagement [from Gaza]. I can say to religious Zionists – come and vote for us. For us, Judaism is the most important thing, but we’re turning to new audiences that we didn’t have before. We’ve proved that our flag, the flag of the Torah, is suitable to more groups.”

United Torah Judaism’s Yakov Asher said that attempting to appeal to religious Zionists and right-wing voters is “a new thing.” He added: “This is happening because of the great lack in the religious-Zionist community. There are many people there for whom issues of Jewish law and religion are important and they want to join us.”

But Yitzhak Pindrus, a former MK of United Torah Judaism, corrected Asher. “It’s not a new thing; we were always on the side of religious Zionism and the right wing,” he said.

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