Hoping to Overtake Likud, Kahol Lavan Takes Aim at Left-wing Parties' Support Base

Main opposition party's first choice after Israel's September vote would still be to form a coalition with Netanyahu's party, senior official says

Benny Gantz at a campaign event in Rahat, southern Israel, August 28, 2019.
\ Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The Kahol Lavan party plans to launch a campaign aimed at wooing voters away from parties to its left, in an effort to become the largest party in the next Knesset. 

Party sources said they won’t stop this campaign even if it sends one of the left-wing parties below the electoral threshold. The latest polls show that such a campaign could deal a mortal blow to the Labor-Gesher joint ticket, since many of that ticket’s supporters are wavering.

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Kahol Lavan’s theory is that if it is bigger than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, President Reuven Rivlin is more likely to give its leader, Benny Gantz, the first crack at forming the next government, even if he doesn’t have 61 MKs backing him.

A senior Kahol Lavan official said the party’s first choice would be a government with Likud. “Our natural coalition is with Likud, Lieberman and Labor,” he said, referring to Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party.

But several party sources stressed that a government with Likud isn’t an option as long as Netanyahu remains the party’s leader.

“The bloc theory has collapsed,” another Kahol Lavan source said. “All the polls show that it will be impossible to form a government based on the center-left bloc. What this means is that we have to choose between two possibilities: Either there will be a radical right-wing government, or else a unity government of the moderate players.”

Sources in Labor-Gesher and Democratic Union said they had always assumed Kahol Lavan would reprise the efforts it made to woo left-wing voters in the last election. Consequently, both parties have spent the past few weeks preparing moves aimed at thwarting a massive defection to Gantz.

One such move was last week’s performance by Labor Chairman Amir Peretz, in which he shaved off his mustache while promising never to sit in a Netanyahu government. A poll conducted by the Kan 11 channel found that the controversial gimmick worked: Labor won seven seats in that poll, up from five in the previous poll.

Peretz said he decided to shave his mustache because none of his previous efforts to persuade left-wing voters that he wouldn’t sit with Netanyahu had worked. Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, Kahol Lavan and Democratic Union had all worked hard to persuade these voters that Labor-Gesher would join Netanyahu after the election.

“There’s a chance that the Labor Party will join the government,” MK David Bitan (Likud) said in an interview with public radio last week, a few days before Peretz shaved his mustache. Bitan said Labor had “changed its human composition and is claiming that it’s a social-welfare party. I can’t see a situation in which a social-welfare party would remain in the opposition.”

Labor charged that Likud kept repeating this claim in an effort to make Labor smaller, as that would make it harder for Kahol Lavan to form a center-left government after the election. Kahol Lavan and Democratic Union also kept repeating it, in an effort to persuade left-wing voters to switch to them.