Photo: Ben Kelmer
Benjamin Ben-Eliezer
Photo: Ben Kelmer

Presidential race narrows down

Scandals in Israel's 'dirtiest' campaign ever leave Labor Party divided; Netanyahu seeking to delay Tuesday's vote.

Expected to take place on Tuesday, the Knesset vote for the highly respected position of President will mark the conclusion of one of the dirtiest campaigns ever seen in Israeli politics.



However, in this race even the three days left until the vote seem like an eternity and some are predicting that the drama surrounding the final list of candidates is still far from over with more surprises yet to come.


After Benjamin Ben-Eliezer announced his exit from the race, first reported by Ynet Saturday afternoon, the Labor party met for talks but members were divided on who to support in place of their candidate. Party chairman Yithak Herzog and MK Eitan Cabel discussed the possibility that the opposition may choose to join together in support of one candidate.


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Veteran MKs said that in all their years they haven't seen an election campaign that inspired so much passion and featured such significant political attacks.


A political source said, "The campaign created a feeling of disgust among the public, who (hate) these political battles and are looking for something else. Such a dirty campaign for such a noble position has never occurred here. The last few days created a difficult atmosphere, a bitter taste, and more than anything, a desire to finish this sickening race already."


Investigations into Silvan Shalom were cancelled, but the scandal still marked the end of his presidential bid. (Photo: Roee Idan) (Photo: Roee Idan)
Investigations into Silvan Shalom were cancelled, but the scandal still marked the end of his presidential bid. (Photo: Roee Idan)


Until six weeks ago, Minister Silvan Shalom (Likud) was considered a front-runner in the fight but just as his intentions to run became clear, a sexual harassment scandal exploded in which he was allegedly involved some 15 years ago.


Shalom repeatedly denied the accusations and investigations were eventually closed, but the gathering snowball of the scandal left him permanently out of the race.


Shortly after Shalom's exit from the race, candidate Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah) was confronted with his very own public scandal. Media sources revealed a secret agreement signed by Sheetrit with his maid in which he paid large amounts for an arrangement of which the details are still confidential.


The next candidate to face public accusations was Rueven Rivlin (Likud), after a slanderous video was sent out to 120 MKs. Luckily for Rivlin, this scandal quickly died down followed by a short period of relative quiet until the beginning of investigations into a substantial loan given to Ben-Eliezer from billionaire Avraham Nanikashvili.


As Ben-Eliezer's chances over the last few weeks have been steadily increasing, some were expecting that the questions about his personal fortune would explode at the worst time for him.


Ben-Eliezer, apart from being a candidate for the Labor Party, also won considerable support from more leftist factions and was even expected to rake in some votes from the coalition, until he abandoned the political battle for the battle for his reputation.


There are those within the political system who argue that the timing of the investigations suggest law-enforcement corruption and blame the police for an attempt to intervene in politics. Either way, even those who were quick to accuse the police were even quicker to strike Ben-Eliezer from the political map and draw new boundaries, laying out who the front-runners and potential losers are.


"Sheetrit has all the potential to gain (significant) momentum," said a political source. "He's from the coalition, he holds a center-left position, he's of eastern origins and has a lot of political experience. (Ben Eliezer's) scandal could bring him to the front of the stage. He's a candidate that could be acceptable for the coalition as well as the opposition."


Netanyahu wants to delay the vote

Meretz MKs announced on Saturday that they had received the suggestion of party Chiarwoman Zahava Gal-On and would be voting for Dalia Dorner. The Labor Party remains divided in discussions of whom to support despite meeting on the subject in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. 


"Within the party there are stances from here to there and a wide range of opinions," said Eitan Cabel at the end of the two hour meeting. "We aren't excluding any candidate and I hope that we'll manage to settle on another candidate."


MK Shelly Yachimovich Sent a message to the prime minister at the end of the meeting. "I have no doubt that the idea of delaying the voted came straight from the prime minister. I call on Speaker of the Knesset Yuli Edelstein to... hold elections in a timely manner and not let this farce continue with no end."


Party Chairman Herzog spoke before the meeting saying, "There are still a few days until the elections. I intend to take counsel with the heads of the parties and opposition factions in order to arrive at a united agreement on a candidate." 


From the opposite side, MK Itzik Shmuli said, "There is no option to rally behind one candidate." He suggested that each MK be allowed to vote individually without input from the party. In such an eventuality Yachimovich already announced support for Rivlin.


פרסום ראשון: 06.08.14, 09:58
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