Early elections? Not so fast
Along with the onset of Operation Northern Shield came three new timetables for the next elections
Planning a trip abroad in 2019 but don’t want to miss voting in Israeli elections?
Three new timetables for early election were set in place by the news of the past week, including the police decision to recommend indicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Case 4000, the beginning of Operation Northern Shield and the Supreme Court deciding to extend the deadline to pass the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft bill to January 15.
Gil Hoffman explains why, as a result of both Jewish and Muslim holidays, Tuesday, June 18 is the only date for the election that would really work between now and September.
If the coalition remains together, elections are slated for November.
The Zionist Union faction held its annual Hanukkah party in the Knesset on Monday afternoon and reminded everyone why Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is lucky to have them as his main opposition party.
They lit candles and then immediately broke out into three different Hanukkah songs. With party leader Avi Gabbay missing the event reportedly due to the flu (even though Channel 10 reported that he was actually visiting a sensitive foreign country), the MKs fought over which one to continue singing. There was also a dispute over whether to light one candle or two during the day.
As happens often with the Zionist Union’s MKs, if they are all asked the same question, there will be different answers. This time, the question was what would happen if Netanyahu initiated an election that would take place during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, from May 5 to June 4.
Holding the election then would not be out of character for Netanyahu, who infamously warned on Election Day in 2015 that the Arabs were going out to vote in droves. Perhaps the droves would not go vote if they were fasting.
Opposition leader Tzipi Livni and Zionist Union faction chairman Yoel Hasson replied that they want the race held as soon as possible, but an election during Ramadan is unacceptable. MKs Eitan Cabel and Yossi Yonah said the party’s position is that “the election should have happened yesterday,” and Ramadan should not stand in the way.
Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg said trying to hold the race during Ramadan would be “yet another inappropriate political game played by the prime minister,” and she would have no choice but to oppose it. Arab MKs said they already asked Netanyahu not to initiate an election during Ramadan and were preparing a court petition in case he does.
“The idea of having an election during Ramadan would be the same as having an election during the period of the Jewish high holidays,” Joint List MK Haneen Zoabi said. “Obviously, Netanyahu would not dream of holding an election then, as it would be considered both antisemitic and deeply anti-democratic. Holding an election during Ramadan is basically stating: we do not want you to participate, which from the openly racist prime minister, would not be at all surprising.”
While Netanyahu’s associates at one point spoke enthusiastically about a May election after Independence Day and the Eurovision Song Contest, now they are confident citizens will only go to the polls after that.
Three new timetables for the election were set in place by the news of the past week, and they all coincidentally overlap.
First came Sunday’s two legal developments.
The police announced its recommendation to indict Netanyahu in Case 4000 (the Bezeq/Walla Affair), and Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s office leaked that his decision on whether to indict Netanyahu pending a hearing would take place around Passover, which will be celebrated from April 19 to 26. Netanyahu’s associates have indicated that he wants the election to be held between the “indictment pending a hearing” and the hearing itself, some six months later.
The second legal development the same day was the Supreme Court deciding to reject Netanyahu’s request for a four-month extension to pass the haredi (ultra-Orthodox) draft bill, and instead extend the deadline to pass the legislation that cannot be passed with the current coalition to January 15. That date immediately became the earliest day for an election to be triggered.
On Tuesday, when Operation Northern Shield began, the IDF said detecting and destroying the tunnels on the border with Lebanon would take a
month to a month and a half. It can be safely assumed that no election can be initiated during an IDF operation, whose timing happens to coincide with the draft bill extension.
So open your calendars. An election must legally be held on a Tuesday, at least 90 days after it is called, and it traditionally takes place as soon as possible after that, in order to limit its cost and damage.
If the Knesset dispersed itself on Wednesday, January 16, the election could be held on Tuesday, April 16. But that is only three days before the Passover Seder, and too many residents will already be out of town.
Tuesday, April 30 also won’t work, because it would only give Israelis two days to come back to the country after the holiday ends, and there is an extra day of not eating bread for the observant this year, because Shabbat starts immediately following the conclusion of Passover.
The next Tuesday, May 7, is already Ramadan, as is every other Tuesday in May. Tuesday, June 4, is Eid al-Fitr, the holiday that marks the end of the holy month.
Tuesday, June 11 is only two days after Shavuot, when locals tend to stay in the country. But a holiday is still a holiday, and it takes time for many Jews to digest dairy food. Tuesday, June 25 is already too far into the summer when kids are leaving school, and there is no way the electorate will go to the polls in either July or August.
That leaves Tuesday, June 18 as the only date for the election that would really work between now and September, when Rosh Hashanah only begins on the 29th, so any Tuesday in September is also fair game.
Those possible election dates in June and September would all suit Netanyahu, whose hearing would likely take place in October, or perhaps November, because October has so many Jewish holidays. Netanyahu’s associates do not want the election after the hearing, whose contents if leaked, could be potentially embarrassing.
If the election would be held in September, or on the date when it would be held if it is not advanced, November 5, the process of forming the next government would either end or begin when the country starts eating their first pre-Hanukkah sufganiyot.
By then, the Zionist Union could have a new leader, who could tell the MKs what song to sing after they finish lighting candles. And many political conflagrations will undoubtedly ignite and be extinguished between now and then. •
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara attend a Likud Party gathering for the first night of Hanukkah on Sunday in Ramat Gan.