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Mud Flies As Israeli Election Nears

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JERUSALEM – With one month to go before Israelis cast their ballots, religious and nationalist parties have engaged in highly negative campaigns against each other, claiming that only their party will be able to pressure the next prime minister into promoting their domestic, economic and religious agendas. According to all polls, those parties are likely to be the basis of the next governing coalition – expected to be led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The mudslinging stems from the most recent polls that indicate that the pro-settlements Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home) Party could snare enough votes from disaffected Likud, Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu voters and receive anywhere from 11-15 Knesset seats.

The political scandals surrounding Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman and the personal bickering between Shas’s Eli Yishai and Aryeh Deri are viewed negatively by voters. If Habayit Hayehudi secures more Knesset seats than Shas, the party will be positioned to receive more key ministerial posts than Shas, which desperately wants to hold onto the Ministry of Construction and Housing and secure the Ministry of Welfare and Social Services. As in past elections, Shas’s campaign is based on appealing to financially- strapped and poor voters.

Habayit Hayehudi came under attack this week from an unexpected critic, maverick Likud candidate and Jewish Press columnist Moshe Feiglin. Feiglin claimed that Habayit Hayehudi was nothing more than a reconstituted version of the failed National Religious Party, which could not prevent withdrawals from Judea, Samaria and Gaza. Habayit Hayehudi MK Uri Orbach fired back at Feiglin, saying in a Jerusalem Post interview that Feiglin was “deluding himself if he believed that by being in the Likud he would have a real impact on the policies of the prime minister. The Likud is using them [Feiglin and others] against the up-and-coming force in religious Zionism, which is Habayit Hayehudi.”

Political commentators speculate that Feiglin’s rhetoric is a direct result of Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu’s slow descent in the polls as a result of Lieberman’s ongoing legal problems – he stepped down late last week as foreign minister – and the prospect that the state attorney general will not allow him to serve as a minister or Knesset member in the next government. Additionally, Haaretz reported that many veteran Likud Knesset members have complained about the party’s lackluster campaign agenda.

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