To Lahav Harkov, the New Jersey-raised reporter who covers the Knesset for The Jerusalem Post, the Israeli election scheduled for March 17 might as well be called “the Seinfeld election.”
It is, she explained, “an election about nothing, which really means it is about everything…. We are going to an election because the politicians couldn’t get along anymore.”
Speaking on Dec. 8, when Israeli lawmakers voted to dissolve the nation’s parliament, Harkov told some 50 people at Temple Beth-El Mekor Chayim in Cranford that unlike the major political parties in the United States, the governing Likud in Israel does not have a platform.
“It is sort of a way for people not to be able to pin them down, but most of the party does not believe in a two-state solution,” she said. “It is a policy that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may or may not support.
“He has said there should be a Palestinian state that is demilitarized, but there are differing opinions within the political scene as to how much conviction he has behind those words.”
Netanyahu faces a major challenge from the man he fired as finance minister, Yair Lapid of the centrist Yesh Atid Party and, according to Harkov, “somewhat of a sex symbol.”
Another possible candidate is centrist Tzipi Livni, who was recently fired by Netanyahu as minister of justice. She has campaigned, said Harkov, by saying: “I ran peace talks and I can do them again” and “The extremists are taking over, and I have done a good job of blocking them.”
Results of a new poll broadcast Dec. 8 on Israel’s Knesset Channel indicated that a center-left coalition of Livni’s Hatnua Party and Isaac Herzog’s left-of-center Labor Party could unseat Likud in the next election.
Another poll, this one conducted internally by Likud, showed that right-wing Likud member Moshe Feiglin is running neck-and-neck with Netanyahu for leadership of their party.
“But you have to be warned that polls in Israel are extremely unreliable,” Harkov said, adding that there are “unsubstantiated rumors that Lapid is trying to form a coalition with haredi parties,” to form a secular-fervently Orthodox bloc that could further threaten Netanyahu’s power.
Other parties on the left and center “are forming a coalition saying ‘Anyone but Bibi.’”
A potential threat to Netanyahu from the right could come from his foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman of the Yisrael Beitenu Party.
During the summer’s Operation Protective Edge, said Harkov, “you could see the far right wing of the coalition was being difficult for the prime minster. Lieberman and Naftali Bennett, the country’s religious services minister, were saying, ‘Israel wasn’t hitting Hamas hard enough.’”
Harkov took note of the “very controversial” nation-state bill that, if passed by the Knesset, would enshrine Israel’s status as a Jewish state into law. Netanyahu’s support for a version of the bill helped precipitate the current upheaval.
Critics have objected to “some of the details, like ‘only the Jewish people can have self-determination,’” Harkov said. “Some people might say, ‘What does that mean for a two-state solution?’”
Critics, including Livni and Lapid, “are saying this bill is elevating being Jewish over being democratic,” while proponents say, “We already have so many other laws that say we are democratic.”
Asked whether President Obama might have an influence on the Israeli elections, she said, “It used to be that Israelis would not vote for someone who does not have good relations with the U.S. But Israelis don’t seem to like Obama very much and they feel their national honor is offended if they think Obama is offending Netanyahu.”
Harkov grew up in Deal and Long Branch and attended Hillel Yeshiva in Deal. After high school she made aliya and received degrees in political science and communications at Bar-Ilan University in Ramat Gan. She began at The Jerusalem Post by working on its website.
Covering the Knesset “is very intense for the three days a week when it meets. Then I have two calm work days. Politics in Israel are never boring,” she said.