Voter turnout key to victory, say attendees of religious Zionist conference

Voter turnout will be the determining factor in the September elections, political candidates said at a Jerusalem conference on Monday.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Voter turnout will determine whether the Israeli Right returns to power. That was the key takeaway from a conference at the Ramada Hotel in Jerusalem on Monday evening sponsored by the news site Srugim, which caters to the religious Zionist segment of the Israeli public.

The election-themed conference attracted a host of important politicians, from the center-left Blue and White party’s Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon to Yemina party head Ayelet Shaked.

All the right-wing candidates who attended and spoke at the conference repeated the refrain that the electorate must come out to vote.

Former Education Minister Naftali Bennett, now running with the Yemina party, described the September elections as “a classic case of fate being in our hands.” He said there were two things Israeli right-wing voters must do to ensure victory: 1) Come out to vote; and, 2) Vote only for parties sure to pass the electoral threshold.

“If you stay at home, or vote for parties that aren’t certain to reach the electoral threshold, we won’t win,” he said.

Shaked reiterated the message later in the evening. She said she worried that the public is “drowsing” and “doesn’t recognize the importance of the hour,” and how “important it is for the ideological right to be strong.”

She added that small parties in Israel historically weaken on election day. (Shaked here spoke from personal experience as her own party, the New Right, which she co-founded with Bennett, narrowly missed the threshold in April despite polls showing the party would pass.) The Globes website reports that percentage-wise, the party missed the Knesset by the narrowest margin in Israeli history.

Shaked added that parties which polls show failing to make it into the Knesset have no chance in two weeks.

Though she didn’t mention it by name, it was clear her warning was directed at Otzma Yehudit, a party to the right of Yemina, which continues to run independently despite polls showing it will not make it into the Knesset.

The leader of that party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who spoke on a conference panel, showed no inclination of quitting the race, declaring “The Likud can only win with Otzma Yehudit.”

The party has been encouraged by recent polls showing a sharp increase in its voters over a week’s time, from 1.8% to 2.9% of the electorate. However, that is still short of the 3.25 percent threshold.

Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich, also running on the Yemina ticket, said Otzma has “zero chance.” He said, “The greatest threat to the Right is that it throws votes into the trash.”

Zehut party member Moshe Feiglin also addressed the conference. He recently made a deal with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in which his party would drop out of the race in exchange for his receiving a ministerial position in the next government.

He insisted the deal “would only strengthen Zehut” and considered the agreement a great accomplishment. “We took planks in our party’s platform and transformed them into sections of a contract with the prime minister,” he said.

Feiglin said the mistake people make is to think of politics “as a marketplace of personalities when in fact it’s a marketplace of  ideas.” Zehut is the only party bringing new ideas to the table, he said. And now those ideas have moved to the center of Israeli politics through the party’s agreement with Likud, he added.

Attendees were treated to a rousing speech by Evangelical Christian Dr. Mike Evans, founder of the Friends of Zion Museum in Jerusalem.

He told the audience that it was critical that they make the right choice for their prime minister. He said that everything was going Israel’s way at the moment, citing the U.S. Embassy move to Jerusalem, America’s recognition of Israeli sovereignty on the Golan, and Israel’s warming ties with Arab countries.

However, he warned that Israel must choose its next leader wisely if it wishes to continue to make the most of the favorable winds at its back.

In attendance was Dr. Robert Aumann, who won the Nobel Prize in 2005 for his work on game-theory analysis. The candidates, somewhat humorously, frequently pointed to Dr. Aumann sitting in the front row in an attempt to bolster their arguments.