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Israel Election Predictions: Netanyahu Faces Tough Reelection Battle Thanks To High Housing Prices and Israeli Christians

( [email protected] ) Mar 17, 2015 12:56 AM EDT
People in Israel will head to the polls on Tuesday, and there have been predictions that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party could face the possibility of losing his spot in elections for that country’s government. How Israeli Christians vote could also play a factor.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces tough reelection battle. (Photo: Jim Hollander, European Pressphoto Agency)

People in Israel will head to the polls on Tuesday, and there have been predictions that current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud party could face the possibility of losing his spot in elections for that country's government.

According to Peter Coy of Bloomberg, the outcome of elections in Israel could hinge on the issue of high housing prices. Although it hasn't received as much attention around the world like the peace process with Palestinians or Iran's nuclear program, that particular issue has been a hot topic in the Jewish state.

"Americans were riveted by Netanyahu's address to a joint session of Congress on March 3, but Israelis were more agitated by a Feb. 25 report by Israel's state comptroller, Joseph Shapira, on the country's housing crisis," Coy wrote. "The 294-page report said house prices rose 55 percent and rental rates rose 30 percent from 2008 to 2013."

Coy noted that the report didn't completely blame Netanyahu's government for the high housing costs, but it did say that the prime minister was slow to react to the sharp increase.

"Only a strong government led by Prime Minister Netanyahu will resolve this crisis, just as we did with many other reforms and deep institutional changes we implemented that have made the Israeli economy strong and competitive," a Netanyahu spokesman said in response.

According to Coy, Netanyahu's opposition, which includes the Zionist Union and centrist Yesh Atid ("There is a Future") parties, has made high housing costs and the status of the middle class as major issues in this election. Even people in the country's high-paying tech sector have paid attention to the issue.

"It is amazing how little of a piece the peace process and security is taking up in the tech sector's decision of who to vote for," Hillel Fuld, chief marketing officer at Israeli start-up Zula, said. "What is on their minds is the housing crisis."

Netanyahu's reelection chances could also depend on how Christians in Israel vote in the polls. According to a report from Jewish and Israel News (JNS.org), a new law passed in that country allows Christians to self-identify as a distinct ethnic group.

"We as Christians want to live here together with the Jews, and we have own our issues and needs without any connections to the Arab [political] parties," Shadi Khalloul, a Christian and a candidate for the Knesset with Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party, said.

JNS reported that the Assembly of the Catholic Ordinaries in the Holy Land urged Israeli Christians "to go out and vote in the upcoming elections."

"We say to the voters and to the elected: we are deeply concerned about justice, peace and equality in this country," the Catholic group said. "We care about the human being, whoever he or she is. We promote the mutual acceptance of one and all, facilitating life in justice, peace and tranquility, prosperity and solidarity."

According to JNS, there are about 161,000 Christians living in Israel, and they mostly live in Jerusalem or the Galilee region. While they have historically aligned themselves with Arab culture and the idea of pan-Arab nationalism, some in that group want to be more closely integrated with Israeli life and promote their own cultural heritage.

"Of course, we have some struggles here," former Israel Defense Forces paratrooper Khalloul said. "The Arabs do not accept us as equals, and the Jews don't understand our real identity and they consider us as Arabs, which is not true."

Khalloul added that Israeli Christians "need our own identity in politics and to increase public awareness about us."

JNS elaborated on how Israeli Christians could now be recognized by the government.

"As part of this process, Israeli Christians can now register on their identity cards under the 'Aramean' ethnicity, which draws on the distinct history of the region's Christians and is rooted in the Aramaic language and culture," JNS wrote.

Khalloul argued that the future of Christianity in Israel is tied to how well the Jews did in their country.

"I can tell you only one thing, that our destiny would be the same destiny as the Jews here," Khalloul said. "If the Jews will keep strong, we will be strong. If the Jews will not be strong, then we will not be strong as well."

Khalloul added that Israel can be strengthened if the country remains "a Jewish and democratic state that will defend every citizen regardless of their religion, identity, race, or sex."

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