"…[T]he polls published last week, before the polling blackout began, which showed Likud trailing by an average of four seats, were pretty accurate. They were spot on when it came to the size of the Zionist Union and of the main blocs. Likud’s perceived weakness was probably also a clear snapshot of Netanyahu’s lack of popularity. He won this election by convincing over 200,000 voters who were planning to vote for [the right-wing Zionist Orthodox] Habayit Hayehudi, [the Sefardi haredi] Shas, [the Likud breakaway] Kulanu and [the Shas hard right-wing breakaway] Yahad [parties] to change their minds in the last six days of the campaign.…"
Above: Benjamin Netanyahu
Writing in Ha'aretz, Anshel Pfeffer presents a compelling analysis of yesterday's near-landslide win by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party.
As Pfeffer points out, Netanyahu's overt crass racism and demagoguery in the last days of the campaign took voters away from smaller right wing and centrist parties and got them to vote Likud:
…[T]he polls published last week, before the polling blackout began, which showed Likud trailing by an average of four seats, were pretty accurate. They were spot on when it came to the size of the Zionist Union and of the main blocs. Likud’s perceived weakness was probably also a clear snapshot of Netanyahu’s lack of popularity. He won this election by convincing over 200,000 voters who were planning to vote for [the right-wing Zionist Orthodox] Habayit Hayehudi, [the Sefardi haredi] Shas, [the Likud breakaway] Kulanu and [the Shas hard right-wing breakaway] Yahad [parties] to change their minds in the last six days of the campaign. Last week’s polls were carried out before this shift took place.
The prime minister snatched victory at the very last moment, but for the first hundred days of the campaign, his strategy was all wrong. It was a carbon-copy of his winning campaign from the 2013 election, when one of his slogans was, “When Netanyahu talks the world listens.” It was designed to portray the prime minister as an international statesman among provincial hacks. He wouldn’t engage with the local media and won the election from within a sterile bubble.
In 2015 he thought the same tactics would work and his speech to Congress two weeks ago was the keystone. But the narrative had moved on. Long-term trends set in motion by the 2011 social protests had finally put social issues at the center of the election agenda and Netanyahu was worse than absent from that discourse; he was its bogeyman.
He compounded his mistake last month, when, in response to the damaging state comptroller’s report on the housing crisis, he tried to talk about the Iranian threat instead – insulting many financially underprivileged Likud voters who have little hope of ever owning their own apartment. Even diehard Likudniks found it hard to remain loyal to a leader who was so obviously detached from their daily concerns. Last week's polls served as the necessary shock and Netanyahu made a timely call, jettisoning the faulty strategy and going into emergency mode, giving interviews to (nearly) every outlet and scaring right-wingers out of their wits [largely by playing the race card against Arab-Israelis].
Isaac Herzog was fighting an uphill battle from the moment he became Labor Party leader in November 2013. This election came too early for him. He still needed to work on establishing himself as a national figure, on changing the political narrative and attacking Netanyahu's record. He did quite well on all these counts, given that he only had four months between the Knesset being dissolved and Election Day. He overcame his lack of natural charisma, doggedly stuck to a socioeconomic agenda that voters related to and his criticism of Netanyahu was effective.
Two dozen seats is Labor's best result since 1999, but it wasn't enough. The votes he lacked were there for the taking in a neighboring party: Yesh Atid. The missing piece of his campaign strategy was an aggressive and focused appeal to Yesh Atid voters, highlighting Yair Lapid's total failure as finance minister in Netanyahu's government. There was an effort to do so but it was woefully late and very low-key.
I asked Herzog on Election Day why he wasn't pursuing these voters harder and he answered "we are doing it an organized and responsible way." If he had done so in the shameless and blatant way Netanyahu went after Habayit Hayehudi voters, the outcome may have been very different.…
What Netanyahu did – especially his cry on election day that Arab-Israelis were out voting "in droves" and that Jews had to rush to the polls to defeat them and save Israel and his announcement the day before that there would never be a Palestinian state – will make Netanyahu something close to a pariah in most of the world and will seriously damage Israel's relationships with its Western allies, even with the US.
These are things the ever-craven Netanyahu certainly knew to be true before used racism and demagoguery to win. But to Netanyahu, whose personality seems to match the definition of a narcissistic megalomania, being prime minister is what is necessary to 'save' Israel from destruction. In his mind, no other politician can do this and therefore he must – and did – win at any cost.
Israel will suffer on many fronts because of Netanyahu, and the damage he has done to it will likely continue for many years after he finally leaves office. A small price to pay in Netanyahu's mind for Netanyahu's 'necessary' victory.
This afternoon, Netanyahu – who is anything but religious, let alone Orthodox – rushed to the Kotel (Western Wall) and the Western Wall tunnels for a photo op meant to show that he and Jerusalem (and apparently the Divine will) are forever linked. God had saved him from defeat so that he can save Jerusalem.
That is Netanyahu's message to the world and to the citizens of Israel. It is us Israeli Jews against the evil Israeli-Arabs and Palestinians and Arab countries and the UN, and the G8, and the EU, and the US and its 'devil incarnate' Barack Obama. We may be outnumbered, but with me as your leader, we will always win.
But we likely won't. And when that becomes clear, the first person Israelis should blame is Benjamin Netanyahu.