Netanyahu’s latest electoral gamble may backfire

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pictured during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem Dec 2. -Reuters
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is pictured during a news conference at his office in Jerusalem Dec 2. -Reuters

By:Jonathan Eyal

The date has been set for Israel’s fourth general election in a decade: March 17, 2015. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims the ballot will be about principles, about the “very survival of Israel in its current shape”; in fact, the upcoming election is merely a referendum on his continued rule.

And while all opinion polls currently project Mr Netanyahu’s centre-right Likud party is likely to come first in the ballots, thereby allowing the Prime Minister a rare historic opportunity of forming his fourth administration, the Israeli electorate is notoriously fickle. This may turn out to be one gamble too many for the man who has dominated Israel’s politics over the past two decades.

Mr Netanyahu has been squabbling for months with his centre-left coalition partners over a proposal to enact a fundamental new law declaring Israel the “nation-state of the Jewish people”. The premier insisted his bill is essential to defending Israel’s future. But Mr Yair Lapid, the finance minister and leader of the centrist Yesh Atid party, and Mrs Tzipi Livni, the justice minister who heads the left-leaning Hatnua party, dismissed the proposed legislation as merely a “manifestation of the Prime Minister’s extremism”.

In fact, the debate about Israel’s “Jewish national identity” is irrelevant. Current Israeli law already promotes the Jewish faith and institutions; Jewish religious anniversaries are treated as official national holidays. More importantly, under its so-called Law Of Return, Israel grants an automatic right of citizenship to any Jew, anywhere in the world. In short, Mr Netanyahu’s claim that Israel needs fresh legislation to defend its Jewish character is a classic example of a solution, in search of a problem.

Still, Mr Netanyahu used his controversial law to break up the government. One reason for his decision is that the Israeli Prime Minister never liked his current Cabinet: Traditionally, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party prefers to rule together with a string of small religious parties but, since the 2013 ballots were inconclusive, Mr Netanyahu was forced into a different kind of coalition arrangement.

By bringing down the government with a dispute over the Jewish character of the state, Mr Netanyahu not only diverts the debate away from bread-and-butter issues, but also makes a direct pitch for the support of the religious parties. Current projections indicate Mr Netanyahu and his religious allies could gain 65 out of the 120 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s Parliament.

And, by opting for an early election, Mr Netanyahu may also be aiming to influence Israel’s vital strategic link with the United States. If he gets a fresh mandate, Mr Netanyahu will be able to present himself to the US presidential contenders as the only Israeli leader with whom they would have to deal should they gain the White House.

However, there are plenty of factors which can still upset Mr Netanyahu’s electoral gamble. Opinion polls released after the government’s collapse indicated that more than two-thirds of Israeli voters blame him for the early election, which most of the electorate dismisses as a waste of time and resources. That’s not a good omen for Mr Netanyahu’s Likud.

Three months of arduous campaigning add to the unpredictability. Over the past 25 years, four Israeli elections were fought at a time when Israelis felt insecure, and in three of them the sitting prime ministers lost.

Finally, there is the question of Mr Moshe Kahlon, a government rebel who has just launched his own party, focusing on social issues and particularly on the growing poverty divide among Jewish voters. “Our economy is like a circus; the exploitation of distressed workers and the social disparities must not continue,” he said yesterday.

Mr Kahlon’s populist appeal appears to be working, with polls already indicating he can win anything between six and 16 parliamentary seats, thereby upsetting Mr Netanyahu’s calculations.

The Prime Minister is still the man to beat in the election. But Mr Netanyahu is far from being unbeatable.


This article was originally published in the The Straits Times

  • 5thDrawer

    Interesting how ‘Centre’, Right’, and ‘Left’ vary so widely in the world.

    • MekensehParty

      they wish there were only 3 parties centre, right and left.
      They have parties now for one cm right, 2 cm left, 5 cm from far right, and 4 cm from far left, a fart away from center and soon as they won’t have names anymore they’ll add a dimension and start with center up, left down and right diagonal…
      All this shows without a doubt the total difference of opinions among populations coming from different backgrounds and cultures with one common denominator being their religion.
      Good luck forming a country…
      If the Arabs had a grain of intelligence they shouldn’t have fired one bullet and left the “Jewish” state crumble on itself, because it will.

      • 5thDrawer

        Every ‘family” a Tribe unto itself. :-)))

      • doron

        we got blocks 🙁
        left, right and center..inside they are divided but not because of ethnically differences but cause of petty people, all want to lead..all believe they are the smartest.
        if we put your own personal views aside, we got a country ,thank you very much. it might not live up to your standards but it’s a good country and we’re happy with what we got thank you very much.
        it has it’s faults and corruption, no doubt about it, but with every story uncovered and with every ex-official that gets sacked or thrown in prison the country’s foundations are getting stronger and I’m for one am optimistic about the future of my country.

        • MekensehParty

          I wish I can say the same about the future of your country; I was never against the Jewish people returning to the cradle of their own civilization even though I disagree with the methods.
          One of these methods has been to present to the Israelis and the Jewish diaspora that the religion is fighting for nothing less than its survival. Which is an immediate unifying message that leaves no questioning.
          This method has worked in the past and is still working today as the Israelis and Jewish people around the world stand up as one man when Israel (the “Jewish State”) is threatened.
          Israel has fought for some 70 years now. What united its people is this war of survival. Israel survived it and let’s say it clearly, Israel “won” the war even if this victory is unrecognized. The bottom line, Israel survived the external threat against its existence.
          And this is when a new challenge presents itself coming this time from the inside. Will those people from all these cultural backgrounds, from all these countries with different fundamentals and sets of principles (as seen by this diversity of political parties) be capable of building a post-threat society?
          This challenge is the toughest, much tougher than beating all the Arabs and Iran and Turkey on top (while sticking it indirectly to Russia). Especially that, to further support my argument, “some” Israelis resorted to assassinating the Prime Minister (Leader of the Jewish State) when that post-threat era was about to start.
          Did someone believe that peace was premature BECAUSE Israelis were only united by their religion and the “survival threat” and nothing else?
          I guess time will tell…

          • doron

            “This challenge is the toughest” you are right with most of what you wrote and this quote is where you right the most.i’ll try to answer all you wrote the best i can.

            presenting Israel as fighting for survival was true and still is, imo.the threats change but the risks are still here. mind you, i’m not referring only to war threats and Muslim hostility, i refer to economic perils and cultural perils as well- we got lots of work to do.

            however, i do not agree that this is what unify us. it’s easy to see it this way but the connection we have among ourselves is deeper then that – we are one on the deeper level and all Jews feel this way.

            “some” Israelis resorted to killing Rabin, well “some” American resorted to killing Lincoln ,does it say the whole of the south were crazy maniacs? no, it means the country was “lost” on the verge of another area and some idiot took it upon himself to be the savior of the nation even though the nation didn’t need saving.

            “This challenge is the toughest” – true, we can handle Arabs (with huge losses but we can )

            now we’re fighting the in house front- we’re fighting corruption, we’re fighting economy system of uncontrolled capitalism which leaves many poor ( Damn Bibi’s work and i hope it will finally mean his down fall)
            we’re fighting many sickness which you never bothered with in your life time but your ancestors fought so you would not have to.
            I’m happy with every corrupt bureaucrat that gets thrown in Jail, I’m happy with every fight we win for lowering prices, raising minimum wage yet we in our generation ,know it’s a long fight to come .
            we will not lose this fight- It takes time for every big company to change and a state is the biggest company of them all, i’m optimistic cause i can see the minuet signs that will later lead for the greater change.

  • 5thDrawer

    4 elections in a decade … Lebanon manages one, and then it’s pushed aside anyway.
    They are ALL crazy ‘over there’.

  • vs

    In New York, the unknown shot two police officers and committed suicide

  • doron

    with god’s help it will backfire and we get rid of this good for nothing beaurocrat

  • Igor Chingoski

    His roots are in Poland. Mr “Netanyahu” is a just a typical Khazar in hiding. His real name is Mileikowsky, but his father, Benzion Mileikowsky, changed the family name to “Netenyahu” after illegally immigrating to Palestine and attempting to start a new life as a fake-Semite.

    This is actually a very common theme for this fraudulent bunch. Golda “Meir” was born Golda Mabovitch. Ariel “Sharon” was born Ariel Scheinerman. “Ben-Gurion” was a Grun, Ehud “Barak” a Brog and Shimon “Peres” a Perski. I would post the aliases of all these crooks but, I think you get the picture.