The Nine Lives of Benjamin Netanyahu
The political attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the past month seem to now be taking their toll, as polls published Wednesday show the joint Likud-Beytenu list sliding to some 33 Knesset seats.
From the start of its campaign, Likud-Beytenu has placed Netanyahu front and center in its campaign, arguing that only Netanyahu is able to deal with the serious security and diplomatic challenges that Israel faces.
So it is no surprise that Netanyahu’s foes have focused their attacks on him. Throughout the campaign, the ad hominem hits on Netanyahu have been coming thick and fast, and their pace and ferocity are escalating the closer we get to elections.
1. First, popular Likud minister Moshe Kahlon announced he was quitting, ostensibly to “take a time out” from politics, but really because he figured Netanyahu was not going to promote him to finance minister in the next government. Kahlon lashed out at Netanyahu, saying he was disappointed with the prime minister’s economic plans.
2. Next, at the end of December, the Bibitours case cropped up again, which accused Netanyahu of irregularities in non –government financed trips abroad.
3. Netanyahu doesn’t have anyone but himself though for his “disproportionate force” attacks on Naftali Bennett, whose party has been siphoning off voters from the Likud at a steady pace. Netanyahu turned Bennett into the underdog and himself into a bully, as well as making Bennett a household name.
4. Then there was former Shin Bet chief Yuval Diskin’s vicious attack, saying in an interview with Yediot Aharonot that Netanyahu didn’t have a ”trustworthy, hard core and placed his personal interests above the interests of the nation” – essentially attacking Netanyahu’s principle campaign message: that Netanyahu is a strong and responsible leader.
5. After Diskin came an attack from former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who accused Netanyahu of spending vast sums of money on Iran ” “harebrained, megalomaniac adventures” attack plans that were never going to be carried out.
6. At around the exact same time, president Shimon Peres attacked Netanyahu in an interview in the New York Times, essentially accusing the prime minister of not being interested in peace with the Palestinians. “If the people of Israel heard from the leadership that there is a chance for peace, they would take up the gauntlet and believe it. He may do nothing, but that doesn’t mean that things won’t be done. This idea, that history is a horse that can be held by the tail, is a foolish idea, ” Peres said.
7. Next came Amos Oz, who said Netanyahu’s government was the most anti-Zionist in the country’s history because it was killing the two-state solution. “”In my mind, the Netanyahu government is the most anti-Zionist government Israel has ever had. It is doing everything so there will be not two states here, but one,” said Oz.
8. Next came the terribly timed – for Netanyahu anyway – report by the Finance Ministry that Israel’s deficit was in fact double what Netanyahu’s government had planned for. Netanyahu was slammed for this and the message of fiscal irresponsibility is exactly what he’s trying to avoid. Netanyahu has been struggling to get his version out: that the deficit was expected, and that no new taxes will have to be levied to address it.
9. And finally, there was Obama, who dropped possibly the biggest bomb of them all. “Netanyahu is a political coward that is leading his country to near-total isolation. Israel doesn’t know what its own interests are,” the US President was quoted as saying. There is very little that the average Israeli fears more than total international isolation. We live in a frightful neighborhood, where the vast majority of people hate us [even Egypt's new president says we are all descendants of apes and pigs].
This is a very strange elections indeed. It has been mostly centered around personalities, not issues – there is no binary “war or peace” or “capitalism or socialism” ideological battle – despite the best attempts of some to make it so – the Israeli population isn’t in the mood for either war or peace, outright capitalism or outright socialism.
Just as importantly, there is no real contender against Netanyahu for the top position. So most of the attacks against him have come from outside the official political system: Olmert is not running, and neither are Diskin and Peres.
So, despite the recent ad hominem attacks on the prime minister, Netanyahu is still very likely to be elected for a third term. The cumulative effects of the attacks against his leadership won’t change that, but as we are seeing from the polls, they are chipping away at his party’s electoral strength.