Analysis |

Netanyahu's Hollow, Aborted Gimmick Reveals Likud-Beiteinu's Utter Panic

Whether the PM's attempt to appeal to voters on lower housing costs at last minute works or not, this campaign is all about him, as especially evident by a recent ad featuring his family, not his party members.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Eighteen days before the 2003 election, when Likud was losing seats in the opinion polls, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon called an urgent press conference to respond to reports alleging corruption on his part. While Sharon was speaking live, mainly excoriating the Labor Party, the chairman of the Central Election Committee, High Court Justice Mishael Cheshin, ordered the broadcast interrupted because it contravened the law on prohibited electioneering. Sharon was cut off in mid-sentence.

The Labor Party was ebullient. Sharon's supporters were furious. But the tables quickly turned for both. Anger against the unprecedented judicial decision, which was perceived as a humiliation of Likud and embarrassment to the prime minister, spread through the ranks like wildfire. It became a turning point in the campaign and within three weeks, Likud had added some 10 seats, eventually ending up with a prodigious 38 in that election.

A decade later, a prime minister from Likud, which is sliding in the polls, wanted to call an urgent press conference Sunday night to announce to the nation the appointment of the former Likud minister (who resigned in protest over Likud's not being socially concerned enough ) Moshe Kahlon, darling of the people, as director of the Israel Lands Administration. The message was to have been: The same way Kahlon brought down the prices of cellphones, he would bring down housing costs.

So let's say the appointment will pass easily (and there is no guarantee it will ), and let's say it is as easy to reform the housing market as it is the cellphone industry (and it is not ). And let's say that the chairman of the Israel Lands Administration has the same authority and power as a minister does (he doesn't ), and that Kahlon really did accept the position willingly and that it was not forced on him because of urgent electoral considerations. Still in all - what is this, if not barefaced electioneering? A transparent, hollow gimmick that reveals Likud-Beiteinu's utter panic on election eve?

Of course, the press conference was struck down, this time before it started, by the Central Election Committee chairman, Justice Elyakim Rubinstein. The rabbit stayed in the hat. Kahlon either will or will not be appointed; what does it matter? If it was not televised, it didn't happen. And here, a very slight suspicion creeps in: Was Netanyahu attempting an act, a la Sharon, so Rubinstein would play the part of Cheshin, in the hope of a similar effect on the grassroots? If that is the case, hats off to him for guile and deviousness. For the first time in Likud's limping campaign, some signs of sophistication emerge. What will come of it, we can only wait and see.

The election ads ended Sunday night. Yes, if you hadn't noticed, they have been airing every night on all three TV channels. Amid the general dreariness and meager creativity, one ad stood out for the Likud-Beiteinu slate, broadcast over the past few days. It features the prime minister and his wife leafing through a family album, and pausing over their late fathers - Prof. Benzion Netanyahu and Shmuel Ben-Artzi. Netanyahu also told the camera about his father and father-in-law. His son, who was second runner-up in the International Bible Contest, also had a place of honor in the ad.

If we could only divulge how Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ministers and MKs responded to the ad and did not believe their eyes. They asked not to be quoted, unfortunately. For weeks, these poor folks begged, pleaded, dreamed and hoped for 10 or 15 seconds on camera to win converts to their slate. A few ministers got a crumb or two. They were seen for a moment on some ad, at some point. MKs, the nation's elected officials, including some who are efficient and successful and did quite good work in the outgoing Knesset, did not even get a crumb of that crumb. By contrast, the late father of the prime minister's wife was featured prominently. That, in a nutshell, is the whole story.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks ahead of the 2013 elections, Dec. 25, 2012.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

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