Netanyahu, Herzog Embark on Last-minute Blitz Ahead of Election

Benjamin Netanyahu has entered the decisive few days of the campaign, but neither he nor Isaac Herzog have this election in their pocket.

Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter
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Isaac Herzog (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the 'Meet the Press' TV program, March 14, 2015.
Isaac Herzog (left) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the 'Meet the Press' TV program, March 14, 2015. Credit: Channel 2
Yossi Verter
Yossi Verter

Over the course of his six uninterrupted years as prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu adopted somewhat imperial manners, granting very few interviews to the Israeli media (although he made numerous appearances on Sunday morning talk shows in the United States). But with the election fast approaching, he has made a frantic shift in style, appearing on one radio station after another, granting interviews to Israeli websites and television networks – other than Channel 10, where he refused to be interviewed by one of the station’s reporters [Raviv Drucker].

Netanyahu urged former supporters of his Likud party to come home, as if they were some kind of pet that took advantage of a momentary lapse of attention from their owners to disappear into the park bushes.

On Saturday evening, the prime minister was interviewed from a remote location on Channel Two’s “Meet the Press” program, appearing on a large backdrop as if he was Big Brother (from George Orwell’s “1984,” not the reality show of the same name). During the last election campaign in 2013, just before Election Day he also gave an interview on the program, this time from the room with an aquarium in the Prime Minister’s Office. It’s as if it is unbefitting someone of his exalted status, first among equals, to bother coming to a television studio. Such an offensive practice, it should be noted, would never be considered in any Western country, neither in Europe nor the United States, by any politician or media outlet. In election campaigns, everyone has to be on an equal footing. What goes for the Joint List of Arab parties goes for Bibi.

Fatigue caused the prime minister to mix up Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Yisrael Beiteinu head Avigdor Lieberman in an interview on Friday with Radio Darom, in which he called Lapid a “natural partner” for a future coalition. (His office later issued a quick denial and clarification.) Affected by the same accumulated fatigue, Zionist Union coleader Isaac Herzog promised – in the “Meet the Press” studio, as his rival peeked from behind his back, smirking like a little boy who just heard a dirty joke – that he would keep “Netanyahu united.”

Herzog and Netanyahu have entered the decisive few days of the campaign, with neither having any idea who, in another 10 or so days, will be called upon by President Reuven Rivlin to form a government coalition. Based on the final polls, neither has this election in his pocket.

Netanyahu still appears to have the advantage in terms of the number of projected Knesset seats for parties who would recommend him as prime minister (a projection that could disappear if Hadash and United Arab List-Ta’al separate from Balad and give Herzog their votes), while Zionist Union constantly leads Likud by about four seats (a lead that could vanish or diminish if the calls for help from Netanyahu and Likud representatives fall upon attentive ears and tug at hidden heartstrings).

The next few days are crucial ones not only for Zionist Union and Likud, but also for the smaller parties: Yisrael Beiteinu and Yahad on the right, and Meretz on the left. If any of them should sink below the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent (four seats), the projected map of Knesset seats will be rewritten entirely, with the final result bearing no resemblance to the predictions.

The prevalent feeling in the political establishment over the weekend was that the start of a trend by Likud voters toward “returning home” could be seen in the outlying towns. However, the abandonment continues in the large cities. Past experience shows that about five percent of the electorate – plus or minus seven seats – decide which party to vote for only on election day itself.

With the situation this fluid, and every vote being savagely fought for, a good election day, logistically speaking, could be decisive for the parties. The greater part of the work by the campaign managers over the next two days will be directed toward organizing, providing transportation to the polls, motivating, and all that involves.

At a meeting of Likud’s ministers last Sunday, outgoing minister Limor Livnat asked Netanyahu whether the party had an election-day headquarters. He said yes. “Who is in charge of it?” she asked. Netanyahu gave an evasive answer. Until now, Likud’s ministers do not know whether a chief of election-day headquarters exists at all, and if so, why his identity is being kept secret from them.

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