Two Days to Elections, Netanyahu Gripped by Vertigo

In describing a worldwide conspiracy bent on removing him from office, the tired, flailing Netanyahu has inserted himself into the questionable company of Mubarak, Chavez and Kirchner.

ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid
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A worker hangs a Likud election campaign billboard. March 8, 2015.
A worker hangs a Likud election campaign billboard. March 8, 2015.Credit: AP
ברק רביד - צרובה
Barak Ravid

The round of interviews that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu granted over the weekend is stark proof of his current circumstances. A matter of a few days before Tuesday’s election, Netanyahu appears to be under pressure, nervous, tired and confused. Like a pilot who loses altitude and finds himself in a tailspin, he does everything that he can to regain control of the plane. But at least according to the final polls in the campaign - which according to law cannot be published after last Friday - the prime minister’s crash landing with reality appears unavoidable.

Netanyahu was interviewed over the past week more than during all of his last six years in office. It seemed as if it was impossible to turn on the radio or the television without hearing or seeing him. At one point, it was as if the prime minister himself didn’t remember who he was talking to or what he was talking about. For example, on Radio Darom, he declared his detested rival, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, as a natural partner in his future government. Likud spokesmen quickly corrected the record, stating that he meant Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu.

What has stood out recently when it comes to Netanyahu is a sense of paranoia. The story that he is telling the public - as well as apparently to himself - is that the current stand-off is not the democratic elections that he himself initiated, but rather a battle against the threat of a coup by dark forces gathered against the will of the Israeli voter. The more his situation in the polls has deteriorated, the more he has invented conspiracy theories being concocted against him.

In his most recent interviews and in his Facebook posts, Netanyahu has inserted himself into the company of a questionable group of leaders such as former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and current Argentine President Cristina Kirchner, among others. Like them, Netanyahu has begun speaking of worldwide efforts to remove him from office.

Netanyahu, who received more in contributions from American business people than any other politician in the country’s history, has complained that tens of millions of dollars are flowing to organizations working to unseat him. The Israeli politician who more than any other has meddled in American politics and sought to undermine a sitting American president during an election campaign is crying over interference by foreign governments on behalf of his rivals. Netanyahu, who has Las Vegas casino magnate Sheldon Adelson funding a newspaper with a circulation of monstrous proportions that is devoted solely to keeping him in power - is shedding crocodile tears over a “timed and orchestrated media campaign” against him.

Over the weekend, in an interview with Radio Kol Rega, Netanyahu ranged as far as Scandinavia in pointing to a conspiracy to defeat him. All that was missing was the prime minister warning that Vikings from the fjords and Olaf, the snowman from the movie “Frozen,” are about to descend on us and along with the Islamic State and Iran, finish us off. Former Swedish Foreign Minister Carl Bildt made light of the comments in a Tweet in which he said it was strange that Netanyahu was accusing Scandinavia of trying to defeat him when his major problem was with his own Israeli voters.

Netanyahu is acting in every possible way to collect another one or two Knesset seats at the expense of the Habayit Hayehudi party and to close the growing lead that the Zionist Union has had in the polls - currently four seats - over his Likud party. His apparent plan to appear at a right-wing rally on Sunday at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv is part of this effort.

Recently he has also held a number of conversations with senior officials at the Yesha Council of West Bank Jewish settlements. He begged that they express support for him and asked that they go to outlying towns to get apathetic Likudniks to turn out at the polls. He tried to paint disaster scenarios in which the Zionist Union’s Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni would form a government and evacuate all the settlements.

Even if the prime minister manages to garner an additional seat from the right wing, he will have trouble staunching the bleeding of seats to the center of the political spectrum. His main problem is the recent rising strength of the Kulanu party’s Moshe Kahlon. If Kulanu ends up with 12 or 13 seats on Tuesday night, it would mean that Likud would drop below the 20 seats. Under such circumstances, all that would be left for Netanyahu to do is resign even before the final vote tally is in or wait until senior Likud officials come out against him and remove him as their leader.

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