Whoever walked around Rabin Square and the surrounding streets Sunday night could not be confused about the makeup of the crowd of 25,000 at the right-wing rally. The majority of the audience was young people wearing knitted skullcaps. There were some Likud placards at the rally, but the dominant color was the green on the signs of Habayit Hayehudi.
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The person who introduced Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the rally’s organizer, right-wing activist Daniella Weiss, who is considered extreme and controversial even among the settler leadership. She has called on soldiers to refuse orders, supports the “hilltop youth” and has in recent years accused Netanyahu of being a leftist who will withdraw from the territories.
The rally was perhaps the last card Netanyahu could play in the “Gevalt” campaign he is conducting to try to close the gap that developed over the past week between Zionist Union and Likud. Netanyahu’s appearance at last night’s event demonstrated where he is seeking the votes that he hopes will prevent his defeat. He has moved to the right and abandoned the political center.
But more than anything the rally testified to the current state of Likud. It has turned from the party of the masses to the party of the settlers.
Netanyahu did not veer from his classic style in his address. He opened with lip service about being the prime minister of all Israelis, even those who don’t vote for him, and then called on the crowd to avoid incitement and observe the rules of the democratic game. This didn’t stop him from doing the exact opposite three minutes later, when he delivered a divisive and provocative address.
He reiterated that there was a global campaign to remove him from office, attacked the left and its partners in the media (perhaps he was referring to colleagues from Channel 10 who were watching him from the new studio on the roof of the Tel Aviv municipality building) and ended with a hint that his political rivals in the center and the left were traitors, anti-Zionists that don’t do reserve duty. “They have V15 while we have Order 8 [the emergency reserve call-up order],” he said.
Netanyahu’s entire speech was aimed at the hearts of Habayit Hayehudi voters. He included everything – mezuzot, Jewish heritage, “with God’s help,” and all those phrases that Netanyahu pulls out during election season. Netanyahu didn’t forget to speak about Jerusalem, about how much he built and how “Tzipi and Bougie” would divide it. Construction and Housing Minister Uri Ariel could have told the crowd some instructive stories about how Netanyahu in recent years had been the great freezer of construction in the nation’s capital.
After Netanyahu, Habayit Hayehudi’s Naftali Bennett took the stage, an upgraded version of the premier. If Netanyahu is an IBM computer, then Bennett is an IPhone app. If Netanyahu pulled out a drawing of a bomb at the UN General Assembly, Bennett picked up a guitar and wowed the crowd of thousands by singing “Jerusalem of Gold.”
Like Netanyahu, Bennett incited against an entire camp – the left doesn’t want a Jewish state, the left doesn’t like the Israel Defense Forces, and the left will give citizenship to Eritreans. Bennett swore in his speech that he would not allow a single centimeter of the Land of Israel to be given to the Arabs. Netanyahu used to say that, too. Since then he has given up territory, frozen construction, and released terrorist murderers.
Although most of those in the square are among his supporters and despite the applause he received, Bennett would prefer to forget this event. The Habayit Hayehudi chairman has reached the end of the election campaign weakened and worried. He looked despairingly at the way Netanyahu was draining off his Knesset seats, but feared going on the offensive to try to retrieve them and basically surrendered.
Members of Menachem Begin’s Likud stayed home Sunday night. The crowd comprised Bennett’s knitted-skullcapped settlers and the Haredi nationalists of Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel. The big winner from last night’s event was Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon. He is aiming his efforts at those people who didn’t come to the square - the classic Likud members. If he manages to get them into his corner in large numbers by Tuesday, he will be the big surprise of this election.