Exclusive: How Netanyahu Planned to Target Barack Obama in 2015 Election Ad

Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
President Barack Obama reacts after realizing he dialed the wrong number while making calls from a local campaign field office during a unscheduled visit, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 in Orlando, Fla.
President Barack Obama reacts after realizing he dialed the wrong number while making calls from a local campaign field office during a unscheduled visit, Sunday, Oct. 28, 2012 in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

When tensions between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-U.S. President Barack Obama were at their height in March 2015, the premier’s Likud party conducted various opinion polls asking Israelis their views on the American leader and his secretary of state, John Kerry, leading to the formulation of a negative election campaign ad about them that was eventually shelved.

Likud conducted a total of 18 polls on the eve of the 2015 Knesset election that month – ranging from the popularity of the prime minister to the number of times the public visited the Ynet website. But the most explosive questions concerned the Israeli public’s attitude to Obama and Kerry. Netanyahu appeared in the U.S. Senate to talk about the Iran nuclear program, without first seeking the consent of the U.S. president.

Three separate Likud polls asked questions about Obama and Kerry. In one, the question was: “Is your opinion of U.S. President Barack Obama positive, negative or very negative?” The responses were 3.9 percent very positive; 28.5 percent positive; and 54 percent negative, of which 22 percent were very negative. Incidentally, 1 percent of respondents said they had never heard of the man.

In the same poll, the same question was asked about John Kerry. The numbers this time were even lower: 26 percent had a positive opinion of the politician leading U.S. efforts to restart the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, while 53 percent had a negative opinion.

In another survey, people were asked their opinion of Obama, along with their opinion of Netanyahu, Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, Hatnuah Chairwoman Tzipi Livni; Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, Habayit Hayehudi head Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman. Obama was the least popular: 34 percent of respondents had a positive opinion, while 52 percent had a negative one. By the way, the most popular person in that poll was Kahlon: 57 percent had a positive opinion of the former Likud lawmaker, 16 percent a negative opinion and 20 percent had no opinion.

The survey about Obama even served as the basis for an election campaign, although it was ultimately scrapped. The campaign was designed for Facebook, with the tagline: “We aren’t interested who answers the phone in the United States; we’re interested only in the security concerns of the State of Israel.”

The campaign ad included an unflattering image of Obama taken in October 2012 when, on the eve of the U.S. presidential election, he was speaking by phone to his supporters. When he discovered he had a wrong number on one call, he pulled a funny face in front of the camera; this was the picture Likud had intended to use in its ad.

He ran on Tehran, but...

Netanyahu devoted the first six years of his second spell as prime minister to waging a war against the Iranian nuclear program. Only history will gauge the level of his success, but according to the 2015 polls conducted by Likud, the subject didn’t interest the electorate.

Likud asked: “From among the following, what in your opinion is the main issue the prime minister should handle as a top priority?” Only 1.4 percent of respondents replied Iran; 38 percent replied “The cost of living”; 28 percent said security; 11 percent said housing costs; 4 percent said a change in the government system; and 12 percent said the Palestinian issue.

The problem with the “cost of living” issue for Likud was that while Netanyahu led by a wide margin over his competitors on the question of “Who would better handle security/the United States, etc.?” when it came to the economy Kahlon scored a better approval rating than Netanyahu. It was because of these poll results that the cost of living became the main issue on the final days of the 2015 campaign. A day before the election, Netanyahu promised to make Kahlon finance minister no matter how many seats his Kulanu party received. Netanyahu also promised that he would personally handle the housing crisis.

Likud also examined the degree of interest, on a scale of 1-10, in various problems the country was facing. Most of the public thought Israel should be protected from Hamas missiles, preserve a united Jerusalem, and ensure that Jordan doesn’t fall into the hands of the Islamic State group.

Another question was about “canceling regulation of the supply of natural gas – in other words, canceling arrangements regarding the supply of natural gas and leaving the subject to market forces.” The answers were split relatively evenly, which seems to indicate the public was either indifferent to the question or didn’t understand it at all.

Click the alert icon to follow topics: