Final Countdown 2019

A Dozen Reasons Why Netanyahu Will Win the Election – and Half a Dozen Why He Won't

Four days before the vote, the stage seems set for his victory, unless Israelis decide at the very last minute that enough is enough

A man works on a Likud party election campaign billboard depicting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his party candidates, Petah Tikva, Israel, April 1, 2019.
Oded Balilty,AP

Benjamin Netanyahu will win the election on Tuesday:

1. Because Netanyahu or not, Israel is a right-wing country, and getting more so by the year. Twenty years ago, the number of Israelis who identified as right, left or center was generally equal, with a slight advantage for the right. In recent years, the proportion of those identifying as right approached 50 percent, while those identifying as left dropped to little more than 10 percent. 

2. Because Netanyahu has been around for so long, Israelis can’t imagine life without him. Which means the thought of replacing him requires a leap of faith, which his chief rival Benny Gantz may have failed to inspire.

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3. Because he is more experienced, savvy, manipulative and cunning than any other Israeli politician alive, which could prove to be the clincher among undecided voters. 

4. Because his superpower pals, Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, were willing to serve as props in Netanyahu’s election campaign, accentuating his diplomatic skills and what he has sold to the Israeli public as his success in managing Israel’s foreign affairs.

5. Because the nation-state law prepared the ground for a false but effective dichotomy "with us (the Jews) or with them (the Arabs)." Thus, when Gantz told a visiting Druze delegation shortly after announcing his candidacy that he would amend the law, he opened the way for Netanyahu to brand him as a leftist collaborator with Israeli Arabs, a minority the prime minister has successfully cast as a fifth column in waiting.

6. Because, notwithstanding any other factor, Israeli elections have become increasingly tribal, which translates into automatic loyalty to the tribe regardless of the faults of its leader. In this election it’s not only left vs. right, but also Ashkenazim (Jews of European origin) vs. Mizrahim (Jews of Middle Eastern or North African origin) and Russians, urban Israelis vs. small town Israelis, elites vs. those who see themselves as downtrodden, separators of religion and state vs. the devout and traditional, cherishers of democracy vs. its detractors, champions of equality vs. Jewish supremacists, and so on. 

7. Because Netanyahu convinced enough Israelis that Israel’s legal system is beholden to his enemies in the media and left, thus neutralizing much of the impact of the attorney general’s draft indictment and the other outstanding allegations of wrongdoing against him.

8. Because, as usual, the right lined up behind Netanyahu despite his myriad faults, while the left tore itself apart over each and every minute blemish ascribed to leaders of its constituent parties. 

9. Because the right is motivated by positive ideological zeal and the left by negative frustration and despondence.

10. Because external developments — most notably Trump’s election — have confounded the dire predictions of the terrible consequences that would ensue from Netanyahu’s refusal to pursue peace or even coexistence with the Palestinians.

11. Because Gantz, with all his qualifications, made enough mistakes to doom his campaign and was dogged by unfavorable comparisons with the charisma and appeal of his number four, Gabi Ashkenazi.

12. Because democracy cannot immunize a nation from making costly mistakes that, history shows, could lead to its own demise.

If Netanyahu loses, however, it will be:

1. Because, notwithstanding their responses in the polls, support for Netanyahu collapsed in the final days of the campaign because a spate of new allegations of wrongdoing in the submarine affair and other matters reached a critical mass, pushing Likud voters to stay home and the remaining undecided to take a chance on Gantz.

2. Because, as in the 1999 election he lost to Ehud Barak, Netanyahu — with all his political skills — could not overcome the unique appeal of a former commander of Israel’s people's army.

3. Because enough Mizrahim were persuaded by his rivals’ claim that he was a bigot.

4. Because Netanyahu miscalculated the dynamics of the campaign by making it all about him, thus collecting votes for Likud at the expense of its satellites, thus driving them below the 3.25 percent electoral threshold, quashing his chances of forming a right-wing coalition that would keep him in power.

5. Because, in a last-minute rush of rationality, Israelis realized the risks posed by Netanyahu’s re-election to their democracy, unity and sanity.

6. Because sometimes it’s true: Enough is enough.