Netanyahu’s Party to Spend Millions on Campaign Masquerading as ‘Non-partisan Grassroots' Initiative

Despite election committee guidelines against such projects, Likud launched a canvassing campaign with Netanyahu's backing – without revealing it was behind it

A woman walks by an election campaign billboard showing Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud party leader, in Tel Aviv, Israel, March 28, 2019.
Oded Balilty/AP

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is planning to spend millions of shekels on a campaign that will hire activists to canvass neighborhoods and attempt to convince residents to vote for right-wing parties in the coming election - without saying who is behind the campaign, Haaretz has learned. 

The campaign, called Moving to the Right (Zazim Yamina), does not mention on its website that Likud is behind it, and is trying to present itself as a non-partisan initiative.

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Moving to the Right’s website claims it is comprised of “non-partisan activists” working on behalf of the right-wing bloc “to safeguard the unity of Greater Israel,” referring to the West Bank. The initiative’s website says its goal is to “convince as many potential voters as possible to vote for the right-wing bloc,” adding that “Everyone is invited to choose according to their views.” 

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Since the head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, ruled that every partisan activity in the election campaign must be identified with a political party, Likud funding the project and presenting it as non-partisan appears to be an attempt to bypass Melcer’s decision.

The idea is  similar to the V15 initiative launched in the 2015 election, in which the initiative (Victory 2015) – an American-funded organization that sought to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – tried to recruit thousands of volunteers to go door-to-door and try to convince Israelis to vote to change the Likud-led government. This led to legislation in the Israeli parliament that forbids electioneering activity by movements unaffiliated with parties.

Behind the Moving to the Right project are a number of figures from the religious-Zionist movement linked with Likud. The project is headed by senior Likud activist Mordechai Benita, a member of the Likud Central Committee who is aligned with Environmental Protection Minister Zeev Elkin. Benita ran in the Likud primary for a slot on its slate, but lost.

Another of the project’s leaders is Lior Shtul, the CEO of the Bnei David pre-military academy in the Jewish settlement of Eli in the West Bank. A meeting was held at Likud headquarters this week to launch the project, which is coordinated with the head of the Likud’s field campaign manager, Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant. Netanyahu approved the budget, which reaches millions of shekels.

The Union of Right-Wing Parties, which includes the Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit, will also take part in the campaign, although it won’t provide any of the funding. Education Minister Naftali Bennett’s Hayamin Hehadash party will not participate in the initiative.

The Likud activists have mapped out areas around the country, mostly in the social and geographic periphery, where a high percentage of right-wing voters  reside but where voter turnout is low. Every such area was assigned a paid coordinator, and the plan is to enlist local activists to knock on doors and try to encourage voters to come out and vote for the right. The hope in the Likud is that such a campaign could add one or two Knesset seats to the right-wing bloc.

Sources close to the initiative claim that although Likud is trying to present the project as non-partisan, the canvassers will be distributing Likud voting slips and will tell residents to contact the paid coordinator if they need a ride to the ballots.