Euphoria is not an exaggerated word when describing Likud circles on the eve of this third election in a year. There are those who would qualify this and speak of due caution, etc., but the dominant tone is clearly optimistic. The truth is that it’s never been like this. Every election cycle, especially in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s era, the Likud is swept up in fake hysteria which usually does not reflect the true mood, but instead is used effectively as a ploy to mobilize voters.
In contrast to the prepared warnings about Arabs or leftists streaming to polling stations, hysterical screaming at party branch chiefs, and a sense of emergency that is meticulously instilled in activists (“here it’s full of sour leftists with smiles plastered on their faces”), this time Netanyahu himself is saying, in recorded phone messages, that there has been a shift in the momentum, and a sweeping victory is close at hand. This is the tactic chosen this time, and if Netanyahu chose it, this means he has good reason for doing so.
Bibi went gunning for his only real rival
Netanyahu is trying to impart a message – to those who are exhausted, who are revolted by the idea of a fourth election – that only a vote for him will end this circus.
These messages are firing up the Likud faithful, who look and sound like they’re anticipating success. Activists are full of stories about friends, relatives, the local butcher, grocer or barber who voted for Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan last time but are now convinced that to get out of this rut, they have to vote for Netanyahu. Many Likud members sincerely believe that right now there is a significant seepage of voters from Kahol Lavan and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu to Netanyahu, meaning a flow of votes from one bloc to the other. (“Taking votes from Naftali Bennett is par for the course,” said one senior Likud official. “The novelty is the erosion on the other side.”)
They believe that this movement is happening, and that in contrast to what Kahol Lavan is saying, this wave did not subside over the weekend, nor is it close to subsiding. They say this wave will break with intensity at just the right time, well into Election Day. Yes, Likud forces on the ground firmly believe that Netanyahu will garner 61 Knesset seats, without Lieberman.
Along with this optimism, there is confidence in Likud that a recording of Netanyahu’s close confidant Natan Eshel talking disparagingly about the non-Ashkenazi Likud voter base and calling Minister Miri Regev a “beast” will do no damage, despite general expectations that it will. Likud followers, consisting largely of Mizrahi Jews who should have been insulted by these statements, know how to resolve any dissonance.
Things they would never accept if said by the other side, they will accept with resignation if it comes from their own party. For example, Eshel’s statements are not treated the same way as those made by Kahol Lavan’s Yoaz Hendel, whose statements about Mizrahi drums and music in contrast to the philharmonic are irrelevant in the vulgar, crude world of Eshel, and do not stop Likud from conducting a cynical and aggressive campaign.
- Israel election: Netanyahu's dream of 61 seats spells certain danger for rule of law
- Israel election: D-Day for democracy in the all-out culture war launched by Netanyahu
- Israel election: Amid dirty campaign, Netanyahu shows his true rival is still the justice system
Imagine what would happen to a left-winger who dared to say the same things. He or she would be totally isolated. Likud supporters have no problem distinguishing between Eshel and the party, and, more importantly, between him and Netanyahu, relating to him as some ancient member of the National Religious Party from the 1960s. Could Eshel be reflecting views prevailing in the the prime minister’s residence on Balfour Street? Activists dismiss this notion. It interferes with the main objective. True freedom, for them, means the freedom to choose whom to be insulted by.
Is Likud’s happy mood a matter of manipulation after the “gevalt!” cries of distress were wrung dry in earlier rounds? Is it blind faith that will be dashed on the rocks of reality? Or is it a sign of the evil to come, with a coalition of 61 Knesset members supporting the prime minister, whose trial is set to begin in two weeks in Jerusalem, with charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust? Who knows what trickery might be employed in finding an escape hatch if this coalition sees the light of day?