Bennett, Recalling Past Elections, to Take Aggressive Line Against Netanyahu

Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner
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Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, this week
Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, this weekCredit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz
Josh Breiner
Josh Breiner

In the coming days, Yamina is planning to go on the attack against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and senior Likud figures in response to their siphoning of voters from the party. Meanwhile, Likud is planning to keep up the personal attacks against Bennett, whom it sees as the main target in the campaign to pull voters to its side.

In Yamina they’re saying that unlike in previous elections when their focus was on holding onto their voters, this time they’re trying to change direction and take a more aggressive line against Netanyahu, not just to try to stop the siphoning of votes but to position party chairman Naftali Bennett as an alternative to Netanyahu. Likud is investing a lot of money in election ads aimed at the religious Zionist public and at Bennett’s voters.

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“The public no longer buys his bluff that we’ll sit with Lapid,” says one party official. referring to Yair Lapid, head of the centrist Yesh Atid. “He’s putting everything on Naftali’s head, but we’re seeing in the polls that it’s not working. We’re not in his camp and our voters knew from the start that we won’t recommend him [to form a government after the election], so it’s a lot harder for him.”

Yamina is pleased with the recent polls that show it as the third-largest party, while Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party continues to stall at around 10 Knesset seats. Party officials say Netanyahu’s repeated attacks on Bennett are helping boost his image as an alternative for prime minister. But the party is also bracing for Netanyahu to ramp up his attacks, with the expectation that this will continue up to Election Day. Right now, Yamina’s main goal looks to be to take two or three seats from Sa’ar in hopes of reaching 15 seats, which would put Bennett in a good position after the election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yamina Chairman Naftali Bennett after the 2020 election.Credit: Emil Salman

Yamina’s main problem is that it, too, is aware of Netanyahu’s uncanny ability to appeal to right-wing voters in the final days of an election campaign. The party’s in-depth research shows that a majority of Likud voters are certain about their vote and unlikely to be swayed, while that is not the case for Sa’ar’s party, which is lagging behind.

Bennett plans to continue pushing his “Singapore plan” for the economy while rebuffing Netanyahu’s attacks, but this strategy may not succeed. Netanyahu, meanwhile, is crisscrossing the country for campaign events and making all kinds of media appearances, not just with right-wing outlets.

Where Yamina can draw encouragement is from its field operation. Unlike New Hope, Bennett’s party has activists who were groomed in elections in the last few years, including people from Habayit Hayehudi who support his party, and from the “Shulman” movement of small business owners hurt by the lockdowns. While these people have yet to prove that they have expanded Yamina’s support, they do constitute a manpower force with experience in party operations in the various cities and at campaign headquarters.

Naftali Bennett, this weekCredit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

Bennett and party colleague Ayelet Shaked haven’t forgotten the trauma of the 2019 election, when they decided to split from Habayit Hayehudi to form the New Right party, which was polling very well, sometimes in the double digits. But on Election Day, the party fell about 1,500 votes short of the electoral threshold after Netanyahu devoted his campaign to fighting them for voters.

This trauma is still fresh, and Bennett and Shaked attribute that failure to Netanyahu alone. In the September 2019 election, they decided that Shaked would lead the party, and this time all the parties to the right of Likud united, and the party won seven seats. In the last election, Netanyahu again aggressively campaigned against Bennett and Shaked and, despite flattering poll numbers, Yamina won just six seats.

Behind Bennett and Shaked’s political rivalry with the Netanyahu family, there is also a personal rivalry that stems from the bad blood between the prime minister’s wife and Bennett and Shaked, who both worked for Netanyahu when he was opposition leader.

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