Kahol Lavan’s success at the polls came as a big surprise to the other parties in the center-left bloc, which had failed to identify the growing support for party chairman Benny Gantz over the past few weeks.
In-depth research by Yesh Atid, Labor and Meretz had concluded that the party’s support base was fragile. Reports that Likud voters had lied in pre-election polls by saying they planned to vote Kahol Lavan also contributed to the assessment that Gantz’s poll numbers were inflated.
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Consequently, the other parties had expected Gantz to withdraw just before the election to avoid wasting tens of thousands of center-left votes. Indeed, all three parties openly tried to woo away his voters – but to no avail.
Kahol Lavan benefited from a much bigger campaign budget than its rivals in the bloc, thanks to the government funding provided by its 15 seats in the outgoing Knesset. This enabled Gantz to flood voters with messaging in a way the other parties couldn’t match.
His campaign, led by strategist Sefi Shaked, focused on three main messages. The first was that if the party didn’t make it into the Knesset, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would fire Gantz and the other Kahol Lavan ministers immediately after the election. He would then be able to oust the attorney general and get the criminal indictments against him canceled, the campaign asserted.
This line of argument was the natural consequence of Gantz consistently claiming over the last year that he had joined Netanyahu’s government to protect the legal system, the media and the defense establishment from Netanyahu's attempts to politicize them.
The second message was Gantz’s integrity. Kahol Lavan’s pollsters found that there were voters who admired Gantz personally, viewing him as an honest man who put the country’s welfare above his own. Concern for the country’s welfare was his consistent explanation for why, after the last election, he broke his main campaign promise by entering Netanyahu’s government, and many voters appear to have bought it.
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The third message was that Kahol Lavan is what the Labor Party used to be. This was an effort to woo away longtime Labor voters who didn’t like their party’s direction under its new chairwoman, Merav Michaeli, and the campaign invested a lot of time and money in effectively communicating this message.
Kahol Lavan officials also said that Gantz’s decision to make Aliyah and Integration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, an Ethiopian Israeli, his number two gave the party an unanticipated electoral boost. Tamano-Shata said Wednesday that she thought the party had gained as much as two Knesset seats’ worth of votes from Ethiopian Israelis thanks to her intensive campaigning efforts in that community.