Netanyahu's Campaign Guru Regrets Only One Thing

Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Send in e-mailSend in e-mail
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he addresses supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv on election night, April 10, 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he addresses supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv on election night, April 10, 2019. Credit: AFP
Chaim Levinson
Chaim Levinson

Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign wasn’t Israel (Srulik) Einhorn’s first political foray. He once advised then-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and also ran Gila Gamliel’s campaign in the Likud primary. But joining the prime minister’s team as chief creative director was a big step up for an adman who in recent years has switched to strategic consulting and crisis management – something usually under the radar.

In this campaign, too, he worked behind the scenes, to the point that many people still don’t recognize his name. But he was the person behind the messages that took Likud to victory – and drew fire.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 22

0:00
-- : --

The criticism reached its peak after a video focused on Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz’s eyes during a television interview. It was accompanied by music from the movie “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” and was widely interpreted as implying that Gantz was mentally ill.

>> Read more: Netanyahu, more emboldened than ever, will do anything to stop indictment | Yossi Verter ■ Netanyahu the 5th has already begun to rewrite history | Opinion ■ Netanyahu celebrates his Bibistan as the left wakes up to the dawn of an old and darker day | Chemi Shalev

Israel Einhorn speaking at a Haaretz conference, March 28, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

“We created hundreds of video,” Einhorn, 39, told Haaretz in an interview. “Some had different versions for different target audiences.”

Einhorn, who wasn’t part of Netanyahu’s 2015 campaign, said that this time the team kept the videos shorter. “By 2019, viewing time has shrunk,” he said. “So we created hundreds of short, focused, effective clips and pushed them on social networks and digital media. We used very focused marketing to specific audiences, under the media’s radar, to transmit our messages.”

Einhorn accused critics of being “hypocritical” for focusing only on the campaign’s attack videos. “We made hundreds of videos, many of them about the prime minister’s achievements, but no one talks about that.”

He called the “Cuckoo’s Nest” clip a “humoristic one that sought to draw the public’s attention to [Gantz’s] bizarre interviews with channels 12 and 13, which in our view showed that he wasn’t suitable to be prime minister and couldn’t handle the pressure of the campaign. As with everything connected to Likud, it was blown up to nuclear proportions. But we saw at the polls that people don’t get excited over a few tweets.”

From the very start, even before Gantz’s party merged with Yair Lapid’s, you attacked Gantz constantly. Some people say you inflated him, creating with your own hands the monster that almost defeated you.

“Benny Gantz isn’t Avi Gabbay,” the Labor Party chairman. “He’s a former military chief of staff with 100 percent name recognition, a supportive media and advisers I greatly admire. From the first moment we understood that he wasn’t an easy opponent, and the entire right had to unite to defeat him. All we did was tell the public that Benny Gantz was a good chief of staff but a leftist and unsuitable to be prime minister.”

Gantz tried “to mislead the rightist voter,” Einhorn says, “so we had to remind people from the start that he’s a leftist. The bottom line is that he received very few votes from the right; 98 percent of his votes were from the left. So you tell me – is he a leftist or isn’t he?”

Military graves

The campaign was also heavily criticized for a video featuring military graves, and another mocking left-wing journalist Amnon Abramovich – someone partly disabled after being wounded in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.

Don’t you think you crossed the line here?

“The prime minister has already said the video with the graves was inappropriate; he apologized for it, and the people responsible were suspended from the campaign,” Einhorn said, adding that Netanyahu hadn’t seen the clip before it was published.

“But instead of saying kudos to Netanyahu for taking responsibility, you kept harassing him for months over those pictures. Meretz did a campaign using Auschwitz, but that didn’t upset anybody …. The hypocrisy is ridiculous.”

They say Netanyahu approves everything in the campaign. He didn’t see the graves video?

“Netanyahu has already said that he didn’t see it, and I’m telling you that he really didn’t see it. But yes, he was very involved. It’s astounding that he’s a statesman and defense minister and a brilliant politician – and an election strategist.

“We’d send him footage. He’s sharp; he knew how to cut it and sharpen the message, all within a minute. I, who’ve been working at this for 15 years, learned a lot about marketing from him.

“Our advantage in the campaign was that we knew how to get material out quickly. It’s not like Gantz’s campaign, with advisers from all kinds of parties and four leaders.”

The Likud campaign was run by a very small staff with a deep understanding of new media, Einhorn said.

These people “could do campaigns for millions of dollars abroad, but they work with Netanyahu because they believe in him and his path.” And their longstanding close relationship with Netanyahu “let us produce a lot of material and get it out quickly – to create a conversation in real time.”

Culture Minister Miri Regev accused Likud of not wanting Mizrahim, or Jews of Middle Eastern and North African origin, to be in the campaign for fear of driving voters away. Einhorn called this allegation “nonsense, a complete lie,” adding that it stemmed from “a single selfie” that media analysts blew out of proportion.

“The fact is, we used Miri Regev for a lot of campaign interviews, as well as other Knesset members from all ethnic communities. Naturally, Netanyahu – an international brand, one of the leading ones in global politics – was out front, but we didn’t push Miri Regev to the sidelines because of her origins.”

On the day Gantz merged with Lapid, how did you feel? Were you afraid you were going to lose?

“We understood that the danger was great and we couldn’t be apathetic. This merger was strong; the whole was greater than the sum of its parts.

“But we also got a gift in Lapid, who, according to the polls, the public doesn’t trust to be prime minister. We had to explain to the public that behind Gantz was Lapid, and you saw that in the end, even the Labor Party said Lapid’s brand was hurting Gantz.”

Why do you think the draft corruption indictments against Netanyahu didn’t hurt you?

“We prepared a lot of videos showing how ridiculous the cases were, and we introduced the idea of a house of cards that would collapse. But I’ll tell you the truth, that was the easiest part of the campaign, because the public knows that people have been trying to get Netanyahu over trivialities, because he can’t be beaten. It’s persecution.

“Nobody believes that a few articles in the media are a bribe. That doesn’t work with the people. It’s impossible to tell them that suitcases full of cash are a bribe and an article on [the website] Walla is a bribe.

“We observed that whenever there was talk about the investigations, sympathy for Netanyahu swelled. You’ll notice that at some point, even Gantz stopped talking about this, because he also understood that nobody buys this persecution.”

Gantz’s cellphone

At one point in the campaign, news broke that Gantz’s cellphone had been hacked, possibly by the Iranians, and rumors began flying about what the hackers found.

Didn’t you go overboard with Gantz’s phone and the rumors around it?

“First, that wasn’t connected to us; it was a report by a Channel 2 [now Channel 12] journalist. But you have to understand, this isn’t an election for an apartment building management committee, it’s for the leadership of the country. For the prime minister. I trust Netanyahu that if he says Gantz is vulnerable to extortion by our number-one enemy, then he’s vulnerable.

“It’s irresponsible behavior on his part that he didn’t install defensive software on his phone and didn’t understand that it could easily be hacked. I think this tells us about his judgment, and the people should think about that before they decide who to vote for.”

Then why did you stop talking about it at some point?

“The message got sent to the public, and the public will decide. With all due respect to campaign staffers, we don’t stuff the ballot boxes. We only get things out there that will help the voters decide.”

In the final days of the campaign, you ran a so-called gevalt campaign, saying you were going to lose, that you were behind in the polls. Was that a lie?

“You saw that in all the media, including in [the pro-Netanyahu] Israel Hayom, that we were going to lose. I was sitting there, I saw the data. We didn’t lie to the public, it was the truth.

“We saw that the public thought Netanyahu was going to win and didn’t understand that victory wasn’t in his pocket. What did we ultimately say? Go out and vote for the right, go out and vote Likud.

“The prime minister has a rare ability to take a message and push it forcefully time after time …. I’ve never in my life seen someone like Netanyahu. He doesn’t sleep, he doesn’t eat. He’s focused, sharp, ticking. He’s a lion.

“He has an impressive connection with his family. Sara and Yair [his wife and son] give him strength and support and help him with everything.”

At a Haaretz conference, you said that since you’ve been working with Likud, people are no longer saying hi to you in the street. Maybe they’re right – they don’t want any connection with someone who has worked on such a debased campaign.

“During election season, the conversation is always emotional. But the campaign wasn’t debased.”

Citing one particular positive clip the campaign put out, Einhorn said: “On Facebook, it caught on, but it doesn’t interest the leftists.

“This whole allegedly debased campaign is because we said Gantz was a leftist. I don’t see what’s wrong with that. ‘Left’ isn’t a curse; I’d have no problem working on the left’s campaigns. We told the people the truth and they decided.”

Is there anything you regret about the campaign?

“That we didn’t highlight Mrs. Netanyahu. Her popularity is astounding. During the last few days, when I went out into the field with [the Netanyahus], I saw the enormous love for her. She’s part of the Netanyahu brand.”

Click the alert icon to follow topics:

Comments