The opinion polls are not smiling upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They reflect that the public is sick and tired of him. But the outcome of the elections might be otherwise.
Even Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who managed to defeat Yitzhak Shamir in 1992, only achieved that because the right-wing party Hatehiya and the party of Rabbi Moshe Levinger caused about 50,000 clearly right-wing votes to be wasted. Netanyahu is counting on Meretz failing to pass the electoral threshold and garner enough votes to make into the next Knesset, but there’s no certainty that this will happen. Meretz is used to the polls indicating that it won’t make it, then at the last second, it gets in.
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Netanyahu has despaired of the Jewish voter. He does have supporters who adulate him, but there’s also a lot of anger toward him. The prime minister has come to realize that the success of the coronavirus vaccination drive will not overcome failures on other fronts, or the numbers of deaths from the coronavirus.
Now he’s trying to pick up votes in the Arab community. As is his wont, he is pursuing this aim through contradictions: on the one hand he’s been cultivating Itamar Ben-Gvir, the successor to Rabbi Meir Kahane and an openly declared hater of Arabs, and at the same time he’s been telling Arabs, “Likud is your home.”
The Joint List has been a hybrid from the get-go, consisting of parties with decidedly different worldviews. The liberal lawmaker Ayman Odeh has had to get used to boycotts of his fellow Joint List member, lawmaker Mansour Abbas, and of clerics, whose positions toward women’s rights and the LGBTQ community are well-known. Netanyahu barges into this inherent conflict like a bulldozer, a thing he does well. He assumes that the United Arab List will garner enough votes to get into the Knesset. His campaign is focusing on the Arab community’s yearning for real recognition.
For his part, in meetings with constituents, Abbas has been preaching that the Arab parties should emulate the ultra-Orthodox parties in their treatment of the government: they should take care of their own interests and provide political support in exchange for material support.
Netanyahu is not calling on voters to cast their ballot for the United Arab List, although he wishes it success; rather he is campaigning to persuade Arabs to vote directly for Likud. It’s sad to think that some in the Arab community will put their trust in Netanyahu, the great inciter against them.
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If the United Arab Party succeeds, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich will be horrified. From their point of view Abbas is much worse than Odeh Ayman, a secular leader with a Palestinian orientation: Abbas is the representative of Islam, with which people with a messianic worldview are at uncompromising war.
Netanyahu could be defeated in the approaching election if two unlikely things do come true. One is that all the center-left parties cross the electoral threshold and make it into the next Knesset. If they don’t, around 100,000 votes could be wasted, which will play into Netanyahu’s hands. The other thing is that the Joint List manages to stop voters from streaming to Abbas or Netanyahu.
Netanyahu has already proven that there is nothing he won’t do to extricate himself from his personal legal fate and the public’s perception of him as an inciter. We cannot be surprised that the same man who warned that Arabs were “streaming to the polling stations in huge numbers” – now hopes that Arabs, a subset of them of course, will, this time, stream in huge numbers to the polling stations. Yes, the greatest inciter against Arabs has donned the mask of a humanist aspiring to equality. The man has no boundaries.