How are we to assess Naftali Bennett and the Bayit Hayehudi's 12 seat count which quadrupled the representation of the national religious public from the last Knesset?That Peri is certainly someone who shouldn't be overlooked. But to say the PLO has corrupt leaders is actually moot because they're much worse than that.
Until the last week of the election, Lapid was consistently trailing the Labor Party as the second largest leftist party, polling around 8-10 seats. Bayit Yehudi was polling between 12-18 seats. Likud was polling between 31-34 seats. In the end, Likud came out on the low side of the polling numbers. Bayit Yehudi came out on the low side of its polling numbers. And Lapid came out a stunning 10 seats above his average polling position.
The most common, and probably the correct assessment, is that there is a direct correlation between the drop in public support for Bayit Yehudi and the rise in public support for Lapid in the last week to ten days before the election. What does this mean about the interests and hopes of the Israeli electorate? What, if anything does this tell us about the future of Israeli politics?
It is beyond dispute that once the Bayit Yehudi's polling numbers began rising, Netanyahu decided to direct his campaign towards destroying Bennett and the party. Likud assaulted Bennett mercilessly. First Netanyahu attacked him personally. Those initial attacks backfired. Bennett's polling numbers went through the roof. After that, the Likud redirected its attacks against the Bayit Yehudi's slate of Knesset candidates. With the active help of the media, Netanyahu and his campaign advisors sought to portray the list as extremist.
As for the Left, Netanyahu completely ignored Lapid, while directing Likud's attacks, such as they were, against the Labor Party and to a lesser degree, against Tzipi Livni and her party.
The impact of Netanyahu's two-stage assault on Bennett and his party is interesting for what it tells us about the electorate, first and foremost. The personal assault on Bennett backfired because it was so over the top that it disgusted the public. No matter how you slice it, there is no way for anyone to tar and feather Bennett as an extremist. He isn't one and he doesn't look or act like one. It was an utterly unconvincing campaign and it made Netanyahu look vindictive. To the extent that Bennett was able to capture Likud voters, the exodus from Likud to Bayit Yehudi came at this time.
The second phase of Likud's campaign against Bennett was more effective. In attacking Bennett's list Netanyahu was essentially attacking the national religious community. This is the community that the media hates more than any other sector of Israeli society. And so, the likes of Channel 2's Amnon Abramovitch, Dana Weiss and Rena Matzliah were happy to join in this assault. Amazingly, the main target in this campaign was the Bayit Yehudi's Orit Struck, who rose to public prominence through her work as a human rights activist.
But for Likud, this victory was unhelpful. While it no doubt was responsible for the Bayit Yehudi's descent from 18 seats in the most favorable polls to the 12 it ended up winning, it appears that all of the lost seats went not to Likud, but to Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid party. The voters who left Likud following Netanyahu's personal assault on Bennett had no interest in coming back.
The question is why? What were voters looking for that they couldn't find in Likud? How could they move from the centrist Right Likud to the hard Right Bayit Yehudi, to the centrist Left Yesh Atid? What is happening to the Israeli public?
Over the years, I have written periodically about the sea change occurring in Israeli society. Israelis are becoming more nationalist, more capitalist, more individualistic, and more interested in their Judaism. This is particularly the case among Israelis under 40 years old. Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett both appealed to this target demographic and for the same reasons.
Unlike his late father Tommy Lapid, who was comfortable making anti-Semitic statements about ultra-Orthodox Jews and was reasonably perceived as an Israeli Archie Bunker, Yair Lapid always couches his opposition to the ultra-Orthodox in nationalist language. As he puts it, it isn't that the ultra-Orthodox are inherently bad. They are bad because they don't work and they don't serve in the army and our taxes go to subsidizing their way of life which rejects our way of life.
To win over nationalist voters, Lapid made Rabbi Shai Piron, an esteemed and serious national religious educator his number two. For people seeking a party that advances causes of Jewish identity and the transformation of the Israeli rabbinate from the fiefdom of non-Zionist ultra-Orthodox rabbis to an institution led by national religious rabbis who better represent the general population, Piron's placement on Lapid's list was a powerful statement of good will. By putting Piron in as his number two, Lapid was also able to blunt attention to the fact that he has radical leftists on his list. For instance, former Shin Bet director Yaacov Peri who cultivated strong business relations with corrupt PLO leaders after he retired from the Shin Bet in 1994 is number 5 on Lapid's Knesset slate.
Both Bennett and Lapid won public support due to their ability to cast themselves as socially tolerant, free market capitalists, who are also strong and committed patriots. When Netanyahu opened his attack on the Bayit Yehudi's candidates' list, the move from the socially moderate and strongly nationalist Bennett to the socially moderate-liberal and relatively nationalist Lapid was a natural one.
That aside, it's understandable why the Likud shot itself down: they seem to be so concerned about their relations with foreign powers that they really made themselves look like idiots, and at least a few members who ran their campaign are paying for it. As for Netanyahu:
Netanyahu's problem is multifaceted. The headline is that he ran a campaign based on coasting to victory, not on inspiring anyone to vote for him. This is the same campaign Netanyahu ran in 2006 that brought Likud its most stunning defeat. Likud limped to the finish line seven years ago with just 12 mandates. It is the same campaign that won Likud the elections with a paltry 27 Knesset seats in 2009.I guess that explains a thing or two as well. Truly, Lieberman isn't a very worthy politician either, and is actually asking for any indictment he gets.
This campaign involves doing essentially nothing but negative campaigning. Aside from showing footage of Netanyahu speaking before the US Congress and the UN, and looking at his family album with his wife, the Likud's campaign had almost no positive imagery. It was all about tearing apart its opponents, and particularly the Right and Bennett.
There is a suspicion, still whispered but becoming more and more strident in Likud circles, that Netanyahu's decision to bring Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party into Likud owed to Netanyahu's desire to weaken the political Right. The rightist candidates won the Likud primaries. Netanyahu made no effort to hide his distaste for his own list, attacking it the night of the primaries by saying that despite the results, he intended to reappoint his dovish ministers Benny Begin, Dan Meridor and Michael Eitan despite the Likud party membership's utter rejection of their candidacies.
Although Lieberman is characterized, (or caricatured) by the international media as a super-hawk, his record indicates no such thing. In 2006, Lieberman singlehandedly saved Ehud Olmert's government. After the war in Lebanon, with thousands of angry reservists and citizens marching on Jerusalem demanding Olmert's resignation after his incompetent leadership of the war, Lieberman joined the government, and joined it for nothing. He got a phony ministerial portfolio with no executive powers. If it hadn't been for Lieberman, Olmert would have fallen, new elections would have been called and Likud would have returned to power with a large coalition.
Moreover, Lieberman's policies on one of Israel's central security issues--the fate of Judea and Samaria and relations with the Palestinian terrorist groups--are closer to Israel's Left than its Right. Like the Left, Lieberman exaggerates the threat of demographic changes to Israel, while downplaying the threat of Palestinian terrorist groups controlling territory in Israel's heartland. Like the Left, Lieberman favors surrendering strategically vital and historically Jewish territory on demographic lines while ignoring security threats.
Netanyahu owes an apology to Orit Struck in particular, after all the hard work she did to help people persecuted by the left, for adding her his list of targets. And he's going to have to start looking at himself in the mirror and ask himself if he's overconfident of victory to the point of finding nothing better to do than attack his opponents out of non-altruistic reasons.
Glick wrote more about this and her estimations of what's to come that's worth reading as well. Like me, she too hopes that Shas will be told the time has come to turn over a new leaf, and religious reform and military service for all is something I hope will be accomplished by the next government. And there's a lot of improvement the Likud is going to have to accomplish in how they run a public campaign, to say nothing of how they treat their own voter bases, whom they also owe an apology to.