At this interlude between Benjamin Netanyahu’s DC’s speeches, we thought it would be useful to sum the campaign up so far.
1. The Likud campaign crashing. Really. Behind the headlines, Likud operatives fear the party may lose significant power on March 17th, and may even go down to 18 mandates. Israelis are nervous about the economy, and the Likud has yet to come up with an economic platform. At a Kiryat Gat rally, Minister Gilad Erdan was reduced to saying the prime minister had been too busy. Lifelong Likudniks did not appear mollified. Netanyahu himself seems tired and Israelis seem tired of Netanyahu. His AIPAC speech? Not a barn-raiser. We’ll have to see what comes up in Congress.
2. The Jewish Home campaign is melting. Bennett miscalculated badly, putting out an early ad campaign that was youthful, cool and appealing– and got a lot of chatter— but failed utterly to synchronize with the futzy old settlement activists and synagogue machers to make sure they would go along. Once he got off the TV screens and had to come up with an actual list for the Knesset, he faced a rebellion that has cost him 3-4 seats so far. At a Jerusalem meeting with the foreign media, he said his was the “worst political gaffe” he could remember. Strike one.
3. Of course, none of this means the right wing will lose. Israel’s Parliamentary system is weak and subject to manipulation, and Netanyahu is master.
4. Labor is not quite surging, but almost: Labor’s sniffs a possible victory. Herzog seems ready. He is working with a solid team that has managed both to make him seem accessible and to serious him up. Also, compared with the ongoing drama that is Bibi, Bougie’s stodginess may have found its moment. Just as 180 former generals and commanders slam Netanyahu on Iran— even including the most recent IDF Chief of Staff, Benny Ganz, Labor is presenting a very security-man type of image. Herzog never fails to declare that Netanyahu has failed to protect the security of Israelis. Labor is reaching for all voters: from disenchanted Likudniks to Arabs.
5. Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint (Arab) List, has a very real chance of serving as Israel’s next opposition leader. That would be unprecedented. If not that, he will still lead a significant block. Odeh, previously an unknown, has revealed himself to be a much more appealing candidate than anyone knew– and he is making a serious play for the votes of Israeli Jews. At this stage, no one is laughing at him. With at least 14 projected seats in the Knesset, he is a player. And while his party is the very definition of odd bedmates— Communisist, Islamists, feminists, capitalists, nationalists, anti-nationalists– he seems to be holding it all together and riding a wave of support in the Arab sector– while calling on lefty Israelis who fear Labor might betray them and join a Likud-led government.
6. And who are the Jewish Israeli lefties he’s aiming for? Many are traditional Meretz voters. Meretz has failed spectacularly to catch on. They have no message in this election. In part, this is a reflection of the lack of charisma of their leader, Zehava Galon; in part, its a reflection of the public’s skepticism after many years in which Meretz appears to be either ineffectual or intellectually corrupt. Meretz, the party that inherited the legacy of Mapai, the party that brought us Oslo, may not pass the electoral threshold. Same goes for Lieberman, though he’s appearing a touch more robust.