Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has a lot of confidants, and some of them are
not afraid to be brutally honest, as long as you don’t identify
When one of them was asked what he would have done differently to
prevent the Likud’s free-fall from 42 seats in the outgoing Knesset, he said: “I
would have sent Netanyahu to Iceland for the duration of the campaign so he
wouldn’t screw it up and lose 10 seats.”
Many fingers will be pointed in
an attempt to assign blame for the Likud’s collapse: At American strategist
Arthur Finkelstein, Israeli strategist Gil Samsonov, campaign chairman Gideon
Sa’ar, former foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, etc.
But when it comes
to running a campaign, the man in charge is the man at the top of the totem
pole: Netanyahu himself. He was the one who decided to unite Likud with Yisrael
Beytenu despite the likelihood that Liberman would be indicted; he determined
how to spend the campaign’s bursting budget; and he chose when to attack
political opponents and when to hold fire.
The results of the race, at
least according to the exit polls, indicate that Netanyahu was wrong on all
The deal with Liberman made sense at first.
had never won the most seats in the Knesset in any election, wanted to make sure he would this time.
After leading the combined
Likud-Gesher-Tzomet list to two seats fewer than Labor in the 1996 race and one
fewer than Kadima in 2009, Netanyahu did not want to give President Shimon Peres
any excuse to appoint anyone else to form a coalition.
But had Netanyahu
not made the deal, Yisrael Beytenu might have disintegrated following Liberman’s
The deal gave Yisrael Beytenu 15 slots that appeared
realistic at the time and pushed down the slots reserved for Likud candidates
Those candidates for the party’s backbenches are the
Likud’s backbone. They are the branch heads and political power-brokers who know
how to bring out the voters, and once the Liberman deal was signed, their
motivation was gone.
When it came to distributing the massive funds
available to the Likud, Netanyahu bypassed the field and focused on television
commercials no one watched, and on the Internet.
Facebook is a good way
of reaching out to people while bypassing the antagonistic media, but Likudniks
apparently still want candidates to reach out to them face to
Netanyahu’s attacks on Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett
boomeranged, as did the Likud’s attacks on Bayit Yehudi’s list. The strange
Hebrew equivalent of the phrase “people who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw
stones” is “those with butter on their heads shouldn’t go out in the
A look at the Likud Beytenu’s candidates who were considered
on the cusp does not reveal any rock stars or anyone worth buttering up. Perhaps
it would have been different had Bennie Begin gotten another 200 votes in the
Likud primary and won the 32nd slot on the Likud Beytenu list, the last reserved
for a serving Likud MK.
Without a prime-ministerial candidate on the
Center- Left considered serious competition, Netanyahu pretended at times to be
running against Peres, former prime minister Ehud Olmert, Europe, US President
Barack Obama, and finally that generic, hated foe, “international
It is true that having a real, tangible adversary in an
election can be helpful. Unfortunately for Netanyahu, he became his own worst