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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party sent 18 million text messages during last year’s election campaign, including five million on Election Day itself en route to winning its 30 mandates, Channel 2 reported on Monday night.
The report, which could not be confirmed by the party, said the Likud spent NIS 8 million on text messages as it mapped out the state to find one million potential Likud voters and sent them emails, Facebook messages and texts throughout the campaign.
When the party hit a nadir ahead of the election, the potential voters were sent voice-mail messages with recordings of Likud politicians including Miri Regev and Bennie Begin.
The messages were aimed at rightwing voters who consider themselves traditional on religious issues. At times, the messages were anti-Arab, suggesting incorrectly that Arab turnout was three times higher than the past and that Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog had said he would appoint an Arab minister. A report by Channel 2 that Hamas was telling Israeli Arabs to vote was also highlighted in the messages sent out by Likud, according to the report.
The result was a huge increase in voting on the evening of the election, especially after exit polls closed at 8 p.m., which showed only a slim lead for the Likud.
In 2009, 290,000 people voted between 8 and 10 p.m., and in 2013 just 230,000, but in 2015, 584,000 people cast ballots during those hours with the Likud fairing especially well.
According to the report, the Likud listened to a private conversation between Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and an adviser in which Bennett complained that the Likud was stealing votes from his party en masse and that Bayit Yehudi was about to suffer a major blow in the election.
A group of Likud activists expressed outrage that Monday’s report gave credit for the victory to the text messages and not Netanyahu or the work of party activists.
They said it was aimed at helping current Communications Ministry director-general Shlomo Filber, who suggested the text messages when he advised the campaign and who is being asked by party activists to return part of his salary that the activists said was not properly approved by party institutions.
“If the Likud owes its victory to Shlomo Filber, the millions he took from the Likud must be okay, even if the report embarrassed the Likud,” a party activist said.
An official who was involved in the campaign responded that, if they knew the facts, the activists would be thanking Filber. The official revealed that the party used funding it would receive if it won 22 seats but it ended up winning 30, which resulted in an NIS 9m. surplus for the party.