Yemina prepares 'counter-gevalt' operation against Netanyahu’s campaign

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has targeted voters on the religious right in the last three elections, with campaigns warning of the end of right-wing rule if right wing voters don’t vote Likud.

By
August 19, 2019 20:08
3 minute read.
United Right leader Ayelet Shaked

United Right leader Ayelet Shaked. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)

As Israelis count down the days and weeks to the September 17 election, the Yamina Party is preparing for its biggest challenge: warding off Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute “gevalt” campaign to vacuum up wavering right-wing voters.

The right-wing religious parties know from bitter experience that generous polling numbers leading into an election can count for nought when Netanyahu’s emergency campaign kicks into high gear.

The prime minister has employed these tactics in the last three elections to increase the clout of his Likud Party by cannibalizing votes from smaller right wing outfits. The message? If right-wing voters want Bibi as prime minister, they should vote for Likud.

In the 2013 election, Bayit Yehudi was consistently polling at 14 or 15 seats but ended up with 12, in 2015 it polled between 11 and 13 seats and ended up with just eight seats, and in 2019, the New Right party which split away from Bayit Yehudi and was intended as an alternative to the Likud polled at six or seven seats but ended up with none.

Having failed to prevent the dramatic desertion of its voters to the Likud in the past, Yamina is determined not to let the same fate befall it again.

Over the last three weeks, the party and some of its senior figures have already been laying the ground work for its final campaign, implicitly criticizing Netanyahu from the right.

Party leader Ayelet Shaked, together with Naftali Bennett, were critical on Sunday of the government’s failure to stop the transfer of payments by the Palestinian Authority to Palestinian terrorists and their families. Shaked has also argued that conservative reforms to the judicial system would not have happened without her former political party Bayit Yehudi.

She noted in an interview with The Jerusalem Post earlier this month that “Netanyahu always takes our votes at the end” and said that Yamina now has put a plan in place to counter his gevalt campaign.

According to one source inside the party, the main part of the strategy will be put into action approximately five days before the election day itself, and will put even greater emphasis on the final 24 hours of the campaign and election day itself.

Yamina’s counter-gevalt campaign will target voters who vote strategically, meaning those who want a right-wing government and could vote for either Likud or Yamina depending on how they read the polls and the electoral map. The counter campaign will seek to persuade them that the latter is their best bet.

In particular, the campaign will caution voters that if Netanyahu forms a right-wing government by the Likud gaining seats at Yamina’s expense, then Netanyahu may form a coalition with centrist and left-wing parties as he did in the past.

After the 2009 election, Netanyahu brought in Labor to his coalition, after the 2013 elections he formed a government with the centrist parties of Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, while after the election of April this year he tried to woo then Labor head Avi Gabbai; albeit after he had run out of options on the right.

The Yamina campaign will call on right-wing voters to cast their ballot for the party to ensure that Likud will be pulled to the right, instead of allowing Netanyahu to veer leftwards towards the center.

Another party source said that a separate theme of the campaign will be to warn right-wing voters of the possibility that Netanyahu may give in to any demands from US President Donald Trump for concessions in response to the release of his long-awaited “deal of the century” peace plan for the conflict with the Palestinians.

Trump said on Sunday that he is likely to roll out his plan following the September election.

“We want to prevent Netanyahu turning left, or from folding to Trump to an agreement that endangers the settlements,” said the source.

“The central goal is to protect our base and stop Netanyahu drinking our mandates, but it is also focused on bringing in new voters from the broader public on the right who admire Shaked,” he said.

The source said that Yamina did not intend to initiate an offensive against Netanyahu, but that it would respond in kind if he opens up his traditional last-minute campaign aimed at getting the vote of the religious right.

“If they take off their gloves, we will know how to respond,” he said.


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