The elections are over. The Likud- Beytenu slate won the most votes and Binyamin
Netanyahu will remain Israel’s prime minister.
The Likud, on the other
hand, was not so victorious.
It was only in October that three separate
polls showed the Likud winning 29 mandates. Instead, the Likud lost more than 25
percent of its Knesset seats. Likud candidates, including sitting MKs, who
fought hard to win “secure” spots on the Likud’s list, will not enter the
Knesset. Now, with only 20 Likud members entering the Knesset, only one more
than the novice Yesh Atid party, the Likud will barely be Israel’s leading
BLAME HAS already been assigned to settlers who allegedly
registered for the Likud to vote in primaries but didn’t vote Likud in the
This makes for good philosophical discussion about the
ethical obligations of membership, but practically it’s irrelevant.
Likud’s settlement membership comprises less than half a mandate.
parties on the Likud’s right flank, Bayit Yehudi, National Union, and Strong
Israel, received 14 mandates’ worth of votes, double (or seven more than) what
such parties received in January 2009. If anything, settler participation in
composing the Likud’s list prevented even more mandates from slipping
The tactics adopted by the Likud’s settlement factions, however,
are related to one of the causes of the Likud’s losses. In the past four years,
the Likud as an organization concentrated on managing internal players, of which
settlement-based factions are only a fraction.
Focused on increasing
their influence within the party, none were too concerned with overall growth of
the party and therefore neither was the party itself. The party did not itself
register new members. It hardly held events or activities. It failed to stay in
contact with members. In many ways the Likud ceased to be a movement, but has
instead become an arena. No wonder that even by January 1, 2013, when the
“sleepy” campaign was supposed to awaken, no one was ready for an external
ANOTHER PROBLEM for Likud- Beytenu was the failure to present a
platform, by which I don’t merely mean a few pages of propaganda presented just
before an election, but a specific, forward-looking agenda which leads people to
believe that voting for the party advances that agenda.
government’s term, issues like electoral reform, reducing housing costs and a
universal draft were raised, but little progress was made. Likewise, Avigdor
Liberman failed to deliver on any of his domestic campaign
During the campaign, the Likud touted its achievements,
including expansion of government subsidies in education and healthcare for
But these were not Likud initiatives.
cell-phone revolution was not part of a campaign promise made by the Likud prior
to the election.
So while the Likud-led government had many achievements,
many voters did not feel that supporting the Likud meant advancing a particular
agenda, which was the feeling offered by parties on the Likud’s
On the foreign affairs-diplomatic front, the prime minister moved
leftward, adopting the two-state solution, making Ehud Barak his defense
minister, freezing settlements and failing to seek solutions for neighborhoods
with legal problems in Judea and Samaria.
In the previous election, many
who desired a Netanyahu-led government voted to the Right of the Likud (e.g.,
for Yisrael Beytenu) to check Netanyahu. To them, Netanyahu’s shift leftward
only confirmed their suspicions, meaning that in the next election they would
continue to vote to the Likud’s Right.
But by the end of the government’s
tenure, that would not necessarily be Yisrael Beytenu, as Liberman had become
Netanyahu’s stalwart partner.
As Bayit Yehudi and National Union merged
and a right-wing millionaire took the helm of that enterprise, an exciting
alternative to Yisrael Beytenu was created.
Finally, Yisrael Beytenu as a
potential repository for “right-of-the- Likud” votes was completely precluded by
the Likud-Beytenu merger, which together with Liberman’s long-expected indictment
and resulting absence, caused Yisrael Beytenu to disappear from the political
So following the merger, Likud- Beytenu began to bleed mandates
to the Right.
MATTERS WERE not helped by part two of the strategy, the
“sleepy campaign,” which consisted of standing by and watching. It was based on
the assumption that the primary enemy of the Likud-Beytenu’s success was the
unification of the Left. By the time the threat from the right flank had sunk
in, Likud-Beytenu had already lost anywhere between five and 10 mandates’ worth
When the campaign finally kicked off on January 1, little was
done on the ground. The little contact I had with the Likud’s campaign gave me
the sense that the campaign was put together in haste (probably because, as
mentioned, the party concentrated on internal politics up until the end of
November) and resources for grassroots activities appeared to be
Then came the negative campaign.
Initially focusing on
Bennett’s loose talk on an evening talk show, the Likud launched a desperate and
unrelenting assault on Bayit Yehudi which was justifiably perceived (though not
intended) as targeting the national-religious, settlement-residing
The settler leader who would not destroy his and his neighbors’
homes was equated with irresponsible leftists who seek to neuter the IDF in the
face of our enemies. Bayit Yehudi candidates were attacked for positions which
were shared by many voters.
And finally, the boogie-man of Yigal Amir was
raised in a last-minute advertisement which effectively equated the
national-religious public with Rabin’s assassin.
TACTICALLY, THE attacks
stopped Bennett’s rise. They highlighted certain facts about Bayit Yehudi’s
But they also stung voters themselves, eating away at
whatever goodwill might have accrued from last-minute pro-settlement statements
by the prime minister, the approval of Ariel University, the advancement of E-1
plans or the authorization of new housing units in Judea and
Even if such maneuvers as the negative campaign or the merger
had not backfired so miserably, such last-minute moves could never have replaced
presenting the public with a plan of action and convincing them you mean it. Nor
could they have replaced the hard work of a real campaign, prepared more than
one or two months before election day.
The writer was a candidate on the
Likud-Beytenu’s Knesset list.