Netanyahu seems worried but other right-wing parties have it even worse

It’s official: The “gevalt” campaign is in full swing.

(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
It’s official: The “gevalt” campaign is in full swing.
As has become his custom in the past few elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has started dipping his straw into other parties’ milkshakes of right-wing votes and trying to slurp them right up.
Netanyahu seemed to start pretty early this time. He’s been saying for weeks now that the only way for this election to end with a right-wing government is to vote Likud; that smaller right-wing parties will be in his government no matter their size, but he can only form a government if Likud is the largest of all.
But the “gevalt” tactic, named for the Yiddish expression of alarm, only started in earnest on Thursday. Netanyahu did it in 2015, in April of this year, and now he’s started again.
The prime minister, who very rarely gives interviews to any media, waited until the final polls were taken and then went on a blitz. Print, television, radio, religious, secular – all sectors of the Hebrew media got their moment with him.
English-speakers, by the way, are excluded from the accelerated vote-getting effort. Unlike in 2015, Netanyahu seems to have decided Anglo voters aren’t worth his time, and didn’t give any English media an interview in this election.
In addition, he canceled his only campaign event planned in English. To add insult to injury, the Likud campaign sent an invitation in English on Saturday night to everyone who had registered for an English event in Bat Yam, the implication being that this is the English event rescheduled, when in reality, it’s a Hebrew event that was planned long in advance.
In any case, the tactic of speaking to large numbers of media outlets, combined with social media and text message outreach – with the message that Likud must be the biggest party in the Knesset or the Left wins – has worked for Netanyahu twice already. It seems that enough people saw the other right-wing party they were considering pass the threshold in the final polls that they felt they could vote Likud.
The end result in 2015 was a shrunken Bayit Yehudi, which worked fine with the message of there being a right-wing government under a big Likud regardless of the size of smaller parties, but the exact opposite happened in April 2019. New Right seemed safely above the threshold, but dropped below it, and Netanyahu was unable to form a majority right-wing coalition.
With ads out specifically targeting Yamina and Otzma Yehudit – as well as Yisrael Beytenu, though they’re no longer a likely coalition partner, and their new voters seem to come from Blue and White and less from Likud – it seems like either Netanyahu hasn’t learned the lesson of five months ago, that drinking up too many of his so-called natural partners’ votes can hurt him, or that he is taking a calculated risk.
In recent weeks, there were reports that Netanyahu was unsure whether to attack Otzma with full force or try to help them get more votes, because it looked like they may have a chance of passing the electoral threshold. Early last week, the Likud campaign began putting out messages that voting Otzma was throwing right-wing votes in the trash.
Then, on Thursday morning, he openly vacillated in an interview with KAN Bet. But by Friday afternoon, he was back with a video – standing next to his American pollster John McLaughlin – saying Otzma is not going to pass and people should not waste votes on them. And over the weekend, senior Likud sources were putting out the message that Netanyahu will not have Otzma leader Itamar Ben-Gvir as a minister in his next government.
Either way, the “gevalt” has begun, and there seems to be very little Yamina and Otzma can do about it, other than an effort to make the public aware of what’s happening.
The additional aim of the “gevalt” campaign this time is also to increase voter turnout. With this being the second Election Day in a year, there is serious political fatigue, and 100,000 Israelis are expected to be abroad on Tuesday, plus many more staying away from the polling stations while remaining in Israel. Netanyahu hopes to spread the message that anyone who wants the Right to win absolutely must vote.
The concerns about the threshold exist on the other side of the map, as well, with Labor-Gesher at four or five seats in most polls.
Blue and White, however, gave up its strategy in the last election of trying to move votes from the Right to the Left – only Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman has managed to do that, and it’s not because of voters moving to his party but because he has moved himself from right-wing to a free agent.
The “secular unity government” is meant to take back votes Blue and White lost to Yisrael Beytenu in the polls, and to win over some left-wing voters as well – never mind if that kills Labor or hurts Democratic Union. Like Netanyahu in April, Gantz may see this tactic having the negative consequences of shrinking his overall bloc. It’s a risk.
Unlike Netanyahu, Gantz is giving off a very calm vibe. And it may be that he thinks he can’t get away with looking nervous the way Netanyahu has recently, because the public has not seen him be prime minister and calmly handle big issues enough times to give him a pass.
But the downside is that Gantz may be lulling Center-Left voters into complacency. Low turnout will likely hurt him most. Ultra-Orthodox voters are most likely to vote in great numbers, as well as ideological voters on the far Right and far Left. He hasn’t been able to stir up a fervor among his potential voters – his co-chairman Yair Lapid seems to be doing a better job on that front – and that could end up being a big problem on Tuesday.