The unraveling of the Right - analysis

Infighting impacts the race to be the alternative to Netanyahu in the March 23 election.

‘NAFTALI BENNETT (in the Knesset in August) has not only passion, but a plan.’ (photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
‘NAFTALI BENNETT (in the Knesset in August) has not only passion, but a plan.’
(photo credit: OREN BEN HAKOON/POOL)
This election was supposed to be different.
Unlike every election in Israel’s history that pitted the Right against the Left, or more recently, the Right against the Center, this one was supposed to be Right against Right, with the Center and Left playing relatively small roles on the sidelines.
After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denounced all his alternatives until now with the slur “left-wing,” the theory was that a candidate from the Right, such as Gideon Sa’ar or Naftali Bennett, would be a new and different challenge that Netanyahu may not be able to handle.
That may still end up being the narrative of this election. It will be clearer after the February 4 deadline to submit party lists to the Central Elections Committee.
But the events of the past week called into question that entire theory as the basis for viewing the election.
The week started with a Smith Research poll that indicated that Yesh Atid had passed Sa’ar’s New Hope Party for second place behind Likud. (Smith Research also works for Likud).
Then there was a call by Benny Gantz to unite the Center-Left that boomeranged against him personally but increased the likelihood that such a bloc may actually be built. The most likely scenario is that Yesh Atid will run together with Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai’s Israelis Party under the leadership of Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid. Whoever is elected head of Labor could join the bloc that could develop into a realistic alternative.
The Right, by contrast, appeared to come apart this week. Bezalel Smotrich left Yamina, slamming the door on the way out.
Chances of a merger between the two largest anti-Netanyahu parties on the Right suffered a blow, when Bennett and Sa’ar started attacking each other.
Reacting to Bennett saying Netanyahu should be replaced but not ruling out joining a government led by him, Sa’ar said: “You cannot be bald and also have curls.”
Bennett told Channel 13 that New Hope is a “bubble party,” designed by strategists like Sa’ar’s friend Tal Zilberstein while Bennett himself was focusing on the economic crisis caused by the novel coronavirus. He told Army Radio that Sa’ar’s party was made up of candidates who were part of the government that brought us the coronavirus failure.”
New Hope responded that Bennett is “impulsive, lacks judgment and fires in all directions when he’s stressed.” The party said Bennett lacks Sa’ar’s accomplishments.
“Even Bennett already understands that Sa’ar is the only leader who can replace the government and bring about change in Israel,” a New Hope spokeswoman said.
Yamina responded by attacking Sa’ar.
New Hope got Bennett’s former boss in the Yesha Council, Dani Dayan, to attack him. Dayan, who will be running with New Hope, said in interviews that Bennett had changed his views so many times, no one can really know what he believes.
Yamina defended Bennett with more attacks on Sa’ar.
“Naftali Bennett has been the consistent alternative to Netanyahu,’’ a Yamina spokesman said. “We don’t need lectures from people who served in this failed government until two minutes ago and have suddenly decided that in retrospect it actually wasn’t a good idea after all.”
Sa’ar said he has not been persuaded that running together with Yamina would add mandates to his camp.
That may be true, but it is too soon to say and also too soon to burn bridges. If Bennett and Sa’ar continue attacking each other, they could find themselves fighting for third place and empowering Netanyahu for another term in office.
The parties that made up Blue and White also got more seats in the polls separately than they received together before they united. But once they came together, they skyrocketed in the surveys because the public realized they had become a serious alternative.
The same can still happen to mergers on the Right or the Center-Left in this election.