Netanyahu’s ‘gevald’ campaign has already begun

Netanyahu is using the tactic known as “gevald,” a Yiddish expression of alarm, which in the political context means he is trying to scare people.

Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the members of the media in Tel Aviv, Israel November 18, 2018. (photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the members of the media in Tel Aviv, Israel November 18, 2018.
(photo credit: REUTERS/CORINNA KERN)
An election seems inevitable at this point. The chain of events that began with a botched operation in Gaza – followed by Hamas shooting more rockets in one day than ever before, a ceasefire and Avigdor Liberman resigning as defense minister – have led us straight to the other coalition partners saying that there is no way to salvage this government.
But Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still says he’s trying to keep the coalition intact, and accused other party leaders of being irresponsible and acting out of personal interests, in a televised statement on Sunday.
Netanyahu is using the tactic known as gevalt, a Yiddish expression of alarm, which in the political context means he is trying to scare people. It has worked before. In the weeks ahead of the 2015 election, the term “gevalt campaign” was coined to describe Netanyahu going to just about every radio and TV station to make his case to the public, pleading that if they vote for smaller right-wing parties, the Likud will lose. In the end, despite the final election polls showing the Likud and Zionist Union being neck and neck, the Likud won 30 seats.
The last-minute tactic that worked so well in 2015 now seems to be a strategy in the beginning of an election campaign that is almost certainly going to begin very soon.
Netanyahu on the Golan Heights, Lt.-Col. M and the possible upcoming elections, November 18, 2018 (Courtesy)
Netanyahu’s reference to a possible, secret military operation – a rumor that has popped up in the media several times since the ceasefire was declared – was highly unusual, considering that it’s supposed to be a secret. He usually saves the showy statements until after the fact, like when he displayed the CDs and volumes of documents from the Iranian nuclear archive.
His repeated mention of the events of 1992 are a sort of post-traumatic trigger for the Right. A quick refresher on what that year means to many on the Israeli Right: In 1992, the Tehiya Party left prime minister Yitzhak Shamir’s coalition, because he attended the Madrid Peace Conference, at which the Palestinians were also present – in spite of the fact that Shamir had faced heavy pressure from US president George H.W. Bush, whose administration threatened to refuse to grant loan guarantees necessary to absorb an influx of immigrants from the former Soviet Union if he didn’t do so. The government fell apart, an election was called and Labor won. Yitzhak Rabin became prime minister and signed the Oslo Accords – theoretically leading Israel on the path to a two-state solution, but also marking the start of Palestinians using suicide bombings as a tactic.
It’s hard to say how effective it is on the public to invoke 26-year-old history half-a-dozen times in one weekend, but it’s clear that guilt has not been enough to motivate Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon or Education Minister Naftali Bennett to change their stances. Kahlon said on Saturday night that he’s not in the Likud anymore, so these threats don’t work on him – and that he doesn’t need to take a test to prove he’s right-wing. Bennett took a different tack, saying that this government is no longer implementing right-wing politics, and therefore he is not dismantling a “right-wing” government.
Now, Netanyahu has to consider what he can do to entice Kahlon and Bennett to stay.
Kahlon got what he wanted on Sunday – a sharp increase in pensions for retired police officers and prison guards. It came with the price of a NIS 22 billion cut across the board to ministry budgets, but it is what Kahlon promised. Still, it wasn’t enough for him to agree to keep the coalition together after a meeting with Netanyahu on Sunday night. Kahlon agreed to give Netanyahu another meeting later in the week, but it is unclear what else Netanyahu has to offer him.
The prime minister didn’t give Bennett the defense ministry, on which Bayit Yehudi had conditioned its remaining in the coalition. He has until 10:30 a.m. Monday to offer Bennett something else, because that’s when the education minister is holding a press conference. Sources in Bayit Yehudi said that Bennett will not agree to be foreign minister because of his ultimatum. He is weighing whether to keep his word and resign from the government because he was not made defense minister, or to wait until Wednesday and vote in favor of opposition parties’ proposals to dissolve the Knesset. His advisers want to see how party activists feel about each option.
Either course of action for Bennett would effectively trigger an election, unless something wholly unexpected happens, like an opposition party joining the government. That seems highly improbable – but in 2012, Kadima joined the coalition between the first and second readings of the bill to disperse the Knesset, so you never really know in the Knesset.
If Netanyahu doesn’t come up with a way to convince his partners to stay, at least we know what he is likely to say about them: that they are irresponsible, selfish and endangering national security. This will reinforce Netanyahu’s “Mr. Security” image after Liberman called him week, painting him as the responsible adult among petty politicians. The “gevald campaign” is ready – the election just needs to be called.