Why the Likud lost

The elections are over. The Likud- Beytenu slate won the most votes and Binyamin Netanyahu will remain Israel’s prime minister.

Likud supporters celebrate at HQ after polls close 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Likud supporters celebrate at HQ after polls close 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
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 party.
BLAME HAS already been assigned to settlers who allegedly registered for the Likud to vote in primaries but didn’t vote Likud in the general elections.
This makes for good philosophical discussion about the ethical obligations of membership, but practically it’s irrelevant.
The Likud’s settlement membership comprises less than half a mandate.
The 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 away.
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 campaign.
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.
Throughout the 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 promises.
During the campaign, the Likud touted its achievements, including expansion of government subsidies in education and healthcare for children.
But these were not Likud initiatives.
Even the 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 flanks.
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 spectrum.
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 of support.
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 scarce.
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 public.
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 candidates.
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 Samaria.
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.