12 keys to defeating Netanyahu on April 9

Top political strategists offer advice.

PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu poses for selfies with soldiers at the Shizafon military base Wednesday (photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
PRIME MINISTER Benjamin Netanyahu poses for selfies with soldiers at the Shizafon military base Wednesday
(photo credit: KOBI GIDON / GPO)
The late Intel CEO and visionary Andy Grove, who fled Nazi and Soviet oppression, was known for saying “Success breeds complacency. Complacency breeds failure. Only the paranoid survive.”
That message can be helpful to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he seeks a fifth term in office, which is rare in any democracy around the world. Those who have worked with him said he often appears paranoid, so maybe that is part of his success.
At this point, at least according to the polls, Netanyahu and his Likud Party appear unbeatable. His Likud gets twice as many seats as any other party.
But is anyone really unbeatable? Just like in sports, where the team that is better and heavily favored sometimes loses, there have been significant upsets in politics.
So what are the keys to defeating Netanyahu? To find out, The Jerusalem Post spoke to successful veteran political strategists, including those who have worked with him in the past and those who have beaten him. Most chose not to be named, because they are either currently working for candidates or have in the recent past.
They came up with 12 keys to victory on April 9. Readers can follow what happens in the campaigns over the next 74 days to see whether the potential alternatives to Netanyahu took the strategists’ advice and emerged successful.
1. Unite behind an alternative
This will happen only just ahead of the February 21 deadline for lists to be submitted to the Central Elections Committee. But with pressure groups camping outside the candidates’ homes, it is increasingly likely that the centrist camp will unite under one candidate for prime minister.
Former Netanyahu and Kadima strategist Eyal Arad, who coauthored the August 2018 Hebrew book Killer Instinct: The Complete Guidebook for the Campaign Manager and Candidate, said Netanyahu is beatable, because polls have shown that only 35% of Israelis want him reelected, and those who do not want him reelected include a sizable number of right-wing voters.
Arad said that to be a fitting alternative, a candidate must have leadership traits that prove him or her fit to be prime minister, the ability to make Israelis feel secure and a vision that answers voters’ relevant problems in a way that gets them excited.
“Right now, there isn’t such a candidate, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be,” Arad said. “One of the current candidates can develop these three and move four to five mandates from the Right to him and motivate all the voters who want a change.”
Arad said that in the 2015 election, Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog lost because he couldn’t give voters a feeling of security and had no compelling vision, but perhaps this election will be different.
2. Wait for Netanyahu’s mistakes
Echoing Grove, a former Netanyahu strategist said being perceived as unbeatable leads to complacency and making bad decisions. He said voters thinking a candidate is unbeatable means he has no weakness to exploit, and that itself is a weakness.
But the strategist said Netanyahu does have a weakness – his criminal investigations – and Netanyahu has made a mistake by highlighting rather than downplaying them. The best example was his January 7 “dramatic announcement” that ended up being about the probes and not about Syria, Hezbollah or Hamas.
“Netanyahu can run on his strengths of security and defense, but instead he is running on his weakness, his legal case,” the strategist said. “He has a huge electorate that loves him, but the dramatic announcement projects the wrong kind of Bibi. Even his hard-core voters don’t want a crybaby Bibi. They want a strong Bibi. I think he is making a huge mistake by running on his weaknesses.”
If Netanyahu continues making mistakes, he could prove vulnerable after all.
3. Milk the probes
A third strategist, who has been part of strategic teams that have defeated Netanyahu, said the probes have already brought his image in Israel to a record low. That could fall even further following Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit’s expected announcement next month that he intends to indict the prime minister, pending a legal hearing that will take place after the election.
She said the right kind of candidate could use Netanyahu’s legal battles to prove he is no longer a reasonable option to govern the country. She said the candidate should counter Netanyahu’s attacks on the legal establishment, because “Likudniks don’t want democracy lynched either” and would prefer an alternative candidate who is clean.
“Bibi will lose to Bibi,” she said. “There just has to be someone to catch the ball.”
4. Divide and conquer the Right
The Likud’s satellite parties in the past tended to have a political niche. There were Russian immigrant parties, a socioeconomic party, a National Religious party, ultra-Orthodox parties and parties to the far Right.
The New Right Party of Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked intends to be none of those things. When they were in Bayit Yehudi, accusations that they were making the party into a second Likud were a slur, but that is no longer the case in their new party.
The strategists said the Center must “run against Bennett and Shaked” and thereby build them up at Netanyahu’s expense. The more the New Right is seen as an alternative for voters on the Right who’d rather not vote for Netanyahu, the easier it will be to defeat him.
5. Take advantage of coalition math
When polls are analyzed, people tend to say there are this many seats on the Right and this many in the Center and Left. The strategists said it is time to tell voters to stop doing that.
Instead, the public must be told to count the seats of parties who are willing to sit in a government led by Netanyahu after his indictment. Yesh Atid, Labor and Hatnua are not willing to join a Netanyahu-led government from the moment next month when Mandelblit announces his indictment of Netanyahu pending a hearing.
Kulanu and Gesher have said they would sit in a government of Netanyahu after that stage, but would not remain in the coalition if Netanyahu is indicted after the hearing. Does Netanyahu have enough seats without all those parties?
The only parties that do not care about Netanyahu’s legal processes are the Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism and Yisrael Beytenu, which together have about 50 seats in the polls. If that does not become 61 by April 9, the strategists said, Netanyahu is beatable.
6. Experience or freshness
These could be two different categories, were they not opposites. Both can be painted as either an advantage or a disadvantage, and will be by the different parties in the election.
The two main alternatives to Netanyahu’s Likud in the polls are former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. Lapid has experience. Gantz has freshness.
Lapid has learned from the successes and failures of past campaigns and can exploit what he has learned. Gantz’s freshness is one of the reasons polls show Israelis view him as the second-most fit candidate to be prime minister.
Whether or not Gantz and Lapid end up running on one list, only one of them will be the alternative candidate for prime minister against Netanyahu. The strategists said that whoever it is will focus on his experience or his freshness in the campaign.
7. Countering Mr. Security
Netanyahu has persuaded Israelis that he – and only he – can make them feel safe. The strategists said a former general could make them feel equally secure, and it is possible that a leader with a general or two by his side could do the same.
The strategists said one of the mistakes Herzog and Tzipi Livni made was not offering former IDF chief of staff and defense minister Shaul Mofaz the third slot on their list, due to his poor relations with Livni.
Now there are four former IDF chiefs of staff in, or ready to be in, politics. Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi are all political assets who can be used to defeat Netanyahu. Ehud Barak is a political liability, but he can attack Netanyahu from outside politics.
“Netanyahu is called Mr. Security, but he has failed on many fronts,” one of the strategists said. “We can highlight where Netanyahu failed and how everything can be different.”
A member of Gantz’s strategic team added that focusing on security could help him, because it breaks the Right-Left focus in the eyes of the voters.
8. Countering Mr. Economy
Netanyahu boasts high economic growth and low unemployment. But he has not solved the housing crisis or fixed the overwhelmingly high cost of living.
The only general with strong socioeconomic experience is Ashkenazi, who heads the Rashi Foundation, which is dedicated to assisting the underprivileged, particularly children in the geographic and social periphery. That makes him even more of an asset.
Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abecassis will be campaigning on the socioeconomic issue against the government and could leave her mark. But her party is looking increasingly like it will run alone.
The strategists said the question is whether Lapid will be successful in painting his tenure as finance minister as a big success and use that to attract voters.
9. Countering Mr. Diplomat
Netanyahu opened many doors during the current term when he was both prime minister and foreign minister. He galvanized his relationship with US President Donald Trump to Israel’s benefit and built new ties with South America, Asia and Africa.
But one strategist said Netanyahu is vulnerable on the diplomatic issue because he has turned off American Democrats, Progressive US Jews and Europe. Lapid or Gantz can claim that they could have the same diplomatic successes as Netanyahu without his failures.
10. Ride the infrastructure
Strategists said this is Lapid’s strong suit. Sources in Yesh Atid said the three things needed to win an election are a party infrastructure, a media team and a leader who knows how to go head-to-head with Netanyahu, and their party is the only one that has all three.
Yesh Atid has a ground operation with 146 campaign teams across the country from Kiryat Shmona to Eilat, which are based in homes, and 26 regional offices. The party boasts 15,000 volunteers, many of whom have been with Yesh Atid since its inception more than six years ago.
“We are readier for this election than any other party,” a Yesh Atid MK said. “Our activists are the knife in our teeth.”
Gantz hired veteran Labor Party activist Dana Oren-Yanay to build up the party’s infrastructure of volunteer activists. She has had success in the past, but she has a short period of time to work.
11. The ex-Bibi factor
The strategists said that to defeat Netanyahu, it helps to know him well. The best way to know him is to work with his disgruntled former aides, advisers and strategists, who know his weaknesses well.
The good news for the parties is there are so many of those available. Some of them are not limited by being state’s witnesses, so they have more time to help take revenge against Netanyahu and his wife, Sara, for their past mistreatment.
Their names will not mean much to the readers, but former Netanyahu strategists are either currently working, or were until recently, with Yesh Atid, Kulanu, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas and the New Right.
12. Have confidence in success
The strategist who defeated Netanyahu said this is the key.
“We have to get rid of the concept of him being unbeatable,” she said. “Anyone can be beaten, including a magician or a king. Getting out of that concept of him being unbeatable is half the battle.”
She said Labor leader Avi Gabbay was hurting this cause by running on a campaign saying he would not enter a Netanyahu-led government. She said that slogan was conceding unnecessarily to the prime minister.
“It is possible to win,” she said. “Victory is at hand.”