Why Bibi Netanyahu will Win – yet another – Israeli election
but Lose Power.
Israel goes to the polls on April 09th a full seven months before the next elections were officially due in November 2019.
Opinion polls show Benjamin (Bibi) Netanyahu is on course to enter the Prime Minister’s office in Jerusalem for a record breaking 5th time next year. His Likud party has topped the opinion polls for over 12 months now.
Netanyahu already holds the Prime Ministerial record for the number of consecutive days in office, 3,559 days to be exact (as of January 1st – 2019) just over nine and a half years.
If Netanyahu manages to hang on until next July, he will overtake David Ben Gurion as Israel’s longest ever serving Prime Minister.
So, what best explains this obviously locally popular but hugely polarizing politicians expected 5th general election victory? Netanyahu presumably would attribute his victories to his own political acumen, a brilliance of electoral strategy and of course an intimate and profound understanding of the average Israeli psyche.
This after all is a three-times married secular politician who heads the religious-right camp. He is an Ashkenazi (a Jew of European descent) who commands near fanatical adulation from many Mizrahi voters (Jews of North African and Middle Eastern descent). He is also a proudly self-identifying economic Neo-Liberal whose greatest personal support lies in the impoverished communities in the economically depressed towns in Israel’s geographical periphery.
Netanyahu has long been a master at exploiting Israel’s fractured Identity politics. He has been pedalling a xenophobic nationalist rhetoric long before the arrival of Trump, Brexit or the relatively recent global rise of the populist strong-man politics of the anti-immigrant right.
In the last Israeli election in 2015 Netanyahu took to the airwaves on election day itself with near apocalyptic warnings to his supporters that “The right government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the poll, leftwing organizations were bussing them out”. The political stunt, complete with Israeli flag and a huge map of the middle east as a backdrop prop was widely acknowledged to have swung the election.
But arguably Bibi’s likely next election victory has already been long foretold.
It can be read in just a small set of numbers – 10 to be precise. ‘Electoral Numerology’ may be too fanciful a claim, but to butcher a well-worn political phrase, “It’s the Numbers Stupid”.
So, what are the 10 Numbers that help to explain (predict) yet another Benjamin Netanyahu Israeli general election victory.
(1) – “32.4”
This is the percentage increase in the size of the Israeli economy (GDP) since Bibi Netanyahu entered the Prime Minister’s office (for a second time) nine years ago. That’s a healthy average 3.6% annual growth rate (2009-2017), all the more impressive in that the Israeli economy escaped virtually unscathed the 2008 global crash that plunged most western economies into recession.
Photograph – Azrieli Towers Tel Aviv (Paul Kearns)
The Israeli economy has in fact recorded 16 successive years of economic growth dating back to 2001. GDP per person in Israel is now comparable to Spain and Italy, this despite extensive ‘sectoral’ poverty amongst the Jewish Religious Orthodox and Israeli Arab communities, which together make up about 30% of the Israeli population. Whilst Israel has the highest proportion of its citizens (19%) living below the poverty line in the OECD – Israeli Arabs of course don’t vote for Bibi or his Likud party and the Religious Orthodox are already “locked’ in to the rightwing block. https://en.globes.co.il/en/article-israels-poverty-remains-worst-in-oecd-1001214592
Netanyahu may not be personally credited for all this growth but as Minister of Finance between 2003 and 2005 he is widely acclaimed for kick-starting the Israeli economy when he slashed both personal and corporate taxes and public spending and unleashed an enormous sale of state assets, including El Al the then state airline.
(2) – “0”
Zero is the total number of Israeli deaths arising from Palestinian suicide attacks since Netanyahu took power in 2009. Remarkably there were just two suicide bombings in this nine-year period. This compares to 142 separate suicide bomb attacks resulting in 626 Israeli deaths in the previous 9 years. A total of 238 Israelis were killed in 2002 alone. Israelis may not thank Netanyahu or his government for this, but they haven’t forgotten the ‘Second Intifada’, a time when explosions regularly ripped apart restaurants and buses in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem.
(3) – “68”
That’s the percentage increase in average house prices across Israel between 2009 and the end of 2017. Affordability, or lack thereof, is of course now a critical issue, particularly in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem. But the rapid and sustained increase in house prices has however generated an enormous source of both ‘paper’ and real wealth for hundreds of thousands of ordinary Israelis in a country where 67% of households own their own homes. It is worth noting that during Irelands unprecedented “Celtic Tiger” Housing bubble – Irish houses soared “just” 44% from 2001 to 2008.
(4) – “19”
The number of years that have passed since the Israeli Labor Party (the standard bearer for Israeli centre left) last won a plurality of the vote in a general election. In the five elections since the last Labor victory of Ehud Barak in 1999, the “Left” has neither topped the poll nor lead any coalition government. The Israeli “Left” has in fact never electorally recovered from the failure of the Barak-Arafat Camp David talks and the subsequent outbreak of the five year long Second Intifada in 2000.
(5) – “10”
The number of party leaders the on-off official opposition Labor Party has cannibalized since 1995. Remarkably Bibi Netanyahu’s rightwing Likud Party has had just two leaders in the same 23-year period, himself and Ariel Sharon. Who outside of Israel remembers or has ever heard of the Labor political giants “Mitzna”, “Peretz” (not to be mistaken with Shimon Peres), “Fuad” or “Yacomovich”?
Labor has spent 25 years in near constant acrimonious fratricidal back stabbing. The party (also the official opposition) now stands at a miserable 7 to 9 seats (out of 120) in the latest opinion polls. Its current leader Avi Gabbay doesn’t even sit in the Knesset and was a former member of Netanyahu’s own Likud party. Labor, the party of Rabin and Ben Gurion now suffers the ignominy of being dismissed locally as nothing more than “Likud-Lite”.
(6) – “11”
Israel’s ranking in the United Nations World Happiness Index in 2018. The ranking index includes ‘income, healthy life expectancy, social support, freedom, trust and generosity’. Only Switzerland, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and the five Nordic states are ranked higher.
Photograph – Habima Square Tel Aviv (Paul Kearns)
Despite the near constant daily grumbling of the challenges and stresses one hears from Israelis living in Israel, Israelis are if not very relaxed, apparently very happy. A booming economy and an unemployment at just 3.9% – It was 8% in late 2009 and has steadily fallen since – inevitably brings some contentment.
The ranking does not include the 2.8 million Palestinians living in the Occupied West Bank or the 1.8 million Palestinians living under siege in the Gaza Strip. Not surprisingly The Palestinian Authority was ranked a lowly 104.
(7) – “700,000”
The current estimate of the Israeli Settler population now living in the Occupied West Bank and Annexed East Jerusalem. The Settler population was just 340,000 as recently as 2001. The Settlers have remained the ideological backbone of every Netanyahu right wing coalition. In 1975 just 1 on 300 Israelis were settlers. Today 1 in 9 Israeli Jews are now settlers.
Photograph – Ma’ale Adumim Settlement West Bank (Paul Kearns)
Not surprisingly the religious right bloc secures in excess of 90% of the settler vote. But what’s often overlooked is that these local ‘super-majorities’ greatly advantage the Israeli right, as no vote is ‘wasted’, as there are no electoral constituencies in Israel. The entire country (120 Knesset Seats) is treated one single constituency. Pile up the votes in the settlements and you pile up seats in the Knesset.
(8) – “430,000”
The number of Israelis that took to the streets on the evening of 04th of September 2011 to protest Israeli government policies, in particular the perceive the burden of ‘cost of living’ issues. Known witheringly as the “cottage cheese revolution”, the protests were the largest in Israel’s history.
Photograph – Demonstration 2011 Tel Aviv (Paul Kearns)
Bibi rode that political storm and swept to power just two years later in 2013 to form yet another right-wing led administration. So, you can safely ignore the impact of the 60,000 who regularly took to the streets to demonstrate against the governments (Nation State Legislation) in Tel Aviv this summer.
(9) – “600,000”
This is the weekly circulation of Israel Hayom, Israel’s largest newspaper. Funded by the Jewish American billionaire Sheldon Adelson and founded in 2007, Israel Hayom is both fiercely right wing and a staunch supporter of Netanyahu. The daily freebie is also known witheringly in Israel as “BiBibiton (a play on ‘iton’, which means newspaper in Hebrew).
(10) – “30”
Finally the all-important opinion polls. 30 is the predicted number of seats Netanyahu’s Likud Party is expected to win. Whilst this represents just a quarter of the total Knesset seats – the Likud party would appear to be unassailable as the largest party. No opposition party has topped 20 seats in recent polling.
The outgoing government (along with the right-wing party Israel Beitanu which bolted only in November) is predicted to hit at least 60 out of 120 seats. The opposition is deeply fractured, with multiple (squabbling) centrist parties scrambling for votes in the same smaller voter pool. The likely 12 or 13 seats destined for “The Joint list” an alliance of largely Palestinian parties in effect preludes a centre-left government emerging after the election. The Joint List has vowed not to join any centre-left (Zionist) coalition. No Israeli-Arab political Party (Palestinian) has ever formally entered into an Israeli coalition.
The election arguably has been long over before the campaign has even started. It’s been over for more than 12 months. Barring some further explosive corruption allegations (and there has been many) – and/or an official indictment from the Attorney General – Netanyahu is almost guaranteed once again to lead the next Israeli government.
If he is indicted however Netanyahu is unlikely to resign, neither is he likely to be pushed, and probably won’t even lose many votes in the polls.
But his days would then be nevertheless numbered.
Moshe Kahlon leader of Kulanu (outgoing Finance Minister) and coalition ally has already said if Netanyahu is indicted, he would not agree to serve under him again. No opposition centrist party will do so either. Without Kahlon or (Orly Levy’s party ‘Gesher’) the numbers are hopeless for Netanyahu.
The polls indicate his rightwing support will hit a ceiling of around 57 seats – not enough to form a government. A very broad and slightly fantastical centre-left and centre-right alternative coalition (without Likud) would probably muster just 50 seats. The Palestinian dominated Joint List would then hold balance of power likely 13 seats.
If that’s the result – then all bets are off – but for certain Bibi will no longer be ‘King’.
The FOUR NUMBERS that could yet trip him up.
These are known locally as cases 1,000, 2,000, 3,000, and 4,000, the names given to four well advanced corruption investigations by Israeli police into Netanyahu.
Case 1,000 is an investigation that is also commonly referred as the “Cigars and Champagne” case, the items Netanyahu and his wife Sara allegedly took as bribes.
Case 2,000 centres around Netanyahu’s supposed desire to receive better coverage in one of the country’s leading newspaper, Yedioth Ahronoth.
Case 3,000 involves suspected corruption in Israel’s purchase of submarines and other naval vessels from Germany’s ThyssenKrupp Marine Systems.
Case 4,000 involves suspicions that Netanyahu, in his role as Communications Minister from 2014 to 2017 (while he was also Prime Minister) inappropriately favoured one of Israel’s telecom companies.