Being arrogant – and missing the chance

Posted: February 21, 2009 by Jonathan Boyko in Israel, Own Articles, Politics
Tags: , ,

Benjamin Netanyahu (drawing by Moshik)

Benjamin Netanyahu (drawing by Moshik)

Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud was dumbstruck. Some polls promised Likud up to 40 Parliament seats – in reality, Likud got only 27 and lost to the Kadima party, which won the election with 28 seats. Despite Netanyahu’s urgency to proclaim himself as a winner, many members and activists felt different.

“They [Netanyahu and the campaign managers] spent most money on Internet campaigning, while abandoning the ‘troops’ on the ground”, says one Likud activist in an interview to Israeli Channel 2 News. “Local branches did not receive nearly enough funding, the ‘field’ got forgotten”, says another.

Likud should have seen it coming, frankly. Benjamin Netanyahu has all but proclaimed himself as the elections winner days before the actual voting process, driving the euphoria in Likud even farther down the road.

What did hurt Likud’s chances is the endorsement of Likud by the ultra-religious SHAS party, just days before the election. SHAS’ chairman, Ely Yishai, has called a press-conference where he announced his party’s endorsement of Likud’s candidate, which probably drove away some of the floating votes towards the Kadima party: Zipi Livni has shown a strong position, openly declaring she would welcome SHAS to her coalition, but would not give in to their tactics of extortion – something most voters wouldn’t trust Netanyahu to do.

It seems Netanyahu learned little from past mistakes – and nothing from mistakes of others’. Instead of being a true leader, Netanyahu chose a campaign which reflects him as a strong leader – in matters few people believed him. “Strong in security”, the posters say – while Netanyahu proven himself in the past as giving in to PA’s Yasser Arafat’s extortions and signing agreements which only brought more terror upon Israelis. “Strong in economics”, say others – despite Netanyahu’s controversial economy-building plan few years back.

I believe Netanyahu’s fiscal reforms require an additional, explanatory paragraph. Benjamin Netanyahu was highly criticized by his opponents, claiming his reforms were intended to weaken the working class and give the rich a tax break. Netanyahu in his turn claimed the reforms were means to lower the unemployment rates by cutting back on social security payments, while encouraging the unemployed to work by giving stimulus packages to those joining the workforce. Among other things, during his three-and-a-half years term as a Minister of Finance, Netanyahu has abolished the income tax breaks for the settlers, brought reform to Pension Funds and lowered the unemployment rate from 10.5 to 8.9 per cent. By the end of Netanyahu’s reign, Israeli economy had been growing by 4.1% per year; in 2005 the GDP has grown by 16% since 2002 and while the government started the year 2002 by having the deficit of 4.5% of GDP, it ended the year 2005 – the year when Benjamin Netanyahu resigned – with the deficit of zero.

As I have mentioned above, Netanyahu’s economic plan was widely criticized in Israel – particularly after the economy crisis has hit the markets during 2008. We have to give it to him, though – some of his reforms strengthened Israeli economy and improved Israel’s standing in fiscal world.

Thus, Likud party’s “Strong in economics” slogan is not a lie – an actual truth, really. Netanyahu, however, has failed to explain his actions and the reasoning behind them – failing to understand slogans might work on the least-educated part of the electorate, but will fail to gather support from more educated middle- and upper-class citizens, due to general understanding – wrongful as it might be – that Netanyahu’s reforms brought no good to Israel and its people.

Netanyahu still has a chance of being a Prime Minister – if Zipi Livni fails to convince the President Shimon Peres she could build a stable enough coalition. At the moment, it seems the Likud Leader has a better chance to create a stable coalition, as the “Rightist block” (including Likud, SHAS, Our Home Israel [“Israel Beitenu”] and several smaller parties) reaches up to 65 Knesset seats – passing the required 61 seats mark. Yet, Netanyahu’s party has failed to woo Kadima’s and Israel Beitenu’s voters – in large part due to the party’s leader.

Many lessons can be learned from this campaign. For example: Israelis are tired of radical left, leaving the radical MERETZ party with only 3 seats. Here’s another one: a seemingly strong leader [Zipi Livni] can win the elections despite all odds. And the last one: you do not declare yourself a winner until all the votes have been counted.

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