Can Netanyahu Lose?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Pollsters and analysts know that predicting elections in Israel is a fanciful game with very little reliability. It is not only the volatile nature of the electorate, but the fact that Israelis do not trust people asking them questions when they do not personally know the questioner. Respondents in Israel prefer to psyche out the questioner rather than to give fully reliable answers to pollsters’ questions. Error margins which appear on every poll are also fanciful and virtually no one regards those percentages as meaningful.
Nevertheless, looked at less than two weeks before the elections these are some of the variables which might swing the election.
- Gantz/Lapid now are tied or behind Bibi after jumping ahead earlier. The initial public excitement has been tampered by a fear of change for an untested politician. The Israeli voters are afraid of change. Unless the change is overwhelming—Begin in 1977–voters tend to stay with what they know.
- As with President Trump, a solid core of voters do not care that Bibi is facing legal battles and indictments which ultimately could remove him from office.
- Bibi’s core base is Russian and Sephardic voters. Regardless of which party they support, they overwhelmingly prefer a right-wing Prime Minister. When they are joined by the settler movement, which will vote in droves, Netanyahu will be able to build a coalition.
- Blue and White always had an uphill fight to put together a coalition even if they received the largest number seats. Their road to a majority of 61 seats in the Knesset was extremely tricky from the start.
- Netanyahu does not want a war in Gaza, but his support is based largely on public confidence that he is the toughest candidate, even if an entire group of former generals are among the core of the Blue and White Party.
- If an actual outbreak of hostilities requires Israel to re-enter Gaza it appears after a year of skirmishes at the fences, that Netanyahu has no plan. This will weaken his tough image. Launching rockets on Gaza is not a productive electoral strategy.
- Returning home early from the AIPAC conference was correct. Netanyahu received Trump’s blessing for the Golan arrangement which he had sought in exchange for which there were lots of photos and even a kiss; although Bibi had to pass up dinner at the White House.
- Gantz came across well at AIPAC but stumbled in his exchanges with reporters when he left. He and Lapid have little margin for error.
- Blue and White might be able to govern with the Labor Party, if Labor surprises the earliest predictions and does not almost slip away into oblivion.
- The right-wing, center-right wing parties may deny their willingness to join a Netanyahu coalition, but power is too seductive regardless of their so-called ideological principles.
- The Charedi Parties will be determinative especially if they run strong; however, if their traditionally solid voting bloc becomes more independent it could get interesting. The size of their voters is booming.
While the general conclusion is that Netanyahu will remain as Prime Minister, it is also correct that predicting how Israelis will vote is very challenging; doing so eleven days beforehand is even moreso. Finally, there is always the possibility of an April surprise.