Opinion: Although conditions were perfect for Netanyahu’s bloc to win enough seats in latest elections, PM’s uncontrollable ego and excessive self-confidence drove potential voters into the arms of other parties or made them stay at home
Defaced election campaign billboard showing portrait of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Ramat Gan
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s declarations prior to March 23 elections that he’ll manage to get between 35 and 40 Knesset seats, were not propaganda nor were they wishful thinking.
If you look at Netanyahu’s position about a month before the national vote, it would seem as though the stars were aligned for him to win enough seats to form a strong coalition.
The coronavirus pandemic in Israel started to subside thanks, in part, to the enormous amount of Pfizer vaccines Netanyahu managed to procure due to his tenacity, obsessiveness and a few billion shekels.
Due to fast-paced vaccination campaign, the country’s new COVID cases continued to drop and some of the country’s busiest hospitals were even told they could finally shutter their coronavirus wards.
The economy has reopened after a long, lockdown-induced slumber. And while the economy did reopen a few times over the past year, this time the risk of another virus wave appears to have been mitigated.
As a result, many businesses have started to recruit workers – some of whom were furloughed for months on end, dissipating critisism about the governent’s inadequate financial aid program for those who have been affected by the pandemic-induced economic crisis.
The international community lauded Israel’s vaccination drive and its response to the crisis, with the country’s credit rating remaining relatively stable.
The praise kept flowing and everyone forgot about Netanyahu’s refusal to pass a state budget for 2021 – which ultimately led to the dissolution of the Knesset, triggering Israel’s fourth elections in less than two years.
One couldn’t imagine more favorable circumstances for Israel’s longest serving premier ahead of the national vote. And yet, Netanyahu failed.
In fact, his Likud party won 10% less votes in this election than in the previous one, which took place at a time of extreme uncertainty due to the onset of the pandemic and what looked like might become a total collapse of the Israeli economy.
So, how and why did the prime minister fail? The answer lies in Netanyahu’s overwhelmingly bad, months-long election campaign, which served to highlight his ego, selfishness and arrogance and not much else.
In media interviews, Netanyahu refused to answer tough questions, even though he could have given convincing factual answers. Instead he opted to attack the interviewers in a repulsive and pointless manner.
He could have responded to criticism about having over 6,000 coronavirus-related deaths by presenting examples from other developed countries with a similar population size, such as Sweden, Switzerland, Portugal and the Czech Republic (where the number of COVID fatalities is between two to four times higher than in Israel).
Instead, Netanyahu chose to dismiss such questions as nothing more than mere ramblings and personal attacks.
Netanyahu also failed to take into consideration another well-known phenomenon. Throughout history, at the end of exhausting wars that resulted in victory, voters often replaced the leadership and especially the leader who led them to that victory. Partly due to the collective understanding that a leadership of recovery must be different from the leadership of war.
Netanyahu, however, percieved this mindset, which has started to grow in Likud strongholds, as ungratefulness and a deliberate disregard of his greatness. That is why he decided to rake in all the credit for dealing with the COVID pandemic for himself.
That is not all though, Netanyahu is also to blame for additional tactical mistakes, such as encouraging his voters to vote for parties that are much more conservative and even somewhat extreme than Likud – for instance the Religious Zionist Party – led by Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich.
He also tried to portray Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid as capable of unseating him, in hopes it would drive Likud’s voter base to the polls.
The pre-election polls did favor Likud. Netanyahu, who was drowning, should’ve held on to those voters as if they were the lifeboat. Instead, he presented himself as the lifeboat and its captain. He was taken over by the same excessive self-confidence that undermined his election campaigns in the past.
As a result, his one-man show drove potential Likud voters into the arms of other parties or made them stay at home altogether on Election Day.
And despite your accusations Mr. Netanyahu, the only one at fault for driving away potential voters, is yourself.