Despite allegations of corruption and sinking polls, some Israelis still vow to vote for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections. Although his handling of the country’s security threats still needs to be improved, they feel his achievements in global affairs and the economy will win the support of many.
With less than two months left until Israelis take to the polls again, a recent survey indicates that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is still falling three seats behind its main rival – the Blue and White party of former chief of staff Benny Gantz.
Netanyahu started sinking in the polls following a series of corruption investigations into him and his family. These include buying positive press and receiving illegal gifts from wealthy donors, allegations that Netanyahu denies.
Hunted by the left
But Asaf Berby, a computer engineer in his twenties, says the premier’s graft probes will not deter him from voting for Likud.
“Others [prime ministers and parliamentarians] have done and are still doing exactly what Netanyahu did [buying positive coverage and receiving gift], but nobody took them to court for that. It is clear that it is a political game. They want him out”.
Berby is not alone. According to the survey conducted by Israel’s Democracy Institute, some 50 per cent of Israelis don’t have faith in the country’s judiciary system. However, their trust in the police and the media is much lower standing at 40 and 35 per cent respectively.
Once Israel’s Attorney General Avichai Mandelblitt announced he would indict Netanyahu, thousands took to the streets across the country protesting against the “unlawful conduct” of the country’s institutions, and Berby says he understands why.
“The left – and that includes various clerks, judges and the media – don’t like Netanyahu’s ideas and what he represents so they want to move him out of their way. But because they understood it is impossible to win him by democratic means [I.e. elections], they started using gimmicks to harm him politically”.
Netanyahu is often slammed in Israel for his hawkish policies vis-a-vis the Palestinians, primarily for the support he has given to the settlement activity in the West Bank, considered occupied Palestinian land according to international law.
During his decade-long tenure as prime minister, Israel has constructed more than 19000 residential units in Judea and Samaria, the Israeli names for the West Bank, with reports suggesting that Tel Aviv plans to build another Jewish neighbourhood in the predominately Palestinian city of Hebron.
Internally, the premier is often slammed for his unfair treatment of the country’s minorities, especially Arabs. In 2015, in the middle of elections, Netanyahu posted a video warning his voters against Arabs who “flocked to the polling stations en masse”, suggesting that if they don’t do the same, the rule of the right-wing would be in danger.
Not perfect but the best we’ve got
Although Berby admits, his premier is not perfect; he still believes Netanyahu is the best the country has got to offer.
“If you break it into three aspects: the economy, diplomacy and security, I would give him 100 out of 100 for handling the first two. For treating security threats, I would give him 70”.
As a resident of Zohar, a southern community close to Gaza, Berby is not happy with the way the current government is handling the situation with Hamas, a militant group that controls the enclave and that’s considered terrorist by Israel.
In 2019 alone, Gaza militants launched more than 1200 rockets towards Israel’s southern towns with 85 per cent of them successfully intercepted by the country’s Iron Dome aerial defence system.
In the north, Israel is still struggling to cope with the threat of Hezbollah, a Shiite militia allied with Iran, that is not only believed to possess 150 thousand rockets, many of which can target any location in Israel but is also known for having cross-border tunnels developed for offensive purposes.
Yet, Berby says these “hiccups” pale in comparison to Netanyahu’s achievements on other fronts.
“On the international front, the man is friendly with the world’s top leaders, including [President Vladimir] Putin and [US President Donald] Trump. When it comes to the economy, the man is a genius”.
From 1996, when he took office for the first time, Netanyahu initiated several economic reforms transforming Israel into a free market economy. He privatized many of the country’s sectors, allowed the entrance of competitors to fields that enjoyed monopolies for years, a move that contributed to price drops and introduced several pieces of legislation that benefited ordinary Israelis like to fund kindergartens and provide free dental services until the age of 12.
“When I compare these achievements to what Benny Gantz has to offer, I tend to opt for a super talented person, with his pluses and minuses, rather than for people with zero experience. Plus I know, my vote is secured as Netanyahu won’t change his political stance, going from right to left,” said Berby, referring to former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, who morphed from being a hawk into a dove when he decided to evacuate more than 8000 Jewish settlers residing in the Gaza Strip in 2005.
Berby says it is difficult for him to be open about his support for Netanyahu, primarily because of the media’s conduct.
In recent years Israel’s mass media has intensified its attacks on Netanyahu and his supporters, with some anchors going as far as labelling Likud voters “a blind herd“.
“But this is changing. A lot of people have realized that electing Netanyahu has much rationale and we are not shy anymore to speak up,” Berby summed up.