Right-wing insurgency against Netanyahu changes electoral dynamics – 3/19/2021 – Jaime Spitzcovsky

Israel goes to the polls on Tuesday (23) in search of a new government and in the fourth vote in two years, a historic record and a reflection of the political winds charged with reshaping the country’s democratic architecture.

Debates to monopolize campaigns for decades, like the classic left-right polarization and the approach to the Palestinian question, gave way to a sort of referendum on Prime Minister Binyamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

Central in style, Netanyahu has achieved the feat of fragmenting the Israeli right, the historic base of his party, the Likud. At each election, the list of ex-allies crossing the ideological barrier approaches the center-left bloc, in order to reinforce the song “the Bibi era must end”.

The right-wing leader, in government between 1996-99 and 2009-2021, broke the record for remaining in power by surpassing the 13 years of David Ben-Gurion, patriarch of Israel and icon of socialism, mainstream between 1948, year of independence, and 1977, the first victory for Likud.

For decades, Israel’s political horizon has been shaped by the bipolarity between socialists and likudists. On the economic level, the traditional shock between a nationalized vision and the choice of market forces.

On the Palestinian question, supporters of Ben-Gurion bet on negotiations, while the right gives priority to security and military reinforcement. These poles determine the oscillations of the political pendulum.

Netanyahu mixed things up. He began to see the insurgency and displacement of former subordinates, accusing him, in general, of monarchical behavior. One of the pioneers of this trend was Avigdor Lieberman, former foreign minister and leader of the ultra-nationalist Israel Nossa Casa.

In the current campaign, two other former Bibi ministers have joined forces to criticize the prime minister: Naftali Bennet and Gideon Saar. Owners of radical positions on the Palestinian question, they flirt with the moderate center parties, in the quest to end the Netanyahu era and also with an eye on the leaders of the Israeli right.

In addition to challenges from former allies, Bibi faces a lawsuit for corruption, breach of trust and fraud. The Prime Minister claims to be innocent, accuses sectors of the media of bias and says he is the target of political persecution. He uses the discourse of victimization to mobilize his electoral base.

Bibi, however, does not gain support solely through populist rhetoric. It has important assets, such as the fundamental success of the vaccination campaign and the peace accords with four Arab countries, signed last year. He also declares himself as the most capable and experienced leader to face the nuclear ambitions of the Iranian enemy.

Netanyahu, in the race to stay in power, changed the historic debate, divided the Israeli right, and helped resuscitate sectors of the left without a speech capable of electoral mobilization.

The last election, in 2020, generated, in practice, a link between the government and the opposition forces, then led by centrist Benny Gantz. A national trade union cabinet was formed, made impossible by rivalries between the main leaders. This led to another electoral conflict.

Israeli society has not changed dramatically in four votes in two years.

It will probably continue to be divided into two fields of comparable size. I regret the times when leaders sought to reach consensus, as happened in the 1980s, and did not immerse themselves in long and exhausting election cycles.

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