James J. Marlow
James J. Marlow

The Marlow Election Report

Credit: James Marlow

Polls have generally been consistent these past few weeks with Likud leading between 27 to 30 seats.

Its nearest rival, Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid is holding steady with 19 to 20 seats. Next comes Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party with 11 to 13 seats. Former Likud MK, Gideon Sa’ar who vowed to topple Netanyahu as Prime Minister with his party, New Hope, continues to plummet in all surveys.

When Sa’ar first declared his independence from Netanyahu earlier this year, the polls suggested he would receive a massive 21 seats, which is quite consistent when any new party suddenly emerges on the scene.

But after a week or two, reality sinks in and the Israeli voter begins to consider, “Maybe this new party is not the answer to all my professional and personal problems”, and they end up (sometimes) returning to the party they originally voted for.

New Hope is now currently polling at just 9 seats and political commentators are asking, what was it that Sa’ar did, that went so wrong?

Firstly, Gideon Sa’ar hired four Republican strategic political consultants from the United States. They founded the well-funded Lincoln Project in 2019 to convince “moderate” Republicans to vote for Joe Biden instead of Donald Trump last November.

In other words, the Republican political strategists were anti-Donald Trump and they used some of the most vicious tools available, to topple the 45th President.

The political strategists referred to Donald Trump as the “enemy within” and its political strategists really got under the skin of Donald Trump. Gideon Sa’ar believed they would be perfect for his campaign against Netanyahu and he hired them.

However questions over its finances and sexual harassment allegations against its founder, rocked the Lincoln Project. As the scandals kept coming, Sa’ar hesitated as to what to do, despite his poll numbers falling, before he finally fired them last month.

New Hope is a right wing party, but does not appear to have any real new policies which are different from the Likud. Except the goal of getting rid of Netanyahu and applying Israeli sovereignty over the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria. Which by way, Netanyahu also wants, but postponed the “annexation” for 3 years, in favour of peace and trade deals with the UAE and Bahrain.

In contrast, Naftali Bennett, who also wishes to see the end of Netanyahu, articulated a plan to get Israel back to work after the “corona crisis”. He wrote a book about Covid and how to deal with it. Bennett in his many interviews also speaks about social and economic policies, especially referring to the high cost of living for many in Israel, who are on low wages.

Whether Bennett can do something about everyday high prices in Israel, remains to be seen. But those who previously told pollsters they would vote for Sa’ar, have now switched to Bennett, which explains why Yamina is third in the polls.

If the pollsters are correct, New Hope will only receive 9 to 10 seats and this will be seen as a huge failure for Sa’ar who did not even land one good punch on Netanyahu. Except the initial shock of breaking away from the Likud with 3 or 4 Likud MKs, and initially polling to win 21 seats in an election.

The other interesting observation from the polls is that the Likud has generally, been consistent with its amount of seats expected. The two right wing parties of Bennett and Sa’ar have really been taking votes off each other. In order to have a serious chance of toppling the Likud, (similar to what Labour did back in 1992), Bennett and Sa’ar must take 8 to 10 seats away from the Likud. But neither of them have found the correct strategy to do this. What’s clear is that the anti-Bibi campaign, simply doesn’t work.

It is well known that Binyamin Netanyahu has 3 indictments against him and the trial will commence after the election. But if the polls are to be believed, and they generally are correct, with the exception of the undecided 20% of voters, more Israelis will vote for the Likud led by Netanyahu, than any other party.

The Israel Democracy Institute survey found that 1 in 3 Israeli Arabs want Netanyahu to remain as Prime Minister. Although the survey also showed that 52% of Jewish voters did not want him to remain.

Nevertheless, the Likud have a strong 10 seat lead and that is unlikely to disappear before next Tuesday. Therefore this election is NOT about who can become Prime Minister and form the next government. It’s about the anti-Netanyahu camp doing whatever they can do, to stop Bibi from forming a government and remaining Prime Minister. In other words, it’s about whether we go to a fifth election, just after Succot, or not.

The anti-Netanyahu campaign is strong. It has the powerful media behind it. Public broadcaster Kan seen on channel 11 and independent news channels 12 and 13 want Netanyahu to “go home”.

The two most famous news websites in Israel; Walla and Ynet are anti-Netanyahu. The Jerusalem Post, Times of Israel, Maariv and Yediot are anti-Netanyahu. Yet his polls numbers are not being dented that much. Do you have any idea how frustrating and annoying this to the anti-Bibi camp who just want him gone?

Netanyahu is a magician when it comes to general elections and he relishes political campaigns. If he is not on the streets meeting people, he is making videos, tweeting, and all the time turning his guns on his two main right wing opponents, Yamina and New Hope and of course his closest rival, Yesh Atid.

The slogan – if you vote for Bennett or Sa’ar, you will get a left wing Yair Lapid for Prime Minister, which scares many, on the right. In addition, Netanyahu has been courting the Arab vote and just like in 2015, 2019 and 2020, many more Israeli Arabs vote Likud, than they vote for Labor.

In response Yair Lapid is wooing left wing voters from Blue and White, Labour and Meretz. These small parties will barely make it over the minimum threshold of 4 seats, but Lapid is calling for their voters to ditch those parties and switch to his faction, so he can catch up with the Likud.

But the basic arithmetic is quite simple. If Lapid has any chance of forming a left wing government, he will need those 3 parties to reach the required number of 61 seats or more.

The same applies to the Likud. Netanyahu is likely to take votes from Yamina and New Hope, because Netanyahu manages to take votes from Bennett’s party at every election campaign. But Bennett is probably Netanyahu’s only hope of forming a new government, as Sa’ar has repeatedly said, he will never sit with Netanyahu.

So this election is about whether Netanyahu can form a government of 61 seats or more with Shas, UTJ, Religious Zionists and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party. Or we go to a fifth election, as Bennett and Sa’ar are unable to make that number without the left wing parties and Lapid will not have the support of Bennett or Sa’ar.

Now do you understand why we keep going to elections?

ELIGIBLE VOTERS

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, there are some 6 million eligible voters who can cast a ballot for the 24th Knesset on Tuesday. Some 13% of eligible voters are aged between 18 to 24 years old. 29% are aged between 25 to 39 years old. 32% are aged between 40 to 59 years old. Israelis over the age of 60 years, comprise of 26%.

78% of eligible voters who live in Israel are Jewish of which 11% are chareidi orthodox. Around 17% of eligible voters are Arab, including Muslims, Christians and Druze. And 5% are Christians who do not define themselves as Arab or they have no religious affiliations.

About the Author
James J. Marlow is a broadcast journalist and public relations media consultant. He has previously worked for ITN, EuroNews, Reuters, Daily Mail, Daily Express, LBC Radio and Sky News. In addition he has trained and prepared hundreds of business and entertainment people, politicians and Rabbis, for the media, including television, radio and audiences.
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