Bye bye, Bibi: Why today will be different for Israel’s left-leaning coalition

March 17, 2015
Israel's Prime Minister Netanyahu and Herzog are pictured together on a rotating billboard in Tel Aviv

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Isaac Herzog, co-leader of the center-left Zionist Camp, are pictured together as campaign billboards rotate in Tel Aviv, March 9, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Israel’s political left, even more than the political lefts of other countries, has a particular penchant for self-defeat.

To begin with, it eats its leaders like Pop-Tarts. The Labor party has bulldozed its way through 10 leaders in the past 20 years. It also likes to engage in resigned, navel-gazing ruminations about the death of the mythic “left-wing bloc,” that vanished with Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995. In addition, even more than the right-wing, which reveres but disdains Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s left sees him as a something of a super-antihero, blessed with magic qualities against which no mere mortal stands a chance.

“There is no scenario in which Isaac Herzog will be Israel’s next prime minister, no matter what he declares or what the press reports. Period.” declared an editor at Ha’aretz, Steven Klein, only last week, adding that Netanyahu had the election locked up in a “check-mate.”

This attitude has persisted even in the face of evidence that Netanyahu’s chances of winning an unprecedented fourth term, and possibly becoming Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, were less than optimal. The polls certainly  point to his vulnerability.

There are good reasons beyond the doubtful joys of lefty self-mortification for this resigned fatalism. For much of his career, Netanyahu has had something of a Midas touch. In the elections of 1996, the first after Yitzhak Rabin’s murder, Labor’s Shimon Peres went to sleep knowing he had won a new term in office and awoke to discover that Netanyahu had pulled the rug out from under his feet. In the elections of 2009, Tzipi Livni, then head of Ariel Sharon’s Kadima party, actually did win — only to have the rug pulled out from under her feet by a coalition-making deal Netanyahu concocted with Shas, the Sephardic religious party that got four ministries out of the deal. In 2013 Netanyahu was elected despite losing a significant number of the Likud’s Knesset seats, thanks to a deal with then (and now) foreign minister Avigdor Leiberman, that reassured the jittery voters of the ultra-right.

But he is not politically immune, as is proven by the elections of 1999, when he was defeated by the kibbutz-born Ehud Barak, a former IDF chief of staff and Israel’s most decorated soldier, who was the genuine version of all those things Netanyahu purports to be: a salt-of-the-earth native son, a military hero, an expert on security. (Barak didn’t last long; he had other problems, among them a dearth of Netanyahu-style political savvy that cut short his career.)

In other words, authenticity, which Netanyahu has always lacked, may be his kryptonite.

Whatever his shortcomings, Yitzhak Herzog, the Labor party leader who now spearheads the Zionist Camp, as his union with Tzipi Livni is called, is about as real as a politician can be. He has, in his own way, been a known quantity since his birth in Tel Aviv 54 years ago. His father, Chaim Herzog, a decorated general, served as Israel’s beloved sixth president. His grandfather, for whom he is named, was Israel’s first Ashkenazi chief rabbi. His flaws — a much-mocked “lack of charisma” a sometimes thin voice, a boyish appearance — have been so thoroughly scrutinized as to start to feel familiar, and thus possibly not so daunting, to Israelis.

Herzog has run a deft campaign, attacking Netanyahu on two flanks on which the prime minister had poor defenses: the first, unsurprising line of attack was on socio-economic issues, principally a housing crisis so bad it provoked a special report by Israel’s State Comptroller, sky-high cost-of-living and a growing income gap that threatens Israel’s image as the sparkling start-up nation. These issues, not coincidentally, have been Israelis’ number one electoral concern from the moment elections were called.

Netanyahu’s party, the Likud, was so confident these concerns would melt beneath fears about Israel’s security vulnerabilities that for the first time in Israeli history, it did not even bother to formulate a socio-economic platform. When frustrated voters at campaign rallies have asked Netanyahu stand-ins what their economic plan is, the lame response has been that the prime minister “is too busy.”

An emboldened Herzog’s second line of attack was on the issue of security, even Iran’s threat — issues that Netanyahu has long considered solely his own.

“The painful truth is that after the applause, Netanyahu remains alone. Israel is left isolated. And the negotiations with Iran will continue without any Israeli involvement,” Herzog said, in an appearance at Nir Moshe, a tiny community bordering on Gaza, in his response to Netanyahu’s address to Congress that urged the United States to vote down the diplomatic agreement on Iran’s nuclear program that President Barack Obama has spearheaded.

That address, in fact, may come to encapsulate this topsy-turvy election. It was a classic Netanyahu maneuver, blustery, baroque and to some, impressive. The Likud hoped it would secure his reelection, but in fact, it sucked energy out of the campaign and amounted to a big nothing.

Netanyahu’s polling numbers continued to trend gently down, as they did before the speech.

Herzog, in the plainness of his response, seemed to secure his image as the less dramatic, sensible and suddenly more appealing Israeli everyman.

18 comments

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Bibi has spent many an hour in front of the mirror perfecting his poses and facial expressions. Much like Ronald Reagan he is primarily an actor, with little mental substance. It is one of the things that humans in democracies will have to become acquainted with if we are ever to proceed past demagogues to rational thought. If we don’t, democracy will fail.

Posted by brotherkenny4 | Report as abusive

ACORN in Israel? I never would have thought the ww coalition of Unions (AFL-CIO) with their NGOs and “non-profits” would taint the soil there too. Iranian-born, Valerie Jarret must be dancing. Please note, only the current U.S. adminisration hates Netanyahu. We the people support Israel!

Posted by KevinHals | Report as abusive

Number of Israeli soldiers who served in Iraq: 0

Number of Israeli soldiers who served in Afghanistan: 0

Number of times per year Netanyahu complains America is not doing enough for him: 438

No wonder Bohner and the republicans like him. Born whiners.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

No such thing as “Israel”, they stole Palestine’s land.

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Dewey Defeats Truman!

Posted by deecee122222 | Report as abusive

LOL – nope

Posted by NotFooled68 | Report as abusive

Bye Bye Bugie!

Posted by MichaelKochin | Report as abusive

“Bye, bye, Bibi”? This reminds me of the 1948 Chicago Daily Tribune headline: “Dewey Defeats Truman.”

Posted by Gerry_Bevers | Report as abusive

You were saying? LOL hahahaha

Posted by LetBalanceCome | Report as abusive

Never mind.

Posted by SayHey | Report as abusive

Looks like 2 decades of international experience didn’t help Noga T’s judgement about Israeli politics much..

I can’t imagine why leftists hate Israelis so much that they are eager to expose them to a muslim state acting as a haven for Islamic terrorists on the West Bank

Posted by HeresToFreedom | Report as abusive

Good. The longer Netanyahu is in power, the longer we can keep ignoring Israel’s whining. More of the same. Yawn.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Number of Israeli soldiers deploying to fight ISIS: 0

Number of U.S. aid dollars given to Israel since 9/11: 122 billion.

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

Number of times per year Netanyahu complains that America does not do enough for him: 438

Posted by AlkalineState | Report as abusive

This is a garbage article. Netanyahu won. The authentic guy lost. Your theory is backwards and wrong. Your news organization is biased, weak, and pathetic.

Posted by mtonel7 | Report as abusive

“Netanyahu’s polling numbers continue to trend down”… Nope – just more progressive wishful thinking.

What a mess Obama/Kerry have made of our foreign policy, and when does Hillary make a clean break – but I guess she does ‘own’ of lot of this mess from her term at State.

Posted by willich6 | Report as abusive

Didn’t take long before history made this writer look like an idiot.

Posted by Dansdaman | Report as abusive

Obviously written by a confused woman with adjectives to spare.

Posted by ArribaJuarez | Report as abusive