Israel Elections: Netanyahu’s frenzied campaigning pays dividends
Likud supporters celebrate the exit polls, which give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a substantial lead.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
“There are voters who saw this reality, and God willing Netanyahu will be able to form a government again.”
Likud activists at the Likud election party in Jerusalem were boisterously optimistic when the exit polls results came in on Tuesday night, lauding party leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impressive haul of seats and insisting that he is the only candidate able to form and lead a new government.
As ever during the last 12 months, the corona pandemic continued to cast its shadow over all aspects of the election campaign, including Likud’s election night party, where the number of activists allowed to enter was strictly limited leading to a more subdued atmosphere than usual.
Michael Lev, a Likud activist of 20 years, expressed “cautious optimism” over the results, although he noted that the balance between the two competing political blocs could still shift by a couple of seats.
“Any party which says it is right wing should recommend Netanyahu as prime minister,” said Lev, pointing out that both Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party are both right wing.
He attributed Netanyahu’s achievement primarily to the successful vaccination campaign that has helped the country open back up after the ravages of the corona pandemic.
“There are voters who saw this reality, and God willing Netanyahu will be able to form a government again,” Lev said.
The Likud’s impressive results in the initial exit polls giving it between 31 and 33 seats, and the right-wing, religious bloc’s 61 seats clearly puts Netanyahu in the driver’s seat to form a coalition. The victory is attributed to the prime minister’s incredible energy, frenzied campaigning, and the Likud’s highly motivated base of voters.
Netanyahu’s election campaign was marked by a focus on the country’s highly successful vaccination drive that he led, as well as highlighting his long experience as prime minister and what he insists is his ability to manage the economic affects of the pandemic.
The prime minister lauded throughout the campaign his vaccination drive, insisting that only he could have managed to persuade the Pfizer pharmaceutical company to use Israel as a test case and obtain such a large number of vaccines.
Netanyahu also unceasingly attacked Naftali Bennett, his rival for right-wing votes, denouncing him repeatedly for failing to commit to the right-wing bloc and eventually forcing the Yamina leader to commit on live TV not to join a coalition with Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid as prime minister.
Throughout Election Day, Netanyahu criss-crossed the country urging citizens to get off the beaches and malls and into the voting booths, warning that voter turnout in cities with large secular populations was high, and that the Likud needed only two more Knesset seats to form a government.
The prime minister made his way to Rishon Lezion to the home of pop star Eden Ben Zaken, who greeted him with her baby.
Speaking through a loudspeaker, Netanyahu stood alongside Ben Zaken and called on the neighborhood to go and vote lest Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid become prime minister.
At two o’clock in the afternoon, Netanyahu started telling his supporters that there was a large gap in voter turnout between Likud strongholds where he said it was low, and secular, liberal strongholds like Tel Aviv and Herzliya where he said turnout was high.
“Leave the cafes, leave the restaurants, and go and vote,” Netanyahu told his supporters on Facebook.
The prime minister also made live video calls during his Facebook live broadcast, and called on the voters he called to vote to take their friends and family to vote as well.
At one stop at a beach in Bat Yam, south of Tel Aviv, Netanyahu was greeted with chants of “Bibi, King of Israel” and repeated his mantra of “two [Knesset] seats for victory,” while he was also welcomed with cheers and adulation in a local shopping mall.
On his car journey’s between campaign stops, Netanyahu’s team tagged his Facebook live talks as “emergency broadcasts,” and talked up his success in bringing corona vaccines to Israel and his track-record on the economy.
Just before 4:30, Netanyahu’s spokesman announced that the prime minister had instructed Likud MKs to travel down south to boost voter turnout in the region’s cities that are strongholds of the Likud’s working-class, Mizrachi base.
Netanyahu’s campaign event in Beersheba in the evening was interrupted when a rocket fired from Gaza fell in an open area outside the city. The prime minister was escorted from a local restaurant.
Terror groups from Gaza have targeted Netanyahu’s campaign events with rocket fire several times in the past, with two separate events in Ashkelon being disrupted but such attacks since 2018.
After the rocket fire, Defense Minister Benny Gantz stopped his campaign efforts and conducted security consultations.
Tzvi Joffre contributed to this report.