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Tags: netanyahu | israel | election | speech | likud | zionist union

Netanyahu's Speech, and Future, Now Up to Israeli Voters

John Gizzi By Wednesday, 04 March 2015 09:09 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Two weeks before the critical elections in Israel on March 17, the biggest question of all about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday was "will it help at home?"

In a 40-minute address that the White House tried to dismiss, Netanyahu drew 24 standing ovations from lawmakers of both parties in his third appearance before a joint session of Congress — tying him with Winston Churchill for the number of such appearances.

Rich in aphorisms — including denunciations of "the goons in Gaza and the lackies in Lebanon" — Netanyahu warned that defeating the Islamic State (ISIS) and permitting Iran to have a nuclear bomb is akin to "winning the battle and losing the war."

He even behaved like a U.S. president during the State of the Union address, pointing to the galleries and introducing Noble laureate and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel (who was seated next to the prime minister’s wife, Sara, much as guests to be introduced at the State of the Union are seated with the first lady).

"My sense is that prior to the speech, the consistent attacks by the opposition and the Obama administration hurt Netanyahu in the polls," Hudson Institute President Ken Weinstein told Newsmax. "But the speech was so extraordinary and delivered with such passion to such strong support that it will help him going forward."

But for all the rave reviews his speech received in this country, Netanyahu at home is in a desperate fight for his political life in Israel’s complex parliamentary system. Last week (Feb. 27), an Israel Radio poll showed the prime minister’s conservative Likud Party trailing the opposition Zionist Union by a margin of 23 percent to 22 percent nationwide.

The Zionist Union is particularly significant. It is a union of two parties and two leaders whose common denominator is they don’t want Netanyahu to hold the prime minister’s office for the fourth consecutive time.

The Labor Party ruled Israel from its founding in 1948 until 1977, and is led by Yitzhak "Buji" Herzog, and the new Hatnuah ("The Movement") Party, lineal heir to the Kadima Party founded by the late Prime Minister Ariel Sharon and now led by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni.

Herzog, son of onetime Israeli President Chaim Herzog, is often dubbed "the Israeli Obama" for his talk of hope and change, not unlike President Barack Obama. Denouncing Netanyahu for his chilly dealings with Obama, Herzog has vowed to repair the relationship between Tel Aviv and Washington.

Once a dashing Mossad (Secret Service) agent, Livni was Israel’s second female foreign minister (after Golda Meir, who became prime minister) and a passionate supporter of a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

Assisting Livni, Herzog and their Zionist Union in get-out-the-vote efforts is American political operative Jeremy Bird, who oversaw the same voter turnout chores for Obama in 2008 and '12.

"The Israeli electorate is very volatile, right up to the last week of the race," Marshall Breger, President Ronald Reagan’s liaison to the Jewish community and a top Labor Department official under George H.W. Bush, told Newsmax. "Perhaps a third of the voters make up their minds in the last few days of the campaign, and in the past, they have not been pro-Netanyahu."

But Breger, who has known Netanyahu for more than 30 years, quickly added that "among the smaller parties, there are more right-wing or religious parties" than secular parties. "That's what works for 'Bibi' [Netanyahu]."

He noted that the same Israel Radio poll showing the Zionist Union edging Likud also showed the joint coalition of the Arab Jewish (Hadash) and Arab parties in third place with 13 percent of the vote. However, Breger pointed out, "right behind them with 12 percent is the Habayit Hayehudi [Jewish Home]." Habayit Hayehudi represents modern Orthodox Jews and is very nationalist.

"Herzog and Livni could easily get the Arab parties to join them in a coalition, but they would still need more to get to a majority in the [120-seat] Knesset [parliament]," Breger told us. "But Habayit Hayehudi would never sit with a government that includes Arabs and vice-versa.

"So where do Herzog and Livni go beyond that? To their supporters, joining a government making with any of the religious parties, such as [ultra-orthodox] Shas, is akin to making a pact with the devil."

He recalled how in the 2009 elections, even when the party headed by Livni came in first, it was Netanyahu’s second-place finishing Likud that formed the government because the smaller religious and nationalist parties readily agreed to coalesce with it.

The "X-factor" in the race is how well the just-formed and untested Yesh Atid Party will do. Currently unrepresented in the Knesset, Yesh Atid is led by the charismatic former TV newscaster Yair Lapid. Fired as finance minister by Netanyahu in 2013, Lapid is running as a reformer without ties to old-guard pols. Israel Radio’s poll showed Lapid’s new movement tied with Jewish Home for fourth place at 12 percent.

"Nobody is my natural partner," Lapid told reporters, dismissing rumors he would join in a government to make Herzog prime minister.

"It’s all complicated and uncertain, as Israeli politics usually are," said Breger. "But when it comes down to who can form a government, I wouldn’t bet against Bibi."

John Gizzi is chief political columnist and White House correspondent for Newsmax.

© 2022 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

Two weeks before the critical elections in Israel on March 17, the biggest question of all about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's address to the U.S. Congress on Tuesday was "will it help at home?"
netanyahu, israel, election, speech, likud, zionist union
Wednesday, 04 March 2015 09:09 AM
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