Israel Election 2022: A Bloody Boxing Match Between Israel’s Two Best PR Men

Bennett’s premiership failed because he had no vision beyond Bibi. In contrast, two of Israel’s most skilled raconteurs – Netanyahu and Lapid – will make the upcoming election campaign about nothing short of preventing Israel’s very destruction

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett failed because he had nothing to say. Bennett climbed to the Prime Minister’s Office while nimbly skipping over politicians who are more experienced, charismatic and popular than he, but from the moment he took office, he had no vision or idea what to do there. That’s why he made do with implementing, in a more orderly and less vociferous manner, the policy of his predecessor, Benjamin Netanyahu, while leading the ministers and the senior civil servants “from behind.”

Unfortunately for Bennett, “I’m not Bibi,” or even “I respect my political partners” is not sufficient for leadership. It’s fine for a midterm school report card: Has good relations with his friends, keeps neat and orderly notebooks, does well on exams. But in order to lead a country, a party, a company or a soccer team you need a narrative that people will want to follow and believe in. Bennett knew that when he tried to conquer the right-wing leadership of the country and to outflank Netanyahu.

In those days, he did a good job of combining light and catchy phrases, (“We’re not apologizing anymore”), decisions that looked good to his right-wing base (rejecting Dorit Rabinyan’s book “Borderlife” as education minister), concern for the common citizen as opposed to the insensitive and disconnected Netanyahu (“no livelihood, not interested”), and calculated and very transparent leaks from decision-making circles, which were designed to put Netanyahu on the defensive. All this cunning and insight disappeared when Bennett fulfilled his dream and ousted Netanyahu into the opposition.

Netanyahu changed his story from one term to the next. At first, he fought against the Oslo Accords, then against the Iranian bomb, and later in favor of social mobility (“replacing the elites”) and now against the judicial system, the state apparatus and the leadership of the Arab community. The content changes, but the method remains the same: constant loud repetition of the message on every channel and in every tweet.

On the only occasion when Netanyahu formed a government without a vision and goals, in his short-lived alliance with Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, it disintegrated shortly after. He learned his lesson and returned to his evil ways. Netanyahu never tried to become popular with a majority of the public, or to address some imaginary center. He only wanted enough people to back him so that he could win.

Bennett succeeded in stopping Netanyahu and heading a coalition full of contradictions, but his passion to win was extinguished the moment he reached his goal. He preferred to appease everyone instead of taking up a cause – any cause – and leading the charge. Not even the battle cry “Anyone but Bibi,” which apparently brought him to power.

Bennett did not dare to bring to a vote a proposal preventing any MK indicted of serious crime from becoming prime minister, or to push for a commission of inquiry on the submarine affair, or to encourage public pressure for a plea bargain that would distance Netanyahu from politics. He apparently thought that as long as Netanyahu is around, his very presence would cause the components of the “government of change” to stay glued to their seats. That sufficed for a year, and in the absence of any other glue, the structure collapsed on its members.

Now Israel is entering a stormy and passionate election campaign, an unprecedented competition between the two best PR men we have ever had – Netanyahu and Yair Lapid. Both know how to tell a story well and have proven their ability to recover from political downfalls. They will present their candidacies as rescuing Israel from destruction.

Lapid will describe his rival as a puppet of far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who will impose a racist and halakhic dictatorship here, an Israeli version of “The Handmaid’s Tale.” Netanyahu, on the other hand, will present Lapid as a captive of Arab MKs Mansour Abbas, Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi. It will be a bloody boxing match – Lapid’s favorite kind – and Netanyahu will try to win by a knockout, something he hasn’t managed to do since his victory over now-President Isaac Herzog in 2015.

The results will be determined, as always, by the swing votes: the voting percentages in the Arab community and the Jewish periphery, and the choice of Likud deserters, who in the previous round voted for Bennett and Gideon Sa’ar. They, from now on, will be a target of Netanyahu’s crucial courtship.

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