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Israeli Elections: 'Brand Bibi' Gets Stronger Amid Changing Demographics

Israeli Elections: 'Brand Bibi' Gets Stronger Amid Changing Demographics
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) waves to supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019. (Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images)

By    |   Thursday, 11 April 2019 11:05 AM EDT

Israel’s national elections campaign provided great drama but ended up producing a rather predictable outcome: as in the past 20 years, Israel’s right-of-center block enjoys a solid level of support (65 seats vs. 55 seats) and is likely to form the country’s 35th coalition government.

The New Right party, headed by Bennett-Shaked, is more likely to pass the threshold as well and will add strength to Netanyahu’s expected right-of-center coalition.

Israel’s parliamentary system is based on proportional-representation (in U.S. terms, the entire country serves as one large district) in which the government needs a majority to rule, at least 61 of the 120 seats.

The extremely crowded field produced no-less than 41 parties competing for 6.3 million eligible voters. At this point, before the official results were announced, only 11 parties passed the necessary threshold, which stands at 3.25 percent of the eligible votes, and will be represented in Israel’s 21st parliament (the Knesset). By Friday we will know if the New Right party became the 12th party to pass the threshold.

Voter turnout was similar to that of 2015 (67 percent) with exceptionally weak participation among Arabs. Once the official results will be announced, Israel's president, Reuven Rivlin, will summon representatives of all 11 parties and ask for their preferred candidate to form the coalition. Netanyahu’s Likud party, undoubtedly, will receive more recommendations than the Blue-White party led by Benny Gantz. Although most commentators rule out the possibility, at least theoretically, Netanyahu could form a national unity government with Blue-White rather than a narrow coalition with his natural partners. While such coalition will certainly limit the bargaining position of the smaller parties, it will also present Netanyahu with the need to meet the demands of Blue-White (most notably to reverse some of the controversial legislation his outgoing coalition passed.)

A few important insights:

It’s all about the block: both main contenders, Likud and Blue-White, had to carefully maneuver not to become the victims of their own success by eliminating the smaller parties in their block, their potential coalition partners post-elections. Israel’s right-of-center block has a built-in advantage for several decades now, largely due to the collapse of the territorial compromise doctrine (attributed to the failure of the Camp David negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority in 2000 and the ongoing barrage of rockets shelled from Gaza in the past 14 years) and deep demographic changes (massive wave of new comers from the former Soviet Union and rising birth rate among religious Jews).

“Brand Bibi” is strong and getting stronger: Netanyahu receives generous public credit for Israel’s remarkable international standing (unprecedented intimacy with the U.S., Russia, India, China, and Brazil and emerging new strategic alliances with Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and several key African nations), tendency to avoid military confrontations, thriving economy and impressive political skill set which allows him, time after time, to emerge victorious. The April 9 election marks the first time in his career to receive more than 25 percent of the votes, positioning him to surpass David Ben Gurion’s record 13 years in office (although, for the sake of historical accuracy, David Ben Gurion de facto ruled the Zionist enterprise for almost three decades, from 1935 until 1963. Ben Gurion dominated the political scene in an inimitable fashion.)

Gantz is for real: regardless of the final outcome, there is no doubt that the political rookie Benny Gantz had an unprecedented political debut. Blue-white was formed only three months ago and its impressive achievement could be largely attributed to his charisma and his insistence to remain ‘presidential’ in the face of harsh and unfounded allegations.

Two big questions will dominate the agenda in the foreseeable future:

One is Netanyahu’s legal fate. His biggest problem, as of now, is the recommendation for indictment (pending hearing) published by the Chief Legal Counsel of the government (Israel’s equivalent to U.S. Attorney General.) In addition, Netanyahu is facing several other investigations that could result in a legal downward spiral.

The other is Trump’s “peace plan.” National Security Advisor John Bolton promised that the plan will be published in the “very near future.” A peace plan that would require Netanyahu to make bold foreign policy decisions could result in the reshuffling of his coalition in an attempt to recruit wall to wall support.

*The writer is Global Distinguished Professor for international relations at New York University and a member of the International Advisory Council of APCO Worldwide.

Ambassador Ido Aharoni serves as a global distinguished professor at New York University’s School of International Relations in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences. Ambassador Aharoni is a 25-year veteran of Israel’s Foreign service, a public diplomacy specialist, founder of the Brand Israel program and a well-known nation branding practitioner. He is the founder of Emerson Rigby Ltd., an Israel-based consultancy firm specializing in non-product branding and positioning. Ambassador Aharoni, who served as Israel's longest serving consul-general in New York and the tristate area for six years, oversaw the operations of Israel’s largest diplomatic mission worldwide. Ambassador Aharoni joined Israel’s Foreign Service in the summer of 1991 and held two other overseas positions in Los Angeles (1994-1998) and in New York (2001-2005). He is a graduate of Tel Aviv University (Film, TV, Sociology and Social Anthropology) and Emerson College (Master’s in Mass Communications and Media Studies). At the Hebrew University in Jerusalem he attended the special Foreign Service program in Government and Diplomacy. To reach more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Israel’s parliamentary system is based on proportional-representation (in U.S. terms, the entire country serves as one large district) in which the government needs a majority to rule, at least 61 of the 120 seats.
israel, elections, netanyahu
Thursday, 11 April 2019 11:05 AM
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