Bibi Gripped by Panic & Paranoia As Polls Slide

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday night at a Tel Aviv square under the banner ... Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office, Sunday, March 8, 2015. Tens of thousands of Israelis gathered Saturday night at a Tel Aviv square under the banner "Israel wants change" and called for Netanyahu to be replaced in March 17 national elections. (AP Photo/Gali Tibbon, Pool) MORE LESS
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Six polls were released in Israel today, the last day when public polls can be published before the election. Five of those polls showed a four seat Zionist Camp/Labor Party lead over Likud. One showed a two point lead. It now seems highly likely that ZC/Labor will end Tuesday night with the most seats in the new Knesset. And if the polls are broadly correct, it seems increasingly likely (though by no means certain) that Herzog will get the first chance to form a new government. The question is whether he will be able manage the complicated math and coalitional politics to pull it off.

With all the uncertainty, one thing seems certain. The result for Likud can’t possibly be as bad as the bleak headlines and agitated panic out of the Prime Minister and his party would suggest. This evening, Netanyahu or whoever posts to his Facebook page penned a slashing series of accusations against the ZC/Labor list claiming his rivals’ campaign is “illegitimate” because it is the creature of a world conspiracy involving foreign governments, international tycoon, Israeli media, NGOs, all banding together to bring him down. The claims read so febrile and unhinged that if Netanyahu weren’t a Jew and the head of government of the Jewish State you would almost expect to end up claiming a global Zionist conspiracy was plotting to bring him and the right to its knees.

Here’s some of the color, with translations into English from Haaretz.

“Left-wing and media elements in Israel and abroad have conspired to bring [Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni] to power illegitimately, by means of slander at home and unprecedented money from abroad,” Netanyahu wrote.

The prime minister also lashed out Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, accusing it of running an intensive campaign against himself and his Likud party in collaboration with unnamed organizations, NGOs, tycoons and foreign governments.

“Numerous testimonies by Yedioth Ahronoth employees that have reached us recently indicate that [Yedioth Ahronoth publisher] Noni Mozes is leading an orchestrated campaign against the Likud and against me, in collaboration with organizations and NGOs that are acting for that purpose with the support of tycoons in Israel and abroad and also the support of foreign governments,” Netanyahu wrote.

He went on to accuse the newspaper of “cooperating and coordinating fully” with the leaders of Zionist Union. The Zionist Union platform, he added, “implicitly commits” the party to closing down Yisrael Hayom, a newspaper that supports the prime minister.

“The public needs to know the truth,” Netanyahu wrote. “Noni Mozes is leading a campaign against the Likud and against me out of commercial interests, with the objective of reviving the dangerous and undemocratic monopoly it enjoyed in the past.”

“The goal of Mozes is to bring about the rise of the left. He is joined by left-wing elements in Israel and abroad who are streaming tens of millions of dollars to NGOs running an ‘Anyone but Bibi’ campaign in its various guises.”

“Those NGOs are encouraging higher voter turnout among the Arab population and left-wing voters, including by means of a grassroots campaign going from door to door.”

The part at the end about a corrupt global conspiracy to do Get Out the Vote work is particularly rich.

Every Israeli election is affected by activism from abroad – particularly from the United States where the vast majority of Jews who do not live in Israel live. This election is no exception. But this kind of fusillade is particularly rich coming from Netanyahu since he is coddled and bathed in foreign funds by American GOP tycoon Sheldon Adelson. Indeed, in 2007 Adelson set up a massive money-losing free-daily paper (Israel Hayom) for more or less the express purpose of being a propaganda organ for Netanyahu. It now has a bigger circulation than any other paper in the country and it has been reported that Adelson has told friends he is happy to lose 100 or even 200 million dollars subsidizing its losses.

It’s the Fox News of Israel; except Murdoch makes millions on Fox.

It is important to recognize that these kind of wild charges and roundhouse punches at foreign enemies trying to drive Bibi from office and give the Palestinians a state are ones quite well-tailored to appeal to Likud’s right wing base. But this is not the sound of a winning campaign, to put it mildly.

When the election was called in the fall it was supposed to be an easy reelection. Remember Netanyahu forced the election two years early. The speech to Congress was supposed to cut his opponents off at the knees. But here we are three days before the election with Netanyahu, who has served as Prime Minister in three governments, sounding the alarm that his rivals’ candidacy is “illegitimate” because they have conspired with ‘media elements’, foreign governments, newspapers, tycoons and NGOs to bring him down.

As I said, there’s no way it will be as bad as this freakout would suggest. Indeed, there is a very real chance that even if the polls are accurate, Netanyahu could still end up forming the next government simply because it will be so challenging to form one on the center-left.

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