Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu once again proved his popularity by decisively winning Likud party primaries held Dec. 27, despite the corruption charges facing him. Netanyahu got 41, 792 votes, which was 72.5 percent of the total votes cast, while Gideon Saar got 15,885 representing 27.5 percent of the total votes.
Following his victory Netanyahu declared, “A huge win!, Thankyou to all members of the Likud for the trust, support and the love. I will lead the Likud to a big win in the upcoming elections, and we will continue to lead the State of Israel to incredible achievement.”
Netanyahu Is Still The King Of Likud
According to Israeli political analyst Mayer Cohen, the landslide victory was proof that Netanyahu has no contender within the Likud despite the corruption charges against him and his failure to form a government twice. Looking at Netanyahu’s popularity, a Gallup poll released in January 2019, found that Netanyahu’s popularity continued to rise despite the controversy surrounding him.
“Even under the shadow of corruption allegations that could end with his indictment, Israel’s long-time leader , Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to remain popular,” explained R.J. Reinhart an analyst and editor of Gallup.com said at that time.
According to the survey which was conducted after news broke out that Israeli police had enough evidence to indict him for bribery, 51 percent of those interviewed expressed confidence in the work Netanyahu was doing as prime minister. The approval ratings were almost similar to the ones he had received in 2017. However despite the high approval ratings, the same survey showed that nearly three in four Israelis, that’s a whopping 73 percent, were of the opinion that corruption was widespread in the government.
Why Do So Many Israelis Still Back Netanyahu?
In essence the message Israelis are expressing is that although they feel Netanyahu’s government has been riddled with corruption they are not ready to abandon him for someone else. Why? It is quite simply because Netanyahu has managed to position himself as the only leader who can protect Israel and has reinforced this by pursuing a close relationship with US President Donald Trump, amplifying the guarantee of US military and security protection for Israel’s expansion. This was evident from Netanyahu’s speech after his last re-election when he declared:
“In the years ahead we will deliver more achievements that could have only have been dreamed of. We will set our final borders: bring about America recognition for Israeli control over the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and our sovereignty over every settlement in Judea and Samaria; obtain a defense pact with the US that will ensure Israeli freedom to act; we will defeat Iran and achieve a peace pact with Arab countries,” Netanyahu promised.
In explaining Netanyahu’s characterization of himself as a protector of Israeli journalist Matti Friedman wrote, “he says to Israelis: there’s a room, and In that room are the likes of Putin and Assad and Khamenei. Who do you want in there? A straight shooter who believes in the fundamental goodness of humanity? Or your most wily representative? Many Israelis say yes, the latter. That’s who we want in that room.”
Netanyahu: An Unapologetic Nationalist From A Military Family
Netanyahu’s nationalistic views resonates well with Israel’s right wing who also see him as the only leader who they can trust with their security owing to his family’s military background. The Israeli right have always been a key support base for Netanyahu and he recognized this after his latest victory by stating, “most of the nation supports the right and most of the nation supports me to be Prime Minister. The sweeping victory in the primaries was huge vote of confidence in me and our path.”
According to James Sorene the CEO of the Britain Israel Communication Research Center, and former Head of Communications for UK Deputy Prime Minister, “For Netanyahu’s right wing base the main attraction is the authenticity and veracity of his vision … As an Officer in Israel’s elite Sayeret Matkal Unit, he fought the PLO (Palestinian Liberation Organization) terrorists for years. His brother Yoni’s death in 1976 propelled him onto the public stage as an international anti-terrorist leader.”
In Sorene’s opinion Netanyahu’s support is based on an “Israel consensus that wanted terrorism to end and no longer believed there would be peace with the Palestinians because every territorial concession became a missile launch pad.”
Additional Reasons For Israeli Support Of Netanyahu
Netanyahu has also presided over a booming Israeli economy, further bolstering his support among Israelis. With their security guaranteed the economy became the major concern for most Israelis, who now rank it as their number one priority. Currently, Israeli unemployment rate is close to record lows and the economy has shown solid economic growth throughout Netanyahu’s period in office according to data from the Financial Times.
Between 2003 and 2005 when Netanyahu was Israel’s finance minister he was credited with putting in place measures that shielded Israel’s economy from the impacts of the second Palestinian uprising (Second Intifada) particularly in the West Bank and Gaza strip. Investment, tourism and businesses continued to thrive despite regular attacks.
According to the Financial Times Netanyahu also “halved subsidies for the unemployed and cut child assistance payments, pushing people into the job market. He continued a privatization drive that he had kick started in his first run as Prime Minister in the mid 1990s.The combined impact on revenues and the deficit shielded Israel’s strictly regulated bank from the 2008 financial crisis.”
“It was pure right-wing economics: cutting welfare, privatization, and Israel is still reaping the benefits from bold decisions he made years ago,” Michael Sarel the former chief economist of the Israeli Treasury told the paper.
In summary, Netanyahu’s biographer Pfeffer Anshel says the Israeli leader has been able to enjoy unbridled support because “he has delivered ten years of relative calm and economic prosperity, has a strong right-wing base and a lack of alternatives.”