To the plethora of roles and titles carried by Benjamin Netanyahu – prime minister, defense minister, foreign minister and health minister – one more can soon be added to the list. From now on, Netanyahu will also be the chief strategist of the Likud’s 2019 election campaign. Netanyahu has decided there is no need to appoint an external person to the senior position and has informed members of the Likud’s election campaign that he intends to take on the role himself.
During a staff meeting at Likud headquarters this week, the prime minister and now campaign strategist outlined his election campaign. In fact, he divided the campaign into two parts, one stretching from now until Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announces his decision on whether or not he will file an indictment against Netanyahu pursuant to a hearing scheduled for February, and the second covering the time period between Mendleblit’s announcement and when the polling stations open on April 9.
In the first stage, Netanyahu wants the election campaign to focus solely on the investigations. He is not interested in people talking about security or the economy, though he believes he has an edge over his opponents on these issues, as well. Nor is he interested in engaging in the routine battle between Right and Left, the kind that led him to a major victory in the 2015 elections. He only wants to talk about the elections, for an entire month, from morning to night.
There is, of course, a reason for that. Maybe even three. The first goal is to lay the groundwork for the attorney general’s decision and diminish its importance, just as Netanyahu did before the police made their recommendations in the investigation. Netanyahu wants to make certain that when the attorney general’s decision is made public – and by this point, he has no doubt Mendelblit will decide on an indictment – it will be a non-story and not, heaven forbid, a turning point in the middle of the election campaign.
The second goal is to point to the tainted investigation and deligitimize the attorney general’s upcoming decision and say that Mendelblit could not allow himself to stand up to the immense pressure from the police, the State Attorney’s Office and the Left to file an indictment no matter what.
The third goal is to repeat that the bribery in question in Cases 2,000 and 4,000 does not involve money, but rather media coverage. For one month, Netanyahu will try to instill in the public’s consciousness the fact that there were no envelopes full of cash passed under the table or gifts given in return for their monetary equivalent, but just a few articles in his favor on the Walla news site.
This message was born out of an in-depth study recently conducted by the Likud, which demonstrated that the public associated a bribery offense with money. Next month, Netanyahu and senior Likud officials will explain that despite the harsh wording and the criminal offense that usually lies behind it, Netanyahu’s case is different.
The second phase of the Likud campaign will, according to the plan, kick into action once an indictment is filed. In that stage, Netanyahu will try to turn the election into a vote of confidence in him and his leadership.
The prevailing assessment is that if the indictment includes charges of bribery, the Likud could sustain some damage, although the extent of that damage remains unclear and will mostly depend on how successful Stage One of the campaign is.
But if, contrary to assessments, we wind up with chargest that include breach of trust, etc., the campaign will argue that law enforcement is making a mountain out of a molehill. And that could give the Likud a significant boost from its current showing in the polls. Although it should be noted that even this scenario is littered with quite a few pitfalls.