Up until last week, Benjamin Netanyahu ran a well disciplined and executed campaign. But the events of the recent week reminded everyone how Netanyahu was always his own worst enemy.
What he did was try to stop the extreme right wing Likud Member, Moshe Feiglin, head of the “Jewish Leadership” fraction, from winning one of the top spots in the Likud’s list of candidates for the next Knesset. Feiglin ended up winning the 20th place – not too high on the list, but good enough to get him into the Knesset. However, to Feiglin’s delight, the big winners in these primaries were some of the most hawkish figures in the Likud, while Netanyahu’s new guys – like basketball star Tal Brody, ex-general Uzi Dayan and ex-police commissioner Assaf Hefets – ended at the bottom of the list.
A colleague of mine from Maariv – who supports the right but does not vote for Likud – had some interesting thoughts on the matter. It was Netanyahu, he said, who helped Feiglin perform so well in the primaries. Netanyahu has many enemies at the Likud. Most of them are not from the extreme-right. But by launching a campaign against Feiglin, Netanyahu showed them what’s the best way to hurt him. And so, Feiglin and his allies ended up picking much more votes than the size of the “Jewish Leadership” fraction.
The whole affaire was a reminder of how bad Netanyahu operates under pressure (It’s hard to forget how he ran to confess – on prime time TV! – that he’s being blackmailed because of an extramarital affair he had, before there was even the slightest chance of the story leaking out). As if to make things worse, when the primaries were over, some of his supporters, on his request no doubt, filed a case to the Likud’s internal court, demanding Feiglin be moved 17 places down the list, on account of some procedural matter. Obviously, Netanyahu doesn’t understand that this will be perceived – and already is – as a brutal intervention with the democratic procedures of the Likud. He should have cut his losses, and just say something about the Likud being “big enough to accommodate a variety of ideas and figures” and never mention Feiglin again until the day after the election.
On the other hand, when one reads some of Feiglin’s ideas, as reported in Haaretz by Yair Ettinger, it can be understood why Netanyahu got hysterical.
According to Haaretz’s poll, the Likud wasn’t hurt from the Primaries. I think it’s too early to call this one.