Love him or loathe him — and there are few who do neither — Benjamin Netanyahu is a towering figure in Israeli history. In Jewish history, indeed. At its most prosaic, he has equalled David Ben-Gurion’s record five election wins and, in July, will become the longest serving Israeli PM. But, on one level, there is little surprise in that. Israel has more right-wing voters now than any others; Mr Netanyahu’s electoral success can be said merely to reflect that. And Ariel Sharon, Yitzhak Shamir and Menachem Begin all won more seats as Likud leaders at a time when the electorate was less rightward leaning. Yet such a reading of this week’s election misreads the bigger picture. Mr Netanyahu has triumphed with the odds stacked against him. He has faced a hostile media. His supposed allies can barely conceal their eagerness to see him depart in disgrace. He has had next to nothing new or positive to say. The polls have consistently shown that most Israelis want him gone.
Most obviously, the indictments against him have threatened not only his political career but his very freedom. But when it came to casting a real vote, he was able to persuade Israelis that they cannot risk the alternative and that they must swat all this away as irrelevant. His campaign seemed to stutter and falter and yet he was able to turn everything to his advantage as a way of demonstrating his only real campaign theme — that Benny Gantz was unsuitable to be PM. For all the hype over the Blue and White leader’s supposed success as a new political face, the reality is that the opposition bloc has managed to gain just two more Knesset seats. All they have really succeeded in doing is demonstrating yet again Mr Netanyahu’s genius at the most basic requirement of political success — winning elections.