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LikudTV's video blunder gives a sense of the chaos in Benjamin Netanyahu's election campaign

In past campaigns, messaging that associated the opposition leader with military cemeteries would have been unthinkable

    The video was shared on LikudTV, but quickly removed
    The video was shared on LikudTV, but quickly removed (Photos: Twitter)

    Even Israelis long used to the raucous and often toxic tone of election campaigning shook their heads in disbelief on Tuesday evening.

    LikudTV, a series of Facebook videos launched three weeks ago by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to serve as the party’s alternative to the “hostile media”, showed one of its presenters attacking the new centrist party lead by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

    “Gantz is left, and left is dangerous,” he intoned. “More and more violence. More and more killed. That’s the meaning of a left-wing government.”

    The script was not surprising: Likud have been trying to brand Mr Gantz as “left and weak” since he entered politics only two months ago. What was shocking for many viewers was the footage screened behind the presenter — of graves in a military cemetery and the gory scenes of terrorist attacks and suicide bombings.

    A furore immediately ensued. For many Israelis, using dead IDF soldiers and the victims of terror in such a blatant manner was a defilement of Israel’s most holy values.

    It did not take long for Mr Netanyahu to release a statement saying the video had been an “unfortunate mistake” and he had ordered it be removed.

    Whether or not Mr Netanyahu was aware of the video in advance, its tone discloses a growing feeling of panic within his inner circle at the recent polling and the implications of the impending announcement of criminal indictments against the prime minister (at the time of writing, Attorney-General Avichai Mendelblit had yet to deliver his decision).

    Polling so far is inconclusive.

    Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in Ramat Gan last week
    Benjamin Netanyahu speaking in Ramat Gan last week (Photo: Flash 90)

    Since the announcement last week that the two centrist parties led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are uniting in one joint list, the new Blue and White party has built a clear lead on Likud, but it is far from enough to guarantee victory.

    In most of the polls, Mr Netanyahu’s coalition of right-wing and religious parties still retains a small majority.

    But there are signs of a slow trend of voters shifting from the coalition, particularly from the centrist Kulanu and also from Likud to the new party. If this trend persists, Mr Netanyahu will simply not have enough Knesset members to form his fifth government after April 9.

    “By and large, Likud has remained stable on around 30 seats for a long time,” says one pollster working for a right-wing party.

    “But the internal polling we’re seeing now shows that about a third of Likud’s vote is soft and could be dislodged, both towards other right-wing parties and to Gantz. Netanyahu is right to be worried. Whether what he’s doing as a result is the right thing is another matter.”

    The Likud leader’s campaign is hampered by the lack of experienced strategists on his election team. Seasoned advisors like Shlomo Filber, who was his campaign manager in 2015, have fallen by the wayside.

    Some, like Mr Filber, have become state witnesses against the prime minster in the criminal cases against him; others are estranged politically.

    One veteran aide, Tzvi Hauser, who goes back with Mr Netanyahu to the 1990s, is now a candidate on the Blue and White list.

    In their absence, much of the team is made up of young social media gunslingers, now blamed for the latest campaign video.

    Mr Netanyahu is having to run his campaign while filling not only the role of prime minister but also defence minister and dealing with his own legal challenges.

    In past campaigns, a video getting past him without being scrutinised and carefully considered would have been unthinkable. Now it looks like he’s losing control.

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