Why Netanyahu 'lost' the election

Wednesday, January 23, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

Benjamin Netanyahu is almost certain to be Israel's next prime minister, and his Likud Party is now the largest faction in the Knesset. Nevertheless, yesterday's election is being touted as a defeat for Netanyahu after his combined Likud-Israel Beiteinu ticket failed to win as many seats as the two parties previously controlled.

As a result, Netanyahu is looking at a much harder time forming a stable coalition.

Why did this happen? Most of our Christian readers abroad have a very high view of Netanyahu, but they might be surprised to know that is not shared by most Israelis.

There is no question that a very large percentage of Israelis across the board view Netanyahu as Israel's most skilled diplomat and one of its most capable war-time leaders. When buses are exploding and rockets are falling, nearly all Israelis want Netanyahu at the helm.

With the explosion of the Second Intifada in 2000 and the fall of the Barak government, the pubic was prepared to amend various laws to let Netanyahu contest the vacant prime minister's chair, which he legally couldn't do having temporarily retired from politics two years earlier.

But in a time of relative peace and security, things look different. And Netanyahu has been successfully painted as a "piggish capitalist," a high-roller whose policies only truly benefit the wealthier tiers of Israeli society and who is smugly out of touch with the average citizen. By contrast, most left-wing leaders, though many are just as wealthy as Netanyahu, are universally portrayed as "working class."

So when it comes to economic issues, Netanyahu is not highly trusted, even if his government implemented several programs that aided the middle and lower classes. With the general cost of living still posing a problem for many Israelis, it was easy to hang that stone around Netanyahu's neck and watch him sink.

In addition to economic woes, or perhaps because of them, Israelis are becoming increasingly intolerant of an Orthodox sector that doesn't work, doesn't pay taxes, doesn't serve in the army, yet nevertheless receives enormous amounts of government funding for yeshivas and welfare payments.

Netanyahu's problem is that he is seen as being quite chummy with the Orthodox community's political power brokers at a time when the secular public are fed up with them. Again, by contrast, his opponents to the left, especially newcomer Yair Lapid, actively campaigned against continued payouts to the Orthodox community without shared national service.

Israel is a difficult nation to govern. It has well known security issues, but being such a small nation it also has economic issues that can quickly have a major negative impact on the entire population if not handled with great care. And that is to say nothing of the contentious secular-religious divide.

To be sure, no prime minister has managed to effectively cover all the bases, and Netanyahu has likely done better than most. But because no leader is perfect, no Israeli leader is ever going to enjoy long-term widespread support in such a volatile situation.

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