Americans–particularly conservative Americans–are accustomed to seeing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as a strong international leader. He is “the Churchill of our time,” says talk radio’s Mark Levin. Yet Netanyahu struggled to win re-election in 2013, and faces stronger headwinds than ever as new elections approach on Mar. 17. Here are the top five reasons he may lose, and be replaced by opposition leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni (who would rotate the leadership).
1. Israelis simply want fresh leadership. Netanyahu, currently in his third consecutive term, has been in office since 2009–a staggeringly long tenure in the context of Israeli politics, which sees frequent leadership changes. In addition, the Israeli left has been out of power since early 2001. Israeli voters have been looking for a new alternative for several years.
2. Social and economic issues trump foreign policy. Although Netanyahu has been a steady hand in very turbulent times, many Israeli voters consider social and economic issues more important. Israel has a strong economy but a high cost of living, and is beset by highly politicized concerns over rising levels of economic inequality (much as in the United States).
3. Israelis are nervous about the relationship with the U.S. Netanyahu was elected in 2009 with a mandate to stand up to the new Obama administration. Yet six years of confrontation have taken their toll, and some Israelis are starting to wonder whether a leader more acceptable to the Obama administration might achieve better results.
4. Perceptions of corruption. Netanyahu has been hit in recent weeks with a mini-scandal over bottle deposits that may have been claimed for beverages consumed at the Prime Minister’s official residence. It may seem petty, but similar scandals were partly responsible for Netanyahu’s fall from power during his first term in office in the late 1990s.
5. Relentless campaigning by Obama’s allies. The Obama administration and its ideological allies are determined to oust Netanyahu from power. To that end, they are devoting both public and private resources to convincing Israelis to vote for the opposition. While many Israelis resent foreign intrusion (on both left and right), it does have an effect on opinion.
There are still several factors weighing in Netanyahu’s favor. The Israeli opposition is poorly led, fractious, and petty. Polls suggest that Netanyahu is still the public’s first choice to lead, even if his party is struggling. And his speech in the U.S. Congress next March, while increasingly controversial, could cement Netanyahu’s case. In the end, Netanyahu’s fate may come down to the margin of victory. If his party wins, or loses narrowly–as it did in 2009–he will likely return to power.
Senior Editor-at-Large Joel B. Pollak edits Breitbart California and is the author of the new ebook, Wacko Birds: The Fall (and Rise) of the Tea Party, available for Amazon Kindle.
Follow Joel on Twitter: @joelpollak