On Tuesday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won re-election according to the latest vote counts, defeating not just his domestic leftist opposition, but the President of the United States in a public stand-off that had the President sending emissaries to Israel to try and oust Netanyahu. The victory represented a stunning turnaround for Netanyahu, whose Likud Party trailed significantly in the polls in the days leading up to the election.
How Netanyahu shifted the narrative in Israel makes for a compelling political case study in principle over prevarication. Netanyahu overcame a highly-publicized domestic scandal involving allegedly ordering some $2,700 worth of ice cream to the official residence, and exceeding his household budget by approximately a million shekel. He overcame inflation against the dollar that jacked up prices of goods in the weeks leading up to the election, and inflated real estate prices over the course of the last six years. He overcame foreign money injected into the campaign.
How? He employed five key tactics — tactics from which American conservatives could learn:
Build Around a Personality. Netanyahu’s speech before Congress was the latest indicator that he was a world leader ready to face down the most powerful people in the world, including Iran and its new friends in the Obama administration. While many Israelis said they didn’t want Netanyahu as prime minister, they preferred him over his rivals in every poll for months before the election by a wide margin. In the late days of the campaign, Netanyahu campaigned openly on the idea that conservatives ought to vote for his party in order to elevate him personally. By positioning himself as a major international presence, Netanyahu placed himself in admirable political position. There is danger to this strategy: it allows the opposition to focus on you personally. But voters vote for people, not for ideas.
Don’t Back Down From A Fight. Netanyahu’s U.S. ambassador, Ron Dermer, knew that Netanyahu was dramatically at odds with President Obama over Obama’s pending nuclear arms deal with Iran. When Dermer negotiated an appearance by Netanyahu before a joint session of Congress with Speaker of the House John Boehner, and Obama retaliated by refusing to see Netanyahu, Netanyahu did not apologize or back down. Instead, he silently embraced the face-off with President Obama, who foolishly elevated Netanyahu by using the media to slam Netanyahu repeatedly. Netanyahu, meanwhile, steadfastly stated that he would use any opportunity, particularly one before the most powerful legislature in the world, to lay out the case against a “bad deal” with Iran. The American media went berserk; the Israeli left media went insane, suggesting that Netanyahu had permanently damaged Israeli-American relations. The polls stated that the speech could actually hurt Netanyahu domestically. Netanyahu went anyway. The result: a boost in the polls and a decline for Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog.
Energize The Grassroots. The day before the election, Netanyahu stated that he would never support the establishment of a Palestinian state. This has long been Likud’s platform, but Netanyahu, after taking the prime ministership, had made noises about embracing the possibility of a Palestinian state. Many suspected that he embraced the possibility knowing that it was practically impossible, given the character of Israel’s enemies. But now, Netanyahu left nothing to chance: he wanted his supporters to know precisely where he stood. “I think that anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state today and evacuate lands is giving attack grounds to radical Islam against the state of Israel,” he stated. “There is a real threat here that a left-wing government will join the international community and follow its orders.”
Call Out The Opposition. On election day, Netanyahu let loose with a video explaining that “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses.” The Joint Arab List made a similar announcement earlier in the day, stating that by 11 a.m., a full 10 percent of eligible Arabs had voted, as opposed to 3 percent in the last election cycle. The left media went totally crazy over this statement, with the Huffington Post labeling Netanyahu a racist. Of course, the left media also totally neglected to mention that the parties that comprise the Joint Arab List, which carries nearly all of the Arab votes in the elections, openly condemn the existence of the Jewish State, side with Hamas, and support the abolition of Israel entirely. Just days ago, the head of the campaign team said that Hamas was not a terrorist group and suggested that ISIS had taken a page from “the Zionist movement.” Imagine if America had a party dedicated to its destruction and openly allied with Osama Bin Laden in that goal. That is the Joint Arab List, and the Labor party and its allies relied heavily on it to get out the vote for the left. All three major Arab parties comprising the Joint Arab List have been banned from elections in the past. Netanyahu drove out his base to stop the rise of the Joint Arab List, and he was justified in doing so.
Stick To Your Issue. Netanyahu doggedly stuck to national security in this election cycle. While his opposition complained about rent and living expenses, Netanyahu pointed out again and again that his opponents were simply incapable of leading the nation through a time of security crisis. In one of his campaign commercials, Netanyahu posed as a babysitter — the only babysitter you’d trust with your children. Shocked parents asked him why he was there. “It’s either me,” Netanyahu said, “or Tzipi and Buji.” One of the parents responded, “Buji? Our children will have to take care of him! By the time we get home, we won’t have a house left!” As for Livni, Netanyahu stated, “By the time you get back, she’ll have moved on to the neighbors.” Netanyahu concluded, “This election, you will choose who will care for our children. This election, Likud is the only choice!”
Now, there are lessons in Netanyahu’s actions in the months leading up to the elections that lean the opposite direction. Netanyahu blew his personal popularity in large part battling internal enemies. As Michael Medved writes, “the right has indulged in a near Hobbesian internal war of personalities and policies that currently shows as many as seven different parties crossing the electoral threshold to win seats in Knesset. Some of these right-leaning parties are led by close associates and former Cabinet ministers previously linked to Netanyahu.” But overall, Netayahu’s stunning victory demonstrates that the strategy of alienating no one, talking about everything the left wants you to talk about, and running to the center may not spell victory. It may simply spell lack of principle.
Ben Shapiro is Senior Editor-At-Large of Breitbart News and author of the new book, The People vs. Barack Obama: The Criminal Case Against The Obama Administration (Threshold Editions, June 10, 2014). He is also Editor-in-Chief of TruthRevolt.org. Follow Ben Shapiro on Twitter @benshapiro.