The main opposition Blue and White party has hired Joel Benenson, a former strategist for Hillary Clinton, whom he advised to refrain from expressing support for Israel at public events.
Benenson, a Democratic strategist and pollster who worked on both of Barack Obama’s successful campaigns in 2008 and 2012 as well as Clinton’s 2016 campaign, which she lost to President Donald Trump, is expected to arrive in Israel next month to meet with Blue and White’s leaders, the Hebrew-language Maariv daily reported.
Benenson made headlines in Israel in 2016 when WikiLeaks released emails in which Benenson advised Clinton not to mention Israel at public events. Senior campaign staffers said she should only express support for Israel “when she’s with donors.”
In an email debate, Clinton’s top foreign policy adviser Jake Sullivan suggested that she add a sentence in her speeches about “standing up for our allies and our values, including Israel.”
Sullivan later added that at public appearances it was “good to have Israel too” as part of her home base talking points.
Benenson disagreed, asking, “Why would we call out Israel in public events now? The only voters elevating FP (foreign policy) at all are Republican primary voters. To me we deal with this in stride when and if we are asked about FP.”
Sullivan insisted that, as former secretary of state, Clinton would be wise to mention Israel.
However, Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook agreed with Benenson, saying, “I’m w(ith) Joel. We shouldn’t have Israel at public events. Especially dem (Democratic) activists.”
Eventually, all agreed that the presidential hopeful could “drop in Israel when she’s with donors.”
Benenson, who is Jewish, will replace Mark Mellman, Blue and White number 2 Yair Lapid’s longtime strategist who resigned in June. Mellman helped Blue and White tie with Netanyahu’s Likud at 35 seats in the last election, but the opposition party ultimately failed to garner enough support to build a ruling coalition that could unseat the incumbent.
Blue and White’s decision to hire an American strategist was “done mainly to exploit their vast knowledge on analysis of polls and field results,” party sources told Maariv, and added that the main work would be done by the Israeli team since “the Israeli voter has different characteristics than the American voter.”
Meanwhile, Netanyahu is retaining the services of Trump’s pollster John McLaughlin, sources close to the prime minister told the Jerusalem Post on Tuesday.
According to the report, McLaughlin was back in Israel recently to work on the September 17 campaign with Netanyahu.
Netanyahu had previously enlisted McLaughlin in the lead-up to the April 9 election. On the eve of the election, Netanyahu released a video in which the American strategist warns him, “Mr. Prime Minister, right now we are losing the race.”
נתניהו מוציא לאור את הסוקר שלו ג׳ון מקלוקלין כדי להוציא את הליכודניקים מהבית pic.twitter.com/vKDplcAG4L
— עמית סגל Amit Segal (@amit_segal) April 8, 2019
On its website, the Benenson Strategy Group boasts that its CEO and founder is “the only Democratic pollster in history to have played a leading role in three winning presidential campaigns” — the two Obama campaigns and President Bill Clinton’s reelection in 1996. Benenson has also been a strategist for many senators, governors and mayors as well as advising NGOs and multinational corporations, including McDonald’s, Microsoft, the Anti-Defamation League and the Schusterman Family Foundation, as well as, most recently, Facebook.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz last month visited the U.S. with his main Israeli strategist, Israel Bachar, to hire Benenson, Maariv reported.
“Benny chose Joel because he ran Obama’s positive campaign, and Benny wants to run a positive campaign,” said Bachar. “Americans have plenty of experience with political campaigns, so they offer another perspective.”
According to Bachar, Blue and White could end up with the largest bloc after the September 17 elections now that Netanyahu’s Likud has lost the support of Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.