Benjamin Netanyahu Surging in Israel as Bernie Sanders Surges Among Democrats

Netanyahu (Hazem Bader / Getty)
Hazem Bader / Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in trouble throughout Israel’s latest parliamentary election, has seen his Likud Party’s poll numbers rise in the last several days.

The Likud has trailed the opposition Blue and White party of Benny Gantz throughout the election. But the prospect of a far-left Democrat taking the presidency in the United States seems to have had at least some effect on the thinking of the Israeli electorate heading to the polls March 2.

Last Tuesday, Gantz and party co-leader Yair Lapid promised English-speaking immigrants to Israel they would try to repair relations with the Democratic Party in the U.S. The implication was that Netanyahu himself was to blame for the rise of anti-Israel sentiment among Democrats in recent years, rather than the influence of J Street or the policies of President Barack Obama, which provoked diplomatic confrontations between the two governments.

A few days after Gantz and Lapid made their pledge, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) won the Nevada caucuses by a wide margin, cementing his status as the frontrunner for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination. Sanders is Jewish and lived on a socialist Israeli kibbutz for a short time, but has surrounded himself with anti-Israel and even antisemitic advisers and surrogates. He has said he would consider moving the U.S. embassy out of Jerusalem.

In 2009, Netanyahu came to power promising Israelis that he would oppose the anti-Israel policies of the new U.S. president. And he did that, very effectively, throughout the Obama years.

After President Donald Trump came to power, Netanyahu’s pledge was no longer relevant. Trump moved the embassy, recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, canceled the Iran deal, and introduced a peace plan designed to guarantee Israeli security.

Israeli voters, weary of a prime minister who has been in power longer than any of his predecessors, and who faces criminal prosecution for corruption (wrongly, his defenders say), are open to an alternative.

Gantz met with Trump last month at the White House, as the American president took steps to ensure that there would be continuity in U.S.-Israel relations, regardless of who won Israel’s third election (after the first two failed to produce a majority).

Gantz would likely work well with a conventional Democrat, even one who was merely lukewarm toward Israel. But with Sanders as a possible Democratic nominee, and his rivals almost equally bad, Israeli voters may feel the need for a strong leader again — one who has held out against a previous left-wing American president.

Ironically, Sanders — who called Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” on Tuesday — may be helping Netanyahu make his case.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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