The differences between elections in the UK and Israel are self-evident. Yet certain features stand out. The British opinion polls, for one, got it totally wrong when they showed opposition Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn on Wednesday fast closing the gap with Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservatives. On Thursday, Dec. 12, Johnson won a whacking 80-seat majority in the House on his promise to deliver Brexit. The pundits who predicted a defeat for Johnson were forced to admit they had missed the average British voter’s overriding mood. It was governed by a yearning for normal, stable government and a prime minister assured of a full term in office so as to end the political mess and uncertainties long plaguing the country over the Brexit controversy. This yearning was missed by the pundits, the pollsters and Jeremy Corbyn. The day after, he faced a party revolt against his leadership while Johnson presented his One-Nation government to the Queen.
Israel’s political players bear no resemblance to their British counterparts and their electoral systems are different. Still, a couple of points may be instructive.
- The opinion polls published in Israel uniformly predict that the stalemate between the two main political camps will persist after the March 2, 2020 election, the third in a year. The British pollsters were wrong, as were their American counterparts over Donald Trump’s 2016 election. So maybe the coming election in Israel will also be a surprise.
- The same old campaign slogans with which opposition leaders hammer again and again for defeating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and the ruling Likud no longer resonate. Talk of “immunity from prosecution” and pledges to “cure the country’s ills” elicits yawns.
- Netanyahu, under indictment for corruption and sustained assault on his character, is undeniably in poor shape to take the lead of a successful election campaign. One of his close associates, MK David Biton commented this week that this was his last chance. He may be right.
- At the same time, public opinion was also tested this week on its view on the legal system, in view of the lapses discovered in the probes against Netanyahu and his call for the legal authorities to be investigated themselves. One answer showed 56pc of those canvassed favored or strongly supported the setting up of such an inquiry panel, while 26 were against.
Asked whether their faith in the legal authorities was stronger after the events of the past year, 49pc said it was weaker and 6.2pc claimed greater confidence in the system.
Asked whether they favored establishing a nonpartisan body to inspect the state prosecution, 68.2pc of those canvassed replied in the affirmative, compared with 11.6pc who opposed it.
It these results are truly representative of public opinion, Netanyahu could gain by using this opinion trend to focus his campaign on a call to probe the functioning of the general attorney and state prosecution, which had raised questions before they decided to indict him last November. He will no doubt continue to be lambasted by the legal community and the media, but the effect on the voting public may be harder to predict.
And lastly, just as PR experts advised Boris Johnson to distance himself from Donald Trump if he wants to win the election, Trump is being painted by certain political quarters in Israel as cooling towards Netanyahu. The prime minister, who has built the reputation of a statesman for whom important world doors stand open, is being depicted as cold-shouldered internationally. It will take time until March 2 to discover whether those experts and the pollsters got it right or were wrong once again.