During the 2015 election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party reportedly planned, and later scrapped, negative campaign ads against then-US president Barack Obama. It relied on internal polls of Israeli voters that indicated most were negatively predisposed toward the US leader.
According to a report in the Haaretz daily on Monday, Likud commissioned 18 polls ahead of Netanyahu’s decision in December 2014 to call early elections.
Three of the surveys included questions on public perceptions of Obama and then-US secretary of state John Kerry, on the heels of the failed US-led peace talks and as the US inched toward finalizing the nuclear deal with Iran.
In one, 54 percent were found to hold a negative view of Obama, including 22% of respondents who described their view as “very negative.”
Some 53% also described their opinion of Kerry as negative in the same survey. Another poll had 52% of respondents express a negative opinion of Obama, with 34% holding a positive view of the US president, according to the report.
On the basis of those findings, Likud had reportedly planned a negative campaign ad on social media, featuring an unflattering photo of Obama on the phone, with the tagline: “We aren’t interested in who answers the phone in the United States; we’re interested only in the security concerns of the State of Israel.”
The ad, which came against the backdrop of famously frosty relations between Obama and Netanyahu, was later scrapped, the report said.
The internal polls — long rumored to encourage Netanyahu to fire his then-finance and justice ministers, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, and call elections — were published by Haaretz for the first time, offering some insight on how the prime minister saw his prospects for victory before the election.
The polls showed that 81% of Israelis at the time thought Lapid — the Yesh Atid leader who has recently surged, then dipped, in opinion surveys — unfit to be prime minister, and some 69% said his performance as finance minister was inadequate. The surveys also indicated that 22% of respondents saw Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog as fit for the premiership, compared to 35% for Netanyahu.
Herzog went on to win 24 seats in the election, compared to Likud’s 30. The Yesh Atid party shrank from 19 seats to 11.
The issue that most concerned Israelis during the election campaign was the cost of living (38%), followed by security (28%), the Palestinian issue (12%), housing prices (11%), and government reform (4%).
Only 2.5% of Israelis saw the Iranian nuclear program as a central concern in the surveys — a key issue for Netanyahu, who was in the midst of battling the emerging nuclear accord between Iran and world powers.
The public interest in the cost of living prompted Netanyahu to pledge days before the election that he would hire Moshe Kahlon to head the Finance Ministry, the report said — a promise he fulfilled.
The report also said that Netanyahu considered declaring it would be his last candidacy in a bid to drum up more support, but withdrew from the plan when surveys showed that 85% would remain unaffected, one way or another, by such a pledge.
In December 2014, Netanyahu fired Livni and Lapid, accusing the two of attempting a “putsch” against him, and dissolved the government.
The decision by Netanyahu to call early elections has also been attributed to his opposition to a bill that would have curbed the Sheldon Adelson-funded pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom free daily and that had passed a preliminary reading in the Knesset with some rogue coalition support. Other observers have chalked it up to opposition to the so-called Jewish state bill, which has since been brought back on the agenda, with Netanyahu last week vowing it would be passed into law by summer.