Rallying for reelection
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Rallying for reelection

A mass right-wing protest makes headlines, but will it be enough to guarantee King Bibi his crown?

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

A right-wing rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on March 15, 2015. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/FLASH90)
A right-wing rally in Tel Aviv's Rabin Square on March 15, 2015. (photo credit: Gili Yaari/FLASH90)

The mass right-wing rally in Tel Aviv on Sunday night — which drew tens of thousands of people — makes headlines in all three national dailies on Monday, with pundits marking it as a rightward swing for the Likud party and wondering if the last-minute push by the prime minister will retain him the premiership.

The dailies offer different turnout figures, with Haaretz writing that 25,000 people attended, and Yedioth Ahronoth counting 20,000 (and noting in its subhead, that it was “half the number the left managed to bring out a week ago”). But columnist Nahum Barnea — who was present — conceded that it was difficult to assess how many people were present, and says the turnout was similar to that of the left-wing rally last week, while Israel Hayom boasts “30,000 based on some assessments and some say more.”

Israel Hayom spotlights Netanyahu and Bennett’s comments at the rally, under the headline “Right — or Left.” The increased polarization in the headline, however, refers not only to the left wing and right wing camps, but to Likud and Kulanu, with the daily also emphasizing remarks by Likud hopeful Benny Begin.

Begin countered claims by ex-Likud minister Moshe Kahlon about his father Menachem Begin’s legacy. “I never pretended to know what Menachem Begin would say today,” the son of the former prime minister said. “There are others who pretend to be his spokespeople on earth. One of them is Moshe Kahlon, who is doing everything to pull votes from the right.”

The paper reports that the Likud party is confident the rally, and Netanyahu’s recent media blitz, are sufficient to close the gap between the party and the Zionist Union.

Over in Yedioth, Barnea describes the rally as “subdued, almost minor” in comparison to right-wing rallies during the period of the Oslo Accords or leading up to the 2005 disengagement, but says it was nonetheless “entirely legitimate and impressive in its own way.” Most of the attendees were national religious, male, and came from outside Tel Aviv, he notes. Netanyahu’s speech was designed to “convince the crowd to vote Likud, not Bennett.”

“He [Bennett] responded with his own spin: a minute after the exit poll results are released he will create a bloc with Likud. Together, they will approach the president. This announcement also didn’t excite the crowd.”

The paper’s Sima Kadmon writes that it’s “doubtful” the rally will garner Netanyahu the additional votes he seeks, and argues that the target audience was his disillusioned former supporters.

“The display of power was not intended for those who arrived at the square. They will vote for Likud or Jewish Home anyway, or for Liberman or Yishai. This is the right-wing bloc and there is no other. Perhaps Netanyahu hopes to steal one mandate from Bennett for showing up to the square, but the important and effective message from his perspective, the one that could save him from the negative momentum leading up to the elections tomorrow, is to those disappointed with Likud. Or more precisely, those disappointed with Bibi, [those] who moved to the centrist parties, to Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu, and to Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid,” she writes.

Pundits in Haaretz, meanwhile, argue that Netanyahu’s appearance marks a shift in the Likud’s camp to the right.

In a front-page op-ed, Yossi Verter says the the prime minister found his “mishpucha” at the rally.

“’We’re like a mishpucha,’ Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the annual AIPAC conference in Washington two weeks ago. But in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square Sunday night, hounded by worrisome polls and the fear of losing power, he sought comfort in the arms of his real family, at least as of this moment: Naftali Bennett, Eli Yishai, Baruch Marzel and Meir Porush,” he writes.

“But Netanyahu didn’t come to hug and pose for family pictures: he came to hunt. And that was the paradox of the event: By choosing to come to a square filled with settlers, he signaled that he had given up on the chance of bringing back voters who have abandoned his Likud party for the center blocs. Instead, he’s aiming at his sister parties, the Jewish Home and Yachad.”

The paper’s Barak Ravid agrees, offering the same conclusion in a column about the event.

“Netanyahu’s appearance at last night’s event demonstrated where he is seeking the votes that he hopes will prevent his defeat. He has moved to the right and abandoned the political center. But more than anything the rally testified to the current state of Likud. It has turned from the party of the masses to the party of the settlers.”

Ravid writes that “members of Menachem Begin’s Likud stayed home Sunday night.”

“The crowd comprised Bennett’s knitted-skullcap settlers and the Haredi nationalists of Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel. The big winner from last night’s event was Kulanu head Moshe Kahlon. He is aiming his efforts at those people who didn’t come to the square — the classic Likud members. If he manages to get them into his corner in large numbers by Tuesday, he will be the big surprise of this election,” Ravid writes.

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