Arthur Finkelstein, strategist who helped Netanyahu to power, dies at 72

PM sends condolence to family of US campaign expert, mourning ‘a true friend, a professional, deeply committed to Israel’

Arthur Finkelstein and Benjamin Netanyahu in March 10, 1999. (Flash 90)
Arthur Finkelstein and Benjamin Netanyahu in March 10, 1999. (Flash 90)

Arthur Finkelstein, a conservative campaign strategist widely credited with bringing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to power for the first time, has died at the age of 72.

Finkelstein, who led dozens of campaigns in the US and in Israel, died of lung cancer on Friday, his family said in a statement.

In Israel, Finkelstein led Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign and was behind the “Peres will divide Jerusalem” slogan that helped Netanyahu overcome Shimon Peres who had been forecast to sweep to power in the wake of the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin the previous November.

That election was credited with changing the tone of Israeli campaigns, bringing more American-style, aggressive and negative campaigning to Israel.

Netanyahu sent a letter of condolence to the family in which he called Finkelstein “a true friend, a professional and deeply committed to Israel.”

Finkelstein also worked on a series of successive campaigns for right wing parties in Israel, including for Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.

Liberman paid tribute to him Saturday.

“Arthur Finkelstein was a true friend, a man of many talents and a professional. But more than anything he was a proud Jew and a staunch supporter of Israel,” Liberman tweeted. “I had the great honor to know him. May his memory be a blessing.”

Finkelstein was born to a Jewish family in Brooklyn in 1945. His father was a cab driver.

The statement from his family noted that he was “often credited with turning the term ‘liberal’ into an attack in politics, Arthur’s skills at messaging and polling were far more sophisticated than a simple word or phrase.”

“He brilliantly helped develop Benjamin Netanyahu’s vision for a ‘secure peace’ and helped voters to view the hawkish war general Ariel Sharon as a leader who was also a trusted grandfatherly figure.”

Finkelstein was a key figure behind the scenes in the Republican Party dating back to the 1970s. Many credited him with the success of Ronald Reagan.

Finkelstein, who exclusively backed conservative candidates, was sometimes criticized for hypocrisy. Finkelstein was openly gay and lived with his long time partner, who he later married, and two adopted children. Nevertheless he often worked to elect candidates in the US who had an openly anti-homosexual agenda.

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed