Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been forced to reassess his electoral campaign after a surprise challenge from the ultra-right party Jewish Home.
The Israeli PM suffered in recent opinion polls as support for Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party gains momentum. Netanyahu has been advised by his campaign strategist, US Republican advisor Arthur Finklestein, to stop making assaults on Bennett as it appears to have boosted his electoral appeal.
Finklestein flew in from the US a week ahead of schedule as Netanyahu and his political partner, former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, are becoming increasingly unpopular amongst voters.
Analysts say most of Bennett’s support comes from voters under 40. Around a third of those saying they will support Jewish Home identified with the religious right and describe themselves as secular.
Gil Hoffman, chief political correspondent for the Jerusalem Post, who compiled a forecast of the election, said: “Bennett is seen as a cool guy and salt of the earth. You couldn’t come up with two things more respected in Israel than hi-tech success and serving in Sayeret Matkal [the elite special forces army unit] – and Bennett has both.”
According to Yedi Stern, of the Israeli Democracy Institute, it is Bennett’s far-right nationalist and religious views that are making him so popular with voters.
“More and more Israelis are strengthening their Jewish identity, not necessarily becoming more religious but becoming more connected to Jewish identity,” he said.
Bennett believes that Jews have a God-given right to the whole of Eretz Israel – West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza – and promotes the expansion of settlements.
Although Netanyahu is predicted to remain in power, right-wing parties such as Jewish Home are expected to win 63-68 seats of the Israeli parliament’s 120, giving the Israeli right wing an overall majority.