The Israeli PM’s re-election heralds the further undermining of the rule of law – including threats to the occupied West Bank
Think of it as Israel’s groundhog night. It begins with exit polls that delight Benjamin Netanyahu’s opponents and send a shudder through Likud headquarters, and ends several hours later with a crowd of supporters cheering “Bibi, king of Israel”. It happened that way in 1996, when Netanyahu won his first term as prime minister, it happened again in 2015, and it happened once more last night. The initial projection, which saw Netanyahu lagging behind Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the military, melted away as the night wore on, until both men had an even number of seats – but with Netanyahu the obvious winner thanks to the overall strength of the bloc of rightist and religious parties that he calls his “natural partners” in coalition. Not all the votes have been counted, but barring an arithmetical miracle he will soon embark on his fifth term in power.
How did he do it? Credit belongs in part to his own mastery of politics’ dark arts. At Likud HQ, his supporters hailed him as a “magician”, and it is true that there is no more able sorcerer when it comes to playing on the prejudices and fears of his base. (Donald Trump is a novice by comparison.) I was in Israel for the last few days of his campaign, watching as Netanyahu pressed the panic button in a bid to bring rightwing voters back home to Likud rather than opting for any of the smaller, even more ultra-nationalist parties. He went on the radio, warning that he was “losing” the election, persuading his base that the only way to keep out Gantz – whom he repeatedly branded as “left” and “weak” – was to give Likud the status of largest single party.