- - Monday, March 16, 2015

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Benjamin Netanyahu faces a long election night. As election day dawns on Tuesday, his Likud Party trails by four seats in election-eve polling. He has barnstormed the country, warning voters of the consequences of turning the security of Israel over to his rivals, with apologies for his government’s lack of attention to the economic plight of the average Israeli family.

The parliamentary system gives him an opportunity to keep his job even if his party comes up short, because he might cobble together a majority coalition from the narrowly religious parties on the right that hold the balance of power. He’s counting on the survival instinct that Dr. Johnson eloquently expressed, that nothing focuses attention quite like the prospect of hanging. The Israeli voter needs no reminder that he is surrounded by enemies that are determined to destroy him and his country.

But not every voter. In Israel, as everywhere else, “It’s the economy, Stupid.” Many Israelis fault Mr. Netanyahu for not resolving the nation’s foreign policy dilemma, and some think Israel should be more conciliatory in dealing with the enemy. Nearly two-thirds of the electorate tell pollsters they will vote their concerns about the cost of living and worry later about the lethal Islamic threat. Mr. Netanyahu has faced his country’s voters three times as leader of the Likud and the prime minister, usually dealing with the same divided opinions about security and the economy, and three times he prevailed.

Neither the economy nor security concerns have improved and Mr. Netanyahu is still running as the candidate who puts survival first. He has always put security first and counts on the Israeli voter, when push comes to shove (and pushing and shoving is the way of life in the Middle East), to put security and survival first, too.

This time may be different. If Likud loses it won’t be because his fellow citizens don’t share his concerns or appreciate the depth of their enemies’ determination to destroy them, but because, in Israel as elsewhere, the demands for food, shelter and educating their children override everything else.

Everybody, perhaps Americans most of all, are outraged by the idea that a foreign government or foreign interests would interfere in another nation’s elections. “Foreign” money is the kiss of death for any campaign, or it once was. President Obama and his partisan friends have suggested that Republicans have benefited in the past from such foreign meddling, and Hillary Clinton no longer looks like the inevitable president because foreign money, and some of it from unsavory governments, have contributed to her family foundation, to buy access to a future President Clinton II.

Mr. Netanyahu has contended with such foreign interference in the last days of this Israeli campaign. Over the weekend, a group called V15, arriving with the slogan “Anybody but Bibi,” organized a campaign rally in Tel Aviv, led by a former Obama campaign aide, to unseat a man Mr. Obama despises. The rally drew 35,000 persons. V15 (presumably for “Victory in ‘15”) has received at least $350,000 in grants from the U.S. State Department, as well as technical assistance. Other American friends of Mr. Obama have contributed to opponents of Mr. Netanyahu.

Mr. Obama, unlike predecessors who were pleased to be mere Americans, calls himself “a citizen of the world,” and considers himself empowered to defeat his enemies wherever he finds them, by any means necessary. If Mr. Netanyahu’s party loses today, neither Mr. Obama nor the mullahs in Tehran will blame it on his economic failures at home. They’ll break out the champagne, or whatever abstemious radical Muslims drink to celebrate good fortune. Moonshine, probably.

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