Pollak: Five Lessons for Trump from the Israeli Election

Benjamin Netanyahu (Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty)
Menahem Kahana / AFP / Getty

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will face a struggle to stay in office after his party, the Likud, failed to win enough seats in Tuesday’s election to guarantee a right-wing majority in the Knesset.

As of this writing, the opposition Blue and White party has a one-seat lead, though it cannot form a left-wing majority, either. As the last ballots are counted and coalition talks commence, there are important lessons for President Donald Trump to draw.

1. Take care of the basics. Netanyahu won a stunning victory just five months ago, defying the polls and media expectations. But his coalition fell apart when secular nationalist Avigdor Lieberman refused to compromise with the religious parties. Netanyahu cannot bear all the blame, but the buck stopped with him: he failed at the first task of governing. Trump, thus far, has avoided any major foreign or domestic failures. He needs to keep it that way.

2. Voters want more than success. Netanyahu has kept Israelis safe from terror and has presided over a very successful economy. He has also achieved major gains in relations with the U.S. But after ten years, Israeli voters seemed to have priced in that success and focused on other concerns. The fact that Lieberman was able to rally secular Israelis suggests that Israelis feel secure enough to move on. Trump has to offer voters more than his record.

3. The Deep State will never give up. Netanyahu has been hounded by law enforcement — which remains largely unaccountable to the legislature — for years on bogus corruption charges. The fact that they are frivolous did not make them less politically damaging. Likewise, Trump cannot assume voters will tune out the Democrats just because there was no Russian collusion. He must pursue the source of the false accusations — and run a tight ship.

4. Don’t give Democrats a reason to play the race card. Israel’s Arab parties claim, and some analysts agree, that Netanyahu drove up Arab turnout inadvertently when his party suggested there was voting fraud in Arab areas. Higher Arab turnout then drove up votes for Israel’s Arab parties and other opposition parties. Trump needs to be more sensitive about how he approaches the “Squad,” for example, knowing anything can be construed as racist.

5. Don’t leave big plans for the last minute. Netanyahu offered new proposals in the closing days of the election, such as annexing the Jordan River valley and a mutual defense pact with the U.S. But these came so late as to seem desperate. If Trump has some aces up his sleeve — like a new health care plan, for example — he should introduce them sooner rather than later, to allow time for promotion and refinement. Last-minute offers may not seal the deal.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News. He earned an A.B. in Social Studies and Environmental Science and Public Policy from Harvard College, and a J.D. from Harvard Law School. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. He is also the co-author of How Trump Won: The Inside Story of a Revolution, which is available from Regnery. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.


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