How Israel’s Netanyahu Uses Fear and Loathing to Win Elections

On the podcast: The Israeli journalist Anshel Pfeffer looks back at Bibi’s first general election campaign in 1996.

By , the executive editor for news and podcasts at Foreign Policy.
Supporters attend a pro-government rally for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv in in March 2015. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
Supporters attend a pro-government rally for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv in in March 2015. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)
Supporters attend a pro-government rally for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Tel Aviv in in March 2015. (Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images)

This past week, Benjamin Netanyahu secured his fifth term as prime minister of Israel despite facing a formidable challenger and a string of corruption charges. Netanyahu has led Israel for so long that people there and abroad have come to view him as the very face of Israeli politics—as inevitable.

But Netanyahu’s rise was not inevitable at all. When he began his first general election campaign in 1996, he trailed the front-runner—Labor Party leader Shimon Peres—by more than 20 points. Months earlier, a right-wing extremist had assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an effort to end his peace deals with the Palestinians. The murder touched off a backlash against the right in Israel and against Netanyahu.

On the podcast this week, we look back at the 1996 election in a conversation with Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist and the author of the biography Bibi: the Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu managed to win that contest—by the smallest of margins—by doing what he has done in every campaign since: He focused on the fears of Israelis and presented himself as the one man who could protect them.

This past week, Benjamin Netanyahu secured his fifth term as prime minister of Israel despite facing a formidable challenger and a string of corruption charges. Netanyahu has led Israel for so long that people there and abroad have come to view him as the very face of Israeli politics—as inevitable.

But Netanyahu’s rise was not inevitable at all. When he began his first general election campaign in 1996, he trailed the front-runner—Labor Party leader Shimon Peres—by more than 20 points. Months earlier, a right-wing extremist had assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in an effort to end his peace deals with the Palestinians. The murder touched off a backlash against the right in Israel and against Netanyahu.

On the podcast this week, we look back at the 1996 election in a conversation with Anshel Pfeffer, an Israeli journalist and the author of the biography Bibi: the Turbulent Life and Times of Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu managed to win that contest—by the smallest of margins—by doing what he has done in every campaign since: He focused on the fears of Israelis and presented himself as the one man who could protect them.

Tag: Israel

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