American Advisers Play Key Role in Israeli Elections
Two months after the U.S. presidential elections, Democratic and Republican political consultants became winners and losers in another election — the Jan. 22 balloting in Israel.
Mark Mellman, a veteran consultant for many Democratic politicians, served as an adviser to Israeli candidate Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid (There Is a Future) Party, which surprised observers by winning 19 seats in the Knesset to become Israel’s second-largest party.
Republican consultant Arthur Finkelstein, a consultant for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party, was not so fortunate. Likud was projected to capture 42 seats but won only 31.
All told, six American consultants assisted Israeli parties during the election cycle, according to the Jewish newspaper Forward. They included Stanley Greenberg, who helped the Labor Party win 15 seats, and David Eichenbaum, who worked for Kadima — which won just two seats.
“American consultants bring a fresh perspective” without the emotional involvement that can influence an Israeli adviser’s views, said Jim Gerstein, a Democratic pollster who has worked on Israeli campaigns.
They also have to deal with a political system in Israel that differs significantly from the American model. Israeli laws limit donations and funding depends on the government. Similarly, TV advertising time is allocated by the government, at no cost, based on a party’s size.
Mellman spent more than a month in Israel prior to the election. One Mellman tactic was to eschew spending on the billboard advertising traditionally popular in Israel and instead focus on an Internet outreach that attracted younger voters.
American political consultants first became active in Israeli campaigns in the mid-1990s, when Netanyahu recruited Finkelstein for his first run for office.
In 1999, Labor Party leader Ehud Barak enlisted several consultants who had worked for Bill Clinton, including James Carville.
After Barak’s victory, Carville quipped that the key to winning an election in Israel “came down to who got the all-important Jewish vote.”