American Political Consultants Also Won and Lost in Israel’s Election

After November, Six Jewish Consultants Switched Their Focus

High Marks: American political consultant Mark Mellman is credited with engineering Yair Lapid’s strong showing in Israel’s election.
Nathan Guttman
High Marks: American political consultant Mark Mellman is credited with engineering Yair Lapid’s strong showing in Israel’s election.

By Nathan Guttman

Published January 31, 2013, issue of February 08, 2013.
  • Print
  • Share Share
  • Single Page

(page 2 of 3)

American consultants working in Israel were struck by several structural differences between the political system they knew from home and that of Israel. Key to them is the finance issue. Israeli election laws limit donations significantly. Funding depends solely on government allocations. This makes for a low-budget operation, especially for small parties or newcomers, since the government’s financing is based on the size of the party in the outgoing Knesset.

TV ads also work differently in Israel. In the United States, television accounts for the main campaign expense, as candidates need to purchase airtime from local stations. In Israel, TV airtime is also allocated — at no cost — by the government, based on the party’s size.

American campaign advisers became active in Israeli political campaigns in the mid-1990s. Netanyahu, in his first run for office — in 1996, after the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin — recruited Finkelstein, a celebrated Republican pollster and strategist. The move, and Finkelstein’s success in winning that election against all odds, changed the face of Israeli campaigning. In 1999, Ehud Barak, then leader of the Labor Party, called on several American consultants who worked with Bill Clinton to help him beat Netanyahu. James Carville led the team, which also included Greenberg, Bob Shrum and Gerstein. Following Barak’s victory, Carville joked that the key to winning an election in Israel “came down to who got the all-important Jewish vote.”

Ever since, American advisers have been regulars in Israeli election campaigns on both sides of the political divide.

Finkelstein’s work on Netanyahu’s 1996 campaign began a years-long involvement in Israeli politics. Finkelstein, whose penchant for privacy and aversion to press exposure only heightened his aura as a behind-the-scenes genius, had already gained a reputation in the United States as a fierce strategist who taught candidates the importance of going on the attack and sticking to one message, that message more often than not being that their opponents were feckless or extremist liberals — a political label turned into an epithet. It worked well for such clients as U.S. Senators Jesse Helms, Strom Thurmond and Alfonse D’Amato, the last being one of Finkelstein’s earliest and closest clients, who won regularly with his help even in heavily Democratic New York. Finkelstein employed the same aggressive principles in Israeli campaigns.

In 1999, Finkelstein worked again with Netanyahu, in an unsuccessful bid for re-election. He later advised the campaign of Ariel Sharon, when Sharon became the Likud’s leader. And in 2008 he was part of Avigdor Lieberman’s winning strategy that made his party, Yisrael Beiteinu, Israel’s third largest. In between, Finkelstein also advised Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat.

But as poll numbers during the recent campaign began to indicate that Netanyahu was losing voters to Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi party on the right and to Yesh Atid on the left, Finkelstein found himself targeted as the cause. The Israeli press quoted anonymous Likud activists blaming Finkelstein and his strategy for Netanyahu’s plunge.

Others, however, praised Finkelstein for one piece of advice that may have saved Netanyahu’s leadership position: It was Finkelstein who came up with the idea to merge the Likud’s list with that of Lieberman’s nationalist-oriented Yisrael Beiteinu party, creating a new political list called Likud-Beiteinu.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • “You will stomp us into the dirt,” is how her mother responded to Anya Ulinich’s new tragicomic graphic novel. Paul Berger has a more open view of ‘Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel." What do you think?
  • PHOTOS: Hundreds of protesters marched through lower Manhattan yesterday demanding an end to American support for Israel’s operation in #Gaza.
  • Does #Hamas have to lose for there to be peace? Read the latest analysis by J.J. Goldberg.
  • This is what the rockets over Israel and Gaza look like from space:
  • "Israel should not let captives languish or corpses rot. It should do everything in its power to recover people and bodies. Jewish law places a premium on pidyon shvuyim, “the redemption of captives,” and proper burial. But not when the price will lead to more death and more kidnappings." Do you agree?
  • Slate.com's Allison Benedikt wrote that Taglit-Birthright Israel is partly to blame for the death of American IDF volunteer Max Steinberg. This is why she's wrong:
  • Israeli soldiers want you to buy them socks. And snacks. And backpacks. And underwear. And pizza. So claim dozens of fundraising campaigns launched by American Jewish and Israeli charities since the start of the current wave of crisis and conflict in Israel and Gaza.
  • The sign reads: “Dogs are allowed in this establishment but Zionists are not under any circumstances.”
  • Is Twitter Israel's new worst enemy?
  • More than 50 former Israeli soldiers have refused to serve in the current ground operation in #Gaza.
  • "My wife and I are both half-Jewish. Both of us very much felt and feel American first and Jewish second. We are currently debating whether we should send our daughter to a Jewish pre-K and kindergarten program or to a public one. Pros? Give her a Jewish community and identity that she could build on throughout her life. Cons? Costs a lot of money; She will enter school with the idea that being Jewish makes her different somehow instead of something that you do after or in addition to regular school. Maybe a Shabbat sing-along would be enough?"
  • Undeterred by the conflict, 24 Jews participated in the first ever Jewish National Fund— JDate singles trip to Israel. Translation: Jews age 30 to 45 travelled to Israel to get it on in the sun, with a side of hummus.
  • "It pains and shocks me to say this, but here goes: My father was right all along. He always told me, as I spouted liberal talking points at the Shabbos table and challenged his hawkish views on Israel and the Palestinians to his unending chagrin, that I would one day change my tune." Have you had a similar experience?
  • "'What’s this, mommy?' she asked, while pulling at the purple sleeve to unwrap this mysterious little gift mom keeps hidden in the inside pocket of her bag. Oh boy, how do I answer?"
  • "I fear that we are witnessing the end of politics in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I see no possibility for resolution right now. I look into the future and see only a void." What do you think?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.