From Battleground Texas to Battleground Israel, all politics is global

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Shalom Austin:

Once upon time, the soul of wisdom was Tip O’Neill’s “all politics is local.”

In the 21st Century, that’s been flipped to “all politics is national.”

You can get elected dog catcher in Texas, let alone governor, running against Barack Obama.

But, watching the Twitter traffic overnight in the wake of the Israeli election, it appears that all politics is now global.

Here is the post from RedState.com’s Erick Erickson:

Team Obama poured amazing resources into Battleground Texas to help Abortion Barbie, Wendy Davis, win and to turn Texas blue. Arguably, the Obama team had so many resources directed at Texas that they weakened themselves elsewhere. But they had a tremendous media operation and their acolytes in the press wrote hagiographic story after hagiographic story on how awesome Battleground Texas was.Likud_phonebg_onlybibi

The media even lumped Battleground Texas’s money with Wendy Davis’s money to build the narrative that she was financially competitive with then Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott. It all went down in flames. Reporters who were openly cheering for Battleground Texas put a pillow over it and held down till there was no pulse.

 And then they did the same in Israel.

A bipartisan investigation in the United States Senate is now uncovering evidence that Team Obama used federal tax dollars to try to influence the Israeli election against Benjamin Netanyahu. Team Obama went to the mats to defeat Bibi. Not only that, like with Battleground Texas, Battleground Israel also produced a media narrative that Netanyahu was in serious trouble.

On election day in Israel, the American media continued to push a “too close to call” narrative long after Netanyahu had declared victory and long after the Israeli media agreed. But Battleground Israel persisted into the night with the story that it was too close to call.

Here is Ted Cruz’s comment on Netanyahu’s victory:

 Prime Minister Netanyahu has been an extraordinary leader for Israel, and I congratulate him on what appears to be a victory today. His electoral success is all the more impressive given the powerful forces that tried to undermine him, including, sadly, the full weight of the Obama political team. American officials should not be undermining the elected leaders of our closest allies, especially when Prime Minister Netanyahu’s heroic – even Churchillian – opposition to a nuclear Iran has done such tremendous service to U.S. national security. The American people are proud to stand steadfastly with our Israeli brothers and sisters. May our friendship grow and prosper, and may the Nation of Israel stay forever strong.

And here is the statement I received late yesterday afternoon from Bird:

“While the election results remain to be seen, one thing is beyond question: V15’s passion and smart organizing approach inspired hundreds of thousands of Israelis to make their voices heard in an election that just a few months ago no one believed would even be competitive,” said Jeremy Bird, a founding partner of 270 Strategies. “Using best practices in organizing both online and on the ground, V15 transformed an unprecedented groundswell of organic energy into a movement for change — that’s a major victory for V15 and for Israelis who will continue to demand responsible leadership for their country.”
 

Let’s back up here.

From the Jerusalem Post last week, under the headline: Netanyahu: There is a worldwide effort to topple Likud rule 

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suggested Monday to a meeting of Likud activists in Kiryat Gat that there is an international effort to remove him from power.

In a recording of the meeting obtained by Army Radio and aired on Tuesday, Netanyahu is heard saying of the current election campaign, “This a very close battle. Nothing is ensured because there is a great, worldwide effort to topple Likud rule.”

Netanyahu and the Likud have suggested throughout the run-up to the March 17 election that groups such as V15, an organization advertising to remove Netanyahu from power, are being funded by millions of shekels pouring in from abroad.

Last month, the Likud asked State Attorney Shai Nitzan to probe whether V15 was breaking laws prohibiting raising too much money for parties and raising money for parties from people who are not Israeli citizens.

But Nitzan did not find a connection between V15 – which has raised huge sums abroad for its effort to unseat Netanyahu – and any particular party.

Netanyahu’s professed alarm brings to mind then Attorney General Greg Abbott’s comments in Waco in April 2013.

“One thing that requires ongoing vigilance is the reality that the state of Texas is coming under a new 
assault, an assault far more dangerous than what the leader of North Korea threatened when he said he was going to add Austin, Texas, as one of the recipients of his nuclear weapons,” Abbott said. “The threat that we’re getting is the threat from the Obama administration and his political machine.”

Astonishingly, when you get right down to it, both Benjamin Netanyahu and Greg Abbott were warning that they and their respective domains – Israel and Texas – were under political assault and, ultimately from the same source – Barack Obama in the person of Jeremy Bird.

(note: Abbott’s domain is bigger – with more than three times the population and more than 30 times the land mass. You can see here how Israel would fit into Texas – a possible remedy if things get worse over there. Call it a third-state solution.)

Here, from last month, a story by Julie Hirschfeld Davis in The New York Times: Former Obama Campaign Aide Now Works to Oust Netanyahu

WASHINGTON — Jeremy Bird, the architect of the grass-roots and online organizing efforts that powered President Obama’s presidential campaigns from Chicago, is advising a similar operation in Tel Aviv. But this time it is focused on ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel.

His consulting work for the group V15 — an independent Israeli organization that does not support specific candidates but is campaigning to replace Israel’s current government — has added yet another political layer to the diplomatic mess surrounding Mr. Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint meeting of Congress next week on Iran.

The White House has argued that Mr. Netanyahu’s plan to deliver the speech on March 3, two weeks before the Israeli elections, is harming the United States-Israel relationship by injecting partisanship. Republicans contend it is Mr. Obama who is playing politics and cite the work of Mr. Bird as proof that the president is quietly rooting for the defeat of his Israeli counterpart.

American strategists have for decades signed on to work in Israeli political campaigns, with Democrats usually aligned with the Labor Party and Republicans often backing Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party. There is no evidence to suggest that Mr. Obama or any of his senior aides had anything to do with the move by his former top campaign official, who has never worked at the White House, to join the effort to defeat Mr. Netanyahu.

But Mr. Bird’s involvement in the elections is drawing attention when tensions between the two countries are so acute that what is usually considered standard practice for American political consultants in Israel is now seen as a provocation.

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“We’re witnessing something special happening in Israel right now: There’s a groundswell of organic energy as more than 10,000 supporters are coming together to have a voice in their country,” Mr. Bird said through the spokeswoman. V15’s “efforts are already paying off as they have reached out to more than 200,000 targeted voters, both in person and on the phone, about the need for change in Israel.”

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“It is eye-rolling for Netanyahu to complain about former Obama aides working against him when he cooked up a speech to Congress with Boehner and didn’t tell the White House,” said Tommy Vietor, a former National Security Council aide to Mr. Obama. “He has removed his ability to complain about playing politics by openly meddling in U.S. politics. The notion that Jeremy and the 270 team were sent there with the blessing of President Obama is just silly.

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Republicans in Congress have criticized Mr. Bird’s involvement and the work of OneVoice, which has received grants from the State Department. In a letter to the department last month that prominently mentioned Mr. Bird and his ties to Mr. Obama, Senator Ted Cruz of Texas and Representative Lee Zeldin of New York, both Republicans, said they were concerned that American taxpayer money was being used to influence the Israeli elections and unseat Mr. Netanyahu.

“It is deeply troubling that President Obama’s national field director is helping run the campaign to defeat the democratically elected leader of one of our closest friends and allies, the nation of Israel,” Mr. Cruz said in an interview on Friday.

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A month before the Times story, January Roy (Chicky) Arad, wrote in Haaretz, under the headline: The Obama campaign strategist who could break the Israeli elections wide open
The group V15, which denies that its motto is ‘anyone but Bibi,’ is working with U.S. political strategist Jeremy Bird to replace the government in March:

During a stroll along Tel Aviv’s Lilienblum Street, it was difficult to avoid noticing that the ground floor of one office building had been converted into a campaign headquarters, packed with “Victory 2015” signs and young people wearing V15 campaign buttons. Hanging on the wall is a map of greater Tel Aviv, marked into numbered districts, and scrawled on a whiteboard are various slogans in advertising language.

The place looks like a television set for a series about a presidential campaign. I signed up and walked into a motivational lecture with about 30 enthusiastic young Israelis who were learning how to approach potential voters. After a few minutes they realized there was a journalist in the room, and a more organized meeting was arranged in the adjacent offices of the OneVoice Movement.

It was only a month ago that Itamar Weizmann, a 22-year-old history student, posted the following, rather banal, text on Facebook: “Hi. There’s an election. Let’s do something different this time.”

Nimrod Dweck, the 33-year-old founder of Dice Marketing whose Linkedin page describes him as a “marketing ninja,” pounced on the idea. The pair rapidly arranged a meeting of activists. Former Shin Bet security service head Yuval Diskin jumped on board, and supporter numbers are rising constantly.

The group, which began with nothing more than an idea and youthful energy, soon morphed into something far greater, a movement with real offices whose goal is nothing less than an electoral upset. If the momentum continues to gather according to plan, V15 could carry influence in the upcoming election.

With the help of American money and a former campaign adviser to President Barack Obama, V15 is trying to replace Israel’s government. The money and organization comes from V15’s partnership with OneVoice.

Jeremy Bird

Jeremy Bird

Their secret campaign weapon is Jeremy Bird, a 36-year-old American political strategist who worked for Obama. Bird has come with a team of four consultants that will try to channel the energies of V15 into an organized methodology. Bird was the field director for South Carolina in Obama’s primary campaign for the 2008 election. Early opinion polls in the state gave Obama and Hillary Clinton equal odds, but in the primary vote Obama beat her two to one. That victory helped Obama to clinch the Democratic nomination, and it resulted in Bird’s promotion to deputy national field director for the 2008 national election. For Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign, Bird was national field director. After the election, Bird parlayed his success into 270 Strategies, a political consulting firm that helps election campaigns all over the world to build grassroots strategies.

“It’s not right to do in Israel exactly what we did in the United States, the context is completely different,” admits Bird, who still has some of the Hebrew he learned as a student in Haifa in 1999. But he says the mess in the OneVoice office — many empty cartons from newly purchased equipment — reminds him of Obama headquarters, he says: lots of energy and lot of talent. Israel is an ideal country for a door-knocking campaign because of its relatively small size, Bird says. Israel has very complex politics, a large number of parties and relatively high voter turnout, he says, adding that it’s possible to speak with enough people here to replace the government.

Bibi Got Back

I wondered Monday why Vincent Harris wasn’t at Austin’s Capital Factory to Stand with Rand when Rand Paul, in advance of a formal declaration of a presidential candidacy April 7, opened up his campaign’s tech office, which will be under Harris’ command. Turned out Harris was on his way to #StandWithNetanyahu.

From a Feb. 2 story in  The Times of Israel Likud hires top Republican strategist ahead of elections

A leading American political strategist with deep ties to the Republican party was hired by the ruling Likud party and will serve as its media consultant ahead of the upcoming March 17 elections, Army Radio reported.

Vincent Harris, the CEO of the Austin-based firm Harris Media, currently serves as Chief Digital Strategist to Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and was highly active in the 2012 US presidential elections, where he handled online campaigning for candidates Rick Perry and Newt Gingrich.

Harris also worked in digital campaigning alongside Senator Ted Cruz in 2012 and Senator Mitch McConnell in 2014, significantly advancing social media presence and following for both US representatives.

The news of Harris’s joining with Likud comes amid a furor over a link between the V15 movement, a nonprofit Israeli group working to oust Netanyahu, and a former Democratic campaigner.

On Sunday, Likud accused the rival Zionist Camp of working with the V15 movement, which is funded by international donors, thereby engaging in illegal campaign financing.

Last week, Cruz issued an inquiry letter to the White House after Haaretz reported Jeremy Bird, the national field director for President Barack Obama’s reelection campaign in 2012, was leading V15’s get-out-the-vote effort.

And from Gil Hoffman at the Jerusalem Post:

An American digital media guru denied reports Monday that suggested he was sent by the Republicans in order to help Netanyahu win reelection.

Army Radio reported that the Likud employed Vincent Harris, who worked for Republican senators Mitch McConnell and Ted Cruz. The report said the Likud complained about US President Barack Obama’s former field director, Jeremy Bird, advising groups working to unseat Netanyahu, even though they were using the same tactic.

Harris told The Jerusalem Post that he started working for the Likud more than six weeks ago, just like Republican strategist John McLauglin and just like other American strategists had worked for Netanyahu in other elections going back to 1996. He denied any connection between the senators and his employment with the Likud.

“I have not spoken to Senator Cruz or to Mitch McConnell about my job here,” he said. “My Israeli work is completely separate from my work in the US, so what is being reported is not true. I love Israel, and I am excited to be here to help the Likud and the prime minister use digital media in an effective and forward-looking manner.”

Likud officials said there was a big difference between Harris, who is employed by the Likud, and Bird, who has worked for OneVoice, an organization that has received funding from foreign governments and is working now to topple Netanyahu.

Cruz, a possible 2016 candidate for president, and New York Republican Rep. Lee Zeldin sent a letter on Thursday to Secretary of State John Kerry calling on the State Department inspector-general to investigate whether OneVoice Israel – part of the OneVoice Movement, a US-based nonprofit organization – has used US grant money to support its partnership with V15 and whether its actions violate its 501(c)(3) nonprofit status.

In response to Cruz’s letter, the OneVoice Movement said it received two grants from the State Department in the past year to help fund campaign in support of the Israeli- Palestinian negotiations, but according to both OneVoice and the State Department, both grants ended before December 2014 and are not part of OneVoice’s current campaign.

“No payment was made to OneVoice after November of 2014,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Thursday.

As the electon result was becoming clear, I exchanged emails with Michael Duncan, vice president of digital strategy at Harris Media:

Harris Media was brought on by Prime Minister Netanyahu and the Likud Party to oversee their digital strategy ahead of today’s election. I’ve been living in Tel Aviv since early January, working with our team in Austin and the local team here on website design and development, social media, online advertising, online video, graphic design, and email marketing.

Here’s some of their website work in English and Hebrew:

http://www.onlythelikud.org.il/vote-machal/
http://www.onlythelikud.org.il/election-day/
http://www.onlythelikud.org.il/home/
http://www.onlythelikud.org.il/%D7%91%D7%99%D7%AA/

And Netanyahu’s social channels:

https://www.facebook.com/Netanyahu
https://twitter.com/netanyahu

I asked Duncan a few questions overnight.

1. Why does a country like Israel not have its own homegrown political talent.

There’s certainly talented political operatives in Israel. Our campaign manager was Aron Shaviv, an Israeli who’s done extensive work internationally as well. I think the reason for so many American consultants in Israeli politics is that we hold more elections than they do through their national proportional representation system. We have Presidential campaigns, Senate, House, Governor’s races, and then all the down-ballot contests. American consultants just have more experience, our campaigns are longer, and they’re more expensive. There’s also over ten political parties in Israel, so the talent pool gets thinned quickly and requires looking to America for professional help.

2. Does Israel’s very different personality require a wholly different approach than, say, in Texas, or are voters simply voters?

The complexity of an election with over ten political parties requires a disciplined and targeted message strategy. We knew we had to persuade right wing supporters of the Jewish Home party, Orthodox voters, and some centrist voters of Kulanu, to switch over to support Likud. We used alot of issues and tactics to recruit subsets of these voters, but in the last week it became a very simple message: We’re all on the right and we represent a majority of the electorate. But if we don’t unify behind Prime Minister Netanyahu, we risk letting the left form the next government.

Imagine a general election ballot that’s Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb, Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Scott Walker, and Rand Paul. That’s the complicated nature of Israeli politics.

3. Any impression of Jeremy Bird’s work and the V15 campaign?

I saw some of the V15 advertising, which I thought was creative but I question the effectiveness. If you’re advertising video online, and you’re burying the lede, and it’s over a minute long, you’re doing digital wrong. Here’s V15’s “viral” ad: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=835408989854745&permPage=1

Political advertising is about reach and frequency to persuadable audiences. Half your audience is going to stop watching online after 15 seconds, so what about those people? It’s much more valuable to produce shorter spots that reach a specific subset of your voting population: https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152774470972076&permPage=1

Voters on the right turned out big time, giving 30 mandates to Netanyahu and Likud, which is more than anyone expected. I don’t know what Bird did on the grassroots side here in Israel, but doesn’t seem it like it was any more effective than the doomed Battleground Texas project.

And, here is Duncan on the V15 ad linked to above:

The cinematography of the V15 spot is beautiful. It parallels a person going to the polls to vote against Bibi, with Netanyahu and his wife packing up to leave the PM’s residence. The tag line at the end is “Thank you, goodbye.” A simple message from the voters to Netanyahu. And I have nothing against long-form ads like these, except when you make them the focal point of your digital campaign. If you only watched 10 or 15 seconds of this ad, as half of people do online, how did V15 persuade them? I think their generic “Anyone but Bibi” strategy backfired. Even Herzog and Livni strategist Reuven Adler admitted he was against this plan: http://www.jpost.com/Israel-Elections/Likuds-win-The-second-Israel-has-spoken-394300

The more V15, the Zionist Union, and the Israeli media focused on Netanyahu, the more we were able to crystallize this election as left versus right, rather than a 10 party race. They criticized Netanyahu attending the March in Paris and they criticized his speech in Congress, but our polling showed it only served to burnish our security credentials on the right. It elevated us: When Netanyahu speaks, the world listens.

The post Duncan cites quoting Reuven Adler is illuminating:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s impressive victory in Tuesday’s elections can be explained by going back to the early days of the state.

The Ashkenazi immigrants from Eastern Europe were seen as having an unfair advantage over their Sephardic counterparts from North Africa and the Middle East. The people who are called “the second Israel” have complained since then that the “elites” in the Israeli Left, the media and academia have discriminated against them.

The “second Israel” did not like the way the media seemed to be deposing of Netanyahu and bringing to power the Left under the leadership of Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, who were raised not far from each other in North Tel Aviv and are both the children of former Knesset members.

The Zionist Union inadvertently played into Netanyahu’s hands with a campaign of “anyone but Bibi.”

Zionist Union campaign strategist Reuven Adler, who joined the campaign late, said Wednesday morning that he was against that strategy from the start. By contrast Likud strategist Aron Shaviv got the Israeli Right correct. He sent Netanyahu to give countless interviews – it made him look like he was panicking (and he was), but the public got the message.

Many who considered staying home, or voting for one of the Likud’s satellite parties, hurried to the polling stations to cast ballots for Likud. People who have not voted in years – or at least not for Likud – felt the need to save Israel from the Left, Iran and from a hostile international community.

On Monday, Shaviv revealed a poll that for the first time, less than 50 percent of the public thought Netanyahu would form the next government. Shaviv said at the time that if it gets closer to 40 percent the Likud will win the election.

In Netanyahu’s appeal to the “second Israel’ he succeeded, and because of that, he won a fourth term.

On Morning Joe this morning, Israeli journalist Ari Shavit of Haaretz, made a similar point. He said that the election represented the triumph of a disparate coalition united by their opposition to an Israeli WASP elite – WASP, in this case, standing for White Ashkenazi Supporters of Peace.

Israel, Shavit said, is now split in half, with a red Israel and a blue Israel.

I don’t think there is any such things at the Israeli Tea Party, but the parallels in the political dynamic between Texas and Israel are striking.

Netanyahu, like Abbott, scored a huge victory by building a majority that was stirred to action by fears that an elite, with help of powerful outsiders, specifically including Obama and his minions (or maybe in the Israeli context, minyans), and flush with out-of–state shekels, was trying to impose a liberal/leftist government on them.

It appears that in Israel, the directed political assault on Netanyahu may have made him look like he was reeling, but it actually strengthened him and helped drive up his turnout. Likewise, the argument can be made that Battleground Texas, whatever success it had in signing up volunteers and registering voters, did more to give Texas Republicans, who after years of dominance could be lulled into complacency, a sense of threat and urgency that motivated their voters to turn out.

The Likud slogan was, "It's us or them."

The Likud slogan was, “It’s us or them.”

I had two other questions for Duncan.

The Likud slogan was “It’s Us or Them.”

Wow, I thought. Doesn’t get more basic – even primordial – than that. (It brought to mind Mel Brooks as the 2000 Year Old Man recitation of mankind’s first national anthem: “Let ’em all go to hell/ Except Cave 76”)

Duncan:

Can’t take credit for It’s Us or Them, senior strategists Aron Shaviv and John McLaughlin deserve credit for framing this race and getting the Prime Minister to take the fight to the left in the critical last week.

And finally, I asked about Chuck Norris.

The last time I saw Norris he was campaigning for Greg Abbott in Midland, Texas, just before the election.

Chuck Norris campaigning for Greg Abbott just before last fall's election.

Chuck Norris campaigning for Greg Abbott just before last fall’s election.

 

On the eve of the Israeli election, Norris once again got political, releasing an endorsement video for Netanyahu.

With all due respect to Norris, Duncan said, “I don’t think it impacted many votes.”

But, he said, “All the supportive comments from elected officials in the United States certainly helped us push back on the false narrative that Netanyahu was eroding American support for Israel.”

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