Israeli Political Party Drops Lincoln Project’s Services Amid Scandals
US strategists who helped defeat Trump advised Netanyahu’s right-wing challenger
The beating of a butterfly’s wings in Washington, D.C. politics quickly reached the shores of the Mediterranean on Tuesday when Israel’s New Hope Party, headed by right-wing lawmaker Gideon Saar, distanced itself from the Lincoln Project group of advisers, recently embroiled in a troubling sexual harassment scandal.
“Due to financial considerations, the contract with the consultants is under review and, in the coming days, we will examine the possibility of further cooperation,” a New Hope spokesman told The Media Line.
Saar, long a member of parliament and senior minister for the Likud Party, left his political home of over 20 years in December and formed a new party aimed at unseating Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu in the upcoming elections.
After a scathing press conference in which he accused Netanyahu of fostering a “cult of personality” within the Likud and using the party as a “tool” to escape his criminal trial, Saar quickly enlisted the help of the US-based Lincoln Project.
The highly popular political action committee, formed in 2019 by top former Republican strategists, took credit for helping defeat former President Donald Trump in the November presidential elections.
Similar to Saar’s charges against Israel’s long-serving prime minister, the group of veteran conservative operators accused Trump of hijacking the Republican Party, and his supporters in Congress of enabling his conduct. Employing a bare-knuckle, no-holds-barred approach to their campaign, the Lincoln Project gained a mass following.
The group’s founders – Steve Schmidt, Rick Wilson, Stuart Stevens and Reed Galen – reportedly were invited by Saar to visit Israel before the March 23 elections, and were hired to advise and consult the upstart right-wing Israeli party.
Yet allegations that surfaced recently about the project’s co-founder John Weaver have significantly sidelined the PAC’s operations. Weaver is accused of sexual misconduct, after over 20 men have come forward claiming he offered them professional assistance in return for sexual favors.
In recent days, the project’s other co-founders, who renounced Weaver as a “predator and abuser” and claimed they had no prior knowledge of his conduct, have been ensnared in the scandal themselves. Some of Weaver’s accusers refuted the prominent strategists’ claims that they did not know about Weaver’s behavior, saying they were made aware of – and ignored – the allegations long before the story broke.
The group’s top brass also has been accused of pocketing millions of dollars in donations to the PAC.
Schmidt, perhaps the most outspoken and brash of the four consultants hired by Saar, stepped down from his position at the Lincoln Project this week.
The spokesman for New Hope attempted to downplay the project’s role in the campaign.
“We have never worked with the Lincoln Project. The party engaged four senior consultants who were connected with the project. The individual in question (Weaver) is not known to us, we have never had any contact with him and certainly have not worked with him,” he said.
I don’t think they’ve had any real impact one way or the other on the Israeli elections
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Ronen Tzur, a prominent Israeli campaign strategist who in last year’s election advised Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, believes Saar’s party will not lose much due to the Lincoln Project’s departure.
“Honestly, I never understood what all the fuss was about,” he told The Media Line. “I’m not sure what they actually advised, so it’s hard to say whether their advice was implemented and ineffective or simply ignored.”
“Either way, I didn’t notice any meaningful change in the campaign’s language or motivational activity.”
New Hope, while in its first few days polled at an impressive 20 plus seats, now nets just over 13 in recent public opinion surveys.
Throughout the 2020 campaign between Trump and President Joe Biden, the Lincoln Project produced dozens of hard-hitting, negative ads that soon became viral, attacking the former president and his allies in the Senate and House in no uncertain terms.
It’s hard to duplicate success you’ve had abroad to success in Israel
New Hope’s ads in recent weeks have become increasingly pointed, negative and explicitly anti-Netanyahu, blaming the prime minister for Israel’s high death toll due to the coronavirus and deepening financial crisis.
“It’s hard to duplicate success you’ve had abroad to success in Israel,” a source close to Saar’s party told The Media Line. “It’s not like the whole campaign was decided by them,” he said. “We’ll just have to do a better job making our case to the voters.”
Added Tzur: “It’s possible to translate success from country to country, but it’s not easy. The cultural codes, the language and interpersonal and group energy differ among peoples. You have to recognize this in advance.”
“It’s best to work alongside a local campaigner who can make the necessary adjustments and translations, otherwise you can definitely have misunderstandings and mishaps,” he said.