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Netanyahu’s reliance on Arthur Finkelstein led him to completely misread the US presidential race

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One of the more entertaining subplots to emerge since Tuesday’s U.S. election has been learning how absolutely “shellshocked” the Romney campaign was by the loss. They totally didn’t see it coming and it seems much of their misplaced optimism was due to a “super-secret, super-duper vote monitoring system dubbed Project Orca which incidentally failed miserably. Well, it seems that Team Romney wasn’t the only ones given faulty information.

Haaretz gives a behind the scenes look at how Benjamin Netanyahu received the election night news, and he seems to have been just as surprised:

The astonishment that seized Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his advisers on Wednesday morning, as President Barack Obama crossed the threshold of 270 electoral votes needed to return him to the White House, was as absolute as it was authentic. Netanyahu was utterly convinced that the presidency was in the pocket of the candidate of his choice, his old buddy Mitt Romney. In private conversations, he ridiculed anyone who advised him not to rule out a scenario in which the other candidate was the winner.

What made Netanyahu and his political adviser, the American-born Ron Dermer, ignore the various polling analyses – such as Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight blog for The New York Times – that were published every day in the American media, and that almost universally predicted an Obama victory?

That question has a two-word answer: Arthur Finkelstein. Until the end, the legendary strategic adviser and polling expert – who is working with Netanyahu and his running mate in the upcoming election in January, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Lieberman – hammered it into their heads that Mitt Romney would be the next president of the United States. Finkelstein predicted a 4 percent win for Romney in the popular vote (he lost by approximately 2 percent) and victories in all the swing states (Romney lost all but one).

For Netanyahu, Arthur’s word is sacred. He just has to hope that Finkelstein’s forecast for the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu ticket – 45 seats – will be more accurate. Likud’s Knesset contenders, especially the MKs and newcomers who are huddled on the fringes of the list, have to pray that the meta-pollster isn’t making another meta-mistake.

The day after the election, Netanyahu went into battle mode. Cabinet ministers were instructed not to talk about Obama. Members of the prime minister’s close circle mobilized to rebuff allegations that their boss had intervened in the American elections.

Following the Mother Jones 47% video where Romney said he had “extraordinarily experienced, highly successful consultants” included ones that work for Netanyahu, Phil guessed he was referring to Arthur Finkelstein. This story doesn’t prove it, but it does confirm that Finkelstein is still tied to Netanyahu, and he is evidently the one who came up with the idea for a Likud-Yisrael Beytenu merger.

Will Netanyahu’s reliance on Finkelstein lead to more election night blundering in the upcoming Israeli election? Who knows, but we can safely assume there won’t be an Israeli Project Orca to contend with.

Adam Horowitz

Adam Horowitz is Executive Editor of

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27 Responses

  1. annie on November 9, 2012, 12:55 pm

    that project orca link is fabulous! what an all around clusterfup. highly entertaining i recommend it to everyone.

    and kudos to phil for calling it early re Arthur Finkelstein.


  2. ckg on November 9, 2012, 1:29 pm

    Arthur Finkelstein also had Bono Mack winning big:

    [Oct 15] It’s almost as if Rep. Mary Bono Mack and her challenger, Raul Ruiz, are running in altogether different races.

    Internal polling results obtained Monday, Oct. 15, from Bono Mack’s camp shows the Palm Springs Republican with a hefty 16-point lead over her Democratic opponent. The survey, conducted last week by Arthur Finkelstein and Associates, shows Bono Mack with a 54.7 percent to 38 percent margin….

    Coming hours after Ruiz issued a poll showing him with a narrow lead, the survey underscores a disconnect between Republicans, who have repeatedly claimed they have a comfortable lead in the race, and Democrats, who maintain the seat is in play.

    “Our polling has consistently shown Congresswoman Bono Mack with a strong lead despite the unrelenting attacks of Nancy Pelosi’s allies and liberal groups,” said Marc Troast, political director for the Bono Mack campaign. “I would say the Democratic polling looks more like wishful thinking.”

    Today Ruiz sees his narrow lead widening but Bono Mack hasn’t yet conceded defeat.

  3. Nevada Ned on November 9, 2012, 1:49 pm

    Maybe Netanyahu wasn’t aware that an obscure source like the NYT was covering the story…. :)

    Yes, Nate Silver had the story figured out beforehand. Good for him.

    But so did (for example), so it wasn’t just Nate Silver.

    Romney was not popular with many voters in the Republican primary, for various reasons: some Republican voters (esp. Evangelical Christians) don’t like Mormons. Some Republicans don’t like rich people, and vote Republican because of the abortion issue (for example). The only reason Romney won the Republican nomination is that he had the money to keep going and going. He was the last man standing at the end. Others (Rick Perry, for example) burned out early.

  4. LeaNder on November 9, 2012, 4:08 pm

    Absolutely brilliant Adam, thanks a lot, I didn’t have much time to follow the links lately, but I surely followed every single one here.

    Project Ocra is about the arrogance of power in its disrespect for humans, or “helping hands”

    Not that I haven’t seen disrespect for volunteers before. But if the main source that lets us in on the details on the ground tells us the truth, this surely trumps it all.

    Strictly this explains the few scenario that puzzled us about the reports from the GOP base, ready for the party after.

  5. seafoid on November 9, 2012, 5:01 pm

    He was listening to the wrong Finkelstein

    Of course Bibi believes in Jewish exceptionalism and that he’s smarter than all those goy schmucks but he’s just another ayzlkop.

    He should have take the advice of Nate Silver. I guess Iran will be another flop.

  6. Ellen on November 9, 2012, 5:41 pm

    This illustrates how much all of these guys, including their faithful followers, are absolutely delusional.

    Anecdote from the rural heartland: Claire McCaskill who was slated to loose in a staunch republican state of MI, “not only won the state by a huge margin, she also won in the “reddest” counties in the middle of the state. ”

    And it is not only because they realized Aiken was a flat earth dangerous moron, but even more lights were going off in farm country. Many feel they have been had, been played with distractions that have nothing to do with their real lives and concerns.

    The talking head of the Republican party will continue to whine that foreign and dark people are taking over the country, and not see that their are loosing the perceived base of angry white men (and women) in middle America as well.

    • chuckcarlos on November 9, 2012, 11:37 pm

      much of what you say has some merit, but MI is Michigan, MO is Missouri…It has been a Democratic stronghold but must not be now…both Kansas City and St Louis are in Missouri as well as some distinguished colleges…It will have it’s share of everybody, blacks, poor whites, evangelicals, intellectuals…It is not Kansas or Oklahoma (outside of Lawrence, Norman…)…do not know where most here come from, NY City most likely but Missouri has been an important place in US History…Twain, Truman, Symington….where the North met the South…outside of the Columbia River…the other two great American Rivers form the State of Missouri….it was a battleground and most likely will be again…

    • seafoid on November 10, 2012, 2:03 am

      I think it’s lovely when the sociopaths lose touch with their voter base.

    • Ellen on November 10, 2012, 4:10 am

      opps…typo. not MI, bit MO, Missouri.

  7. MRW on November 9, 2012, 6:28 pm

    Anyone who was on Al Giordano’s The Field blog in 2007-2008 knew about Nate Silver (after he eventually revealed his name in mid-2008) and his 538 blog. Silver was a baseball statistics guy—loved baseball—who tried applying the same method to the presidential race. Remember the M.O. for prez candidates at that time was win California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Eastern seaboard, the biggy electoral vote states. Ignore the middle. Remember how Clinton only did the important states, that’s where her ground game was concentrated? Obama, instead, was doing something that Silver could tabulate, and Giordano knew how to decipher.

    Al Giordano is a political strategy genius IMO; he understands the game from the bottom up, how it’s done, and he does it unemotionally. He calls political wailers and hang-wringers: Chicken Littles. He despises drama. He likes numbers and human need. He and an unidentified Silver discussed numerical and statistical details of caucuses and precincts, and their historical data. Giordano had the inside-the-field insight from his work in the past that a statistician could translate numerically. Giordano raved about the young Silver’s field method (because it matched his own). This was before Giordano got his present home, and before Silver was identifiable other than by handle and before the NYT nabbed him. After two years of it, even we uneducated blog observers could tell where Rasmussen was going wrong.

    I’ve read reports where Nate Silver is supposed to be an aggregator of other pollsters, implying he’s lucky. Don’t believe it for a minute. This kid (he was then) is miles ahead of anyone. He’s now got years of historical data and markers that other pollsters are going to have to start tomorrow AM spending 10 hours a day gathering if they want to do the same in 2016. Silver isn’t political. He’s in love with the hologram of numbers telling a story in a caucus or district funnel, like watching a baseball hit a glove in the outfield in slo-mo’. Silver’s in love with the math of how it got there, and what it portends for the game.

    • MHughes976 on November 10, 2012, 6:18 am

      The Independent had a short article yesterday stating/implying that the 2016 election is all but won already by Hillary Clinton. The (very simple!) premises of the argument were that the Republicans are shattered and that HRC has approval rates much higher than that of any other Democrat. Maybe not an argument up to Nate Silver’s standards.

    • Inanna on November 11, 2012, 9:37 pm

      Silver isn’t political.

      How can you be apolitical when you’ve gotten your start at Daily Kos? Otherwise, I agree with your praise of Nate. I think part of what sets him apart is his calculation of ‘house effect’ – just how far off the actual results each pollster has been in the past and he weights their results accordingly.

  8. sky7i on November 9, 2012, 6:31 pm

    The super-secret, super-duper summation screen from Project Orca:

  9. Inanna on November 9, 2012, 7:05 pm

    You know, they could’ve gotten all the polling info for free from Nate Silver, Sam Wang or any other bunch of decent modeling groups that do this sort of thing.

    But I get the Republicans being in shock. After all, their crazy Tea Party message worked for a long time, as well as all the lies (remember death panels?). They’re shocked it stopped working. Well, maybe this is what happens when you take the Republican strategy to its natural conclusion – who can stomach all those comments about rape, abortion, contraception, etc? It’s the revenge of the sane.

  10. piotr on November 9, 2012, 9:25 pm

    The reason that Romney got GOP nomination was that he was the best candidate. Recall that his opponents had difficulties remembering key planks of their program (I will shut down three departments starting with letter E, but at the moment, I cannot recall any, this finished electability of the governor of Texas) and assorted other troubles. Just think what would happen if Obama ran against Bachmann, Gingrich or Santorum.

    With crappy economy, it was an uphill struggle for Obama, and all the battleground states were won with thin margins. But Obama won all of them: New Hampshire, Ohio, Iowa, Virginia, Florida, and Colorado, plus Pennsylvania and New Mexico that were not really in play. This is definitely more than sheer luck, I call it ‘dark arts’ of election campaign.

    One thing is that with GOP being so extreme in many ways, there are few million people that contributed to Democratic candidates with small donations. Moreover, Obama had a much larger network of volunteer staffed regional offices and so-called ground game. “Tea party” people somehow do not contribute and volunteer in the same numbers. It could simply be that as GOP was flushed with big money it did not solicit as much from “true believers” as Democratic party.

    When Howard Dean introduced campaign driven by small donations of true believers, it was very exiting and he was demolished by his fellow party members. Obama was a more refined model, but it really makes me worried. Ideally, small donors can remove the control of the fat cats, candidates and elected politicians have to weight the risks of disappointing them too much. I was actually quite disappointed and the fact that I donated anything at all testifies more about my fear than enthusiasm. Am I a useful idiot?


    Arthur Finkelstein was a premier practitioners of the “dark arts”. I think his trademark achievement was removing a democratic governor from office under slogan “XX, too liberal for too long”. His expertise is quite dated though. Now there is a more sophisticated science of blending “positive” and “negative” messages and people think differently than they used to. I read a story about a volunteer canvassing a blue collar neighborhood near Pittsburgh, and she asked in a house who those folks want to vote for. Wife opened the door and she was very hesitant, and from the back the husband shouted “tell her that we will vote for the Nigger!”.

  11. bilal a on November 10, 2012, 12:44 am

    Netanyahu may have had a place in the petraeus resignation.

    Petreaus biographer and mistress, Brockwell, coauthored her book with Vernon Loeb, co author with Walter Pincus of the Valier Flame controversy at the washpo, and also worked closely with wolfowitz as a consultant at the pentagon (suggested elsewhere). Loeb wrote on Brockwell while she was an MP in Iraq and brought her up the ranks.
    But Petraeus was due for a comeuppance when he leaked the Israeli false flag memo to Foreign Policy, as commentary rebuked him:

    From neocon commentary
    Nevertheless, Perry’s accusations are serious and deserve a response. Rather than allow the intelligence community to sway policy with innuendo, Petraeus should either back the accusation or declare it baseless. He and other intelligence community executives should investigate and plug the leaks.

    • bilal a on November 10, 2012, 11:29 am

      pro Israeli neocon mag Commentary is strong in its implication of Petraeus being involved in the CIA leak of the False Flag Terror Operation by Israel, and according to Slate and others the Petraeus investigation was initiated by an FBI investigation into CIA leaks focusing on his personal email account. It appears that the same news sources imply that a foreign government may have hacked into his personal gmail account ( we know Israel has that capacity). Was the FBI aware that Israel had access to the Petraeus gmail account , and that Petraeus resigned because of the loss of secrets to Israel, and not because of the still private extra marital affair ? Was Israel using pressure on Petraeus , as Coomentary tried, to then influence him on intelligence briefings, including benghazi ? The then still private affair did not initiate the FBI investigation and would not be cause for dismissal from the CIA.

      see slate
      According to this version it seems that, as Reuters hears, investigators stumbled across evidence of the affair while investigating news leaks. Although it’s unclear exactly why the FBI was monitoring Petraeus’ e-mail, a source tells the Washington Post, the FBI found e-mails describing the affair.…. But the fact that the affair was all seemingly registered in Petraeus’ personal account may have been the decisive factor since foreign hackers have been known to access e-mail of officials in sensitive posts, points out the Wall Street Journal.

      • seanmcbride on November 10, 2012, 12:06 pm

        Is any member of the American national security community (or any national security community) foolish enough to use Gmail for any purpose whatever? Was the director of the CIA really using Gmail? That is a crazy notion on its face. David Petraeus is reputedly a smart guy.

        I have seen members of the JIDF (which is not nearly as sophisticated as Mossad) brag about their ability to access Google accounts — and they have offered proof of their abilities. They may well have insider help from within Google.

        Google’s tech chops are probably vastly superior in many domains to that of the CIA, NSA or FBI. Didn’t Google recently hire a former head of DARPA?

      • seanmcbride on November 10, 2012, 12:32 pm

        Holy crap — the director of the CIA was using a Gmail account:

        “Why David Petraeus’s Gmail account is a national security issue”

        The e-mail account was apparently Petraeus’s personal Gmail, not his official CIA e-mail, according to the Wall Street Journal. That’s a big deal: Some of the most powerful foreign spy agencies in the world would love to have an opening, however small, into the personal e-mail account of the man who runs the United States’ spy service. The information could have proved of enormous value to foreign hackers, who already maintain a near-constant effort to access sensitive U.S. data.

        If Petraeus allowed his Gmail security to be compromised even slightly, by widening access, sharing passwords or logging in from multiple addresses, it would have brought foreign spy agencies that much closer to a treasure trove of information. As the Wall Street Journal hints, investigators were concerned about Petraeus’s Gmail access precisely because of the history of foreign attempts to access just such accounts:

        Max Fisher’s article fails to take into account that foreign governments or special interests may have acquired insider access to Internet and telecommunications companies like Google and AT&T — that issue should be of greater concern than the problem of outsiders hacking into these systems.

      • seanmcbride on November 10, 2012, 2:13 pm

        The smartest comment on the Max Fisher article:

        Someone in his position is naive to even trust Google, there have been semi-high profile firings at Google related to data misuse by people on the gmail team. All of that data in your gmail is stored unencrypted and massively replicated in bigtable, across all of google’s famous commodity servers that constitute its cloud. Thousands of people maintain that system around the world. It’s wildly inappropriate for use by any sort of security professional.

      • piotr on November 10, 2012, 2:20 pm

        … foreign governments or special interests may have acquired insider access to Internet and telecommunications companies like Google and AT&T …

        There was a story on an insider attack — apparently untraced — at computer system of ARAMCO. This is universal vulnerability. In the case of ARAMCO, I imagine that the corporation that is the economic foundation of Saudi regime has some security clearance system in place, which of course may fail, but Google hires hundreds every year and is probably wide open for penetration. It is a bit terrifying. Perhaps it is inherently bad to have such domination of few companies in private e-mail, by penetrating one or two an intelligence agency has mountains of data.

      • seanmcbride on November 11, 2012, 11:39 am


        There was a story on an insider attack — apparently untraced — at computer system of ARAMCO. This is universal vulnerability. In the case of ARAMCO, I imagine that the corporation that is the economic foundation of Saudi regime has some security clearance system in place, which of course may fail, but Google hires hundreds every year and is probably wide open for penetration. It is a bit terrifying. Perhaps it is inherently bad to have such domination of few companies in private e-mail, by penetrating one or two an intelligence agency has mountains of data.

        Now you’re getting into the real issue here — insider abuse of private data, which is an entirely separate, and much more important issue than outsider hacking. And the mainstream media (as in the Washington Post article) discuss this issue not at all.

        And it is more than “a bit terrifying” — it is very terrifying. There are hundreds of ways in which devious and clever minds can use private data in malicious ways to attack their political enemies.

        Corporate and government agency insiders can easily overcome all the elaborate security procedures one might use to protect one’s private data — complex passwords and the like.

        I have had some personal experience with this issue. A few years ago a group of pro-Israel activists boasted to me that they had acquired access to all my news alerts on Google and some other Internet news services. They were especially upset that I was curious about the term “Mossad,” along with dozens of other terms that had nothing to do with Mideast politics. Members of their group included high-level members of high tech companies with insider access to private data.

        One wouldn’t be surprised to learn that all the private data of most Mondoweiss contributors has been thoroughly raked over with malicious intent.

      • bilal a on November 10, 2012, 12:18 pm

        confirmed: Petraeus gmail account had been hacked possibly by a foreign government.

        from Goldblogs the Atlantic:

        The FBI, the Wall Street Journal reports, began to suspect that Petraeus’s personal Gmail account had been hacked — so it launched an inquiry to determine whether someone else was accessing his email

        recall Israeli access to gmail accounts:

        US Official: If they have your gmail address, they can get in without your password.

        Sandra Tamari: What do you mean? How?

        US Official: They’re good!

        So Petraeus had problems with Israel as reported in Commentary first for the pentagon briefing alleging israel was a threat to American power and influence in the Middle East, and second , for leaking the CIA memo to Foreign Policy disclosing Israeli terrorist false flags in Iraq and Iran. So Israel had the motive to try to influence Petraeus using blackmail.
        Then we find out the FBI had discovered through gmail servers that someone other than petraeus was accessing his personal gmail account possibly from overseas, or more likely , form within the USA. and thus the FBI counter intelligence investigation.

        Israel can access personal gmail accounts even without the password.

        Commentary, a known Israeli information front, is pressuring Petraeus, on the false flag leak, and on Benghazi, while at the same time Israel is accessing his gamil and discovered his extra marital affair. This explains his resignation, not his lady friend.

      • annie on November 10, 2012, 12:35 pm

        Sandra Tamari: What do you mean? How?

        exactly the thought that crossed my mind. that story went viral, how could petreaus be so clueless.

      • bilal a on November 10, 2012, 1:33 pm

        Petraeus affair was with Paula Broadwell, nee Kranz, who received a scholarship to study in Israel. She would have known of the risks of gmail.

      • seanmcbride on November 11, 2012, 5:22 pm

        bilal a,

        Apparently (according to breaking news) Patricia Broadwell sent threatening messages to Jill Kelley (a State Department military liaison) from David Petraeus’s personal Gmail account — which sounds crazy and out of control on her part — not the mark of a professional operator (if you are looking for an Israeli angle) — unless the name of the game was to wreak havoc for Petraeus without regard for losing the services of a highly valuable asset like Broadwell.

        Still: the entire story continues to be strange and not add up. One is reminded of some of the open questions about Monica Lewinsky and Monicagate.

        By the way, have you noticed that the mainstream media have not lifted a finger to get to the bottom of the “Innocence of Muslims” video? They don’t want to talk about it. Weird. Obviously they are worried about what they will turn up (or want to conceal what they have already turned up).

    • David Doppler on November 10, 2012, 11:39 am

      Interesting how the Petreus coverage fails to mention Loeb and his roles in the false Jessica-Lynch-as-heroic-warrior story and the false Valerie-Plame-was-just-an-analyst story What might the FBI have been investigating, indeed?

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