Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main opponent Benny Gantz sought to galvanise supporters yesterday on the eve of a tense election with the political fate of the country’s longest-serving premier in the balance.
The vote today will be Israel’s second in five months after Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career when he failed to form a coalition after April polls. Opinion polls indicate another tight race that may see ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former right-hand man who is now a rival, play a kingmaker role with his campaign to “make Israel normal again.”
The slogan is a reference to what the staunch secularist says is the undue influence on politics of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties. Netanyahu has spent recent days seeking to boost turnout among his base, using a combination of warnings he could lose and a flurry of announcements welcomed by right-wing nationalists, key to his re-election campaign.
On Sunday night, he went as far as to cancel his appearance at the final rally for his right-wing Likud party, saying he was instead holding an “emergency consultation”, warning the potential of low turnout could lead to his defeat.
For Israelis, it was a familiar tactic that Netanyahu has used repeatedly in the past though this time the risk may be greater since voter fatigue could play a role due to the repeat election.
He has also hit on his other campaign themes: portraying himself as Israel’s essential leader, dismissing his main opponents as “weak” and “left” despite their security credentials, and highlighting Israel’s economic growth.
Netanyahu has issued a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if he wins, a third of the territory. He said he would then move to impose Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the wider West Bank in coordination with US President Donald Trump, whose long-awaited peace plan is expected to be released after the vote.