Ashkenazi: We still hope to join with Levy-Abekasis; Gesher calls it ‘fake news’

Top Blue and White party candidate says ‘We’re speaking with Orly,’ but Levy-Abekasis’s party dismisses the claim as a ‘blatant lie,’ threatens to sue

Gabi Ashkenazi, one of the leaders of the Blue and White political alliance, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Gabi Ashkenazi, one of the leaders of the Blue and White political alliance, speaks during a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 18, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A top candidate in Blue and White said Saturday the party was still hoping to woo the Gesher party’s Orly-Levy Abekasis to join forces ahead of the general election on Tuesday.

Despite her party once polling at around 8 projected seats, the crowded field has left Levy-Abekasis’s slate below the electoral threshold in most polls. This means the MK is very likely to find herself outside the Knesset for the first time in a decade.

“I will be very happy to have Orly join us,” Gabi Ashkenazi, Blue and White’s No. 4, said at a Shabbat cultural event in Givat Shmuel, near Tel Aviv. “She’s a talented woman with a worthy agenda.

“We’re speaking with Orly, I hope that towards the moment of decision she will be convinced and put the country above all else,” he said.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis attends a Knesset committee meeting on March 15, 2017.(Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Levy-Abekasis had previously been in talks with Benny Gantz to join forces, but the talks broke down as he instead allied with Yair Lapid to form Blue and White, leading the Gesher leader to lash out at him.

Responding to Ashkenazi’s claim, Gesher rejected it as “an attempt to create fake news and a blatant lie. Ashkenazi is knowingly misleading the public.”

The party said it would consider a libel suit against the Blue and White official “for a statement that has no truth to it.”

The party said it would “run to the finish line with its excellent team and will be the surprise of the election.”

An alliance with Blue and White could ensure that Levy-Abekasis, a champion of social causes, will receive a prominent place in any future government formed by the party, while potentially giving Blue and White a much needed boost in votes as it battles Likud for the lead.

Such an alliance would likely mean Levy-Abekasis dropping her party’s bid for the Knesset and her own bid to be reelected as an MK, and her urging supporters to back Blue and White — as it is now too late for parties to change the makeup of their slates.

Ashkenazi added that his party was “speaking with people on the right in closed-door meetings including the ultra-Orthodox. What we hear encourages us. They understand [another government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] will be the most right-wing, most extreme government.

“Whoever thinks we don’t know how to negotiate or convince is mistaken,” he said. “If we are the largest party [after the election], we will form the government.”

He also warned that the so-called French law to shield the prime minister from prosecution would be “the end of democracy.”

Some of Netanyahu’s potential allies have said they could support such legislation in the next government, as Netanyahu faces possible corruption charges in three separate cases, though several others have ruled out backing it.

Ashekanzi said such legislation “would make kosher the prospect of only one man being above the law, able to do whatever he wants, and send a message that not all are equal before the law. That is an important principle and if it is broken, I don’t know what the next stage would be.”

Speaking at the same event, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz said he would not support the immunity law. “I don’t support retroactive or personal legislation,” he said.

Meanwhile Labor leader Avi Gabbay called for Blue and White leaders Gantz and Lapid to drop their agreement to rotate the premiership between them — echoing his party member Shelly Yachimovich, saying such a move was required to allow the center-left bloc to win the April 9 vote.

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay and party member Tal Russo during a press conference held in Kibbutz Nahal Oz during a visit to southern Israeli communities bordering the Gaza Strip, on March 7, 2019. (Flash90)

“Even though polls show the right leading, I believe we can still win. But for that to happen each of us needs to do everything for victory,” Gabbay said at an event in Tel Aviv. “In the polls it’s clear that if Blue and White give up their rotation our bloc will receive three more seats…If they don’t give up the rotation they’re endangering victory. I tell Blue and White: The state of Israel and our future are more important than your agreements.”

The agreement — which would see Gantz take the post for the first two and a half years if the party forms the next government, and Lapid taking over for the next year and a half — was key to the unity deal between Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

However, Gantz, with his security credentials as former chief of staff for the IDF, is seen as more popular with moderate-right voters than Lapid. Some have said the notion of Lapid as prime minister has turned them off voting for the Gantz-led party.

Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, left, and Yair Lapid, right, at the new alliance’s unveiling in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Meanwhile in the central city of Modiin, Immigration Minister Yoav Gallant of Likud said Gantz should not be allowed to lead the country as he did not have enough experience.

“The main problem in my eyes is Gantz’s boldness in saying ‘I’ll lead the state of Israel’ before he’s spent one moment as a public servant,” Gallant said. “I think that’s impetuous. You don’t let an intern conduct open heart surgery, and you don’t let someone who hasn’t spent a second in public life… lead a country.

And speaking in Ness Ziona, south of Tel Aviv, Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, whose party has been teetering above the electoral threshold, vowed once again not to join a Gantz-led coalition, and said he believed the next government would be a right-wing one.

“We will be partners only to a right-wing government. Gantz is not an option and I won’t sit with [Meretz leader Tamar] Zandberg and Gabbay. They’re not my cup of tea.”

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman (L) and former IDF chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi (R) speaks during the funeral of Zachary Baumel at the Mount Herzl military cemetery in Jeruslaem on April 4, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

However he added that “joining a right-wing government will depend on two central factors: changing the policy of the war on terror and halting religious coercion.”

The final batch of polls conducted before Tuesday’s elections were inconclusive. Though most showed Blue and White leading Likud by several points, some had the parties neck and neck.

However, surveys have unanimously indicated that the incumbent prime minister was best positioned to form the next government, with the right-wing bloc currently predicted to win several more seats than the center-left.

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