Blue and White slashes left, right in home-stretch scramble to regain top spot

After Liberman vows he’s dropping unity bid and won’t join Netanyahu, Gantz says he still needs to be largest party, with polls no longer showing it leading Likud

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party at a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, Kiryat Anavim, near Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party at a Conference of Heads of Local Authorities, Kiryat Anavim, near Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Parties across the political spectrum upped their attacks on each other Wednesday, slinging accusations and jockeying for last-minute support with less than five days until Israelis head to the polls for the third time in under a year.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman said he was dropping his demand for a unity government, nixing forming a coalition with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, after two rounds as kingmaker.

Blue and White meanwhile stepped up attacks within its own camp as it looked to regain its spot as the predicted largest party, after a series of polls showed it losing ground to Likud, and oarty leadr continued to bash Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the second coming of Turkish strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, drawing rebuke.

Liberman, whose party has held a kingmaker position after the last two elections, but who refused to join either side after his demands went unmet, told a conference that “there is no more [prospect of a] unity [government].”

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks at the Maariv conference in Herzliya on February 26, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“We are ready for the day after elections, when we will have 61 seats without Netanyahu,” United Torah Judaism and Shas, he told the conference organized by the Maariv daily.

Liberman, who has also ruled out working with the Arab-led Joint List, did not specify how he would succeed in bringing together 61 MKs without those parties. Liberman did not mention the Yamina national religious faction which is polling at seven seats, but their leadership has ruled out sitting in a Gantz-led coalition.

Polls show a Blue and White led-bloc needing the support of both the Joint List and Yisrael Beytenu to form a majority coalition. In recent days, surveys have shown the faction falling behind Likud as the largest party, with 33-35 seats each.

Labor chairman Amir Peretz attends the funeral of former Sderot mayor Eli Moyal on February 26, 2020. (Flash90)

A poll published by the Walla news site Wednesday showed Blue and White pulling even with Likud at 34 seats apiece, but the right-wing and religious block led by Netanyahu having slightly more support, but still unable to form a government without Liberman.

Gantz told Channel 12 news that Liberman’s support was likely contingent on Blue and White coming out the largest party.

“We want to be the largest, and on the basis of that, other Zionist parties will join, or those who recognize Israel as a Jewish and democrat state,” he said, seemingly leaving the door open to cooperation with ultra-Orthodox parties.

Asked whether he would rely on the Joint List supporting a Blue and White-led coalition from outside the coalition by walking out of votes that would torpedo the government, Gantz said he would not include the Joint List in his government, but refused to directly respond to the question.

However, he apologized for his prior use of the term “Jewish majority” to describe the bloc of support he is hoping to obtain in the Knesset, recognizing that it had “offended non-Jews.”

The party also sought to appeal to left-wing voters, shifting from its earlier campaign aimed at mopping up votes from the right. A series of Blue and White video ads warned that those considering voting for Labor-Gesher-Meretz instead of Gantz’s party risk causing the rise of another right-wing government.

“A vote for [Labor chairman Amir] Peretz is a vote for [Yamina MK Rafi] Peretz,” warned one clip with daunting music playing in the background.

Labor-Gesher-Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz called the videos “pathetic” and said Gantz had taken a page from Netanyahu’s campaign strategy book.

A Blue and White campaign ad comparing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. (Screen capture/Twitter)

The election is Gantz’s third try to unseat Netanyahu, whom he has ruled out joining a unity government with due to three criminal indictment against the prime minister.

His party has released several campaign clips in recent days warning Israelis that a Netanyahu victory would turn Israel into Turkey. The ads liken Netanyahu’s efforts for constitutional reform to protect himself from prosecution to Turkish President Erdogan.

Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar accused Blue and White of carrying out a “wild incitement” campaign against Netanyahu in light of the Erdogan ads.

“They compared him to a tyrant, one of Israel’s greatest haters of this generation,” Sa’ar told the Ynet news site.

Likud has also come out swinging against Blue and White in recent days, reprising an earlier campaign that questions Gantz’ mental acuity and claiming that there is “something wrong” with him.

The Likud video included footage of Gantz stuttering and making gaffes during interviews, claiming that the premiership would be “too much” for the Blue and White leader.

Blue and White MK Moshe Ya’alon responded to the ad by comparing Gantz to Moses from the Bible, “who also stuttered but was an exemplary leader.

“I prefer someone who doesn’t speak as eloquently as Netanyahu but at least speaks the truth,” he told Ynet.

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