A batch of television interviews on Saturday saw the two leading candidates for prime minister fumbling a little in their final appeals to voters, less than 72 hours ahead of Tuesday’s election.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and MK Benny Gantz, who leads the Blue and White Party, made glaring errors during their airtime, with TV hosts quickly correcting them.
Speaking with Channel 13 on Saturday night, Netanyahu was asked by the station’s Ayala Hasson if he knows how many rockets have been fired at Israel from the restive Gaza Strip over the past 18 months, a period marked with sporadic border violence, including rocket fire and retaliatory airstrikes by Israel.
“A few hundred,” replied Netanyahu, who is also defense minister.
Hasson quickly corrected the prime minister, telling him the actual number is closer to 1,800.
Netanyahu didn’t dispute the figure and began to say “that includes…” He did not, however, finish the sentence as Hasson challenged him over his past assertion that he would topple the Hamas terror group’s rule over the Gaza Strip.
“You are asking and I will now give you a serious answer and not an answer from Twitter users,” Netanyahu said and then explained that despite three rounds of fighting in the past decade, there may be no alternative but to again launch a military campaign against Hamas in the Palestinian enclave.
Gantz, who is the leading candidate to unseat Netanyahu in the election, also ran into trouble during an interview with Channel 12.
When interviewer Rina Mazliach asked him about recent remarks backing the formation of a secular unity government without ultra-Orthodox parties, Gantz gave a confusing answer.
“I insist on telling you, I am not against anyone,” Gantz said. “I am against all of the Israeli public, I want to serve the Israeli public, that is why I get up in the morning.”
He went on to explain his intention is to form a large secular government as the basis of a coalition and then include other parties that want to join.
Gantz, who has been criticized in the past for stammering during television interviews, also fumbled his introduction on Channel 13 TV news when host Hasson asked, “how are you?”
“My name is good, my name is good,” Gantz breezed in response. In Hebrew the phrase for “How are you?” is two letters different from the phrase “What is your name?”
“Your name is good, but how are you feeling?” Hasson tried again.
On Sunday, Gantz tried to shrug off his slips of the tongue, but he incensed ultra-Orthodox leaders by likening himself to the biblical Moses.
Asked about the gaffes, the told the Walla news site: “I prefer a prime minister who considers what is best for the people, looks at people as equals, even if he makes a mistake for one second.”
“Moses was a stutterer and needed [his brother] Aaron to speak for him, but was a great leader, right? Wasn’t a great speaker. We’ll get there,” Gantz said.
United Torah Judaism chief deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman said he was “horrified” by the comparison and called on Gantz to show humility.
UTJ’s MK Yisrael Eichler said: “Moses went with Aaron the priest who blessed Israel with love. In contrast Gantz is going with Balaam to curse Israel with eternal hatred,” in an apparent reference to Blue and White’s No. 2 Yair Lapid.
Gantz’s alliance with secularist Lapid and his recent insistence that he will seek to form a secular government have raised the ire of Haredi MKs.
Before the previous April elections the Likud party claimed that Gantz’s occasional blunders indicated he was unstable and not suitable to lead the country.
Netanyahu, who was unable to form a majority coalition after the April vote, dissolved parliament and called fresh elections.
The final prediction polls ahead of the election indicate Netanyahu was inching his way closer to being able to form a right-wing coalition, but still falling just short of the mark.
In the Channel 12 and 13 surveys released Friday, which under Israeli law was the last day polls were allowed to be published before the September 17 vote, Netanyahu’s Likud party and its centrist rival Blue and White were in a dead heat with 32 seats each. However, Netanyahu’s potential right-wing coalition moved up to 59 and 58 seats in the respective surveys. Sixty-one seats are needed for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.