Likud cancels Sunday right-wing rally in Jerusalem over fears of poor turnout
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Likud cancels Sunday right-wing rally in Jerusalem over fears of poor turnout

Amid a last-ditch campaign by Netanyahu to siphon votes from right-wing parties, New Right and Union of Right-Wing Parties turn down invitation to attend

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Likud party supporters at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he and his wife face legal investigations, held in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Likud party supporters at a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, as he and his wife face legal investigations, held in Tel Aviv, August 9, 2017. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Likud party on Sunday canceled a rally in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that had been scheduled to take place later in the evening outside his official residence in Jerusalem.

Under the banner “Protecting the land of Israel, strengthening Netanyahu,” the demonstration was billed as an event to bring right-wing voters together in a show of solidarity two days before the election.

But amid a last-ditch campaign by Netanyahu to siphon votes off satellite parties, Naftali Bennett’s New Right and Rafi Peretz’s Union of Right-Wing Parties, both battling to cross the electoral threshold, said they would not attend.

The Likud party cited “security challenges” for the cancellation but a source from the ruling party told The Times of Israel that it feared a lackluster turnout.

Ahead of the 2015 elections, a similar event was held in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, days before Israel went to the polls.

At that rally — “Uniting for the sake of the Land of Israel — Netanyahu was joined by then-economy minister Bennett, who led, at the time, the Jewish Home party, as well as Eli Yishai, leader of the hard-right Yachad party, and Yisrael Beytenu representatives. The rally drew an estimated 25,000 participants.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a campaign rally in Rabin Square, Tel Aviv, on March 15, 2015. (AFP/Jack Guez)

Following the rally, however, Netanyahu took a turn against his right-wing allies, calling for voters to leave them and go “back to Likud” to ensure it won the election.

With two days remaining before Israelis go to the polls this time around on April 9, Netanyahu has again issued appeals for support from right-wing voters, saying the right is in danger of losing its hold on power if political rival Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party emerges from the elections with a lead of four-five seats over Likud.

These warnings have come despite polls forecasting right-wing and religious parties winning a majority of seats, suggesting Netanyahu will have a straightforward path to forming a ruling coalition. A number of leaders of smaller right-wing parties dismissed Netanyahu’s assertions earlier Saturday, saying it was clear the prime minister would head the next government and that he was merely trying to strengthen Likud at their expense.

Netanyahu’s strategy of appealing to right-wing voters to support Likud is seen as a risky one, as increased backing for his party at the expense of political allies could leave one or more of them below the electoral threshold and thus deprive him of a majority.

In an interview Saturday night with Channel 12, New Right party leader Naftali Bennett accused Netanyahu of trying to “take down” small right-wing factions in order to shore up support for Likud.

Bennett, who is education minister, claimed Netanyahu’s strategy was geared toward forming a so-called unity government between Likud and Blue and White ahead of the expected release of US President Donald Trump’s plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

“Netanyahu is right about one thing — there is a danger,” Bennett continued. “There is a danger we’ll get Bogie as defense minister,” he said, referring to Blue and White member and former Likud minister Moshe Ya’alon.

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