Likud says Arabs crucial to Gantz, who mocks ruling party’s ‘nosedive in polls’

Rhetorical skirmishes erupt in election campaign, with anonymous, illegal text messages slamming both Netanyahu and the Blue and White party leader

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)
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)

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz lashed out at the ruling Likud on Monday, accusing the party of “making things up” because it was “taking a nosedive in the polls.”

Gantz’s comments came in response to claims by Likud that he enjoys the support of anti-Zionist Arab parties. An anonymous text message campaign that may have come from Likud — it was apparently sent to phone numbers belonging to current and former Likud members — also falsely claimed this week that Gantz has said he “wouldn’t rule out” inviting the right-wing extremist Otzma Yehudit party into his coalition.

At a meeting with farmers in the far-northern town of Yesod Hama’ale, Gantz lashed “all those who are taking a nosedive in the polls and starting to make things up, that these people will go with [Arab lawmaker Ahmad] Tibi and those people will go with [Otzma Yehudit’s mentor, the extremist rabbi Meir] Kahane — none of it is true.”

He added: “We will call for a unity government with all parties, including with Likud, which will join us, and anyone else who is Zionist and sane.”

Likud responded swiftly, charging in a statement that Gantz and his running mate Yair Lapid “won’t have a government without an [electoral] bloc with the Arab parties.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement after a meeting of his ruling Likud party in Ramat Gan on February 21, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

It claimed Blue and White MKs have admitted as much, and noted that Gantz had previously “ruled out sitting with [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu” in a coalition.

After Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced Thursday he would pursue indictments against Netanyahu in three corruption cases, pending a hearing, Gantz made a public statement that he would not serve in a coalition with a Netanyahu-led Likud, but would join Likud under a different leader. Gantz called on Netanyahu to resign immediately.

Having drawn an ostensible link between Gantz and Tibi, Likud’s statement concluded: “The question is simple: Bibi or Tibi. That’s what the election is about.”

Likud’s statement was followed by another unidentified mass text message campaign Monday, which is illegal under rules set down last month by the Central Elections Commission, accusing Netanyahu of himself being “weak” and “left.”

It reads: “Netanyahu talks right but acts left. Someone who’s afraid to deny hotel-like conditions to jailed terrorists and murderers, who hasn’t destroyed the home of the murderer of Ori Ansbacher, who’s afraid to shoot at the incendiary balloon terrorists, who’s afraid to kick the terrorists off the Temple Mount, who pays millions to Hamas and is afraid to destroy Khan al-Ahmar — isn’t really right, but left. Weak.”

MK Ahmad Tibi at the Knesset on October 23, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The statement satirizes Netanyahu’s campaign slogan, which is, “Netanyahu: Right. Strong. Gantz: Left. Weak,” but includes talking points heard in the past from both Gantz’s campaign and Netanyahu’s critics on the far-right.

On Sunday, a Channel 13 report said Gantz’s Blue and White party will present a platform on Tuesday that echoes many of Likud’s positions on security and diplomatic matters. It will reportedly oppose the division of Jerusalem as part of any peace agreement with the Palestinians and will call for Israel to maintain sovereignty over the major West Bank settlement blocs.

Blue and White, which was formed last month in a merger between former military chief Gantz’s Israel Resilience and centrist leader Lapid’s Yesh Atid, has been largely mum on policy specifics ahead of the scheduled release of its campaign platform on Tuesday.

While Yesh Atid had already released a detailed 200-page platform before the merger was agreed last month, Israel Resilience declined to publish any clear policy proposals on either domestic, security or diplomatic issues.

The united party platform, however, will address all major areas of policy, a spokesperson for the party told The Times of Israel.

Blue and White is currently polling as the largest party, though surveys indicate it may struggle to form a ruling coalition after elections. In the wake of the Netanyahu indictment announcement, Gantz polled ahead of Netanyahu for the first time over the weekend in a survey of Israelis asking which man is more suitable to be prime minister.

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