Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday accused the Israeli media of waging a campaign to unseat him.
The prime minister, who was addressing his Likud party, spoke in response to the union of the Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party on Wednesday evening ahead of March elections.
“There’s an almost unprecedented, huge media campaign in support of all politicians who don’t support me,” Netanyahu said.
“Their objective is to transfer power to the left,” the prime minister said, referring to the center-left bloc forged by Livni and Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog, who were projected to win 23 seats in the upcoming elections. He did not specify what media outlets he believed were colluding to bring the left to power for the first time in nearly 14 years.
“Who will lead the country — leftist candidates who are multiplying, or the Likud under my leadership?” Netanyahu said. “The left united us.”
Netanyahu’s remarks echoed accusations he made in a speech upon firing Livni and finance minister Yair Lapid from their ministerial posts last week. At the time, he said his two erstwhile coalition allies were scheming to orchestrate a “putsch” to unseat him.
Livni and Herzog, who toured communities in southern Israel near the Gaza border, went after Netanyahu’s security credentials, accusing the prime minister of being “weak against terrorism.”
“The obligation of the government, every government — certainly a government under our leadership — will be to complete all the work on active defense,” Livni said. “That means a subterranean fence, and the need to thwart anyone who tries to tunnel in the direction of the State of Israel, its civilians or its soldiers.”
Herzog, in turn, said that there could be “no compromises with terror,” but added that there was “an original political initiative, there’s the ability to give hope, there’s the need to open Gaza alongside a process that will safeguard our security in order to allow quiet and security here forever.”
Lapid, the former finance minister who heads the centrist Yesh Atid party, said that the Labor-Hatnua merger “cleaned and organized the political system.”
“There’s Meretz and Labor on the left, and on the right there’s Likud, and [Jewish Home party’s Naftali] Bennett who are going to be in the radical right,” he said. “The coming elections won’t be between right and left, but between right and center. The center offers change for the State of Israel, for the economy of Israel, and I call on everyone to go out and vote.”
Livni and Herzog announced the merger between their parties on Wednesday, in a bid to establish a large center-left political bloc and oust Netanyahu in the elections set for 17 March 2015. Under the union agreement, the two will share the prime ministership on rotation, with Herzog as prime minister for the first two years and Livni during the last two years, should they win the upcoming elections.
While the Herzog-Livni merger will be hard-pressed to attract right-wing voters, Yesh Atid and former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon potentially have a broader appeal. It is hard to predict what effect a rumored merger with Liberman, who is associated with the hawkish right, would have on Yesh Atid and Kahlon’s presumptive party.
A Channel 10 poll on Tuesday indicated Labor could become the Knesset’s largest party if it joined with Hatnua and Shaul Mofaz’s Kadima party, winning 22 seats compared to Likud’s projected 20. However, the survey indicated that the Israeli right would still have an easier time building a coalition than the left.
The Channel 10 survey also saw 22 percent of respondents citing Herzog as their preferred prime minister, with Netanyahu just one point ahead at 23%.
Previous polls have shown Netanyahu well clear of potential prime ministerial rivals.