Thousands of right-wing supporters crowded into Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square on Sunday evening where Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focused on the fate of Jerusalem, and repeated a call to former Likud member Moshe Kahlon — who now leads the Kulanu party — to accept an offer as finance minister in a future coalition.
Under the banner “Uniting for the sake of the Land of Israel,” Netanyahu was joined by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, who leads the Jewish Home party, as well as MK Eli Yishai, leader of the hard-right Yachad party.
The rally drew an estimated 25,000 participants — fewer than a left-wing rally in the same square a week ago.
The prime minister warned of “the real danger that a left-wing government will take power” after Tuesday’s elections. He protested funding “from abroad” for the V15 group which is seeking to mobilize the vote to replace him. “Our rivals are investing a huge effort to harm me and the Likud, to open a gap between my party, the Likud, and (our rivals),” Netanyahu warned. “This is a fateful struggle, a close struggle. We must close the gap, it is possible to close this gap.”
Netanyahu urged Kahlon to join a coalition in the next government as finance minister, an offer that Kahlon dismissed earlier in the day as preelection spin.
Kahlon, who has refused to commit to recommending either Netanyahu or Zionist Union rival Isaac Herzog to be prime minister after the Tuesday vote, has been portrayed as something of a kingmaker, with the ability to give either of the candidates an easier chance at forming a coalition.
On Saturday and Sunday, Netanyahu said in several interviews that he would make Kahlon finance minister, in a bid to woo the Kulanu head to his side.
But Kahlon on Sunday morning rebuffed the advance, saying that Netanyahu’s promise couldn’t be trusted.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu panned Tzipi Livni, who jointly leads the Zionist Union list together with Isaac Herzog, saying she had condemned government decisions to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem that were located in the east of the capital.
“And I ask, if Jews can’t build in Jerusalem, where can they build?” Netanyahu said, and went on to claim that Herzog intends to see Jerusalem serve as the capital for the Jews and Palestinians.
Under a Herzog-Livni government, he said, “the capital of a Palestinian state will be established in East Jerusalem…
“Now they’re trying to hide it,” he asserted. “But this is their real position.”
Netanyahu also criticized remarks made in the very same square the previous week, during a left-wing rally at which there was derision of the “amulet kissers” and later the “mezuzah-kissers” — a reference to Israelis who bear a strong Jewish identity and attachment to traditional religious customs and superstitions.
“I want to ask what’s wrong with kissing a mezuzah? Since when is it a sin? Yes, we keep traditions,” he said and went on to vow that he will keep Jerusalem united, a stance he declared “is not the way of the left.”
In a reference to recent opinion polls that have shown the Zionist Union opening a four- or five-seat lead over the Likud, Netanyahu remained defiant and said that although the majority of the public wants him as prime minister, “we must close the gap, we can close this gap” between the Zionist Union and Likud.
Netanyahu touted his government’s achievements — from housing to economic policies — and taunted the left for, what he said, was its dismissive attitude toward anything the government does unless it involves removing settlers from their homes.
“For the left, if you haven’t evacuated, you haven’t done anything,” he said. “Here’s the truth: We didn’t evacuate, and we will not evacuate. But we did things, and we did a lot.”
Before Bennett took the stage, Netanyahu promised that the Jewish Home party — which has scored around 12 seats in the polls — will be a “senior partner” in his coalition, “and it doesn’t matter how many seats it gets.”
The head of the Central Elections Committee, Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, permitted the rally to go ahead — a mere two days before the upcoming elections — but prohibited organizers from using any public funds to finance the event, due to its political nature. Joubran also forbade any performers from taking part.
Not to be outdone, Bennett took to the stage with a guitar and sang the song “Jerusalem of Gold,” an anthem to those who advocate for an undivided Jerusalem under Israeli rule.
During his address to the crowd, Bennett also warned that a left-wing government would divide the capital and, echoing Netanyahu, called on Kahlon to stay with the right-wing.
Last weekend, thousands of left-wing supporters held an anti-Netanyahu demonstration in Rabin Square, named after former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated at the location after a peace rally in 1995.