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Netanyahu teases costly campaign stunt outside Bennett’s home, but doesn’t show

Yamina chief invites PM to debate after waking up to heavy police presence over the planned event; needless security preparations said to cost hundreds of thousands of shekels

Then-defense minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of right-wing parties, on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-defense minister Naftali Bennett of Yamina, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during a meeting of right-wing parties, on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With four days to go before the elections, Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett was surprised to wake up Friday morning to find a large contingent of police officers and security guards outside his home in Ra’anana.

The heavy security was there for a visit planned by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu has been pushing his right-wing rival Bennett to endorse him for premier ahead of the March 23 vote. Bennett has said he will not rule out Netanyahu as a coalition partner, but has also said he wishes to replace the current Israeli leadership.

Bennett said he was informed by the guards that “Bibi is coming to troll me.”

He then publicly invited Netanyahu to come into his home for a head-to-head debate. “Come in for a debate,” Bennett implored Netanyahu in a tweet.

“Gilat’s cake is waiting. (It’s kosher),” the Yamina chief added, referring to Netanyahu’s reported effort to smear Bennett’s wife for working as a pastry chef in the past at non-kosher restaurants.

Netanyahu, however, never showed and the barricades were taken down hours later. The security preparations cost hundreds of thousands of shekels, according to Channels 12 and 13.

“Netanyahu came to troll, Bennett invited him to debate — Netanyahu ran away. The cost of the gimmick: half a million shekels to taxpayers,” Yamina said in a statement.

At a Likud campaign event in Ra’anana, Netanyahu said he had planned to obtain Bennett’s pledge to join a “stable right-wing government” and not be part of a coalition led by opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, the latter of which Bennett has already vowed not to do.

“Because Bennett announced he wasn’t interested, we decided to forgo this,” Netanyahu said at the rally.

The incident came a day after Bennett rebuffed a Likud minister’s call for him to pledge to back Netanyahu to form a government.

Bennett was previously part of Netanyahu’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties. Since being left out of the government Netanyahu formed last year with the Blue and White party, Bennett has become a vocal critic of the prime minister’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic but — unlike other rivals of the premier — has not ruled out joining a Likud-led government after the elections.

Recent polls showed Likud continuing to gain support ahead of next week’s Knesset elections, but gave neither the premier nor his political rivals a clear path to forming a government.

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