Netanyahu’s day of reckoning: 9 things to know for September 17
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Netanyahu’s day of reckoning: 9 things to know for September 17

Israelis vote in election do-over widely seen as a referendum on longtime PM, who critics accuse of aiming to use a 5th term to avoid likely criminal indictment

Tamar Pileggi is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara casts their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. (Heidi Levine/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara casts their votes at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. (Heidi Levine/AFP)

1. Israelis on Tuesday headed to the polls for a unprecedented repeat election, but there’s no guarantee the do-over vote will produce a more decisive result than the inconclusive one earlier this year.

  • Hebrew-language newspapers and media outlets do their best to drum up some sense of urgency after a particularly nasty election campaign has seemingly alienated at least part of the Israeli public, prompting concerns of low voter turnout – which are not borne out, as of midday turnout numbers.

2. Many commentators and analysts have framed the re-do vote as a referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving leader who is seeking a fifth term as prime minister with a possible criminal indictment hanging over his head.

  • Nearly all the major papers outline various coalition predictions if Netanyahu or his main rival Benny Gantz gets first crack, and all agree that the outcome will be determined in large part by voter turnout.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem on September 17, 2019. (Heidi Levine/AFP)

3. “Now vote,” reads Yedioth Ahronoth’s front page headline, next to pictures of Netanyahu and Gantz tying their ties.

  • Leading Yedioth columnist Nahum Barnea says that this election, Israelis won’t be voting along ideological lines, but ultimately deciding whether Netanyahu should be allowed to skirt a likely indictment by the attorney general.
  • “The elections today are focused on a single person: Benjamin Netanyahu. The central question on the agenda was ostensibly simple: Should Netanyahu be elected to another term after ten consecutive years in office? The answer to that question is far less simple that it sounds. It takes us inwards, into the heart of the Israeli soul, into the public’s fears, hopes, needs and aspirations.
  • “Netanyahu was the focus during the parties’ campaigns, but the indictment pending against him were barely discussed. Anyone who thought that disgust with what the cases against Netanyahu have brought to light would prompt huge numbers of voters to cross the lines was mistaken… But the indictment will be the most urgent issue on the day after… Netanyahu is going to need two coalitions: a narrow coalition that will free him from the legal proceedings against him; and a broader coalition that will allow him to govern,” he writes.
  • The immediate choice isn’t between left and right, but between indictment and immunity. That might be one of the reasons for the voters’ alienation,” Barnea says. “Voter turnout will likely decide the outcome of the elections. That isn’t good news, but that’s the way it is.”
Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz and his wife Revital vote in Rosh Ha’ayin, Sept. 17, 2019 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

4. Taking a harder line is Yedioth’s Sima Kadmon, who blasts Netanyahu for aligning himself with far-right extremist parties in a bid to secure a victory.

  • “It’s about the identity of the country. What kind of country do we want here in the coming years? A radical right-wing government, with the ultra-Orthodox, the Smotriches and the Kahanists, or a government that will return us to normalcy? The country that we once were…The country that Netanyahu himself would want to leave to his children, if he were thinking of his legacy and not of his survival.”

5. Yedioth also features a last-minute pitch for votes by Sara Netanyahu and Revital Gantz.

  • The wives stick to the message of their husbands’ respective campaigns; Sara gushes that under the leadership of her husband, Israel has flourished into a “safe and prosperous country,” while Revital plays up her husband’s military credentials and touts his “principles, integrity and moral values.”

6. Nowhere is Netanyahu’s fight for his political survival more fraught than in Haaretz. The left-leaning daily leads its election edition with the headline: “Catch 61,” a reference to the minimum number of Knesset seats Netanyahu needs to secure a fifth term.

  • Columnist Yossi Verter warns that a Netanyahu victory will legitimize the prime minister’s attacks on political opponents and the hierarchies he accuses of conspiring against him, resulting in a weakened Israeli democracy.
  • “Victory that ends with the establishment of a right-wing-ultra-Orthodox coalition will give Netanyahu the authority — as far is he is concerned — to break law enforcement, the attorney general and the free press. In short, he will be free to break Israeli democracy, which has survived wars, contentious elections and the assassination of a prime minister,” Verter writes in the front-page analysis.
An Orthodox man walks past an election poster in Jerusalem for the ruling Likud party showing US President Donald Trump (L) shaking hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, September 16, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

7. The paper’s Chemi Shalev also sounds the alarm about a Netanyahu victory, calling the election “a vote for the nation’s soul.

  • “While the elections may indeed end up in another stalemate that will simply extend Israel’s increasingly Italian-style political paralysis, it is equally reasonable to posit that these elections could very well mark a turning point in the history of Israel, Zionism and the Jewish people. That may sound melodramatic, but it really isn’t. The so-called ‘referendum’ on Netanyahu isn’t just a matter of personal preference, it’s a referendum on the very values that have served as the bedrock of modern Israel. It is a referendum on Israel’s very soul.”

8. The only paper attempting to put a positive spin on the election is the Netanyahu-supporting Israel Hayom. The free daily tabloid, seen as a mouthpiece for the prime minister, glosses over the immense frustration in Israel over the re-do election, even wishing voters a “happy democracy day” on its front page.

  • Editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth declares that Israel’s democracy is “stronger than ever,” and says that casting the election as a Netanyahu referendum is “fundamentally wrong.”
  • “Campaign managers and political pundits have tried their best to convince you that Israeli democracy is facing an existential danger. Not only has our democracy not weakened, it has intensified in every dimension,” he writes. “The only thing that’s changed [under Netanyahu] is that it’s more balanced, that’s all.
  • Bismuth goes on to say that it is not Israel’s democracy, but the Jewish character of the state, that’s at risk. He says “‘anti-religious coercion’ campaigns by centrist parties [read: Netanyahu opponents] are creating fear and hostility towards Judaism.”
Supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu march at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on September 13, 2019. (Photo by MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

9. Israel Hayom columnist Amnon Lord also unabashedly praises Netanyahu’s leadership, saying in a page 2 op-ed that the attack on Saudi Arabian oil facilities a day earlier, blamed on Iran, “proves there is no substitute for [his] policy.”

  • Lord says Gantz and the other Blue and White leaders “totally lack the vision needed to deal with Iran.
  • “The choice is between allowing Netanyahu to continue with his clear political and security agenda, or Gantz, whose only agenda is to replace Netanyahu,” Lord says.
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