With less than 72 hours until polls open in Israel’s second election in five months, the heads of leading political parties were interviewed by the country’s three major TV networks Saturday night to make their final appeals to voters ahead of Tuesday’s vote.
The interviews were marked by a particularly combative encounter on Channel 12, during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alleged that his interviewer had branded Likud voters a “blind herd” for supporting him, and she clarified that she had used the term only to describe Likud Knesset members who voted unanimously in May for these repeat elections.
In the same interview, Netanyahu also evaded a question about whether he would seek to rein in the powers of the Supreme Court so that judges could not prevent his efforts to obtain immunity from prosecution in the three graft cases against him, and claimed he was the victim of daily incitement by the media and others.
In an interview with Channel 13, Netanyahu insisted he would not seek legislation granting him immunity from prosecution in the three criminal cases he faces if he forms the next coalition, calling it “a bluff.”
Netanyahu said: “They said I was demanding an immunity law, I wasn’t. They said I was demanding it in coalition agreements, that didn’t happen either. There’s no need for an immunity law, because these are false investigations and we’re not going to come to it at all.”
He claimed it was now clear “that all the cases are based on state’s witnesses who were thrown into solitary confinement and were treated brutally and extorted” — referencing reports that police investigators leaned hard on two state’s witnesses to convince them to testify against the prime minister.
In the extraordinarily combative interview with Channel 12’s “Meet the Press” program in which he and host Mazliah repeatedly spoke over each other, Netanyahu evaded a question on whether he would seek to gain immunity from prosecution by reining in the powers of the Supreme Court. A long-stalled bill to override the court’s rulings “is about other issues,” he said.
Netanyahu also did not commit to returning the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin if he failed to build a ruling coalition in the wake of the election, as happened after April’s vote, only saying that he hoped “it doesn’t happen.” Asked if a third election was in the cards, the premier said: “We mustn’t come to that and there’s no reason for us to come to that.”
He denied playing a major role in the fraying of Israeli society by inciting against those on the left, the Arab public, the media and other groups. He attacked the press for trafficking in what he called gossip against him. “I am the victim of incitement every day,” he said.
Netanyahu, along with most of the candidates interviewed, insisted his party was in dire straits ahead of the vote. “As things stand, I’m going to lose,” he claimed.
In his interview with Channel 12, Blue and White chief Benny Gantz pledged to establish a secular unity government with Likud and Yisrael Beytenu, saying that the religious “minority won’t rule over the majority.”
Blue and White has said it supports forming a government with Likud sans Netanyahu.
Gantz said he was not opposed to any public groups in Israel and that he serves “the Arabs, the religious, the secular, everyone except for two groups” — extremist religious Jews and Arabs who act against the state.
Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Liberman in an interview with Channel 13 denied any possibility that he would seek to become prime minister under a rotation agreement.
“A party head with less than 24 seats cannot be prime minister. Twenty-four seats is 20 percent — it’s not right that someone who receives fewer votes than that will be prime minister.”
On plans to form a secular government, Liberman told Channel 12 that “Gantz is only talking, but I’m committed to establishing a government without the ultra-Orthodox.”
Nitzan Horowitz, leader of the left-wing Democratic Camp, said his party expected the right-wing to disrupt the vote on Tuesday.
“We’re staffing thousands of polling booths because there’s a suspicion that right-wing activists are going to sabotage the vote,” he said.
He asserted that Labor chief Amir Peretz’s refusal to join forces in an alliance of Labor and the Democratic Camp was a “historic error.”
“Amir Peretz slammed the door and went in another direction, which explains the difficult situation Labor is in now,” Horowitz said. “He wrecked the possibility of a united left.” Labor is polling at around five seats, not far above the 3.25% threshold to enter the Knesset.
Ayelet Shaked of the right-wing Yamina alliance warned voters that if Netanyahu did not have a large right-wing bloc to work with after the election, he would form a government with Blue and White.
“We have a clear agenda — whoever is on the right needs to vote only for the right,” Shaked said. “Everyone knows that the important thing is the bloc, and the number of recommendations” a prime ministerial candidate receives, she said.
She added that Netanyahu wanted her faction to be small so it wouldn’t carry much influence.
“We want to be in a coalition that keeps an eye on Netanyahu,” she said.
She said that in recent days her party had been losing support and was not in a strong position going into the vote, and blamed Netanyahu for focusing on his own party instead of a larger bloc in the last election campaign and this one.
Ayman Odeh, head of the Joint List, an alliance of Arab and Arab-majority parties, referred to Netanyahu as a “psychopath” and castigated the Likud party for an online chatbot run by the party that alleged “the Arabs want to annihilate us all.” Facebook shut down the chatbot on Thursday.
When asked if he saw Blue and White’s Gantz as a possible political partner, Odeh said Gantz “will establish a unity government with Likud,” and stressed that his party would remain in the opposition.
Peretz of Labor-Gesher — currently polling at five seats, only one above the electoral threshold — said if his party failed to enter the Knesset, Netanyahu would secure immunity and be prime minister for 20 years.
“The connection with [Gesher chief] Orly Levy created a totally new conversation and I’m happy about this connection,” he said of his running mate.
He said the party was “the only real social [issues] party — offering a social ‘Iron Dome’ to protect our children and livelihoods.”
Peretz accused Netanyahu of “developing a strategy against us and sending false messages about us, because if Labor clears the electoral threshold he won’t be prime minister.”
Shas’s Aryeh Deri warned of a unified secular government forming after the elections.
“According to all the polls there is going to be a left, secular government of Liberman and the Arabs that is going to do harm to all Jewish values,” Deri said.
Itamar Ben Gvir of the extremist Otzma Yehudit said that there had been an erosion of support for his party.
“There is no right-wing government without Otzma Yehudit,” he said. “Our voters won’t vote for other parties that make compromises.”
Ben Gvir and Yamina’s Shaked had an awkward exchange following Shaked’s interview as Ben Gvir came onto the set to take her place. The two refrained from shaking hands because of Ben Gvir’s religious restrictions against touching women. Ben Gvir told Shaked “Don’t subject us to friendly fire. Don’t badmouth the right. You know that our success is everyone’s success.”
Shaked walked off camera, when the anchor asked why the two parties were not running together. She then returned, saying: “Let’s go over this for the last time: We were in negotiations, and for unity, one needs to compromise. That’s just the way it is.”
It was Otzma Yehudit’s failure to do so, she said, that had caused talks on an alliance to fall through.
“Tell them about Naftali,” Ben Gvir chimed in, referring to Yamina’s Naftali Bennett. “Why aren’t you saying what I said during the talks? Ayelet, look me in the eye, why aren’t you saying what I said during talks?”
He blamed Bennett, Shaked’s political partner, for the breakdown in negotiations, which she called a lie.
“Itamar that’s a lie. It’s not correct,” Shaked said and walked out of the studio.