Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Sunday urged his ruling Likud party campaign’s lawmakers and ministers to emphasize that his rival Benny Gantz is a “leftist,” ahead of the unveiling of a new phase of the election campaign after falling narrowly behind in public opinion polls for the first time.
Multiple surveys published over the weekend have predicted Likud could be unable to form a governing right-wing coalition after the April 9 elections, days after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to file criminal proceedings against the prime minister.
The Blue and White alliance was formed last month, when Gantz’s Israel Resilience and fellow centrist leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid agreed to run on a joint slate along with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party and Gabi Ashkenazi, who like Gantz and Ya’alon is a former military chief.
“Lapid and Gantz are trying to conceal and disguise, as if they aren’t left-wing,” Netanyahu told Likud lawmakers in a briefing. “If we clarify that truth to the public, Likud will be able to close the gap and win.”
Referring to his legal woes, Netanyahu said: “The media will do everything so that the left wins. They waited for the attorney general. The mountain [of bribery allegations] has given birth to a mouse, and that mouse will soon run away.”
The premier was referring to Mandelblit’s decision to drop the bribery charges recommended by police in two of the three cases against him and to suffice instead with the lesser charge of fraud and breach of trust. Netanyahu is facing bribery charges in what is known as Case 4000.
“The media is trying to hide all sorts of things about Gantz,” Netanyahu charged. “They hide the fact that a year after Operation Protective Edge [in Gaza in 2014], Gantz participated in a memorial ceremony for the thousand Hamas terrorists killed in the operation.”
He was referring to a coexistence concert held near the Gaza Strip in 2015, which was dedicated to Israeli and Palestinian victims of the war. The IDF and Foreign Ministry have said that out of the roughly 2,100 Palestinians killed, 936 were members of terror groups, 761 were civilians and 428 others weren’t identified conclusively as either. Palestinian and UN figures say the dead only included between 250 and 500 jihadists.
Netanyahu also charged that Gantz said he risked soldiers’ lives to avoid hurting Palestinians during the 2014 war, further proving he’s a “leftist.”
Gantz was referring to Palestinian civilians when he said in 2015 that he had put troops from the IDF’s Golani Brigade in danger when he waited for confirmation that a Gazan hospital was empty before approving a strike on the site, from which missiles had been fired at Israeli cities.
“And today we hear that Lapid and Gantz say they won’t sit with us but will sit with [Arab MK Ahmad] Tibi,” Netanyahu charged in another dubious claim, saying that Blue and White member Michael Biton had announced Sunday morning that his party would invite the Hadash-Ta’al lawmaker to its government.
He was taking out of context a sarcastic remark by Biton during an interview with Radio Galey Israel that “if Tibi will agree to the framework of a Zionist Jewish and democratic government — he’ll be welcomed.” Biton was jokingly referring to the fact that Tibi, an outspoken anti-Zionist, would be highly unlikely to be willing to join such a government.
Mandelblit announced Thursday that Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.
The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.
Likud is planning to hold a major event on Monday at Kfar Maccabiah, unveiling a new phase of the party’s election campaign that will draw heavily from the attacks on Gantz featured thus far in Likud ads, but will focus on Blue and White’s newfound lead in surveys.
Likud sources told Channel 13 that the recent poll results will help the party in pushing its negative campaign against Blue and White and trying to boost its standing.
Also on Monday, Blue and White intends to unveil its policy platform. The party leaders — including Ashkenazi — intend to increase their media presence and interviews, as well as touring the country for campaign events.