Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Saturday evening held an “emergency gathering” in which he accused his rivals in the Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties of attempting to “steal the elections through deceit and anti-democratic legislation.”
Resisting calls to resign after failing to secure a majority for his right-wing bloc in a third straight election on Monday, a defiant Netanyahu said: “I’m not going anywhere.”
Flanked by supporters, Netanyahu said he had forgone holding a mass rally and was instead broadcasting to some 16 smaller events throughout the country due to Health Ministry warnings against large gatherings amid the coronavirus scare.
Netanyahu asserted that his Likud party had won “an amazing victory” in securing 36 seats in the national vote, saying the party had won more votes than it ever had in the past.
He said it could have won an even greater share of the vote had the far-right Otzma Yehudit agreed to drop out of the race (the party failed to clear the electoral threshold).
Netanyahu said Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir had offered to drop out shortly before the election. “That could have changed the whole picture,” Netanyahu said. But Ben Gvir had demanded, as his price, that Jewish prayer be permitted on the Temple Mount. This would have caused a storm in the Muslim world, and so Netanyahu rejected the demand.
“There is a limit, there are things I will not do to win an election,” he said. “Our rivals apparently don’t have any limits. Before the election [Blue and White leader] Benny Gantz said if a party had one seat more [than the other] it would form a government. We got three [more].”
Yisrael Beytenu said in response to the speech that Netanyahu was “hysterical, begging for his [political] life…Netanyahu too realizes his time has come.”
Gantz soon after gave a statement to the press as well, declaring “the Netanyahu era is over.” He said he would do “everything possible” to avert a fourth rapid-fire election.
The premier and his partners received 58 seats together in Israel’s latest elections on Monday, three short of a majority.
Though the other 62 lawmakers in the Knesset are deeply divided on key issues, they all oppose Netanyahu and could unite to unseat him. Fifteen of those seats belong to the predominantly Arab Joint List, the support of which both Likud and Blue and White have said is unwelcome as it is not a Zionist faction.
Netanyahu’s rivals have said they may seek to legislate to bar a person under indictment from serving as prime minister. Netanyahu’s trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust in three criminal cases is set to open on March 17.
The prime minister said this planned legislation marked an effort “to cancel the will of the voters by stealing the elections.”
He noted that Gantz, prior to election day, had vowed not to rely on the Joint List “in any circumstances,” but was now evidently ready to break that vow. The Joint List, he claimed, “rules out Israel as a Jewish state… and they back a full ‘right of return'” for millions of Palestinians to Israel. “It’s not [that I’m] anti-Arab,” Netanyahu said. Rather, the Joint List “have a platform that opposes the existence of Israel.”
Addressing former aides Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, who are now Blue and White MKs, he asked, “Will you throw all your principles into the garbage?”
Blue and White, he charged, want to “throw 2.5 million votes into the garbage,” of those who voted for right-wing and Orthodox parties, “in the purported name of democracy,” and was seeking to do so with an anti-democratic, “retroactive law against me.”
“Even Iran doesn’t do this,” he said. “In Iran they ban candidates before the elections, not after.”
He vowed to “muster all the moral force and public force to ensure this doesn’t happen” and said the public would “settle accounts” with anyone who backs the anti-democratic effort to oust him.
Gantz on Friday accused Netanyahu of inciting violence in the wake of this week’s elections.
“The incitement to violence crosses every line. If we don’t wake up, the next political murder is around the corner,” Gantz wrote on Facebook.
He linked the alleged incitement to Netanyahu’s upcoming trial and himself charged that the prime minister was disregarding the results of the elections.
“Netanyahu and his people are intentionally fueling violent and extreme discourse,” Gantz said. “Netanyahu is ignoring the election results and is prepared to burn everything on his way to avoiding trial.”
Gantz’s Facebook post came after photoshopped pictures were posted on social media of Blue and White and Joint List leaders wearing Palestinian keffiyeh’s in the manner of Yasser Arafat.
The premier’s Likud party said Friday it would petition the High Court to review the final tallies from Monday’s voting, claiming “errors in the recording and writing up of results,” without giving evidence.
Gantz also said that he would work to form a government and replace Netanyahu. “There are many options on the table” to do so, he said, which he would soon unveil.
He also appeared to take a shot at Netanyahu for his attacks on the Joint List.
“We’ll respect all citizens of Israel, whether they chose me or not. Just as I expect the nations of the world to respect the Jewish citizens in their lands, we would never dare say that the votes of 20 percent [of the population] from Israel’s Arab citizens are worth less,” Gantz said.
He was referring to a Wednesday meeting in which Netanyahu divided the parties in the Knesset into right-wing and left-wing blocs, while saying the Joint List “is not part of the equation,” accusing its lawmakers of being “terror supporters.”