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Elections 2015

Trailing with days to go, Likud frets over possible defeat

Netanyahu voices concern over potential Zionist Union government; Meretz appeals for support after dropping in polls; tens of thousands at ultra-Orthodox rally

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Border Police headquarters in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2015. (photo credit: Emil Salman / pool)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Border Police headquarters in Jerusalem, on March 11, 2015. (photo credit: Emil Salman / pool)

With Likud polling at least three seats behind the Zionist Union, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced concern Wednesday at the possibility of a left-wing government forming after next week’s elections.

Speaking at a Likud party rally in the coastal city of Netanya, the prime minister said that if the gap between the ruling party and its center-left rival isn’t closed in the six days remaining before the country goes to the ballot box, “there’s a real chance that [Zionist Union leaders] Tzipi Livni and [Isaac] Bouji Herzog will be the next prime ministers of the state of Israel, with the support of the Joint [Arab] List.”

Netanyahu’s remarks at the Park Hotel, the site of a deadly suicide bombing which killed 30 and left 140 injured in 2002, came a day after three separate polls gave his Likud party 21 seats. The rival Zionist Union was seen winning up to 25 seats.

Netanyahu told potential voters for Israel’s right-wing parties that they “didn’t have the privilege” to vote for any party but Likud, contending that undecided voters who may cast ballots for Jewish Home, Yisrael Beytenu or Kulanu increase the odds of a left-wing government.

Netanyahu also told the right-wing Makor Rishon newspaper Wednesday that “there’s a chance of a political revolution” in next week’s elections, and placed the blame for his party’s decline in the polls on an “effort organized by a massive cash injection and by a savage and unprecedented campaign by various media sources.”

Netanyahu, who initiated the elections two years early by firing Livni as justice minister and Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) as finance minister three months ago, had told supporters Monday that there was “a tremendous effort, worldwide, to topple the Likud government.”

Commanders for Israel’s Security members at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 11, 2015.  (Photo credit: Mitch Ginsburg/times of Israel)
Commanders for Israel’s Security members at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 11, 2015. (Photo credit: Mitch Ginsburg/times of Israel)

His comments Wednesday came as a cadre of ex-security officials pilloried Netanyahu for a second time in as many weeks, accusing the prime minister of ruining ties with the US, mishandling the summer’s war against Hamas, and bungling the country’s approach to the international negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program.

According to a survey by Army Radio on Wednesday, Herzog’s list was seen taking 24 seats to Likud’s 21, indicating an erosion in support for Netanyahu’s faction.

The poll found that the center-left and potential allies would take 54 mandates compared with 58 for the rightwing and religious parties within the 120-seat Knesset, or parliament.

The center-right Kulanu faction, which has not said whether it would back Netanyahu or Herzog and could play the role of kingmaker, is seen taking eight seats.

A similar poll by Channel 2 television released late on Tuesday gave the Zionist Union 25 seats to 21 for Likud, with the center-left and allies taking 55 seats to 57 for the right. It too forecast eight seats for Kulanu.

Potential allies for the Zionist Union include the Arab Joint List, the centrist Yesh Atid and the leftwing Meretz.

A poster showing Isaac Herzog, photoshopped to make him look more rugged, in Jerusalem on March 11, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
A poster showing Isaac Herzog, photoshopped to make him look more rugged, in Jerusalem on March 11, 2015. (Photo credit: Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

While some analysts doubt Zionist Union will have enough support from other parties to form a coalition, the party on Wednesday appealed for help from the Joint List, made up of parties that have never joined a governing coalition.

Herzog told Maariv in an interview published Wednesday that he didn’t negate the possibility of nominating Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi to the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

The remark provoked outrage by right-wing politicians, with Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked commenting on Twitter that perhaps Herzog would also put controversy-prone Arab MK Hanin Zoabi on the council.

Speaking to Army Radio, Herzog insisted he was the only leader “able to replace Netanyahu” although he dodged a question about whether he would agree to form a unity government with Netanyahu.

“Wherever I go, they tell me not to go with Bibi (Netanyahu), with the ultra-Orthodox or with the Arab parties,” he said. “But we have to keep in mind Israel’s political map.”

Likud party leaders have echoed the prime minister’s concern of a Likud defeat in the final stretch before the elections. An unnamed party official told Haaretz on Wednesday that “something isn’t going the way it should” in the right-wing party’s campaign.

“Netanyahu’s speech to Congress last week should have created a turning point for us and strengthened Likud in the polls. It’s clear that we didn’t achieve the desired outcome,” the senior party member was quoted saying.

“We came to these elections thinking Netanyahu had no real rival. Now we understand that the picture is much more complex,” a second Likud source told the paper.

Following the publication of the Channel 2 poll Tuesday which placed Netanyahu’s party four seats behind the Zionist Union, Miri Regev, No. 5 on the Likud list, appealed on Facebook to party supporters to get out and vote.

“The survey published this evening on Channel 2 which gave Likud 21 seats against 25 for the anti-Zionist Union requires that Likud members wake up if they don’t want to find themselves in the opposition with a radical left-wing government,” the hard right-wing MK said.

The Meretz party also launched a new campaign appealing to potential voters to drum up support after it dropped in recent polls to a mere five seats.

“We mustn’t lose Meretz,” the slogan reads, playing off the party’s name meaning vigor, “it depends only on you.” Party leader Zahava Gal-on said that those who oppose Netanyahu must vote Meretz, arguing that a vote for Livni’s Zionist Union wouldn’t guarantee regime change.

In the ultra-Orthodox Tel Aviv suburb of Bnei Brak on Wednesday, tens of thousands of people turned out for a rally in support of the United Torah Judaism party.

Rabbi Aharon Leib Schienman told supporters it was “their holy duty” to vote for the party.

Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis attend a United Torah Judaism party rally in the city of Bnei Brak on March 11 ahead of next week's elections. (photo credit: Flash90)
Tens of thousands of ultra-Orthodox Israelis attend a United Torah Judaism party rally in the city of Bnei Brak on March 11 ahead of next week’s elections. (photo credit: Flash90)

AFP contributed to this report

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