Israel election pits Netanyahu against Gantz – The – The Washington Post, The Washington Post

Israel election pits Netanyahu against Gantz – The – The Washington Post, The Washington Post

JERUSALEM – Exhausted Israelis returned to the ballot box yet again Monday, hoping against the evidence of mostly frozen polls that their third election since April will finally break the country unprecedented political gridlock .

The final, furious days of the campaign — marked by a string of leaked insider recordings and ugly personal attacks – showed signs of momentum for the Likud party of embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu , who is fighting to keep his job after being indicted on corruption charges.

But the latest surveys suggested that Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc of parties was still short of gaining the 90 Parliament seats needed to form a government, which would herald another period of the party haggling that failed to produce a majority coalition in the two previous rounds. Israel bans polling over the final weekend before the vote, leaving the last-minute state of play uncertain.

“I’m totally following it, and I’m totally frustrated,” Jon Pollin, a Jerusalem-based tech executive who had voted twice before for the liberal Meretz party but may switch this time to the Blue and White party of opposition leader Benny Gantz. “And I’m going to be even more frustrated when we’re right back here for a fourth election.”

In Modi’in, a city of almost , 11 halfway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, voters at Dorot Elementary School expressed a mix of fatigue, exasperation and growing uncertainty over the state of political political system and how it is working for them.

“It’s getting surreal,” said Galia Meir, 63, who declined to say which party’s ballot she had just drop into the box. “This time, people are more confused and unsure about how to vote. Every time, clarity is going down and down. The longer this goes on, the more the slogans just make us lose trust in our leaders. ”

Meir, an attorney at the Ministry of Finance, has fretted to see the wheels of government grind to a near halt in the year of political limbo. “I’ve seen projects that were approved but are stalled without money from the budget,” she said.

Razi Elbaz, a coder and part-time musician in black Vans t- shirt who would only say that he had not voted for Likud, also feared what the intractable division was starting to do to the country. The lack of government stability was one risk, he said, and deepening civic anger was another.

“I know people who vote for different parties than their family and it causes real tension for them, ”he said, before heading off to join the throngs of massive crowding local parks and malls and cafes for the rest of the day off.

But Modi’in bus driver Yehuda Pinkosov, 63, had just voted without fear or confusion, casting his third ballot in a row for the religious Shas party that is part of Netanyahu’s coalition.

“I killed two birds with one stone, voting for Shas and voting for Netanyahu to stay,” Pinkosov said with pride as as his wife and daughter nodded in agreement. None expressed any doubt about Netanyahu’s integrity or commitment to Israel. “He does amazing things and everybody around the world knows this. The left is just looking for ways to hurt him and remove him. ”

The country fractious political system has been locked in an essential tie since the first election last April, when parties led by Netanyahu, Israeli longest-serving premier, and Gantz, a former army chief of staff, both failed to secure a majority of seats in the Knesset, Israeli parliament. A repeat vote in September produced the same stalemate following weeks of futile party negotiations.

Not much has changed in the run-up to the third. Gantz still vows never to form a unity government with Likud as long as it is led by Netanyahu, whose trial on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges is scheduled to begin two weeks after the election.

If neither party prevails again, attention will return to Avigdor Liberman, the hawkish former defense minister whose resignation from the government a year ago helped spark the political uncertainty. Liberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, has refused to side with either Likud or Blue and White in previous negotiations, but he has also pledged to prevent the need for a fourth election.

Analysts will also be looking at the performance of Arab Israeli parties, who are running together again under the Joint List banner. The group won 14 seats in the September election, third most in the Knesset, and a surge of Arab voters helped deny Netanyahu a path to victory. Joint List members say their voters are even more motivated this round by the release of President Trump’s peace plan, which outraged Palestinian with its tilt toward Israel.

The final stretch of the latest campaign has largely devolved into a mudbath. Political commentators noted Sunday that tactics had reached a new and dirty low even by Israeli rough-and-tumble standards, after voice recordings of political advisers – one working with Netanyahu and one working with Gantz – were leaked to the press over the weekend.

In one recording, Netanyahu’s senior aide, Natan Eshel, is heard stating that Likud’s strategy was to unite the party’s supporters using hate, a tactic that he said worked particularly well with “non- Ashkenazi Jews, ”or Sephardi Jews of non-European descent. He went on to describe Culture Minister Miri Regev, a Jew of Moroccan heritage and staunch Netanyahu ally, as an “animal” who helped whip the Likud supporters into the desired frenzy.

Tweeting After the recording was aired Saturday, Netanyahu wrote: “I called and made it clear to Natan Eshel that his words were unworthy and unacceptable to me. He apologized for his remarks immediately. The Likud is the home of all parts of Israeli society and will always remain so. ”

A day earlier, it was revealed that Netanyahu had met with a Tel Aviv rabbi last week who secretly recorded and then leaked to the media a private conversation with Israel Bachar, Gantz’s chief campaign strategist. In the recording, Bachar can be heard saying that Gantz was a danger to Israel and that he did not believe Gantz would have the courage to attack Iran. Gantz subsequently fired Bachar.

The innuendo-slinging included accusations that Iran possessed a secret sex tape of Gantz. And the prime minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, appeared to single out a young Blue and White supporter, suggesting on social media that the woman, who had posted a selfie with Gantz on her Facebook page, was involved romantically with the retired general.

The younger Netanyahu shared an image of the woman’s social media account, asking, “Who is this woman?” and drawing hundreds of derogatory comments. The woman, Dana Cassidy, said Sunday that she intended to sue Yair Netanyahu.

“The current election campaigns inundated the voters with an ocean of filth,” wrote Nahum Barnea in the daily Yedioth Ahronoth. “The secret recordings were particularly disgusting: they turned the last few days of the campaigns into a festival of tribute for people who betrayed others’ trust, for crooks, informers and liars, with the enthusiastic cooperation of Israel’s best journalists. It’s been a long time since ethical offenses have merited such glory. This is voyeurism. ”

Addressing supporters at a final campaign rally on Saturday night, Gantz said his camp still carries hope that it could unite a bitterly divided nation.

“In the face of the madness, in the face of the lies and the toxicity, in the face of the hatred, we carry hope,” he said. “Hope for an inclusive, unified society, free of racism. . . . We want to offer hope for a country where every child has the opportunity to succeed, regardless of where they were born. ”

In media interviews over the weekend, Gantz sounded combative and optimistic that he could defeat Netanyahu this time around. But unless there is a drastic change in public voting patterns Monday, it is unclear how he intends to cobble together a coalition.

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