Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 14 October 2019

Netanyahu demands supporters vote to 'guard country' from Arab parties

Israeli prime minister's controversial rhetoric has once again been on show ahead of the country's repeat vote

An Israeli election billboard showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a caption in Russian that reads "Only Likud, only Netanyahu", in Jerusalem on September 14, 2019. AFP
An Israeli election billboard showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a caption in Russian that reads "Only Likud, only Netanyahu", in Jerusalem on September 14, 2019. AFP

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on right-wing voters to head to the polls for Israel’s repeat election on Tuesday to “guard the country” from Arab parties and a “left-wing” leader.

The call is another attempt by the longtime prime minister to use anti-Arab rhetoric to seal electoral victory.

Mr Netanyahu is fighting to secure victory in the second election this year after he failed to form a coalition after April’s vote.

He continues to be embroiled in a series of corruption allegations.

“Likud voters must wake up and guard the country! Do not go back to the left!” he wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

It is not the first time the Israeli prime minister has turned to anti-Arab rhetoric on the campaign trail.

In 2015, his campaign team sent a message to supporters warning them that Arabs were turning out to the polls “in droves”. He went on to win that election.

Mr Netanyahu's Likud party has issued unfounded warnings that the election could be stolen through voter fraud in Arab areas, and he sought last-minute legislation to allow party officials to bring cameras to polling stations.

The legislation, which ultimately failed, was widely seen as a bid to depress Arab turnout by intimidating members of the minority into staying away.

That was followed by a message on his Facebook page calling on voters to prevent the establishment of a government that includes "Arabs who want to destroy us all."

Facebook determined the post violated its hate speech policy and sanctioned the page for 24 hours. Mr Netanyahu said the post was a staffer's mistake and had been removed.

Ayman Odeh, leader of the main Arab faction in parliament, accused Mr Netanyahu of fearmongering.

During a parliamentary session on voting booth cameras, Mr Odeh mocked Mr Netanyahu by approaching the prime minister and pointing his cellphone camera at him, sparking a brief scuffle with other politicians.

Beyond these anti-Arab tactics, Mr Netanyahu has once again sought to portray himself as Israel's essential leader.

He has highlighted his relationships with US President Donald Trump, who has shifted US policy overwhelmingly in favour of Israel, and Russian President Vladimir Putin, whom he visited on Thursday.

Mr Netanyahu's campaign has included giant posters of himself with each leader.

He has tried to paint challenger Benny Gantz as “left wing” to worry right-wing voters.

Mr Gantz is, however, viewed internationally as “Netanyahu-lite”, having led the Israeli military during its offensive on the Gaza Strip in 2014 that left more than 2,000 Palestinians dead.

He bragged on the campaign trail earlier this year that Israel had bombed the enclave back “to the Stone Age”.

In another pre-election tactic to seal right-wing votes, Mr Netanyahu pledged to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if he wins the vote and forms a coalition.

The move sparked condemnation from much of the international community, which views the occupation as illegal under international law.

Critics say it could inflame the Middle East and eliminate any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a state.

On Sunday, he convened his final cabinet meeting before the vote at the Jordan Valley regional council rather than in Jerusalem, a move that pointed to his election promise.

But all of his efforts could be in vain. Israel’s attorney general has recommended that Mr Netanyahu be indicted in three corruption cases, culminating in a hearing scheduled for October.

Winning this election could be crucial to him surviving the scandals.

It is widely believed that he hopes to be able to form a narrow coalition of hard-line and religious parties willing to grant him immunity from prosecution.

If he falls short, he could find himself in the opposition or forced into a partnership with centrist rivals who have no interest in protecting him from prosecutors.

He could also be brought down by a longtime ally turned rival.

This week's election was triggered by Avigdor Lieberman, who refused to join Mr Netanyahu's coalition in April, robbing him of a majority, because of what he said was excessive influence by Jewish ultra-Orthodox religious parties.

Mr Lieberman is once again playing hard to get. His Yisrael Beitenu party has emerged as a likely kingmaker, and he is demanding the formation of a secular unity government.

Mr Lieberman also has repeatedly seized on the prime minister's failure to stop rockets launched by Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip.

Updated: September 15, 2019 05:55 PM

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