With one week left to the election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shifted his strategy to emphasize increasing voter turnout in speeches, public appearances and strategically leaked comments on Tuesday.
“The Right is complacent,” Netanyahu warned in a speech to supporters in Bat Yam. “When we look [at polls] on how many people plan to vote, we see a significant gap between Left and Right. People say ‘why bother, Bibi will win.’”
Playing on this week’s reports claiming that fake social media accounts are behind much of the Likud’s online support, along with comments he made about Israeli Arabs in the 2015 election, Netanyahu added: “The bots need to come to the voting booths en masse.”
“Machal, machal, machal,” he added, using another name for Likud and quoting a speech by former prime minister Menachem Begin in which he called for “a flood of Machal voting slips.”
When Netanyahu took questions from the crowd, a woman said “We think you will be elected,” and the prime minister interrupted her: “Don’t think I’m going to be elected. Make sure I’m elected.”
The comments dovetailed with remarks Netanyahu made in a closed Likud campaign meeting, leaked to Channel 12 news: “We’re leading in the polls at the moment, but they have a big gap of a few percent that will come out and vote. If it continues and the Likudniks don’t go out to vote, we will lose the election.”
Netanyahu added that President Reuven Rivlin “is just looking for an excuse” to choose a different candidate for prime minister.
“If he has a gap of two, three, four, five Knesset seats, he’ll consider that an excuse and give it to [Blue and White leader Benny] Gantz,” Netanyahu said. “That’s what will happen here! So get up! Wake up!”
Rivlin’s office called Netanyahu’s statement “another attempt to cast doubt on the president’s judgment in using his constitutional authority. We will once again clarify that the president will make his decision according to the language and spirit of the law, as all Israeli presidents have done in the past.”
“This is another shameful attempt to harm the public’s trust in the president’s official decision after the election,” Rivlin’s office added. “The president will not be tempted by flattery and will not fear such attacks, which have been irresponsibly repeated and are motivated by cynical political considerations.”
Labor leader Avi Gabbay said Netanyahu should be "ashamed" of "continuing to attack President Rivlin." His party released an image of Rivlin with the message: "Honorable President, we are with you."
Earlier Tuesday, Netanyahu, his wife Sara and Immigration Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant visited the Hatikvah Market in south Tel Aviv. Likud sent out videos of throngs of people cheering for the prime minister and telling his wife they love her.
However, a video of a woman throwing a tomato in Netanyahu’s direction quickly made its way onto social media.
Gantz condemned the tomato-throwing and said “Israel needs unity, not violence.”
Likud’s spokesman, however, accused Gantz’s party of releasing the video, saying there was “99.9% support for Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Hatikvah market, which bothered Gantz very much, so he released a video of the 0.01% and then rushed to condemn it. What hypocrisy.”
New Right leader Ayelet Shaked visited south Tel Aviv earlier that day, where anti-migrant activist Sheffi Paz announced her support. Shaked announced a plan to combat migration, including zero illegal immigrants absorbed and passing the “override clause” to allow the Knesset to re-pass legislation knocked out by the Supreme Court, such as the policy to put migrants into holding facilities without a trial.
Netanyahu also gave a speech on his economic vision for the country, touting his work to slim down the public sector and lower taxes and using a slide-show of graphs to elucidate his points.
“Have you heard that economic gaps went up?” he asked. “They did at first, because we had to force people to join the workforce. Before that, they could live on welfare… We lowered child allowances, which didn’t add to my popularity… But now, economic gaps are lower than they have been in 19 years.”
Netanyahu praised Israel’s tech sector, saying that the largest companies in the world have research and development centers in Israel and 20% of all cybersecurity investments in the world were made in Israel in 2017.
The next step Israel needs to take for its economy is to cut regulation for small businesses, Netanyahu said.
Also Tuesday, Channel 12 reported on a handwritten note Sara Netanyahu wrote six years ago, calling for greater opposition research into New Right leader Naftali Bennett, including whether there were financial irregularities in how he managed the Yesha Council, which represents the Jewish communities in the West Bank and his campaign to win the leadership of his former party, Bayit Yehudi.
The note also provided further evidence that Netanyahu and his wife sought to find details about Bennett’s wife Gilat Bennett, with Sara Netanyahu saying that Bennett led a religious party but his wife used to wear “spaghetti straps and tight jeans” and was a chef at a non-kosher restaurant.
When news of attempts to report on his wife’s secular past came up in recent months, Bennett said he’s not ashamed that she comes from a secular family, and that the Netanyahus owe his wife an apology.
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