Olmert, Netanyahu rivalry gets personal

Kadima, Likud heads take swings at family, personal dedication to Israel.

olmert 298 88 aj (photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
olmert 298 88 aj
(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Likud chairman Binyamin Netanyahu have been attacking each other for years, but the rivalry became even more intense and personal on the final weekend before Tuesday's election. In interviews Olmert gave to Hebrew Web news sites over the weekend, he was asked about a Likud advertisement that ran on Russian radio stations attacking his family. Olmert used the question to slam Netanyahu for his early years living in Philadelphia and Boston, where he obtained American citizenship and was called Benjamin. "What do they expect to gain by saying that my two sons emigrated from Israel?" Olmert told YNET. "Should I begin to make comparisons as to who left the country? Who lived many years abroad? Who obtained foreign citizenship? Who changed his Hebrew name into a foreign one?" he asked. The Likud ad that angered Olmert referred to his son Shaul, who lives in New York and reportedly signed a petition belonging to the pacifist organization Yesh Gvul, and his other son, Ariel, who lives in Paris and did not serve in the IDF. Likud officials have also openly attacked Olmert's wife Aliza for her left-leaning views and his daughter Dana, who is active in the Machsom Watch organization that monitors soldiers' treatment of Palestinians at IDF checkpoints in the West Bank. "Olmert's sons and one of his daughters refused to serve in the IDF, and his sons live overseas and do not see their future in Israel," the ad said. "If Olmert's children who live abroad knew of his withdrawal plan, they would not return to Israel at all." When asked why Olmert responded to the ad instead of dismissing it as unworthy of comment, Kadima strategist Lior Chorev said that Olmert did not mention Netanyahu by name. A Netanyahu spokeswoman said Olmert's attack on Netanyahu was "pathetic." In a Kadima rally at a Herzliya hotel on Saturday night, Olmert's No. 2, Shimon Peres, also bashed Netanyahu, accusing him of employing scare tactics in the Likud campaign. "All of the cowards who try to scare us every day have no right to speak," Peres said. "We weren't afraid for five decades and we won't be afraid of idle threats now." Likudniks did not hold their punches against Olmert over the weekend either. Likud Central Committee member Moshe Feiglin called Olmert "a bribe chaser, swindler and crook." "A country where such a man can become prime minister may have no right to exist," Feiglin said. "I blame Netanyahu for not presenting a real ideological alternative to Kadima." Kadima and Likud will spend the last two days before the election doing everything possible to persuade their supporters to come out to vote. The Likud sent thousands of text messages to Likud activists' cellular phones and e-mails to 300,000 current and former Likud members. An automated service called thousands of voters with a message from Netanyahu to vote for the Likud. Olmert will give his final interview before the election to Israel Radio on Sunday. Also Sunday, Kadima candidate Avi Dichter, who heads the party's election day operations, will hold a press conference at the party's Petah Tikva headquarters to outline Kadima's preparations for Tuesday.