Election Countdown

48 Hours to Go: Netanyahu Cries 'Election Theft', Far-right Homophobic Party Quits

Joint Arab slate fears provocation at polling stations on Election Day ■ Likud Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reportedly intends to retire from politics after September 17

Kahol Lavan leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid during a press conference in Jerusalem, September 9, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

Two days ahead of Israel's general election on Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu intends to continue giving interviews to every possible news outlet while reiterating his message: We are losing. Despite a slight improvement in the polls for the right-wing bloc, Likud officials still believe Netanyahu won't be able to achieve a 61-seat majority. (For the latest election polls - click here)

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Despite Likud's active presence on social media and news outlets, there is a lack of motivation within the party's inner circles to go out and vote. Likud intends to continue the "We are losing" campaign while accusing other parties of "stealing the election." They also plan on contacting tens of thousands of potential voters in areas where turnout is expected to be low.

>> Read more: Three days to election, master wizard Netanyahu ramps up efforts to mesmerize Israeli voters | Analysis ■ For the Bibi-boomer generation, it's hard to imagine life without Netanyahu ■ The nasty, racist campaign that will go down in Israel's history | Analysis

Furthermore, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who is running for Knesset on behalf of Likud, reportedly told his close associates that he intends to retire from politics after the election. Kahlon denied the report, calling it "recycled news," adding that he is working hard to make Likud succeed in Tuesday's election.

Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party, Netanyahu's main rival, is dialing down its "Gewald" [all is lost] campaign to attract votes from the Labor Party and Democratic Union, fearing that they won't pass the electoral threshold. 

Last week, a senior Kahol Lavan official stressed that they see no value in trying to create a left-wing bloc because the party aspires to form a coalition with Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu after the election. On Saturday however, in light of low polling rates for the left-wing parties, Kahol Lavan's leadership decided to tone down their propaganda against those parties.

"We are focusing on increasing voting rates in areas where Kahol Lavan has significant support. If somebody votes for Labor instead of us, it's wouldn't really be a vote we lost," said a party official.

Kahol Lavan isn't the only threat to Labor, led by Amir Peretz. The Democratic Union as well as Likud have been wooing Kahol Lavan voters.

"We are focusing on increasing voting rates in areas where Kahol Lavan has significant support. If somebody votes for Labor instead of us, it doesn't really mean we lost their vote," a Kahol Lavan official said.

In an interview with Haaretz on Thursday, Peretz said that “If Labor finds itself outside the Knesset, Benjamin Netanyahu will receive 62" out the 120-seat Knesset, strengthening the prime minister's chance of forming a coalition that would agree to protect him from the arm of the law.

According to Peretz, squandered left-wing votes would boost turnout among right-wing voters and strengthen Netanyahu's chances of forming an immunity coalition [from the prime minister's corruption trials].

In a last-ditch effort, Labor is planning a mass gathering at Tel Aviv's Hayarkon Park and in Tira to mark the end of the election campaign. In addition, Labor will contact tens of thousands of potential voters to convince them to support the party on Election Day.

Meanwhile, the Democratic Union is also crying that all is lost, disseminating a video warning of the ramifications if it doesn't pass the electoral threshold, including racist Kahanist Otzma Yehudit entering the Knesset, Netanyahu receiving immunity from prosecution and harming the struggle for peace.

"Our campaign in the next three days will emphasize that only a broad center-left bloc can stop Netanyahu and Likud, and that the largest party strategy is an illusion," a Democratic Union official said.   

Meanwhile, Yisrael Beiteinu plans to stick to its general anti-ultra-Orthodox campaign while pushing to form a secular unity government. Party activists will focus their resources on the secular and traditional public, campaigning that "Only Lieberman can prevent a state governed by Jewish law".

Yisrael Beiteinu too is worried about low voter turnout and hopes to motivate potential voters, mainly in central Israel. They also hope to recruit volunteers to serve as observers in polling stations in ultra-Orthodox communities. Moreover, the party argues that for Kahol Lavan, "a secular unity government is only a campaign slogan, while for us, it's a vow."

Ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism is fielding its most powerful weapon, the rabbis, to strengthen its base of support. On Sunday the party will hold in Jerusalem its main election event, with the attendance of the UTJ and Agudat Yisrael's Council of Torah Sages.

Shas is also concerned that their voters are feeling too cocksure, and won't bother to cast their ballot on Tuesday. The long-standing rift between former and present party leaders led envoys on behalf of Shalom Cohen, Shas' present spiritual leader, to try to visit the home of Meir Mazuz, the spiritual leader of Yachad – the rival party formed by former Shas leader Eli Yishai, who isn't running this time. (Yachad quit the April race, choosing to support UTJ, not Shas.) However, the envoys neglected to make an appointment and when they reached Mazuz's house, they were told the rabbi was resting and could not be disturbed. Mazuz eventually rejected the plea from Shas to urge Yachad supporters to support Shas.

The Arab Joint List parties expressed optimism over the weekend at what they call awakening in the Arab street, and say they feel apathy is ebbing, partly because of Netanyahu's anti-Arab incitement. The Arab parties are bracing for provocations at polling stations by right-wing activists.

Yamina, the hard-right alliance headed by Ayelet Shaked, is worried that Likud will manage to attract its voters. The latest polls projected Yamina would gain nine Knesset seats, but sources within the party suspect Netanyahu could easily grab some three seats. In the last days remaining until the election, the party will invest efforts in driving home a message that if it doesn't gain enough electoral force, Netanyahu will opt for a more moderate coalition than he could have had with Yamina. The party also hopes to win over potential Otzma Yehudit voters. Netanyahu's recent decision to stress that Otzma Yehudit won't pass the electoral threshold could only benefit Yamina.

Otzma Yehudit, on its part, will invest efforts in rebutting Netanyahu's remarks. Its talking points are similar to Yamina's, claiming that Netanyahu's campaign against them is an indication that he wants a unity government. The party also says that without it, a majority right-wing coalition with the ultra-Orthodox cannot arise.

The anti-LGBTQ Noam party announced on Sunday it's quitting the election race. The party added that the decision to drop out of the race is not backed by any agreement with other parties nor a declaration for other candidates.