Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party has launched a new campaign push ahead of Israel's April 9 election, aiming to brand main rival Benny Gantz as mentally unstable and therefore unfit to serve in office.
Party officials decided on the move on Sunday, after a leaked recording of Gantz, arguing Netanyahu would like him dead, was aired on Channel 13 News. Likud now seeks to paint Gantz as "insane, a cuckoo, mentally unstable," according to a party source.
Its campaign is expected to focus over the upcoming week on the message that Gantz isn't ready to lead the country, in a bid to dissuade voters from supporting Kahol Lavan, just two weeks ahead of the vote.
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In recent days, the premier's party has been looking to sidetrack public discourse, which had focused on the so-called submarine affair, a corruption scandal involving some of Netanyahu's closest confidants. Even though Netanyahu himself is not embroiled in the legal case over suspected bribes in Israel’s purchase of submarines and naval boats from Germany, the issue is perceived by Likud as extremely harmful to his re-election bid.
An attempt to slam Gantz over reports that Iran hacked his cellphone, claiming he is now prone to blackmail, didn't resonate with the Israeli public as well as Likud had hoped, leading campaign officials to seek other paths to improve its standing in public opinion polls.
Channel 13 aired on the Sunday evening news a recording of Gantz saying: "If he [Netanyahu] had a way to get me hurt, to get me killed, he would've done it." Likud decided to play on that report for its new campaign drive, put together with excerpts from Gantz's Monday interview on Channel 12 News, where he kept repeating the interviewer's name.
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A video distributed among Likud activists on Monday shows Gantz's head emerging out of a cuckoo clock. Excerpts from some of his recent televised interviews were also shared, not before being edited to focus on Gantz's face, along with the sarcastic caption "totally stable."
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Later that day, a senior campaign official tweeted: "Gantz doesn't look sane. No less than a danger to the country. Bless him."
A post on Likud's official Facebook page also on Monday read: "Benny Gantz has lost it. His performance speaks for itself. He is terrified and weak. Such a person wouldn't take the pressure that a prime minister has to deal with, not even for a minute." Another similarly phrased tweet on the party's official account called Gantz "paranoid."