Israel′s parliamentary elections

To be or not to be – the Netanyahu question

Rarely has there been a more exciting run-up to an election in Israel – yet rarely one so polarising either. After ten years in office, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's re-election now hangs in the balance. His challenger, former Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz, is matching him in the polls. Inge Gunther reports from Jerusalem

On 9 April it will be decided whether Israeli society will continue to drift to the right under Benjamin Netanyahu or return to a more moderate course with political novice Benny Gantz.

In the past, Netanyahu's supporters have followed him as fanatically as others follow their football team. This time, though, even die-hard supporters of his conservative right-wing Likud party are thinking twice about whether to give him the vote again. Though his reputation is far from clean when it comes to corruption, this was widely tolerated when the only charges he was facing were related to receiving expensive gifts. When Netanyahu announced an early election, he was banking on once again winning the support of a broad majority that would stymie any indictment by the attorney general.

However, during the course of the election campaign new allegations have come to light that affect Israel's security policy. Netanyahu was forced to admit to giving the German Chancellery the green light for the sale of high-tech submarines to Egypt without notifying the military or intelligence services. This unauthorised procedure aroused the indignation of the Israeli security apparatus. And then there's the dubious stock deal in which Netanyahu evidently made four million U.S. dollars in 2010 through shares of a partner company of ThyssenKrupp – supplier of Dolphin class submarines to Israel.

Netanyahu quickly denounced the suggestion that he had purchased extra submarines that the army did not need out of self-interest as a smear campaign. It is hardly surprising, however, that the Blue and White party is making a big deal out of it, since their top candidate, Benny Gantz, has for his part been criticised for having his phone hacked (allegedly by Iran). So far, the rumours spread by those in the Prime Minister's circle suggesting that Gantz is vulnerable to blackmail and therefore a "security risk" appear to have gained only limited traction. Gantz has denied any risk, reassuring the public that there is neither data relevant to the country's security on said mobile phone nor sex videos, as has been alleged. The majority of Israelis believe him.

Benny Gantz – no partner for the Arab side

As the man in the middle, Gantz needs to get votes from the right as well as the left. That is the only way his Blue and White party, named after the Israeli national colours, can hope to overtake Likud. The party's political programme is rather flimsy, designed to alienate no-one. It avoids adopting a clear position on the question of Palestine and the peace process. At the beginning of the campaign, Gantz boasted about how many Palestinian terrorists had been defeated under his command. He also stressed that under him, Jerusalem would not be divided. Likewise, the West Bank would have to remain Israel's eastern border, which leaves little room for a two-state solution.

Former chief of staff Benny Gantz at an election rally in Tel Aviv (photo: AFP)
Posing a serious challenge? As the man in the middle, former general chief of staff Benny Gantz needs to get votes from the right as well as the left. That is the only way his Blue and White party, named after the Israeli national colours, can hope to overtake Likud. The party's political programme is rather flimsy, designed to alienate no-one

The Blue and White electoral alliance, which includes three generals as well as Yair Lapid, head of the Yesh Atid (There's a Future) party, was formed with the sole purpose of "replacing Bibi", as the Israelis call their Prime Minister. "Israeli democracy is at stake," says Gayel Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The country's liberal character has been eroded by various legislative initiatives brought forward by the right-wing nationalist government. Gantz wants to put an end to that. His strength is integrity. Netanyahu's trump card is the Golan, which Donald Trump declared part of Israel's state territory – in violation of international law.

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Comments for this article: To be or not to be – the Netanyahu question

I don't think you are doing good service to critical thinking by using the word "democracy" with explicit narrowness. You are not encouraging readers to question the fundamentals. It is as if they are taboo. How come that apartheid, racism, occupation, decades of oppression, backing of Western powers, assassinations, etc are not included in "democracy"?

Nadeem05.04.2019 | 13:55 Uhr