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Israeli election: More "King Bibi" or bye-bye Bibi?

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Israeli election: More "King Bibi" or bye-bye Bibi?

By Jeffrey Heller and Maayan Lubell

 

2019-02-14T080719Z_1_LYNXNPEF1D0IW_RTROPTP_4_ISRAEL-ELECTION-NETANYAHU.JPG

A man walks past a Likud election campaign billboard, depicting U.S. President Donald Trump shaking hands with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Jerusalem February 4, 2019. REUTERS/Ammar Awad

 

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's face beams down from election billboards depicting him as a statesman, shaking hands with U.S. President Donald Trump.

 

Opponents portray him as a criminal. Even before he called an election for April 9, he was branded "CRIME MINISTER" in huge banners at protest rallies, a reference to three corruption investigations threatening his decade of political dominance.

 

Love him or loathe him, the election is all about Netanyahu.

 

Although the names of parties will be on ballot papers, the vote will amount to a referendum on Netanyahu in the shadow of his legal woes. If he wins, he will become Israel's longest-serving prime minister this summer.

 

"There's no central issue other than Netanyahu's reign and clean government - whether he remains prime minister and what the price is for corruption," said Tamar Hermann, a political science professor with the Israel Democracy Institute.

 

Opinion polls show Netanyahu's Likud party is likely to win about 30 seats in the 120-member parliament, enough for the right-wing leader, now 69 and in his fourth term, to form the type of nationalist-religious coalition government he already heads.

 

He faces a strong challenge from former armed forces chief Benny Gantz. But Gantz's centrist Resilience party, which is second in opinion polls, would need to pursue groundbreaking political alliances to outstrip a right-wing bloc.

 

In power since 2009, after a first stint as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, the man ardent supporters hail as "King Bibi" has struck a chord with an electorate that has moved to the right and watched with delight as, under Trump, Washington lined up with many of Netanyahu's policies.

 

That has included U.S. withdrawal from the international deal curbing Iran's nuclear programme, Trump's recognition of Jerusalem as Israel's capital, the transfer of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and a cut-off of U.S. aid to the Palestinian Authority over its refusal to resume peace talks that collapsed in 2014.

 

"He (Netanyahu) has brought us excellent achievements, he represents me with dignity. I feel like my country is flourishing because of him," said Ronit Levy, a 49-year-old insurance agent from the northern city of Afula who goes by the handle of "Ronit the Bibi'ite" on Twitter and Facebook.

 

The sign on the giant city-centre billboards featuring Netanyahu and Trump says: "Netanyahu. In a different league."

 

CORRUPTION CASES

But in three corruption cases, Netanyahu is suspected of wrongfully accepting gifts from wealthy businessmen and dispensing favours in alleged bids for favourable coverage in an Israeli newspaper and a website.

 

He has denied wrongdoing, saying he is a victim of a left-wing witchhunt to topple him and that he has no intention of resigning. But his opponents are attacking his record and underlining the need for clean governance.

 

In a speech that boosted his ratings on Jan. 29, Gantz said Israel's present leadership encouraged incitement, subversion and hatred, and was so detached from the people that it had adopted "the mannerisms of a French royal house".

 

"There was already a king who said: 'The State is me,' Gantz said, referring to King Louis XIV of France. "But no. Not here. No Israeli leader is a king. The state is not me. The state is you. The state is actually us. The state is all of us."

 

Netanyahu's legal saga looks set to enter a new chapter soon. Attorney-General Avichai Mandelblit could announce by the end of February whether he intends to file criminal charges, as police have recommended, in the three corruption investigations.

 

Indictment in court would await the outcome of pre-trial hearings in which Netanyahu would try to dissuade Mandelblit from filing formal charges.

 

Those hearings would be unlikely to be wrapped up before the election, meaning voters would go to the polls aware that the attorney-general believes there is sufficient evidence to convict Netanyahu of criminal activity.

 

"The mere notion that in Israel a prime minister can remain in office while under indictment is ridiculous," Gantz said.

 

PALESTINIAN ISSUE

Palestinian leaders have had little to say about the Israeli election, maintaining their traditional policy of watching quietly from the sidelines.

 

They have already broken off contacts with the Trump administration, accusing it of pro-Israel bias. Any new Netanyahu government would be likely to include veteran allies opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

 

Comments last week by Gantz that Israel must find a way "not to have dominion over other people" -- a reference to its continued occupation of the West Bank -- won praise from a spokesman for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

 

"It's encouraging, if he succeeds and he sticks to this opinion," the spokesman, Nabil Abu Rudeineh, said.

 

Trump intends to present a long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan only after the election and has been trying to enlist the support of U.S. Arab allies in the region. But expectations of a breakthrough are low.

 

Another question looms for after the election: will coalition partners still stick with Netanyahu if Mandelblit, after a hearing, moves ahead with indictment?

 

Knives are already out: former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, an erstwhile political ally of Netanyahu, has predicted that right-wing parties now pledging their support would eventually turn on the Israeli leader.

 

Hermann, of the Israel Democracy Institute, said Netanyahu enjoys loyalty from his core supporters of lower-income Israelis who see him as their champion.

 

Netanyahu's backers, many of them Jews with roots in the Middle East and North Africa, hold grudges against left-wing parties that once dominated Israeli politics, accusing them of maltreating immigrants from those regions.

 

"It doesn't matter what he does, they don't expect him to conduct himself by the same moral standards that bind ordinary people," Hermann said. "You don't regard the king the same way you do a peasant."

 

(Editing by Timothy Heritage)

 

 

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-- © Copyright Reuters 2019-02-14

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3 hours ago, spidermike007 said:

Since criticism of Israeli politics is nearly illegal, worldwide, due to the power of the Israeli lobby, one has to be careful what one says, out of concern of being labeled anti-Semitic these days. As a Jew I feel a little bit freer in my expression, but due to the fact that I dislike Netanyahu, and the extremist elements within their politics, I have been labeled a Jew hater, more times than I can recall. No dissent is allowed. Democratic expression is discouraged, at all costs. Approve of us, or shut up!

 

The fact is I hope he is sent out to pasture, where this hate monger belongs. Not sure if there is anyone who can step up and take his place, who is not sold out to the extremist orthodox elements within the political apparatus there, but change can be a healthy thing for a nation, and it has more or less been proven he is quite corrupt and a hateful man. 

Join the club!!!

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1 hour ago, Pedrogaz said:

Here is a plea to the people of Israel, please vote to get rid of this evil man.

I am joining your plea. The trouble is that Bibi's opponents don't seem to be better, at least as far as solving the Palestinian issue, which is the most important problem facing Israel and the whole Mideast.

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As a general observation, it is hardly surprising (rightly or wrongly) that the Israelis vote for right-wing strongmen like this considering the enemies/threats they have (or have had in the past)/live under now (which few arm-chair judges from safe countries understand really) and the constant attacks they are under...even from the likes of fluffy socialists like the UK Labour party. Don't hold your breath here as it's likely that he will be re-elected for more of the same as it looks (to me) like Israel feels more vulnerable now than it has for a long time, so a flirtation experiment with a center or center-left party seems unlikely.  

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7 hours ago, spidermike007 said:

Since criticism of Israeli politics is nearly illegal, worldwide, due to the power of the Israeli lobby, one has to be careful what one says, out of concern of being labeled anti-Semitic these days.

Complete nonsense 

Its either "legal" or "illegal"

There is no such thing as being "nearly illegal"

Criticism of Israeli Politics is legal in all Countries 

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35 minutes ago, spidermike007 said:

 

Wow. Are you familiar with the term satire? How about cynicism? Comedy? I have been called out dozens of times, by seemingly intelligent Jewish friends, for even bringing up the issue of the Palestinians. I was once at a dinner party in LA. Was with a good Jewish friend. I started chatting up a gal, who turned out to be Palestinian. He walked over, and listened in on our chat. Due to the fact that I was sympathetic with some of her positions, and arguments, my friend wrote me off, for life! I had known him for years, at that point. On the spot. I asked him later, and he said he could not be friends with a Jewish man who was sympathetic toward a Palestinian. Yep. Not the only time something that inane, and that ridiculous happened. Israelis, and some Jews, can be some of the least tolerant people on earth, and some of the thinnest skinned people around, when it comes to one's ability to even discuss, much less criticize Israeli policy. I say that as a Jew, so do not even go there, with the sloganeering. They bandy around the terms anti-semitic, Jew hater, etc, like it was a fact. Could not be further than the truth. Open minded? Hah. 

Yes, that is proof indeed , your Jewish friend unfriended you at a dinner party in L.A and that  is proof that all Jews are thin skinned and intolerant and that its illegal the World over to criticize Israeli Politics

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11 hours ago, spidermike007 said:

Since criticism of Israeli politics is nearly illegal, worldwide, due to the power of the Israeli lobby, one has to be careful what one says, out of concern of being labeled anti-Semitic these days. As a Jew I feel a little bit freer in my expression, but due to the fact that I dislike Netanyahu, and the extremist elements within their politics, I have been labeled a Jew hater, more times than I can recall. No dissent is allowed. Democratic expression is discouraged, at all costs. Approve of us, or shut up!

 

The fact is I hope he is sent out to pasture, where this hate monger belongs. Not sure if there is anyone who can step up and take his place, who is not sold out to the extremist orthodox elements within the political apparatus there, but change can be a healthy thing for a nation, and it has more or less been proven he is quite corrupt and a hateful man. 

Please elaborate where it has been 'more or less proven' that Netanyahu is a corrupt & hateful man.    I only see him talking to other world leaders, trying to make his case, alert them to the evils of Iran and try and make peace with other Arab nations!

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10 hours ago, Pedrogaz said:

Here is a plea to the people of Israel, please vote to get rid of this evil man.

'Evil man'?    The fact that he tries to protect his people & country and nuture friendships with other world leaders, including from Arab states, makes him evil, does it?

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8 hours ago, abrahamzvi said:

I am joining your plea. The trouble is that Bibi's opponents don't seem to be better, at least as far as solving the Palestinian issue, which is the most important problem facing Israel and the whole Mideast.

The 'Palestinian issue' is not the most important problem facing Israel , or the whole of the Mid-east -  Iran is!!!!   Just ask Iraq, Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States.

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