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September 9, 2019 10:56 am

Blue and White, Likud Turn Sights on Smaller Parties as Elections Near

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Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White Party, in Tel Aviv on Feb. 19, 2019. Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90. – As the election campaign heads into its final week, the two largest parties—Likud, and Blue and White—are appearing to focus on a familiar campaign strategy to drain support from smaller parties on the left and right to boost their own totals.

“Blue and White has decided to focus on taking votes away from the Labor Party and other parties in the center-left camp,” former Knesset deputy speaker and secretary of the Labor Party Hilik Bar told JNS.

Within the past two months, Blue and White, which counts three former generals among its top four positions, tried to woo right-wing voters based on their security bona fides. Bar explained that this has largely failed, and its leaders realized that they cannot bring voters over from the right.

Instead, he said their focus now is to try to become the larger party over Likud by appealing to center-left voters in the hope that this will lead Israeli President Reuven Rivlin asking their leader, Benny Gantz, to form the government.

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“Blue and White will fail in their attempt to drain votes from Labor,” said Bar.

Bar went as far as calling on those traditional Labor who voted for Blue and White in the April election to return back to their political home. He argued that “Blue and White is just a temporary party which will disappear just like Kadima and others. But the Labor Party, which founded the State of Israel, will always exist.”

Bar said the Labor Party will likely go on the offensive against Blue and White, pointing out to voters that they are a party without an ideology, and that they are better off staying with Labor Party, has a consistent ideology not likely to disappear.

Similarly, Blue and White has shifted its strategy to targeting secular voters as well.

This past week, Gantz, who had been reaching out to the ultra-Orthodox population, including visits to their communities and not speaking against them, announced that the government he formed would be “a secular government.”

This was a clear message that he prefers not to include the ultra-Orthodox parties in a coalition that he would form. This change of direction is an attempt to try to be the largest party by drawing votes from Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu Party, which has doubled its strength according to the polls because of his rhetoric against the ultra-Orthodox parties.

Gantz was immediately subjected to very strong attacks from the ultra-Orthodox leadership.

When asked for comment about Gantz’s plan to form a “secular government,” Shas Knesset member Yaakov Margi, who also serves as chairman of the Knesset education committee, told JNS very succinctly, “such a government will not be established.” The ultra-Orthodox political leadership believes that Gantz has no path to a Knesset majority without the ultra-Orthodox parties, and therefore, the promise of a “secular government” is simply a ploy to try to win more votes.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party has similarly focused their attention on trying to be the largest party by taking votes away from Yamina, the party to their right led by Ayelet Shaked. To counter this, Shaked and others in her party have gone on the offensive, telling voters that if they don’t vote for Yamina, and Yamina has very few mandates, Netanyahu will turn to the left to form a government.

Likud may also need to contend with the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, which passed the 3.35 percent threshold in one recent major poll, giving them four seats in the next Knesset. Until recently, Likud had been pressuring Otzma to drop out. If the party somehow passes the threshold, it may be an important boost for Netanyahu, giving him the 61 mandates needed for a governing coalition, but it could also prove problematic due to their more hardline views.

“There is a very good chance that we will cross the threshold,” leader of Otzma Yehudit, Itamar Ben Gvir told JNS.

However, he explained that his party would not automatically join a Netanyahu government. Aside from him demanding to become a minister before joining a government, Ben Gvir said that “Netanyahu would have to accept important components of the party platform including capital punishment for terrorists, harsher conditions for terrorists in Israeli prisons, and a stronger response to Hamas rocket and balloon/kite fire from Gaza.”

As the campaign enters its final week with parties shifting direction and messaging in their final push to win more votes, one thing remains for sure: No one knows how this election will end and what kind of government, led by which candidate for prime minister, will emerge.

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