Netanyahu recently negotiated to allow extreme-right parties into the April 9 parliamentary elections, giving himself the advantage to return as prime minister.
Polls have opened in Israel’s 120-seat Knesset (parliamentary) elections, allowing the 6.3 million eligible voters to choose from 47 vying parties at the ballots that will eventually decide the prime minister.
On Monday night Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited an open market in Jerusalem where he told supporters to vote for his Likud party that is falling behind Netanyahu’s main opponent, Benny Gantz from the newly-formed, anti-corruption Blue and White party.
“The only way to close the gap and ensure with certainty that Likud will form the next government is to have a big Likud. Bring all the people,” said the incumbent who is seeking a fifth term.
The day before the April 9 polls opened, Gantz promised victory over Netanyahu at a rally outside his party’s headquarters in Tel Aviv.
“We will replace the government because there is an urgent historic need,” Gantz said to crowds. “Netanyahu is running a desperate campaign in order to overcome his legal problems and we won’t let him,” said the military leader turned politician, reports the Jerusalem Post.
Outspoken critic of Netanyahu, Blue and White candidate Chili Tropper said Monday: “The prime minister is crying wolf and the public doesn’t buy it.” Tropper added, “we feel the drift of voters coming our way. … They know that is the only way to unseat Netanyahu.”
To gain a Knesset seat, a party needs at least 3.5 percent of the vote, a feat made even more difficult by this round’s record number of parties. The party that takes 61 seats or more controls the government, but that hasn’t happened in the 70 history of the Israeli parliament.
Netanyahu recently negotiated a political deal to make it easier for far-right parties with racist views against Palestinian Muslims, such as The New Right that refusing to acknowledge Palestinian statehood, to enter the elections. The measure gives the current prime minister the advantage to stay in power as he’s the most likely contender to form a coalition government with such ideologies.
Speaking to U.S. media, Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders said of Netanyahu: "When election time comes in Israel, he always tries going even further to the right by appealing to racism within Israel, I think it's unfortunate," adding, "I'm not a great fan of his, and, frankly, I hope he loses his election."
Gantz has called for peace with the Palestinians but maintains that Israel should still occupy the West Bank. The so-called centrist has evaded questions of working toward a two-state solution within Palestine.