Knowingly or not, US President Donald Trump has been recruited to the Israeli election campaign, appearing alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on a large billboard Sunday visible to tens of thousands of drivers during rush hour on Tel Aviv’s Ayalon highway.
The poster from Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party shows the two leaders shaking hands under the headline “Netanyahu, in a different league,” with “The Likud” at the bottom. The slogan likely refers to Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump, who in 2018 fulfilled an election promise and moved the American embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. That move was widely praised by the Jewish parties across Israel’s normally very partisan political spectrum.
Despite the roller coaster of Israeli politics and numerous criminal investigations into his activities, Netanyahu had been perennially ranked in public opinion polls as the people’s choice for prime minister by a wide margin. However, that changed recently when former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz tossed his hat in the ring for the April 9 national elections.
Polls taken after Gantz’s maiden speech on January 29 showed his Israel Resilience party closing in on Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of the elections, though still six to nine seats behind. Potentially of more significance, a Channel 12 poll showed that a Gantz-headed alliance with the fellow centrist Yesh Atid party would win 35 seats to the Likud’s 30. In such a scenario, Gantz could be well-placed to become prime minister.
US President Donald Trump (right) welcomes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to the White House on March 5, 2018, in Washington, DC. (AFP Photo/Mandel Ngan)
With Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid at the helm, however, the merged parties would not pass Likud, only scoring 30 to the ruling party’s 31 seats, the poll showed.
Lapid has been resisting an alliance with Gantz, and his party insisted in a statement Wednesday that Lapid remains the “only answer” to Netanyahu. Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party said in a statement regarding the rosy polls that it was “not ecstatic over upturns nor worried about downturns. The public will decide.”
Jockeying between different parties to unite or outflank each other has ramped up ahead of the February 21 deadline for factions to finalize their Knesset slates.
The photograph of the Trump-Netanyahu poster posted on social media produced at least one response noting the two leaders are not in reality the same height.
And of course, it’s been photoshopped to make Bibi taller (Trump is 2-3in taller than him) pic.twitter.com/me8jyp0SLu
— Arieh Kovler (@ariehkovler) February 3, 2019
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