As Israelis go to the polls Tuesday, a depressing electoral campaign comes to a close. This election could lead to annexation of the West Bank and could have other profound implications for the future of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including the end of the two-state solution. Yet, this issue has been nowhere near the center of the campaign. Instead, the election has been primarily about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption and personal attacks on all sides.
In late February, Netanyahu appeared to be in for the toughest political fight of his life. He was reeling from the decision by Israel’s attorney general to seek indictments against the prime minister in three corruption cases. And he faced a formidable opposition led by former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Benny Gantz, who had joined forces with Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party and brought in two other former IDF chiefs of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon.
Six weeks later, things look much rosier for the prime minister. Polls have moved in Netanyahu’s favor as he has portrayed himself as the man most capable of representing Israel’s interests on the global stage—scoring an Oval Office meeting, hosting new Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, and traveling to Moscow to meet with Vladimir Putin only five days before the election.
Netanyahu has combined this approach with effective personal attacks against Gantz. Most notably, his government leaked that Gantz had had his cellphone hacked by Iranian intelligence and implied that the Iranians had derogatory personal information about Gantz, including unfounded allegations of adultery.
Gantz was slow to get out in public and did not give TV interviews during the early weeks of the campaign in February and early March—instead allowing Netanyahu to drive the narrative. He and his compatriots have responded with scathing attacks on Netanyahu for a number of bribery scandals. These included Bibi allegedly asking the U.S. government for a long-term visa for an associate after that associate gave him thousands of dollars’ worth of Champagne and cigars. A more damaging scandal has revolved around Israel’s decision to buy a suspiciously large number of submarines over the objections of the military from a German company in which Bibi and some close to him appear to have had a vested interest and Netanyahu’s decision not to stand in the way of submarine sales from the same German company to Egypt. Netanyahu has not been indicted in this case, but a number of people around him have been.
Read the full article in Slate.