Israelis go to the polls as Netanyahu battles political novice
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Israelis are going to the polls in an election that could give Benjamin Netanyahu a record fifth term or see him dethroned by a centrist political novice.
Stalking conservative Mr Netanyahu in the opinion polls has been Benny Gantz, a former chief of the armed forces.
Supported by two other former generals at the top of his Blue and White party, Mr Gantz, 59, has sought to push back against Mr Netanyahu’s self-styled image as unrivalled on national security.
“This is a choice between a strong right-wing government under Netanyahu or a weak leftist government under Gantz,” Mr Netanyahu’s Likud party said in a statement.
Mr Gantz told Reuters in response: “Netanyahu is not the messiah, nor an irreplaceable legend.
“The people of Israel long for something else.”
Much of the voting will by guided by the question of their characters rather than on policy.
In bitter campaigns waged largely over social media rather than on the ground, the two men have exchanged escalating allegations of corruption, of fostering bigotry and even of conspiring with Israel’s adversaries.
Mr Netanyahu – a divisive figure – is facing allegations of corruption, which he denies.
Many voters have been energised by Mr Gantz’s unity message and promise to clean up political life.
However, despite Mr Netanyahu and Mr Gantz being in the limelight, there are more than thirty parties vying for votes.
Under Israel’s coalition system no party has ever had an overall majority.
The largest party normally will be given the chance to form a government, but not always.
So unless the Blue and White party wins by a considerable margin, Mr Netanyahu’s Likud will probably still have the best chance of governing.