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To Bibi or Not to Bibi – That is the Question Facing Israel

Israelis go to the polls today to decide whether or not Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (known as “Bibi”) will be re-elected for his fifth term, or his challenger, Benny Gantz, will replace him.

Netanyahu has been in office since 2009, having served a previous stint as Prime Minister from 1996 to 1999, and in other government offices throughout his career. He also served in the Israeli military from 1967 to 1973, fighting in the War of Attrition (1967 to 1970) and Yom Kippur War (1973). His brother died in Operation Entebbe in 1976 to free hostages from terrorists in Uganda, and Netanyahu later founded an anti-terrorism institute named after him, the Yonatan Netanyahu Anti-Terror Institute (or “Jonathan Institute”). He’s written a number of books concerning counter-terrorism, international affairs, and war. For all these reasons, and the fact that he’s a member of Israel’s Likud political party (seen as center or far right), Netanyahu has traditionally been seen as strong on national defense and “right-wing.” However, his reputation has taken a hit in recent years over charges of corruption.

His opponent in this election, Benny Gantz, is an Israeli General with extensive military experience (basically fighting in every Israeli conflict since 1978, about ten in all). His supporters are hoping that this helps him effectively challenge Netanyahu’s national defense credentials. He is a member of the “Blue and White” party (the colors of Israel’s flag), which is seen as more centrist.

Whereas Netanyahu’s Likud party has pursued policies favorable towards the Jewish majority in Israel (about 3/4 of the population is Jewish), Gantz’s Blue and White party seeks greater involvement of ethnic and religious minorities in the political system of Israel (i.e. Arabs and Muslims, Christians, Druze).

Thus, the election is more than a choice between Netanyahu and Gantz, it is a choice on the identity and future direction of Israel: is it a Jewish nation-state (Likud and Netanyahu), or is it a multi-ethnic secular state (the Blue and White Party and Gantz)?

(Image: Ted Cruz (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu (right))

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