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Netanyahu, Gantz spur supporters on eve of tense Israeli polls

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his main opponent Benny Gantz sought to galvanise supporters Monday on the eve of a tense election with the political fate of the country’s longest-serving premier in the balance.

The vote on Tuesday will be Israel’s second in five months after Netanyahu suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career when he failed to form a coalition after April polls.

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Opinion polls indicate another tight race that may see ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu’s former right-hand man who is now a rival, play a kingmaker role with his campaign to “make Israel normal again.”

The slogan is a reference to what the staunch secularist says is the undue influence on politics of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties.

Netanyahu has spent recent days seeking to boost turnout among his base, using a combination of warnings he could lose and a flurry of announcements welcomed by right-wing nationalists, key to his re-election campaign.

On Sunday night, he went as far as to cancel his appearance at the final rally for his right-wing Likud party, saying he was instead holding an “emergency consultation”, warning the potential of low turnout could lead to his defeat.

For Israelis, it was a familiar tactic that Netanyahu has used repeatedly in the past — though this time the risk may be greater since voter fatigue could play a role due to the repeat election.

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He has also hit on his other campaign themes: portraying himself as Israel’s essential leader, dismissing his main opponents as “weak” and “left” despite their security credentials, and highlighting Israel’s economic growth.

– ‘Historic change’ –

Netanyahu has issued a controversial pledge to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank if he wins — a third of the territory.

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He says he would then move to impose Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the wider West Bank in coordination with US President Donald Trump, whose long-awaited peace plan is expected to be released after the vote.

“We find ourselves at the high point of an historic change in the history of the Jewish people and the state of Israel,” Netanyahu wrote in Maariv newspaper, which gave space to both of the main candidates to spell out their positions.

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Gantz, an ex-military chief, has campaigned by presenting himself as an honourable alternative to Netanyahu, who is facing a possible corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

He has repeatedly spoken of Netanyahu’s willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him seek immunity from prosecution in parliament.

Gantz says he and his centrist Blue and White alliance would want to form a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

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“Blue and White under my leadership will change the direction of the ship of state of Israeli democracy,” he wrote in Maariv.

“No more instigating rifts in an attempt to divide and conquer, but rather quick action to form a unity government.”

Netanyahu has also faced criticism over the final days of the campaign due to his unfounded warnings that the election could be stolen by fraud in Arab areas.

– Rivlin’s role –

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s choice to form the next government may depend on Lieberman, who polls show has gained in popularity due to his campaign against ultra-Orthodox parties, an important part of Netanyahu’s coalition plans.

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He accuses them of seeking to impose Jewish religious law on Israel’s secular population and wants legislation ending the ultra-Orthodox’s exemption from mandatory military service.

Opinion polls have given Likud and Blue and White around 32 seats each, and around 10 for Lieberman’s nationalist Yisrael Beitenu.

Another stalemate cannot be ruled out.

Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after April polls when he refused to relent on his demand related to military service for the ultra-Orthodox.

It is not clear he will endorse Netanyahu as prime minister again, which could be enough for Rivlin to allow Gantz to try to form a government.

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‘No president is a dictator’: John Kelly backs Mattis’s take on Trump — and says we need leaders with ‘ethics’

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President Donald Trump's former chief of staff on Friday spoke out in defense of former Trump Secretary of Defense James Mattis's scathing assessment of President Donald Trump.

In an interview with former Trump White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci, Kelly said that "I agree" with what Mattis said about how dangerous it is for the president to propose using the American military against American citizens who are protesting against police brutality.

"The idea you would unleash American active duty folks unless it's an extreme situation... the troops hate it," Kelly said. "They don't see it as their jobs. They don't want to be used in that way."

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WATCH: Bat-wielding 75-year-old white woman tries to block peaceful protesters from marching

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In an incident that was caught on video this Wednesday, an elderly woman in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, brandished a bat as she confronted people protesting the death of George Floyd.

Speaking to WOODTV, the woman said she was just simply defending her community.

“I just simply stated, you know, ‘You’re not going to burn down East,'” 75-year-old Karla Anderson said.

The video shows protesters marching down the street when Anderson, hoisting the bat in a confrontational manner. Some protesters yell, "Leave her alone," but one man on the bike attempted to take the bat away from her anyway. Others stepped in to try to diffuse the situation.

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Trump accuses China of sending coronavirus to US: ‘What’s going on? It’s a gift from China’

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President Donald Trump accused China of purposefully infecting Americans with the coronavirus.

The president boasted about the surprise return of 2.5 million jobs last month -- the largest increase on record -- and claimed that showed the coronavirus pandemic was winding down and the U.S. economy was opening back up.

"We're at 105,000 lives [lost to the virus]," Trump said Friday outside the White House. "We also closed it up to Europe. Europe became very infected from China, a gift from China, not good. They should have stopped it, they should have stopped it at the source. It's a gift from China and a very bad gift, I will tell you that, and you do say, how come at Wuhan where it started and they were very badly -- they were in bad trouble."

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