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Israeli election rallies turn violent as Netanyahu makes controversial campaign promises

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Candidates quarrel with the remaining nine days

Israel on Sunday entered its final week of campaigning ahead of next Tuesday’s general election and tensions, like stocks, could not have been higher.

On Saturday, a scuffle broke out between supporters of right-wing opposition parties, outside a rally titled by former Likud minister and current New Hope chairman Gideon Saar.

Bibis bandits were sent to blow up our gathering and attacked our people

Saar, who left his political home for a long time in December to form a new party, arrived at the scene accompanied by police and was sent to the scene after the brouhaha disappeared.

Minutes earlier, dozens of supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu violently confronted New Hope voters and operatives, throwing stones and eggs at the crowd gathered to hear Saar speak.

According to New Hope officials, the glass bottles were also lobbied by the impetuous group, which continued to play loud music on mounted speakers, trying to stifle political speeches.

Bibis thugs were sent to blow up our rally and attacked our people, reads a statement sent to The Media Line by New Hope.

Explosives, stones and eggs were thrown and loudspeakers shouting traitors were exploding throughout the evening. A man was injured, lost consciousness and hospitalized. Netanyahu has lost it completely.

Three months ago, Saar left his home for about two decades with a brutal attack, accusing Netanyahu of promoting a personality cult and using the party as a tool for his personal interests, including those that had to did with his legal battles.

The Prime Minister of Israel is currently on trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Saar has since vowed not to join his former party in any government he can form after the March 23 election.

However, while initial polls showed the former Likud lawmaker had won more than 20 seats in the 120-member parliament, recent polls, three months after the formation of the New Hopes, have managed to reach just over 10.

Netanyahu has hardly paid any attention to Saar, preferring instead to focus his energy on the center-left candidate, Opposition Leader Yair Lapid.

Any vote for Saar or [another right-wing contender, Naftali] Bennett is a vote for Lapid, Netanyahu warned again on Saturday, hoping to scare right-wing voters who are tired of the prime minister but still fear a Lapid-led government, back in the Likud ranks.

During the televised interview with the prime minister, the prime minister made a surprising statement, promising to appoint the current head of the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad, to a position within his next government, if elected.

Under Israeli law, Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, scheduled to end his term in June, must wait a three-year cooling-off period before embarking on politics and serving as a minister.

Netanyahu’s promise was later explained, as it should have meant that Cohen might be required to fulfill a non-political role, such as special envoy to certain countries. However calls to Cohen to clarify the prime ministers’ remarks, seen as an unprecedented fusion of party politics and national security issues, were finally answered on Sunday.

There is no political connection between the Mossad leader and the prime minister, or the Likud party, Cohens’s office said in an extremely rare statement. All his work is done with the sole purpose of keeping Israel and its people safe, regardless of the identity of the prime minister.

In general, these positions should not be politically appointed. My personal preference is for the Mossad leader to be unaccompanied and loyal to his leadership and policies in a national, cautious, non-personal sense.

Uzi Arad, a Mossad veteran who also served as Netanyahu’s national security adviser, believes the appearance of politicization of the spy organization should be avoided at all costs.

There are things that are illegal. There are things that are absolutely good, up and down and only for the good of the country. And then there are things that are not illegal, but a kind of stench, Arad said of Netanyahu’s promise.

Yossi’s appointment may be justified, depending on the case at hand. If there is a role within the government branch that he can fulfill well using his skills, and that will benefit the national interest, that is definitely reasonable.

But the prime minister is using this promise now, shortly before the election and knowing that Yossi is loyal to him, to gain political points, Arad told Media Line.

That does not mean the move itself is wrong, he stressed.

Cohen is seen as extremely close to Netanyahu and his wife, Sarah. Last week, Cohens’ efforts in 2013 to persuade billionaire couple Arnon Milchan to lobby for his appointment as head of the National Security Council were revealed in a news report.

In general, these positions should not be politically appointed, Arad says. My personal preference is for the Mossad leader to be unaccompanied and loyal to his leadership and policies in a national, binding, non-personal sense.

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