September 17, 2019 / 4:41 PM / 2 months ago

Netanyahu's election day a wall-to-wall political commercial

JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Barely pausing for breath in a last-gasp election-day pitch for votes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressed potential backers in live video election feeds on social media.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds his ballot as he votes during Israel's parliamentary election at a polling station in Jerusalem September 17, 2019. Heidi Levine/Pool via REUTERS

At times, according to real-time viewership data at the bottom of the screen, fewer than 400 people were watching, on a warm, sunny day when many Israelis were at the beach or shopping before the 10 p.m. (1900 GMT) close of polls after a close race.

Sticking to the same campaign playbook for the past week, Netanyahu repeated a relentless message to supporters of his right-wing Likud party as if his political life depended on it: “Get out and vote.”

The alternative, he said, claiming a strong turnout for left-leaning parties before any official statistics were in, would be a “disaster” - an end to his 10 consecutive years in power and a “leftist” government in charge.

Political commentators dubbed it Netanyahu’s “oy gevalt” strategy, Yiddish slang for warnings of impending doom.

Dressed in dark suit and tie, Netanyahu, 69, sat at a desk, a map of the Middle East in the background, and made his appeal in a rapid and imploring cadence worthy of fast-talking, “infomercial” pitchmen.

As aides off-camera handed him cellular phones, he fielded calls from Likud activists across Israel, grasping the devices in one hand while holding up a prop - an oversized ballot emblazoned with his party’s name - in the other.

“I am losing,” he told one supporter as a caption went up giving the man’s hometown as Nes Ziona, near Tel Aviv.

Then it was onto the next call.

“What’s happening in Rosh Ha’ayin?” Netanyahu asked, mentioning the town where his strongest challenger, former armed Benny Gantz of the centrist Blue and White party, lives.

“Gantz’s neighbourhood voted at 7 a.m.,” Netanyahu, answering his own question, told the caller.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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