Israelis will go to the polls on April 9 to decide who will become the country’s next prime minister. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served four terms – matching David Ben-Gurion for most premierships – is seeking re-election. Netanyahu has also recently been notified by the country’s attorney general that he will be charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery in three criminal cases.
General Benny Gantz, a former chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, is Netanyahu’s main challenger and leads Israel’s Blue and White Party. Until this week, Gantz seemed to be a real threat to unseat Netanyahu. But a recent report in the Israeli media suggesting that his phone had been hacked by Iran has undercut his credibility with some voters. Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff under Netanyahu and Blue and White member, promptly hinted that his old boss, Netanyahu – not Iran – was behind the leaked story.
Despite reports that Netanyahu’s wife and son’s phones were also hacked by Iran, the prime minister has used the Gantz phone hacking to his advantage – repeatedly airing the report to project Gantz, a widely-respected Israeli military leader, as weak on security.
While this makes headlines each day in Israel, it serves to deflect major issues that Israelis need to discuss as they contemplate the country’s future. Like the US, a huge economic divide cuts across the country. No longer a socialist country, Israel has surged into an elite economic bracket in numerous fields, including high-tech and industrial manufacturing. Still, much of the country’s workforce has been left on the sidelines, and 466,400 families and 814,800 children – or 21 percent of the population live below the poverty line, according to a 2018 report by Israel’s National Insurance Institute.
Affordable housing is also a major issue. Modest apartments sell for $500,000 in Jerusalem and $1 million in Tel Aviv. Yet, this is out of range for the average Israeli worker who earns about $3,000 a month.
To date, no reports have suggested that any sensitive information has leaked regarding the alleged phone hacking. For the public’s sake, it’s time for Netanyahu and Gantz to return to the issues that will best serve the country: focusing on the economy and security.