Pandemic politicking: Israel's election sprint echoes US's

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Associated Press

In this Feb. 4, 2021 file photo, Israelis receive a Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine from medical professionals at a coronavirus vaccination center set up on a shopping mall parking lot in Givataim, Israel. Candidates hoping to topple Benjamin Netanyahu in next months election are looking to the U.S. experience of 2020 for lessons about campaigning during a pandemic. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty, File)

JERUSALEM – In Israel, the sprint to the March 23 election is striking a notable resemblance to the American presidential brawl in 2020.

Candidates are holding virtual events or limited in-person gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic. Some have signed up star U.S. advisers who faced off against each other during the contest between Republican incumbent Donald Trump and the Democrat who defeated him, President Joe Biden.

As in the United States, the Israeli race is a referendum on the divisive personality at the top and his stewardship of a nation brutalized by COVID-19.

Many Americans saw the choice as Trump — or almost anyone else. In Israel, the field is divided between those who are for or against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Where Trump had, “Make America Great Again,” Netanyahu implores people to, “Come back to life."

The question of moral authority, too, is a common theme. As president, Trump stood accused of a multitude of wrongdoing, including sexual misconduct against more than a dozen women (he denies all of them), questions about his taxes and serial problems telling the truth. Netanyahu last week pleaded not guilty to charges of breach of trust, fraud and accepting bribes.

Both men have cast themselves as victims.

“It's almost verbatim,” said Alon Pinkas, Israel's former consul general in New York. "They're both victims of a 'witch hunt,' both running an entire campaign about how ‘They’re out to get me. And if they're out to get me, they're out to get you.'"

But there is a key difference. While Trump suffered a solid defeat in November, Netanyahu remains Israel's most popular politician and has a strong chance of continuing his 12-year reign.