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Leader of Israel's Blue and White electoral alliance Benny Gantz delivers a statement in the central Israeli city of Ramat Gan, on March 7, 2020.

AHMAD GHARABLI/AFP/Getty Images

Israel’s parliament on Sunday beefed up the security detail protecting Benny Gantz, the main electoral challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after deeming various death threats against Gantz to be credible.

The threats came in the wake of last week’s volatile and inconclusive election, in which Netanyahu was unable to capture the parliamentary majority needed to form a government.

Gantz revealed that a man tried to assault him Saturday evening as he arrived at a speaking engagement, and that Netanyahu supporters have been threatening him online. One post called for Gantz to be murdered just like former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated by a Jewish ultra-nationalist in 1995. Another portrayed him and his fellow party leaders in Arab headdress, similar to images that circulated of Rabin before he was killed.

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In his comments, Gantz vowed to unseat Netanyahu with a more worthy leadership and warned the prime minister to tamp down his divisive rhetoric before it was too late.

“Netanyahu: The public atmosphere and the threats worry every national leader,” he said, pointing his finger forward. “The incitement is raging everywhere and you are silent.”

“I won’t allow you to sow fear. I won’t allow you to turn man against his brother. I won’t allow you to bring about modern Israel’s first civil war in return for a ticket out of your trial,” he added. “Your regime has trampled all norms.”

Netanyahu is scheduled to go on trial next week to face corruption charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes. Israel’s longest-serving leader is desperate to remain in office, because installing a new government would give him an important political boost and potentially allow him to legislate his way out of the legal quagmire.

On Monday, Amit Haddad, one of Netanyahu’s lawyers, said he would seek a delay in the start of the trial. He said the request was “technical” and meant to give the defence time to review investigative materials that it still has not received.

Initial exit polls after Monday’s election had indicated his Likud Party and smaller religious and nationalist allies may be able to eke out a razor-thin edge in parliament. But when the last votes were counted on Thursday, final results showed Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc capturing just 58 seats, well short of the 61-seat majority required to form a new government.

A defiant Netanyahu still insists he has emerged as the winner, and accused his opponents of trying to “steal the elections” by aligning with Arab-led parties he claimed were hostile to the state.

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“I promise you, I am not going anywhere,” Netanyahu told supporters Saturday.

While Netanyahu’s opponents control a majority of seats in the incoming parliament, they are deeply divided, with a hard-line nationalist party and the predominantly Arab Joint List among them.

Those divisions could make it difficult for Gantz to establish an alternative coalition. If neither he nor Netanyahu can form a government, the country could be headed to an unprecedented fourth straight election.

But even if he can’t build a government himself this time, Gantz’s party looks to be promoting legislation in the new parliament that would bar anyone indicted of a crime being able to lead a government. If it passes, the proposal would essentially end Netanyahu’s career.

With his back against the wall, Netanyahu has intensified his attacks. His allies have lashed out in all directions – threatening to fire the attorney general, threatening to blackmail lawmakers who didn’t defect to his camp, comparing his opponents to the ancient enemies of the Jewish people and hinting that supporters would angrily take to the streets if he was voted out. He also has drawn accusations of racism and incitement from Arab leaders, after saying the Joint List is “not part of the equation” of electoral politics.

Convening what he called an “emergency conference” Saturday night, Netanyahu himself accused Gantz and his partners of undermining Israeli democracy.

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“There is no limit to their cynicism,” he charged. “The political reason we are here tonight is the deceitful attempt to steal away the will of the people with lies and anti-democratic legislation.”

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