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From Yoni’s Desk: Battle royale brewing ahead of Israeli election

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Alex Kolomoisky/POOL photo)

Twelve days after Israelis go to the polls on April 9, the Jewish state is set to host another heavyweight bout, when the Israeli Pro Wrestling Association (IPWA) presents a championship match between Jay Lethal, the current Ring of Honour titleholder, and challenger David (the Hebrew Hammer) Starr (real name Max Barsky).

In the lead-up to the fight, Starr, the self-proclaimed “Bernie Sanders of professional wrestling,” took to social media last week, blasting U.S.-based Sinclair Broadcasting Group, which owns Ring of Honour. “Did you think it was some kind of cute publicity stunt to let the little Jew boy get a flight to Israel to wrestle for your championship?” Starr asked rhetorically. He went on to excoriate the Israeli government – “supposed to be the homeland for everybody… that doesn’t deprive its citizens of basic civil rights” – and concluded by boasting that, when he beats Lethal, Sinclair “will have to wake up to the fact that your championship is now represented by a progressive Jew named David Starr!”

The blistering rant made waves in the wrestling world and beyond, especially after the unabashedly right-wing owners of Sinclair reportedly stepped in and forced Starr to remove it from the web. (Starr maintains that he complied “out of respect to IPWA,” but added that he stands by his original statement.) Clearly, Starr is prepared for a fight. But if literally the entire history of pro wrestling is any indication, he is probably destined to fail when he steps into the squared circle in Netanya, Israel.

By contrast, with just two weeks to go until election day in Israel, the results appear anything but predetermined. The latest polls show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party neck and neck with the upstart Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz. One of these men will almost assuredly form the next government. But which one?

As we await the results, the campaign has veered into the bizarre. Last week, reports emerged that Gantz’s cellphone had been hacked by Iran, prompting Netanyahu to question whether his challenger could be trusted with sensitive information. “Benny Gantz, what are you hiding from the Israeli public?” he asked during a Jerusalem press conference. In response, Gantz was recorded saying, “If Netanyahu had a way for me to get hurt, for me to get killed, he would do it.” Days later, the Iranians said they had also hacked the phones of Bibi’s wife and son, and the two sides went at it again, this time with the roles reversed.

Meanwhile, Netanyahu received a boost when his tag team partner, U.S. President Donald Trump, announced that the United States would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. It may have been unnecessary – amid the disarray in Syria, nobody is really questioning Israeli control of the Golan these days – but the move indicates that the bond between the American and Israeli leaders is as strong as ever. With the former in office through 2020, Netanyahu has proven he knows how to nurture the relationship.

READ: FROM YONI’S DESK: REMEMBERING RABBI MOSHE GOLDBERG

The campaign is almost over now. It’s time for the main event. Who will be crowned champion of Israeli politics? It’s still anyone’s guess.

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