As Israel prepares to head to the ballot box for the fifth time in less than four years, the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu has turned to a new gimmick in the hope of energising a weary electorate: the “Bibibus”.
Likened to the popemobile or an aquarium, the rightwing Likud party leader is on the campaign trail in a modified delivery van, one of the sides of which has been replaced with bulletproof glass.
Dubbed the Bibibus – a play on Netanyahu’s nickname – Likud says the semi-protected mobile stage is a safety measure required by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security agency.
No other politicians have adopted similar measures, however, and over the years, the former prime minister has repeatedly made appearances in crowds without such protection. Shin Bet did not respond to a request for comment.
Speaking to about 200 cheering supporters at a rally in the southern city of Beersheba last week, Netanyahu said: “I have to stand here, unfortunately.”
Pledging to combat the rising cost of living and inflation, he said: “No bulletproof glass will separate my heart from yours.”
Netanyahu has a penchant for political props; in past speeches, he has shown cartoon bombs and stacks of CDs and documents allegedly stolen from Iran by Mossad, Israel’s secret service.
Rival parties have ridiculed the Bibibus, contrasting Netanyahu’s appearances behind glass with their leaders mingling with the public. The Israeli public broadcaster Kan reported that the van rental for two months cost Likud 700,000 shekels (£177,000), a massive expense at a time when many are tightening their belts.
Amid the criticism, Netanyahu released a campaign video in which he steps dramatically out of the driver’s cab to clean the enormous glass panes.
He hopes to be returned to office for an unprecedented third spell in Israel’s parliamentary election on 1 November.
The country held four inconclusive elections between 2019 and 2021 that were largely referendums about the prime minister’s ability to rule while on trial for corruption.
He is facing three separate cases over allegations of seeking preferential treatment for a telecommunications company, soliciting favourable media coverage and receiving gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. Netanyahu denies wrongdoing.
Now leader of the opposition, Netanyahu remains Israel’s most popular politician by a wide margin, but the corruption allegations have deeply divided the electorate.
Factions from Israel’s left, right and, for the first time, an independent Arab party, banded together in June 2021 in order to oust the prime minister after 12 years in power, but struggled to agree on contentious issues such as settlement building in the occupied West Bank.
Netanyahu, meanwhile, contributed to the paralysis by encouraging the opposition to vote against every bill proposed by the government, no matter the content. The coalition lost its narrow majority and collapsed after just one year.
While Likud is consistently leading in the polls, it is unlikely that the rightwing-religious bloc, or the centre-left bloc led by the caretaker prime minister, Yair Lapid, would win enough votes to form a durable majority coalition.
However, the Arab-led Joint List unexpectedly split into two factions last week before submitting candidate lists, which is likely to dilute the representation of Israel’s Arab minority in the parliament and help Netanyahu eke out a decisive victory.
Associated Press contributed to this report