The audience is chanting “Bibi the king” as Benjamin Netanyahu stands on a mobile stage encased by a glass wall at the end of a dead-end street in a crime-ridden town in central Israel.
As Israelis get ready to cast ballots in their fifth national election in less than four years on November 1, their longest-serving prime leader and the most influential and divisive political personality of his generation are back on the campaign trail.
His Likud party is expected to win the largest bloc of seats in the Knesset. But with corruption charges hanging over him and criticism mounting over his links to a rapidly growing far-right party he may depend on to form a government, surveys predict there will be no knock-out victory.
For weeks, his “Bibi-bus” has been rolling through Likud strongholds across Israel as he seeks to drum up support from voters weary at the never-ending electoral deadlock that continues while the cost of living rises and security worries with Palestinian militants persist.
Netanyahu, a close ally of former U.S. President Donald Trump, has mounted a relentless stream of criticism against centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid, whose ruling coalition patched together after the last inconclusive election lasted but a year.
The election is largely seen as a personal referendum on Netanyahu, whose hawkish reputation has been increasingly tarnished by his legal woes, despite the fact that there are few significant policy differences between the parties on issues ranging from the Palestinian question and Iran to the economy.
Since voter turnout in Likud towns is generally low and Netanyahu, who was initially named prime minister in 1996, is seeing a polling decline, he needs every vote he can get.
The “Bibi-bus” attracted about 250 people in Ramla. Later, the 400-yard park outside the local synagogue in neighbouring Lod was only halfway occupied.