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Israeli Voters Protest After Center-Left Candidates Partner With Netanyahu

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

For a moment, it looked like center and left-wing parties in Israel were coming close to unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But he looks set to announce his new government this week. The right-wing Netanyahu has been in power there for more than a decade. During that time, Israel's left has gotten weaker. NPR's Daniel Estrin in Jerusalem looks at where the opposition stands now.

DANIEL ESTRIN, BYLINE: A couple dozen Israelis protest outside the prime minister's residence wearing face masks that say crime minister in English. Netanyahu faces corruption charges. These protesters tried to vote him out of office in elections last month. Now they feel betrayed. Center-left politicians they voted for have decided to partner with Netanyahu.

YISHAI HADAS: Absolutely. They stole our votes.

ESTRIN: Protester Yishai Hadas.

HADAS: We vote for something specific. After the election ended, they changed their mind and joined the crooked government. It's unbelievable.

ESTRIN: Retired General Benny Gantz, backed by center and left-wing parties, came close to ending the right-wing Netanyahu's decade in power. But after stalemated elections, Gantz shocked many of his supporters and made a deal, giving Netanyahu 18 more months in office. Now the center-left is in tatters, asking itself how it can rebuild again.

Lawmaker Merav Michaeli is with the center-left Labor Party, once a powerhouse but now barely represented in parliament. She says the left has made its mark on Israel with progress on issues like gender and LGBT equality.

MERAV MICHAELI: So the center-left has won with the ideas but does not have a single political body that is able to challenge the right as a possible ruling party.

ESTRIN: The left has had a crisis of leadership ever since Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated in 1995 for his peace negotiations with Palestinians and following the violence of the Second Intifada of the 2000s. Now Netanyahu has convinced some center-left politicians to join his government to fight the coronavirus. This month, the Labor Party's lay leadership voted to join a Netanyahu-led government. Party activist Elie Aloni.

ELIE ALONI: I voted with my head and not with my heart. My heart was against joining the government. But all my rational thinking said this time, we need to join. I mean, you can't - if we couldn't beat Bibi, we have to try to at least counterbalance what's going on there.

ESTRIN: She hopes the center-left members of the new government can hold back Bibi Netanyahu from annexing lands in the occupied West Bank, which he aims to do this summer. That will be one big test of center-left politicians - how much they'll be able to influence Netanyahu's policies and how much they'll have to give up. Daniel Estrin, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.