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Campaign Questions Mental Fitness of Netanyahu's Rival

Retired Israeli general Benny Gantz, one of the leaders of the Blue and White party, prepares to deliver a speech during election campaigning in Ramat Gan, Israel, March 27, 2019.

Down in the polls, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud Party has released a new campaign trying to paint his main rival, former military chief Benny Gantz, as mentally unstable.

The video ads are the latest move in a campaign that has been heavy on personal insults and short on substance. Elections are scheduled on April 9.

Recent polls have placed Gantz's Blue and White party ahead of Likud. Gantz's campaign has stressed his security credentials - an important quality with the Israeli electorate.

But since Gantz fumbled two television interviews last week, Likud has tried to capitalize by publishing a video with extracts zooming in on the former general's wide-eyed look with the signature violin screech from Alfred Hitchcock's "Psycho" playing in the background.

The Likud captioned the video: "Completely stable."

Israelis have grown long accustomed to negative campaigning.

In 2015 elections, Netanyahu released an election-day video warning that Arab voters were streaming to the polls as he beseeched his supporters to turn out. In the current election, he has drawn accusations of incitement by claiming his opponents will cooperate with Arab politicians.

Gantz's campaign has tried to capitalize on a series of corruption investigations against Netanyahu, while also criticizing his inability to halt rocket fire from the Gaza Strip on southern Israel.

Netanyahu marked his 10th year in office on Sunday, and is now seeking his fourth consecutive term. Combined with an earlier term in the 1990s, Netanyahu will surpass David Ben Gurion, Israel's founding prime minister, as the longest serving leader of the country if re-elected.

His latest tactic against Gantz has dismayed Israeli psychologists and former comrades of the retired general.

A Maariv newspaper columnist published an unsourced claim on Friday claiming that after retiring from the military in 2015, Gantz was "treated by a psychologist" and received "prescription medication."

The publication prompted Gantz to issue a denial, insisting he had met with an "organizational consultant." Employing Hebrew wordplay -the terms for "pill" and "bullet" are identical - Gantz said the only ones he knew were "5.56 and 7.62," calibers for M-16 and AK-47 assault rifles.

Amir Eshel, a former air force chief who served alongside Gantz, defended his former commander in Sunday's Yedioth Ahronoth daily.

"To call a chief of staff who dedicated his life to the state 'insane' just because of a political rivalry is an act you don't do," he wrote.

The Israel Psychology Association issued a statement protesting "the delegitimization of those who receive psychological treatment," saying seeking counseling is "a virtue not a shortcoming."

It called on politicians to "deal with mental health in an appropriate and respectful manner."