Two polls published Thursday gave a contradictory picture of the potential impact of former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi entering politics.
A new political party uniting Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid and Ashkenazi could beat the Likud by five seats if elections were held today, a Channel 10 poll showed.
However, a second survey, on Channel 2, showed that the entry of Ashkenazi into the political arena would not pose a serious threat to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership, though it would very likely unseat the leader of the opposition.
The surveys were published a day after the attorney general closed the case against Ashkenazi in the so-called Harpaz affair after five years. Ashkenazi headed the IDF from 2007-2011, and with the legal case against him finally closed, is now being talked of as a potential leading politician on the center-left of the spectrum.
According to the Channel 2 poll, the more reassuring one for Netanyahu, 41 percent of participants prefer the Likud leader for the premiership, compared to just 16% for Ashkenazi. An additional 43% responded that they would prefer another candidate.
The survey was carried out by Midgam and Ipanel and included a sampling from the Israeli-Arab population, but did not note how many people participated.
Although trailing Netanyahu for the premiership, Ashkenazi was overwhelmingly preferred to lead the Zionist Union, the largest opposition party.
Some 38% said that Ashkenazi was the best candidate to lead the party with just 18% choosing current party leader Isaac Herzog. The largest portion, 44%, said they would rather have someone else lead the center-left party.
As for who has the best chance of beating Netanyahu and the Likud party he leads as the chief of a rival party, 29% said Ashkenazi had the best chance, 24% chose MK Yair Lapid — the head of the Yesh Atid party — and just 8% backed Herzog.
Ashkenazi was suspected — along with former IDF spokesman Avi Benayahu and senior aide Erez Winer — of obstruction of justice and delivering classified information to journalists in an alleged effort to influence the 2010 appointment of his successor, in what became known as the Harpaz affair. The case was closed on Thursday.
In light of the corruption case, survey participants were asked if it was appropriate for Ashkenazi to enter politics. Nearly half, 49.5% agreed, 31.4% opposed the idea, and 19.1% said they didn’t know.
Channel 10 on Thursday reported the results of a survey more encouraging for Ashkenazi. Conducted by Camil Fuchs, it evaluated how Ashkenazi might change the distribution of seats in parliament. The TV report did not say how many people participated in the poll.
The survey found that if Ashkenazi, Lapid, and Kahlon of the Kulanu party were to band together and form a new party it would win 29 seats in the Knesset and Likud just 24. The Zionist Union would win 13 seats, the Joint (Arab) List 13 seats, Jewish Home 12 seats, and Yisrael Beytenu 10 seats.
As the leader of the Zionist Union, Ashkenazi would lead the party to 18 seats, but the Likud would continue to be the ruling party with 27 seats. The Jewish Home and the Joint (Arab) List would take 13 seats apiece, Yisrael Beytenu 9, with Kulanu and Shas taking seven seats each.
The Channel 10 poll also inquired about the most suitable candidate for prime minister and reported 35% chose Netanyahu, with Jewish Home leader Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman tied for second with 11%. Herzog and Ashkenazi had the support of just 9% of those who took part in the poll. Another 19% answered that none of the offered candidates was suitable. The discrepancy in the numbers (a missing 6 percent) was not immediately made clear.
If elections were held now, without Ashkenazi, Likud would win 27 seats, with Yesh Atid in second place with 16 seats, Zionist Union third with 15 seats, the Joint (Arab) List 14, Jewish Home 13, Yisrael Beytenu 10, and Kulanu just seven seats.
In the current Knesset, Likud has 30 seats, Zionist Union 24, Joint (Arab) List 13, Yesh Atid 11, Kulanu 10, Jewish Home eight, and Yisrael Beytenu six. The remaining 18 mandates are held by Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Meretz.
On Wednesday, Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein closed the case against Ashkenazi after prosecutors determined there was not enough evidence to indict him for his alleged involvement in the high-level corruption scandal.
The affair is named for former IDF officer Boaz Harpaz, who leaked a document to the press purporting to detail a plan by Yoav Galant — then an IDF general in the running to succeed Ashkenazi — to gain the nomination and smear Ashkenazi. First revealed on Channel 2 news on August 6, 2010, the police found within days that the author of the document was Harpaz, who was by his own admission “a family friend” of Gabi Ashkenazi and his wife, Ronit.
The director of the police investigative and intelligence department said at the time that even though some of Ashkenazi’s actions did not cross the threshold of criminality, they did “raise questions concerning the conduct of a public official, especially one who is in charge of the state’s security, in regard to the norms of conduct expected from such officials.”
Ashkenazi, who headed the army from February 2007 to February 2011, was found by then-comptroller Micha Lindenstrauss to have acted in “a manner unworthy” of a senior officer, in his collaboration with Harpaz.