Far-right Religious Zionism gains seats at expense of Likud

2 weeks out, election polls see renewed gridlock, Religious Zionism rising

Opposition chief Netanyahu and his right-religious allies fall short of majority in pair of TV surveys, though Lapid also lacks clear path to government without Hadash-Ta’al

A composite image of Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yair Lapid during their respective Likud and Yesh Atid faction meetings at the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
A composite image of Benjamin Netanyahu (right) and Yair Lapid during their respective Likud and Yesh Atid faction meetings at the Knesset, on November 8, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Exactly two weeks before Israelis cast their votes, a pair of television polls released on Tuesday forecast renewed gridlock after the November 1 elections, with opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu and his right-religious bloc falling just short of a majority and Prime Minister Yair Lapid lacking a clear path to form a government. The polls also showed the far-right Religious Zionism party gradually rising, largely at the expense of Likud, and set to become Israel’s third-largest party.

A survey aired by the Kan public broadcaster gave Netanyahu and his allies 60 seats — one short of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, while a poll released by Channel 12 news gave the bloc 59.

Though the latter poll forecast a majority for parties opposed to the former premier, it remains unclear if Lapid could find new sources of support in addition to the factions from the outgoing coalition.

In both polls, Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud was the largest party, with Kan giving it 31 seats and Channel 12 putting it at 30.

Both networks predicted Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid would win 25 seats. The far-right Religious Zionism, which is part of the right-religious bloc, was the third-largest party in each of the polls with 14 seats (– its highest showing to date in the Kan poll).

Religious Zionism — an alliance between former minister Bezalel Smotrich, extremist MK Itamar Ben Gvir and the anti-LGBT Noam faction — has recently shot up in the polls at Likud’s expense, though Netanyahu’s party has made gains at the expense of its partners in the run-up to past elections.

National Unity trailed Religious Zionism in the two polls, getting 12 seats in Channel 12’s poll and 11 in Kan’s. The center-right slate is made up of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and political newcomer Gadi Eisenkot, who like Gantz is a former IDF chief of staff.

Gantz has touted himself as a candidate for prime minister, but appears to have slim options for cobbling together a coalition.

The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties, which are also partnered with Netanyahu, won eight and seven seats respectively in both surveys.

The right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu had seven seats in the Kan poll, while Channel 12 said it would get six. The center-left Labor had five seats in each survey, while Kan gave five to the left-wing Meretz and Channel 12 gave it four.

The predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al alliance — which isn’t aligned with either bloc — was predicted to get four seats in both bolls, as was the Islamist Ra’am, which was part of the previous coalition.

Neither of the polls predicted Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s right-wing Jewish Home party nor the Arab nationalist Balad would pick up enough support to enter the next Knesset.

Kan gave parties in the outgoing coalition 56 seats, versus 57 in the 12 surveys, short of a majority without Hadash-Ta’al or another unforeseen source of backing.

The upcoming election — the fifth since April 2019 — was called after the collapse in June of then-prime minister Naftali Bennett’s power-sharing government with Lapid, which survived for a year after just managing to unseat Netanyahu in June 2021.

Bennett subsequently retired, handing the premiership to Lapid and control of his party to his long-time No. 2 Shaked, who has since distanced herself from the government.

Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving premier, is seeking to regain power as he stands trial on corruption charges, while Lapid looks to retain the premiership after making the jump from journalism to politics over the past decade.

The Channel 12 survey, by pollster Manu Geva, included 510 respondents and had a 4.4 percent margin of error. The Kan poll had 651 respondents and a 3.8% margin of error.

Israeli polls are often unreliable, but can have an impact on the decision-making of politicians and voters ahead of elections.

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