Extremist right parties nearing threshold to enter Knesset – poll
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Extremist right parties nearing threshold to enter Knesset – poll

Channel 12 survey gives the nationalist-libertarian Zehut 2.9% of the vote, just short of 3.25% threshold; racist Otzma Yehudit comes in at 2.7%

Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Baruch Marzel, left, at a press conference in response to the Supreme Court decision to disqualify Ben Ari from running in the April 2019 elections over his record of racist incitement, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit party members Michael Ben Ari, center, Itamar Ben Gvir, right, and Baruch Marzel, left, at a press conference in response to the Supreme Court decision to disqualify Ben Ari from running in the April 2019 elections over his record of racist incitement, in Jerusalem on March 17, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

A new poll shows two extremist far-right parties hovering not far from the electoral threshold ahead of the September 17 elections.

Channel 12’s latest survey, released Tuesday, finds much of the political map unchanged from other polls over the past month. Likud and Blue and White lead the pack at 30 and 29 seats of the 120-member Knesset, respectively.

The right-wing Yamina alliance and the Arab Joint List both get 11 seats. Russian-speaking Yisrael Beytenu continues to hold the swing votes for establishing a right-wing coalition with 10 seats. The ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism and Shas take eight and seven seats, respectively, and the left’s Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp each garner 7.

But those results could change dramatically if the two far-right parties Zehut and Otzma Yehudit clear the 3.25-percent vote threshold, and enter the Knesset with four seats each, shrinking the seat totals of the other parties and swelling the right-wing bloc.

In the poll, Zehut took 2.9% of the vote and Otzma Yehudit 2.7%.

Moshe Feiglin, head of the Zehut party, during an election campaign tour in the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem on April 4, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the case of Zehut, the figure is in keeping with the party’s ballot-box showing in the April election, when it won 118,031 votes, or 2.74% of the vote.

Otzma Yehudit’s past support at the ballot box is harder to gauge, as it ran in joint slates with other parties in the two most recent elections and failed to place any of its candidates in the Knesset in either race.

But in its talks earlier this year with the right-wing Jewish Home and National Union parties to jointly form the Union of Right-Wing Parties ahead of the April 2019 race, Otzma Yehudit was believed by the other parties in the talks to be worth roughly two Knesset seats, or around 66,000 votes.

If that valuation of the party’s ballot-box strength was accurate, the latest poll suggests Otzma Yehudit’s support has swelled among far-right voters.

If its support has indeed increased — the poll’s sampling error is 4.4% — it may be due to a sense on the far-right that Otzma Yehudit has been mistreated by allies and opponents alike. Three of the party’s four top leaders — Michael Ben-Ari, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein — have either been disqualified from standing in the election, or are currently in the process of being disqualified over their longstanding advocacy for racist policies and support for political violence.

Michael Ben Ari, head of far-right Otzma Yehudit, and supporters at a Tel Aviv demonstration, November 15, 2018. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

URWP was roundly criticized in the April race for including the extremist faction on its slate, and the new incarnation of that right-wing union, now called Yamina, refused to reestablish the alliance with Otzma Yehudit for the September vote.

Otzma Yehudit, now led by attorney Itamar Ben Gvir, is made up of supporters of the now-banned racist Kach party of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. Marzel headed Kach after Kahane’s 1990s murder, until the movement was declared a terror group and disbanded. Gopstein leads Lehava, an anti-miscegenation group that has held violent protests outside interfaith Jewish-Muslim weddings.

Zehut combines far-right nationalist policies, including annexation of the West Bank and a reconquest of Gaza, with libertarian domestic positions such as cannabis legalization, school vouchers and the abolition of the state rabbinate’s monopoly on marriage, divorce and other issues.

The Channel 12 poll also asked which candidate voters preferred for prime minister, with Benjamin Netanyahu leading over his chief rival, Benny Gantz, by 41% to 32%.

With several parties demanding that any unity government involve the removal of Netanyahu as Likud leader, the poll also asked Likud voters whom they’d prefer as a replacement party leader. Former minister Gideon Sa’ar led the pack with 22%, followed by Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan and Culture Minister Miri Regev with 12% each, Foreign Minister Israel Katz with 9% and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein with 6%.

The poll was conducted among 508 adult respondents who constituted a representative sample of Israeli society, via the iPanel institute, on August 12.

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