For first time in poll, Gantz pulls slightly ahead of Netanyahu as pick for PM

For first time in poll, Gantz pulls slightly ahead of Netanyahu as pick for PM

Gantz takes narrow lead over PM in statistical parity; on allegation of sexual misconduct from the 1970s, denied by Gantz, more respondents believe him than his accuser

Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Gili Yaari, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right. (Gili Yaari, Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Benny Gantz showed a very slight lead over Benjamin Netanyahu as the most suitable candidate for prime minister in a poll published by the Kan public broadcaster Saturday.

The results of the survey mark the first time the head of the Blue and White party gained an edge in a poll with the prime minister, with 41 percent of respondents picking Gantz and 40 percent choosing Netanyahu when asked who they thought was most fit to serve as Israel’s prime minister, with the remainder saying they didn’t know. The margin is so small, however, as to fall within the poll’s margin of error.

The Kan poll was conducted by TNS among 550 voters between February 28 and March 1, and had a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

A Channel 13 poll on Thursday had put Netanyahu at 46% and Gantz at 40% as preferred prime minister.

The Times of Israel’s poll, released on March 1, put Netanyahu at 41% and Gantz at 39%.

Meanwhile, when asked whether they believe allegations of sexual misconduct from over 40 years ago leveled against Gantz on Wednesday by an alleged victim, strongly denied by the former IDF chief, 20 percent of respondents to the Kan poll said they believed his accuser and 38 percent said they believed Gantz, with the remainder answering that they do not have an opinion on the matter.

Blue and White party leaders Benny Gantz, left, and Yair Lapid, right, at the new alliance’s unveiling in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Over two-thirds of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should resign if he is indicted for corruption, the same survey also found. That finding was released by Kan on Friday, a day after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announced his intention to file criminal proceedings against the prime minister.

The findings were part of the first polls published since the announcement, which also indicated that Netanyahu could be unable to form a governing coalition after the April 9 elections.

Mandelblit announced Thursday that Netanyahu will be charged with criminal wrongdoing in three separate cases against him, including bribery in the far-reaching Bezeq corruption probe, pending a hearing.

The decision marks the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister has been told he faces criminal charges, and casts a heavy shadow over Netanyahu’s re-election campaign.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Avichai Mandelblit at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, on December 13, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

In another finding released Friday night, the Kan poll found that 36 percent of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should resign now. A further 32 percent think he should step down if he is actually indicted after the completion of the hearing process.

Twenty-three percent of respondents said that Netanyahu could continue being prime minister even after an indictment, which the law technically allows, and 8 percent said they did not know.

The poll found that 42 percent of Israelis believe Netanyahu’s claim that Mandelblit, in announcing the planned indictment, was motivated by pressure from the left and the media to bring down his right-wing government, while 58 percent said the attorney general was acting from professional considerations only.

The Kan poll, and another from Channel 13, also indicated that Netanyahu could be unable to form a governing coalition.

The survey by Kan showed that if elections were held today, results would see Likud maintaining its strength from recent polls and winning 29 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The Blue and White alliance of Gantz and Yair Lapid would get 37 seats.

It gave the New Right, the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism and the Arab Hadash-Ta’al parties seven seats each. Labor, Shas and Meretz would all win six seats, and Kulanu, the Union of Right Wing Parties and the second Arab party, Ra’am-Balad, would each get five seats.

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu would not make it into the Knesset.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman speaks at an event in Ganei Tikva, on February 25, 2019. (Flash90)

Those results see the right-wing and Orthodox parties with 59 seats in the Knesset, while the center, left and Arab parties would have 61.

The Channel 13 survey had slightly different results, but also found a 59-61 division among the blocs and concluded the right would be unable to form a coalition.

Channel 13 showed the Likud winning 30 seats. Blue and White would get 36 seats. The poll gave Hadash-Ta’al nine seats and had the Union of Right Wing Parties and United Torah Judaism winning seven each.

Shas, Labor and Meretz would get six each, while the New Right would get five. Kulanu and Ra’am-Balad would get four, and Yisrael Beytenu would again not cross the 3.25 threshold for representation.

The Channel 13 poll was conducted among 761 voters and had a margin of error of 3.1 percent. The Kan poll was conducted among 550 voters and had a margin of error of 3.7 percent.

A poll conducted for The Times of Israel before Thursday evening’s announcement also predicted that potential charges would remove Netanyahu’s ability to form a right-wing coalition.

This was due to voters defecting from Likud as well as a slight change in voter preferences among smaller parties leading to three of them dropping below the threshold. The ToI survey, however, predicted that the Blue and White party could see a major jump in its Knesset seats, a situation not mirrored in Friday’s poll.

Blue and White was formed last week, when Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid agreed to run on a joint slate along with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party and Gabi Ashkenazi, who like Gantz and Ya’alon is a former military chief.

From left to right: Blue and White party leaders Moshe Ya’alon, Benny Gantz , Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi pose for a picture after announcing their new electoral alliance in Tel Aviv on February 21, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The announcement of Mandelblit’s intention to indict the prime minister, who long argued that the decision should be postponed until after the vote so that it would not affect public opinion, places Netanyahu’s legal situation front and center in the election campaign.

Responding to the announcement late Thursday, Netanyahu said there was “no explanation” for the timing, coming just 40 days before the April 9 election day, other than that it was part of a political vendetta designed to oust his right-wing government and install the left.

“For the first time in Israel’s history, a [criminal] hearing process was launched a few weeks, a few days before elections,” he charged. “Everyone can see that the timing is scandalous, intended to topple the right and help the left rise to power. There’s no other explanation for the insistence on this timing. This is their purpose, to flood the public with ridiculous charges against me without giving me the opportunity to disprove the charges until after the elections,” Netanyahu said Thursday night.

The criticism, which seems set to become the central theme of Netanyahu’s election campaign, may not, however, resonate with the public.

In The Times of Israel poll, just 35 percent of respondents, for example, said they agreed with the following statement: “The investigations into Benjamin Netanyahu are petty and politically motivated. They know he will win the election, so are trying to find other ways to get him out of office.”

By contrast, 47 percent said they agreed with a second statement, to the effect that the probes are “extremely serious and should not be taken lightly,” and that if Netanyahu is indicted, “he should immediately step down.”

For Likud voters, 81 percent said they agreed more with the first statement, while 10 percent said the second better represented their views.

Asked if they believed that after a decade in power, Netanyahu should continue in the top job, 19 percent of respondents said they were happy with his leadership and wanted him to continue. Twenty-six percent said they believed it was “time for a change” but couldn’t see a viable alternative, while 55 percent said the prime minister should go.

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