In first, more Israelis think Bennett better suited to be PM than Netanyahu — poll

Former PM also beats out Gantz in head-to-head matchup; television survey indicates public backs IDF over premier, with 51% saying ‘total victory’ against Hamas is unattainable

Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left: Then leader of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

More Israelis believe former premier Naftali Bennett is better suited to be prime minister than incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu, the first time he has overtaken Israel’s longest-serving leader in a head-to-head matchup, according to a television poll aired Friday.

Bennett has been out of office since announcing he was leaving politics following the 2022 collapse of his diverse coalition government, which ousted Netanyahu from the premiership a year earlier after 12 consecutive years and unprecedented political turmoil that included four national elections in three years. However, he has recently hinted at making a comeback, as Netanyahu’s grip on power appears increasingly shaky amid the ongoing war sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack and as his coalition is torn over contentious legislative proposals backed by his ultra-Orthodox allies.

Asked whom they prefer for the role of prime minister, 36 percent of respondents to the Channel 12 news survey said Bennett, 28% Netanyahu and 31% neither while the remainder did not know.

Bennet also fared slightly better than National Unity party leader Benny Gantz in a two-person race, with 27% preferring the former for prime minister and 25% the latter. Forty-one percent of survey participants said neither and 7% did not know.

While the poll indicated Bennett’s popularity is growing, it was hard to extrapolate possible political implications of the results, as Israelis only cast ballots for parties and do not vote directly for prime minister.

If Bennett decides to seek reelection, it remains unclear who he may run with. Recent polls have asked about a possible right-wing alliance that includes Bennett, New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar, Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Lieberman and former Mossad head Yossi Cohen.

MK Benny Gantz attends a plenum session at the Knesset on June 11, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Channel 12 poll also paired Gantz against Netanyahu, with each of them receiving backing from 32% of respondents, a third saying neither and the rest not knowing.

Gantz had been leading Netanyahu as the public’s preference for prime minister for over a year, cementing his lead when he agreed to join an emergency war government days after October 7, when thousands of Hamas-led terrorists killed some 1,200 people and took 251 hostages while rampaging through southern Israel.

However, Gantz’s recent resignation from the government has caused him to bleed some of the support he accrued for the ostensible statesmanship he showed in entering it, with Netanyahu briefly overtaking him again as the preferred choice for prime minister in a Channel 12 survey last month.

Netanyahu did beat out Opposition Leader Yair Lapid in a head-to-head matchup, with 33% of respondents in Friday’s survey saying he was better suited to be prime minister compared to 28% for Lapid, 34% neither, and the rest not knowing.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid speaks during a Defense and Foreign Affairs Committee meeting on the ultra-Orthodox draft law at the Knesset in Jerusalem, June 18, 2024. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Asked what they thought about Netanyahu’s performance during the war, 63% gave him bad marks while 31% approved. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant scored better, with 45% approving and 46% disapproving. But Netanyahu’s far-right coalition partners, National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, fared worse, with 68% and 65% of respondents respectively saying they were doing a bad job.

Poll participants were also asked about Education Minister Yoav Kish’s performance as the school year comes to a close. Forty-five percent said the minister was doing a bad job, while 23% thought otherwise, and 32% said they didn’t know.

Asked if they would like to see the ultra-Orthodox parties partake in the next government, 56% of respondents said they would not, 30% said they would and 14% did not know.

The opposition to ultra-Orthodox parties in the government comes as the coalition is working to advance legislation widely seen as enshrining sweeping exemptions to mandatory military service for Haredi yeshiva students, long a hot-button political issue, though the current bill is opposed by some members of Netanyahu’s Likud party. The coalition was also seeking to pass the so-called rabbis bill before Netanyahu pulled it from the Knesset agenda this week amid mounting criticism of the measure.

The survey broadcast Friday also asked about the performance of top military figures, who polled much better than political leaders. Half of respondents said IDF chief Herzi Halevi is doing a good job, versus 39% who disapproved, and 74% approved of military spokesman Daniel Hagari’s performance.

IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi (left) and IDF Spokesperson Daniel Hagari (right) arrive for Halevi to deliver a statement to the media at an army base in southern Israel, December 26, 2023. (Flash90)

The overwhelming approval of Hagari was notable, coming days after he drew a response from Netanyahu for casting Israel’s war aim of eradicating the Hamas terror group as unattainable and saying the terror group would remain in Gaza unless an alternative is found.

Participants in the Channel 12 survey appeared to agree with Hagari. When asked if “total victory” over Hamas — as Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed — is attainable, 51% said it’s not, as opposed to 36% who said it is. The remainder did not know.

The network did not say how many people took part in the poll, which was conducted by the Midgam research firm along with online polling firm iPanel, or provide a margin of error.

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