1 in 5 Israelis have attended protests against overhaul

In reversal, Netanyahu beats Gantz in head-to-head race for premiership in TV poll

For first time in months, more respondents tell Channel 12 that incumbent PM is better suited for post than National Unity party leader

Election posters hung by the Blue and White party show its candidate Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a Hebrew slogan reading 'Netanyahu cares only for himself,' ahead of the 2020 elections. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90/ File)
Election posters hung by the Blue and White party show its candidate Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a Hebrew slogan reading 'Netanyahu cares only for himself,' ahead of the 2020 elections. (Miriam Alster/ FLASH90/ File)

For the first time in months, an Israeli television network’s opinion poll showed more Israelis prefer Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to lead the country than National Unity party leader Benny Gantz in a head-to-head race.

Asked who is better suited to be prime minister, 39 percent of respondents to the Channel 12 news survey said Netanyahu, versus 34% for Gantz. In Channel 12’s poll last month, Gantz defeated Netanyahu 37% to 36%, a slimmer margin of victory for the National Unity chief than other recent surveys.

The survey followed a week in which the IDF launched a major operation in the northern West Bank city of Jenin following recent terror attacks, and spontaneous mass demonstrations that included the blocking of roads were held Wednesday night after the Tel Aviv police chief resigned, saying he was being forced out for resisting political interference and refusing to violently crack down on protesters.

Netanyahu had a significantly larger lead over his other rivals in direct matchups, with 42% reporting they prefer him as premier to opposition leader Yair Lapid. Squared off against former prime minister Naftali Bennett, who does not currently hold elected office but made headlines this week for an interview with the BBC, Netanyahu had 39% to Bennett’s 25%.

The poll also asked about the decision by Tel Aviv police commander Ami Eshed to quit the force and who was right in the dispute between him and far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, who has been calling for police to deal more forcefully with protesters against the judicial overhaul.

Nearly half — 48% — said Eshed was right, as opposed to 28% who backed Ben Gvir. The remaining respondents said they did not know.

Asked what they thought of the police response to the demonstrations, 38% said they believed the cops were too soft, 30% just right and 18% too tough, while the rest were unsure.

The survey found 20% of adult Israelis have participated in one or more demonstrations against the overhaul; another 37% support the protests but haven’t participated, and 43% oppose them. Among Likud voters, 10% have demonstrated, 22% support the demonstrations and 68% oppose them, the poll found.

Israelis block the Ayalon Highway during a protest against the Israeli government’s planned judicial overhaul and in response to the removal of Tel Aviv District Commander Amichai Eshed in Tel Aviv, July 5, 2023. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90

Earlier Friday, the Maariv newspaper published an opinion poll that similarly indicated growing support for Netanyahu, with his Likud party forecast to be the biggest in the Knesset with 32 seats if elections were held. National Unity was next with 26 seats, followed by Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 20.

Following those three, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties — part of Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition — were forecast to be the next largest factions with nine and seven seats, respectively.

The far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties, which are also allied with Likud, had five seats apiece, as did three opposition factions — Yisrael Beytenu, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al. The former two were both in the previous government while Hadash-Ta’al is nonaligned.

Neither Labor, which currently has four Knesset seats, or the Arab nationalist Balad party were predicted to clear the minimum vote threshold needed to enter the Knesset.

Maariv said the poll was conducted online on July 5 and had 517 respondents, with a 4.3% margin of error. Channel 12 news said pollster Manu Geva performed its survey, but didn’t give further details.

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