'Israel may not get a new PM; may get new finance minister'

Poll shows Orly Levy, a solo opposition MK, could hold Israel’s balance of power

Daughter of ex-FM David Levy, who heads a party she hasn’t yet named, rises to 8 seats in survey; her choice of right or left could play key role in shaping next coalition

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at a Knesset House Committee meeting, March 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at a Knesset House Committee meeting, March 15, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

An unnamed new party led by the daughter of a former Israeli foreign minister, who bolted from the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu and today sits as an independent, opposition Knesset member, would win eight seats were elections held today, a TV poll showed.

If the Hadashot TV news survey’s predictions proved accurate, the right-wing bloc headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party would muster 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset; the center-left-wing bloc would win 52 seats; and MK Orly Levy-Abekasis would win the other eight. In such a scenario, she could thus play a key role in shaping a future coalition, and a further shift in her direction could leave her holding the balance of power between the two blocs.

Monday’s survey by Midgam, furthermore, showed Abekasis’s party on the rise — from five seats in a similar poll last month — while the front-running Likud slipped a little compared to previous polls, and so did Israel’s second largest party, the centrist Yesh Atid.

Abekasis entered the Knesset nine years ago, as a member of hawkish Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, but is harder to classify politically, having made her name with activism on behalf of children, the elderly, and the poor. She has not yet specified who else would represent her party.

Former foreign minister David Levy. March 3, 2003. (Flash90)

“We might not get a different prime minister,” the TV report noted. “But we could get a different finance minister.”

Monday’s survey showed the Likud sliding for the first time in six months, though still remaining by far the largest party with 28 seats compared with its current 30.

Second came Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with 20 (it currently has 11 seats), followed by current opposition leaders the Zionist Union with 14 (24). The Joint (Arab) List would go down to 12 from its current 13 seats.

Moshe Kahlon, left, Naftali Bennett, center, and Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 13, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

The religious right-wing Jewish Home party would win 10 seats (12), with Levy-Abekasis’s party at 8. Ultra-Orthodox parties United Torah Judaism with 7 (6) and Shas with 4 (6) would roughly preserve their current strength, although Shas is in danger of failing to pass the electoral threshold which is currently set at 4 seats.

Left-wing Meretz would win 6 seats, slightly up from its current 5, while centrist Kulanu was seen plunging to 6 from the 10 seats it currently holds, and Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu would remain on its current 5 seats.

What is considered the right-wing bloc — Likud, Jewish Home, UTJ, Yisrael Beytenu, Kulanu and Shas — would thus muster 60 seats; and the center left — Yesh Atid, Zionist Union, Meretz and the Joint List — would have 52. Such a result would leave Netanyahu best placed to form a new coalition, but Monday’s poll showed him with less room to maneuver than in most previous surveys, and any further shift of seats from the right to Abekasis or to other parties outside the right-wing bloc would further complicate matters for the prime minister.

Israeli opinions have often proved unreliable, it being hard to forecast results when the balance between right- and left-wing blocs can be tight, and so many parties compete for seats. In Israel’s pure proportional representation system, furthermore, votes for the parties that fail to clear the electoral threshold are redistributed among the parties that do clear it. Monday’s TV report did not give a margin of error for the poll.

Screenshot of Hadashot TV news April 23, 2018, featuring a poll finding that gives Orly Levy-Abekasis eight seats in the next Knesset (Hadashot TV screenshot)

Israel’s next elections are not due until late next year, but Netanyahu has intermittently indicated he might call elections early, and Likud had been steadily rising in opinion polls prior to Monday’s survey.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Levy-Abekasis’s freshly announced party first attracted attention last month when it garnered 5 seats in a poll.

The daughter of former long-time legislator and foreign minister David Levy, Levy-Abekasis at the time credited her “nine years of hard work” at the Knesset for her strong showing.

The public “wants the agenda to return to one that concerns us all,” she told Hadashot.

She first entered parliament in 2009 as a member of Yisrael Beytenu, but has been an independent MK for the past two years. In May 2016, she announced that she would leave Yisrael Beytenu over its entry into the Likud-led government, saying that the party had abandoned its social platform during negotiations to enter the coalition.

“The issues for which I turned to public action relate to children at risk, the elderly, the poor, public housing, for those people who are truly transparent, not just as a slogan,” Levy-Abekasis said. “As soon as things became clear to me, it was very easy to make the decision.”

She has since been serving as an independent MK in the opposition.

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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