Poll finds narrow majority oppose Knesset immunity for Netanyahu in graft cases
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Poll finds narrow majority oppose Knesset immunity for Netanyahu in graft cases

Channel 2 survey also shows religious alliance including Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit entering Knesset, suggests deadlock between two main blocs would remain

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks at a Hanukkah candle-lighting event at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 29, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks at a Hanukkah candle-lighting event at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, December 29, 2019. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Most of the public does not support the idea of the Knesset granting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immunity from prosecution in the three corruption cases against him, a Channel 12 news poll published Sunday night found.

Netanyahu has said he will announce this week whether he will seek parliamentary immunity from prosecution. The survey found that just 33 percent supporting such a move and 51% oppose it — indicating that there is significant objection even within the right.

The survey also found that the last 11 months of political deadlock would continue if Knesset elections were held immediately, but with a slight gain for the right-wing religious bloc supporting Netanyahu.

Also according to the survey, released about two months before the third election within a year, a potential alliance of the national religious Jewish Home and National Union parties with the far-right Otzma Yehudit was predicted to clear the electoral threshold and get four seats in parliament.

The poll predicted 34 seats for Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party, 32 for Netanyahu’s Likud, 13 for the predominantly Arab Joint List, eight for Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, eight for Shas, seven for United Torah Judaism, five for New Right, five for Labor-Gesher, four for the Democratic Camp, and four for the potential Jewish Home-National Union-Otzma Yehudit alliance.

Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz, right, with Itamar Ben Gvir, left, of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party on Friday, December 20, 2019. (Courtesy)

A previous poll earlier this month found none of the parties making up such an alliance would clear the Knesset threshold of 3.25% of the vote, but since then Jewish Home leader Rafi Pertez and Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir agreed to run on a joint slate. The deal with the slate of self-described disciples of the extremist late rabbi Meir Kahane — which drew sharp condemnation of Peretz from some within his own party for inking a — still requires approval by the Jewish Home central committee. National Union has not yet said if it will join.

Peretz has called on the New Right and National Union to also merge with the Jewish Home-Otzma Yehudit alliance, as they did ahead of the elections in April.

The alliance’s predicted entry into the Knesset would jostle the balance of seats, subtracting some from the left-wing parties but no making significant difference overall.

Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at the Knesset on December 11, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu’s bloc of supporters would hold 56 seats in the 120-member Knesset according to the poll. The center-left-Arab bloc, led by Gantz, would also get 56, with Liberman holding the balance of power, as he did in the previous two elections in April and September. Liberman has campaigned for a unity government formed of his Yisrael Beytenu, Likud, and Blue and White.

Likud currently holds 32 Knesset seats, one behind Blue and White with 33. Netanyahu now leads a bloc of 55 seats compared to Gantz’s 56, with Liberman in the middle with eight seats.

The Channel 12 poll also asked who is most suited to be prime minister, with 40% preferring Netanyahu and 38% picking Gantz.

However, aside from his need to improve his right-wing bloc’s standing, Netanyahu’s pending indictment raises significant obstacles to his efforts to remain in power. The prime minister must announce whether he wants to seek immunity in the coming days, or automatically forfeit his right to do so. Though the premier, who on Sunday indicated that he would seek immunity, is far from guaranteed a Knesset majority in support of such a bid, merely asking for it will delay any potential trial by months.

His request must by weighed by the House Committee before it can be voted upon by the plenum, but due to the lack of a functioning legislature amid the ongoing political deadlock, and with new elections set for March, the Knesset will only be able to review and decide on his request after a coalition is formed — if it is formed — following the March 2 vote.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends an event marking the eighth night of Hanukkah, on December 29, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)

In the meantime, the indictment is still pending and on Tuesday the High Court of Justice is scheduled to consider a petition demanding that he not be tasked with forming a government while facing charges.

The Channel 12 Midgam poll sampled 507 people via the internet and telephone and had a margin of error of 4.4%.

Meanwhile, a separate poll on the rival Channel 13 asked Netanyahu supporters who they will support as party leader after the Netanyahu era. A whopping 45% chose former Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat, well ahead of Foreign Minister Israel Katz with 10% and Gideon Sa’ar, who lost Thursday to Netanyahu in a primary vote, with 5.5%. Culture Minister Miri Regev got just 3.2%. Twenty-nine percent chose other people or refused to answer.

Among all Likud backers, Barkat still leads with 34%, but Sa’ar is close on his heels with 26%. Israel Katz has 8%, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has 3.3%, and 22% picked other candidates or gave another answer.

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