Poll shows two-thirds of Israelis think Netanyahu should resign if indicted

First surveys since attorney general announced he plans to charge PM with corruption indicate Netanyahu will have trouble forming a coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departs after delivering a statement to the media in Jerusalem, hours after the attorney general announced his intention to indict him on corruption charges, February 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departs after delivering a statement to the media in Jerusalem, hours after the attorney general announced his intention to indict him on corruption charges, February 28, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Over two-thirds of Israelis believe that Benjamin Netanyahu should resign if he is indicted for corruption, a survey indicated 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.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a conference at the national library in Jerusalem on June 6, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

A poll published by the Kan public broadcaster Friday night found that 36% of Israelis believe that Netanyahu should resign now. A further 32% 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% said they did not know.

The poll found that 42% 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% 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. The Blue and White alliance of Benny 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.

Those results see the right-wing and Orthodox parties with 59 seats in the 120-seat 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%. The Kan poll was conducted among 550 voters and had a margin of error of 3.7%.

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% 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% 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% said they agreed more with the first statement, while 10% 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% 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% said the prime minister should go.

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