Polls: Most Israelis dissatisfied with Netanyahu’s handling of pandemic

As protests mount, surveys suggest 75%-85% of Israelis unhappy with government’s economic response; Likud would lose three seats if elections held today, narrowly muster coalition

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a protective face mask, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool/ AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, wearing a protective face mask, chairs the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem on May 31, 2020. (Ronen Zvulun/ Pool/ AFP)

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has hit Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hard, chipping away at his popularity and leaving a majority of Israelis dissatisfied with his performance, according to two television polls on Sunday night.

According to a Channel 13 poll, 61 percent of Israelis disapprove of Netanyahu’s overall handling of the COVID-19 crisis, and 75% are unhappy with how his government has handled the economic fallout of the pandemic. Only 16% said that they were satisfied with the government’s economic response.

Fifteen percent said that they were satisfied with Netanyahu, while 19% were quite satisfied.

This marked a stark reversal from how the public viewed the prime minister in April, during the first wave of the virus, when 70% were either satisfied or very satisfied with his performance.

Self-employed Israelis protest at Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, calling for financial support from the Israeli government on July 11, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Half of respondents expressed dissatisfaction with Finance Minister Israel Katz and 53% with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, both of Likud.

Moreover, the poll revealed that Netanyahu’s plummeting approval rating has harmed him politically, with his ruling Likud party projected to receive 33 of the 120 seats in the Knesset if elections were held today. This is three fewer than the 36 Likud received in March’s general election.

Rival right-wing party Yamina appeared to gain at Likud’s expense, with the poll showing that it would garner 13 seats, seven more than it received in March.

Netanyahu’s slipping popularity weakens his hand in coalition politics and makes new elections — which the prime minister is rumored to favor amid disagreements with coalition partner Blue and White — less likely.

A Blue and White official on Friday accused Netanyahu of seeking new elections.

The prime minister is slated to meet with ultra-Orthodox politicians on Monday, after protests by senior Haredi politicians, including in his own cabinet, over his handling of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic in their communities.

Protesters at a rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his official residence in Jerusalem, July 10, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/FLASH90)

On Friday, an ultra-Orthodox lawmaker called on the two Haredi parties to temporarily leave the government to protest what he called “selective” targeting of religious neighborhoods for coronavirus lockdowns. That came days after another prominent ultra-Orthodox MK threatened to withdraw his party from the coalition if the government decided to close down yeshivas in the face of the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Channel 13’s poll — which surveyed 702 Israelis, 601 of them Jewish, and had a 3.9% margin of error — also found that 83% of Israelis are concerned about their financial future, underlining what the news station called “a loss of trust, fear and lack of stability.”

A separate poll by the Kan public broadcaster, which was carried out by the Kantar polling firm, found that 85% of Israelis were dissatisfied with the government’s handling of the economic aspects of the crisis.

Some 30% of those polled said that the crisis had made it harder for them to pay their monthly bills, although, among low-income Israelis, this number rose to over 50%. Still, 57% of Israelis indicated that they support a tightening of restrictions even if there are economic consequences.

As Israel contends with the alarming surge in coronavirus cases in recent weeks, Netanyahu has faced a tide of criticism over the government’s handling of the economic fallout of the pandemic, with polls indicating growing disapproval of his stewardship of the economy.

There has been widespread anger from various sectors of the economy that say the government is not doing enough to help them weather the crisis, accompanied by outrage over the alleged misdirection of financial aid and the bureaucratic complexities of obtaining assistance.

According to the National Employment Service, there are currently 847,968 jobless Israelis, with unemployment at 21%.

Sunday’s polls came a day after some 10,000 Israelis rallied in Tel Aviv against the government’s economic policies during the pandemic. The premier’s Blue and White coalition partners expressed support for the demonstrators and called for an economic plan that extends beyond the coming months.

Virus cases are currently rising at over 1,000 per day. The death toll since the start of the pandemic stood at 362 on Sunday night.

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