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Polls show far-right Ben Gvir on rise as Religious Zionism flirts with threshold

One survey sees Smotrich failing to return to Knesset unless party merges with Otzma Yehudit, polling at 8-9 seats, in blow to Netanyahu bid to ride right-wing back to PM’s office

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with then-National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich, during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)
Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with then-National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich, during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Polls published Wednesday showed far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party soaring to become one of the nation’s largest parties, even if the extremist firebrand resists pressure to again merge Knesset slates with fellow right-wing faction Religious Zionism.

Polls on all three major Israeli networks gave Otzma between eight and nine seats were elections held today, a stunning result for Ben Gvir, whose hardline ideology was until recently considered well outside the mainstream of Israeli politics.

Overall, though, the surveys indicated that no presumptive camp would have enough support to break the political deadlock that will have sent Israelis to the polls five times in under four years when the November 1 election rolls around.

Israeli TV polls are often too small to accurately predict election results, with margins of error large enough to sway as many as five seats, but they can offer a general overview of public opinion and often influence jockeying between politicians.

The polls showed no bump for the Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa’ar alliance, National Unity, since the addition of former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot to its slate, nor were voters swayed by Zionist Spirit’s addition of former Religious Kibbutz Movement head Amitai Porat, with the faction remaining well below the 3.25 percent cut-off, equal to four Knesset seats.

In a likely blow to opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of retaking power, one survey showed Religious Zionism falling below the threshold as well unless it merges with Ben Gvir, while another had it barely squeaking in.

Netanyahu has been urging the far-right parties to join together again, fearing that only one will make it into the Knesset, taking several seats worth of votes with it. Both factions are expected to back his bid to become prime minister, and the Likud leader will need every possible bit of support to reach a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

Religious ZIonism leader Bezalel Smotrich waves an Israeli flag as he is carried on the shoulders of a supporter, at the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City, June 15, 2021. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

According to a Channel 12 poll, were elections held now, Otzma would get 9 seats, while Religious Zionism, led by Bezalel Smotrich, would fail to pass the electoral threshold, leaving a presumptive pro-Netanyahu bloc with 58 seats.

If the two run together, they would garner 11 seats, though the pro-Netanyahu bloc would only edge up to 59 seats.

The Channel 12 forecast put Likud with 34 seats; Yesh Atid 23; National Unity 13; Otzma Yehudit 9; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Meretz 6; Yisrael Beytenu 5; Labor 5; Joint List 5; and Ra’am 5.

A poll by the Kan public broadcaster had Smotrich’s party just scraping in with 4 seats, pushing Netanyahu’s bloc up to 60 seats.

According to Kan, Likud would win 33; Yesh Atid 22; National Unity 14; Otzma Yehudit 8; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 5; Meretz 5; Labor 5; Joint List 5; Religious Zionism 4; and Ra’am 4.

By contrast, a Channel 13 poll predicted strong showings for both Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism, giving a possible pro-Netanyahu bloc 61 seats.

The Channel 13 poll gave Likud 30; Yesh Atid 23; National Unity 12; Otzma Yehudit 9; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Religious Zionism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 6; Labor 5; Joint List 5; Meretz 4 and Ra’am 4.

Previous polls by the channel have also shown better results for the far-right parties than other surveys.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has a briefing with Prime Minister Yair Lapid, August 7, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Smotrich and Ben Gvir, who both chair right-wing parties, ran on a shared ticket in the 2021 elections. But negotiations to once again submit a joint electoral list in November’s election collapsed last week, with Ben Gvir accusing Smotrich of negotiating in “bad faith” and refusing to make any concessions.

On Wednesday, Ben Gvir told Kan that he is willing to run together but maintains his insistence that there be equal representation of both parties on the slate.

Aware of the possibly harmful outcome of them running separately, former prime minister Netanyahu on Tuesday publicly urged the two parties to not “take the risk.”

In a video message posted on social media, Netanyahu pleaded with Smotrich and Ben Gvir to resurrect their alliance — echoing similar efforts he made in 2019 and 2021.

Netanyahu’s pointed statement was welcomed by Smotrich, who said the pair are still working on a deal, but shrugged off by Ben Gvir, who accused his erstwhile political partner of dragging his heels.

The television surveys, conducted by phone and on the internet, also looked at who is the most popular choice for prime minister.

Channel 13 found 47% back Netanyahu, who was Israel’s longest-serving leader before losing power last year, compared with 29% for current Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who leads Yesh Atid.

In the Channel 12 poll, 45% backed Netanyahu and 32% Lapid. A further 18% said neither and 5% responded that they don’t know.

The Channel 13 survey was conducted by Camil Fuchs and sampled 701 people, of which 600 were Jewish. The margin of error was given as 3.7%.

The Channel 12 poll was by Mano Geva and sampled 509 people with a margin of error of 4.4%.

Kan’s poll questioned 649 adults with a margin of error of 3.9%.

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