Polls show support for Netanyahu may be rising after police allegations
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Polls show support for Netanyahu may be rising after police allegations

Half think PM should step down after recommendation he be charged for bribery, down from earlier poll; Likud party still top vote-getter in surveys published by TV stations

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he attends the Muni Expo 2018 conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gestures as he attends the Muni Expo 2018 conference in Tel Aviv on February 14, 2018. (Jack GUEZ/AFP)

About half of Israelis want Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to step down over allegations of corruption, but the popularity of his ruling Likud party has been largely unaffected by police recommendations to indict him, a pair of polls released Wednesday showed.

A day after police published detailed criminal graft allegations in two separate cases, recommending the prime minister be indicted, 50 percent of respondents told a Channel 10 news poll Netanyahu should resign or declare his incapacity, while 42% said he should continue to serve as premier.

A separate poll for Hadashot news showed 48% of respondents calling for Netanyahu to step down while 36% said he should not.

The numbers were a significant retreat from a similar poll in late December published by Hadashot, in which 60% said Netanyahu should resign if police recommend bribery charges and 28% thought he should stay on.

In the same December poll, 63% said the prime minister should resign if police were to recommend an indictment for charges of fraud or breach of trust, while 27% took the opposite view. Both the December and February Hadashot surveys were conducted by pollster Mina Tzemach.

On Tuesday, police recommended that Netanyahu be indicted on all three charges over suspicions he accepted gifts and favors from wealthy businessmen in exchange for advancing their interests.

Netanyahu called the police recommendations “unfounded,” vowing his innocence and saying he would lead Israel for years to come.

At the time of the December poll, the Likud party dismissed the findings and took a jab at the inaccuracy of Tzemach’s surveys prior to the 2015 elections, which had predicted a victory for the Zionist Union list.

“According to Mina Tzemach’s polls, [former Zionist Union leader Isaac] Herzog should have been prime minister today,” the party said in a statement at the time.

Wednesday’s polls also testified to continuing support for Netanyahu’s Likud party as well as gains for rival Yesh Atid.

A Channel 10 survey said Likud would win 27 Knesset seats if fresh elections were held, while a Hadashot TV news poll put the party at 26 seats.

Those numbers are similar to other polls in recent months, but down from the party’s current total of 30 seats of the Knesset’s 120.

Significantly, the Channel 10 poll had Lapid’s Yesh Atid nipping at Likud’s heels with 25 seats, although Hadashot news said the centrist party would win 22 seats.

The Channel 10 poll also showed that over half of respondents (53%) did not believe claims by the prime minister that police and politicians were attempting a “government coup” to topple Netanyahu through the investigations. Another 34% said they believed the statement, and the remaining 13% said they didn’t know.

On Tuesday, reports emerged that Lapid was a key witness in a case involving bribery allegations against the prime minister and businessman Arnon Milchan. Likud lawmakers — including Netanyahu — have since issued a series of scathing attacks on Lapid, who has pushed back against the criticism.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-finance minister Yair Lapid attend a signing ceremony at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 23, 2014.(Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Following Yesh Atid, Channel 10 said the dovish Zionist Union would win 16 seats, down from its current tally of 24. Both the pro-settlement Jewish Home (currently with 8) and Joint (Arab) List (13) would win 11 mandates, while the left-wing Meretz (5) and ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism (6) would win 7. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu (5) would win six seats, while both Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu (10) and the ultra-Orthodox Shas (7) would win five.

Hadshot news put the Zionist Union at 15, Joint List at 12, Jewish Home at 11, Kulanu at 9, United Torah Judaism at 7, Yisrael Beytenu at 6, while both Meretz and Shas would receive 5 mandates.

Netanyahu can remain in power even if he is indicted, according to Israeli law. Analysts believe it may take a year or longer before Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit decides whether to indict Netanyahu on any or all of the suggested charges. Elections are next planned for summer 2019.

The Hadashot news poll included 598 respondents. It did not provide a margin of error.

The Channel 10 poll was made up of 726 respondents and had a 3.42% margin of error.

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