Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party soared in opinion polls taken Wednesday, a day after he made his maiden political speech, indicating he constitutes a potent threat to the re-election hopes of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Polls taken for Hadashot TV news and Channel 13 news both showed Gantz’s party closing in on Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of the April 9 elections, though still 6-9 seats behind the ruling party. Potentially of more significance, the Hadashot poll showed that a Gantz-headed alliance with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party would win 35 seats to the Likud’s 30. In such a scenario, Hadashot said, Gantz could be well-placed to form Israel’s next coalition government.
With Lapid at the helm, however, the merged parties would not pass Likud, only scoring 30 to the ruling party’s 31 seats, the poll showed.
Lapid has been resisting an alliance with Gantz, and his party insisted in a statement Wednesday that he remains the “only answer” to Netanyahu. Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party said in a statement regarding the rosy polls that it was “not ecstatic over upturns nor worried about downturns. The public will decide.”
The Hadashot poll also found that 36% of the public prefer Netanyahu as prime minister, compared to 35% preferring Gantz. Asked to place Gantz on the political spectrum, 30% said he was “neither right nor left” — which is what the candidate has himself asserted, 24% said he was left-leaning — which is what Likud says of him, 18% said he was right-leaning, and 28% didn’t know.
In terms of potential coalitions, the survey said that with Gantz leading an alliance with Lapid, the various center-left parties would win a total of 44 seats, compared to 48 for the right bloc. Under Lapid’s leadership, those numbers would be 42 and 50, respectively.
Gantz kicked off his bid to replace Netanyahu on Tuesday with the official launch of his Israel Resilience party’s campaign and announcement he would run on a joint electoral list with fellow former military chief Moshe Ya’alon. Wednesday’s polls indicated that his address, in which he promised to unify the country and put an end to incitement against the media, police and legal hierarchies, had impacted many Israeli voters, but also showed Likud support holding fairly firm.
The Hadashot poll put the Likud at a stable 30 seats and Gantz’s Israel Resilience at 21, with Yesh Atid garnering 11, the New Right 7, United Torah Judaism 7, Labor at a record-low 6, the Joint (Arab) List 6, Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party 6, Shas and Kulanu 5 each, and Orly Levy’s Gesher, Meretz, Jewish Home and Yisrael Beytenu 4 each. Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua was one of several parties falling below the Knesset threshold.
The Channel 13 poll made even better reading for Gantz. It put the Likud at 30 seats, Israel Resilience 24, Yesh Atid 9, Ta’al 8, Labor, UTJ, the Joint List and the New Right 6 each, Shas 5, and Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, Kulanu, Gesher and Jewish Home 4 each.
Analyzing the polls, both TV news reports said the findings indicated that further alliances and mergers were likely, with parties such as Yisrael Beytenu, Kulanu, Gesher and Jewish Home otherwise at risk of disappearing altogether.
The Hadashot TV news survey was conducted by pollsters Manu Geva and Mina Zemach and included 505 respondents. It had a 4.4 percent margin of error.
The Channel 13 poll was led by Camil Fuchs and was made up of 754 respondents. It had a 3.7 percent margin of error.
A poll taken earlier Wednesday had also found Gantz’s party would be the second largest faction if the Knesset elections were held today, but gave it a more modest showing.
On the heels of his maiden speech, a survey published by Walla news said the tie-up between Gantz and Ya’alon would receive 19 seats in the April election, behind Netanyahu’s Likud with 29 seats, one less than its current total.
Recent polls had put Israel Resilience between 12-15 seats and jockeying with Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid to be the second largest party after Likud. The same surveys had indicated Ya’alon’s Telem Party would fail to clear the electoral threshold if it ran alone.
The Walla survey also polled how Gantz and Ya’alon’s alliance would fare in elections if it joined forces with other parties.
If the two were to team up with Orly Levy-Abekasis, the combined faction would get 24 seats opposed to Likud’s 29, though if they formed a joint list with Yesh Atid and fellow former IDF chief Gabi Ashkenazi they would receive 33 seats, topping the ruling party’s 27.
Ashkenazi, who was Gantz’s predecessor as head of the Israel Defense Forces, has not publicly indicated whether he intends to enter politics. A television report over the weekend said Ashkenazi is being courted by both Gantz and Lapid but has told them he will only jump into the fray if they unite to form a large centrist bloc.
Speaking with Army Radio earlier Wednesday, Levy-Abekasis left open the possibility for joining up with Gantz but suggested they hold different political views.
“I never say no, but there is a lack of shared values,” she said.
The Walla poll was conducted by Panel Politics and made up of 1,009 respondents, with a margin or error of 3.9 percent.
Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.