ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 145

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Public split on whether to follow High Court or gov’t in constitutional crisis: poll

Voters divided on whether security forces should take orders from coalition or judges in a showdown; government would lose majority if new elections held, survey finds

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (center), Justice Uzi Vogelman (left) and Justice Isaac Amit (right) at a hearing of the High Court of Justice on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Supreme Court President Esther Hayut (center), Justice Uzi Vogelman (left) and Justice Isaac Amit (right) at a hearing of the High Court of Justice on petitions against the appointment of Shas party leader Aryeh Deri as a minister due to his recent conviction for tax offenses, January 5, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israelis are split as to whether the country’s security apparatus should follow rulings by the High Court of Justice or government decisions in the event of a constitutional crisis, according to a poll published on Friday.

Forty percent of respondents to the Channel 12 survey said the heads of the IDF, Israel Police, Shin Bet and Mossad should obey the rulings of the High Court, 40% said they should follow the government and 20% said they weren’t sure.

The constitutional crisis scenario appears to be a growing possibility as the government rushes forward legislation to overhaul the judiciary. The bills in their current form are likely to be nixed by the High Court in what could set the stage for an unprecedented showdown.

The issue has come up for security forces over the past several weeks following Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s call to “wipe out” the Palestinian town of Huwara.

In a Facebook post apologizing for the remark a week later, Smotrich wrote that a friend who serves as a senior officer in the IAF reserves reached out to him to explain that his call had been understood by some of his comrades as a call to destroy Huwara from the air. The friend said that such a declaration by a senior minister, coupled with the pilots’ concern over the government’s effort to pass a judicial overhaul package that would grant it unchecked power, led them to believe the minister’s words could one day become “an obviously illegal order to the air force, which they, of course, were not prepared to carry out.”

The survey results indicated that support for siding with the court over the hardline government extended beyond the protesting pilots.

Respondents were also asked whether the government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or the previous unity government led by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid were better at handling security. Forty-two percent of respondents said the Netanyahu coalition, 39% favored its predecessor, and 19% said they didn’t know.

As for handling the economy, 45% said the previous government did a better job and 39% said they preferred the current government’s policies.

Respondents were also asked how they would vote if another election were called. The results indicated a collapse in support for the current coalition and a return to the less stable configuration under which the pro-Netanyahu bloc doesn’t have enough support to form a government, and the anti-Netanyahu bloc can only do so if they form an unwieldy, politically diverse coalition. Bennett and Lapid formed such a government, but the political differences between the parties led to its collapse after just one year.

Friday’s poll showed that the biggest winner of the ongoing crisis over the government’s judicial overhaul is the National Unity party headed by Benny Gantz. If elections were held today, the center-right party would pull away support from Netanyahu’s Likud to its right and Lapid’s Yesh Atid to its left but would still only be the third largest faction in the Knesset.

The poll predicted Likud would fall from 32 to 29 seats, Yesh Atid would drop from 26 to 23 seats and National Unity would climb from 12 to 17 mandates in the 120-seat Knesset, according to the survey.

The far-right Religious Zionism slate — combining Smotrich’s Religious Zionism party, Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit and Avi Maoz’s Noam — would fall from 14 to 12, the ultra-Orthodox Shas party would drop from 11 to 10 seats, the other Haredi party United Torah Judaism would remain at seven seats and the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party would remain at six.

The Islamist Ra’am party would climb from five to six seats, the other majority-Arab party Hadash-Ta’al would remain at five seats, the left-wing Meretz party would jump to five seats after failing to cross the electoral threshold in the previous election, and the center-left Labor party would fail to cross the threshold after winning just four seats in the previous race.

The current coalition would drop from its current 64 seats to 58, losing its majority in the Knesset. The opposition parties would climb from 56 to 62 seats, counting Hadash-Ta’al, which is not aligned with the rest of the opposition.

The survey was conducted online and over the phone on Thursday with a representative sample size of 503 participants and a 4.4% margin of error.

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