Stick it to him, or stick with him? 8 things to know for March 3
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Stick it to him, or stick with him? 8 things to know for March 3

Polls show Netanyahu struggling to form a coalition and his popularity slipping in favor of Gantz, but his allies are staying by his side and prepping for battle

From left, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 18, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
From left, Gilad Erdan, Moshe Kahlon and Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset on November 18, 2015. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

1. Prime time for Gantz? For the first time in years, Likud’s hold on power appears to be anything but certain.

  • A poll published by the Kan public broadcaster Saturday night showed Benny Gantz of the Blue and White party slightly edging Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu in the suitability for prime minister indicator, the first time that has happened.
  • Just a month ago, many polls were showing Netanyahu with a 15-20 point lead over Gantz in that category, according to a scroll back through Jeremy Saltan’s poll roundup blog.
  • No contender has even come close to Netanyahu in a survey since Netanyahu retook power almost a decade ago. His ability of selling himself as the only person who looks and sounds like a leader, and the only one capable of managing crises and high level diplomacy, has served him well in the past, but seems to have run its course against Gantz, who has seemingly managed to overcome his lack of political experience.

2. Polls shmolls: The poll comes a day after other surveys showed Likud having a hard time building a coalition, seemingly a direct effect of the indictment announcement against the prime minister which, though expected, seems to have badly dinged him and his allies in the public eye.

  • Another poll Sunday morning by Channel 12 news shows the same, with a right-wing bloc only mustering 59 seats to a center-left-Arab bloc’s 61.
  • But Netanyahu has his allies on the right sticking with him, despite the indictment.
  • Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman tells Army Radio that there’s no way he will sit in a government under Gantz. He also says he has not read the draft indictment against Netanyahu.
  • And Bennett also says he’ll stick with the prime minister, telling Army Radio that despite personal animosity between them “I need to put the country first.”
  • Channel 12, however, notes that “it’s possible that some of the heads of the right wing parties are saying now they will back Netanyahu to get some of the votes that fall from Likud after the attorney general’s decision, but it’s not clear they will actually support him in the moment of truth.”

3. The right is alright: Channel 13’s Akiva Novick writes on Twitter that the polls actually show Netanyahu’s biggest problem as the electoral threshold (raised three years ago in a bid to keep Arab parties out of the Knesset), putting Kahlon and Liberman on the edge thanks to internal splits within the bloc.

  • “Without the damage caused by [Moshe Feiglin], Orly Levy and Liberman, the bloc would stay the same as it was the day the Knesset was disbanded. There’s no effect of votes moving because of corruption,” he tweets.
  • Haaretz’s Amnon Harari goes as far as saying that Netanyahu is likely heartened by the poll results, which show Likud still around 30 seats and predictions of a precipitous fall in the wake of the indictment announcement overblown.
  • “The fears did not come true; only a few voters moved to other parties (and a few percentage points if any, to the center-left bloc) and even more than that, it seems that some moved back to big daddy from the smaller right-wing parties,” he writes.
  • In Israel Hayom, Yehuda Shlesinger writes that even if voters leave Likud, Netanyahu need not necessarily be worried: “Will they go vote for Lapid, Gabbay or Zandberg, he writes, referring to the leaders of Yesh Atid, Labor and Meretz. Or will they prefer Bennett, Kahlon or another party on the right? The answer is clear.”

4. Sitting on the fence: Perhaps reading the tea leaves, some allies are hedging their bets, including Rafi Peretz of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, who says that while he is sticking with Netanyahu, he would not “rule Gantz out.”

  • And while Moshe Kahlon of Kulanu indicated over the weekend he’s still backing Netanyahu, party member and minister Yifat Sassa-Biton said Saturday she is open to joining a Gantz-led government. Kahlon himself also hinted ever so slightly at moving in that direction if need be.
  • When asked by Channel 12’s “Meet the Press” whether he would be willing to join a government headed by Netanyahu, Kahlon said that he would like to get through the elections before making a decision.
  • When asked the same about Gantz’s Blue and White party, however, the finance minister said that “at the moment, the alternative government is the one rejecting us.”

5. Gearing up for battle: Nonetheless, there is in the atmosphere surrounding Likud what Israel Hayom calls a feeling of vigilance.

  • “We’re going to war,” reads another top headline in the paper.
  • Channel 12 reports that Netanyahu is calling meetings with top-level Likud people to get their talking points straight as they “battle for the majority.”
  • The party is planning on officially launching its campaign on Monday.

6. Going on the defensive: Much of it will likely surround downplaying the indictment recommendations and making the hearing, which won’t come until after elections, into as big a deal as possible.

  • Israel Hayom, which is closely aligned with Netanyahu, leads off its front page with a giant headline quoting the prime minister saying he will dismantle the claims in his hearing.
  • The top story in Yedioth Ahronoth does the opposite, attempting to pick apart the various claims Netanyahu has made in his defense by fact-checking him.
  • “Allowed to get presents from friends? Not when you’re talking about cigars and champagne worth NIS 707,000,” the paper writes.
  • Things may get harder yet still, with the Kan public broadcaster reporting that Netanyahu cousin/lawyer David Shimron will turn state’s witness.
  • And Channel 13 reports that Yifat Ben Hai Segev, who served as head of the the Cable and Satellite Broadcasting Council, will testify as to how Netanyahu’s associates, including chief of staff David Sharan, tried to pressure her into signing off on the Bezeq-Yes merger at the heart of the most serious case, in which Netanyahu is accused of bribery.

7. Go down Mozes: Yedioth Ahronoth itself is at the center of another case against Netanyahu, but columnist Ben-Dror Yemini says the paper has not tried to cover for its boss.

  • “We’ve proven we are an open media outlet. We were clear and said everything about the case, including calling for [publisher Arnon] Mozes to suspend himself.
  • Haaretz’s lead editorial also calls for Mozes to step down. “Public attention, which is focusing on the prime minister, must not let Mozes slip under the radar,” it reads.

8. Spotted: A poster quoting Bret Stephens’s New York Times column was seen at a rally in Tel Aviv against Netanyahu Saturday night.

  • Many of Netanyahu’s former allies in the US have spoken out against him, directly or indirectly in recent days, but Stephens’s column appears to have hit the biggest nerve.
An Israeli man carries a sign citing conservative New York Times opinion columnist Bret Stephens as hundreds protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tel Aviv, March 02, 2019 (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
  • “When the final chapter on Benjamin Netanyahu’s political life is written — and it may be a long time from now — he is likely to go down as the Richard Nixon of Israel: politically cunning, strategically canny, toxically flawed,” Stephens writes.
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