Surging Yamina seeks fast-tracked election as Bennett lashes rivals to-be

Right-wing party leader accuses both Netanyahu and Lapid of failing, with faction looking to capitalize on strong polling numbers ahead of likely early vote

Yamina MK Naftali Bennett addresses the Knesset plenum on December 2, 2020. (Danny Shem Tov/ Knesset Spokesperson)

With Israel likely heading back to the ballot box, the Yamina party sought Wednesday to capitalize on mounting support, urging a shortened campaign season and attacking the prime minister and opposition chief, both of whom are likely to be his main rivals in any upcoming vote.

With the government seemingly headed for collapse amid continued infighting between the Likud and Blue and White parties, Yamina backed a bill Wednesday to dissolve the Knesset and hold elections for the fourth time in two years, helping it pass in its initial plenum reading.

“Now, after the bill to dissolve the Knesset passed preliminarily, we call on all factions to unite and advance [the proposal] so the elections will be held at the earliest date possible, no later than two months,” the religious-nationalist party said in a statement.

Yamina also called to cut campaign financing for parties by 70 percent.

“The State of Israel needs a short, cheap and quick election campaign, a stable government and a budget as fast as possible,” it said.

The party, an amalgamation of several right-wing and far-right factions, has recently seen a surge in support in the polls, and its leader Naftali Bennett has emerged as a leading critic of the government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic and accompanying economic fallout.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then-defense minister and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett during a meeting with the heads of right-wing parties in the Knesset on March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Some polls have shown it getting as many as 23 seats, just behind numbers projected for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, and Bennett is expected to compete for the first time for the prime minister’s seat. To reach the goal, he will likely need the support of either Likud or Yesh Atid, led by opposition head Yair Lapid, neither of which are thought likely to back him for the post.

Bennett was previously a junior governing partner of Netanyahu’s and part of the prime minister’s bloc of right-wing and religious parties, but Yamina was left out of the coalition formed between Likud and Blue and White after elections in March.

Ahead of the vote on the bill to dissolve the Knesset, Bennett launched a fresh broadside against both Netanyahu and Lapid, and slammed the government for its response to the coronavirus.

“A million Israelis see there’s a government here that simply doesn’t care about them,” he told the Knesset plenum, referring to unemployment estimates. “This government took the startup nation and turned it into the nation of fights.”

“There is a common denominator between Netanyahu and Lapid,” Bennett said. “Both of them deal with politics, night and day, both of them spread hate — hate of Haredim, hate of Arabs, hate of settlers.”

“Lapid and Netanyahu — both of you have failed, big time. Today, either the government falls apart, or Israel will,” he added.

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid in the Knesset plenum on December 2, 2020. (Knesset spokesperson/Danny Shem-Tov)

The comments came after an opinion poll published Wednesday predicted a continued lead for the right, including a strong showing for Yamina.

The survey, conducted online on Tuesday by Panels Politics and published by Radio 103FM, showed that if Bennett’s party does end up going with its former partners Likud and ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, they could form a coalition with 67 of the 120 Knesset members.

On the other hand, a government that includes the Yamina, Yesh Atid, Blue and White and Yisrael Beytenu parties was not possible according to the poll, with those parties combined getting 59 seats, two short of a majority. The left-wing Meretz party could hand that government a majority, but would likely not enter a coalition with Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu.

That means Netanyahu would likely remain prime minister after the election, according to the projection.

The poll gave Likud 29 seats and 23 for Yamina, 18 for Yesh Atid, 12 for the Arab Joint List, 10 for Blue and White, eight each for Yisrael Beytenu and Shas, seven for UTJ and five for Meretz.

The poll was conducted online among 523 respondents constituting a representative sample of Israeli adults. The margin of error is 4.4%.

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