Blue and White ahead of Likud in latest polls

Benny Gantz addresses a campaign event in Haifa last weekend. Photo: JINIPIX

BIBI has become a “loser” and his political career will come to an end on Tuesday, Israel’s main opposition party is claiming. 

Yair Lapid, a leader of the Blue and White party, was jubilant after Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a setback, proving unable to pass legislation because Knesset members opposed him.

“Bibi lost again,” said Lapid. “He is becoming a serial loser.” 

Netanyahu had just tried unsuccessfully to pass legislation to overrule legal authorities, who outlawed a Likud plan to take cameras to polling stations in Arab areas, where they say fraud is rife. 

Blue and White, headed by former chief of staff Benny Gantz, said Netanyahu’s defeat on the bill is an omen for what will happen at the ballot box. The party has gained a narrow lead, polling at 32 Knesset seats, compared to Likud’s 31.

On Tuesday, Netanyahu made a new promise, in the hope it would push him ahead in the polls. 

He said before the last election that he plans to annex settlements – and has now upped the game, saying that he will annex settlements in the Jordan Valley straight after the election. 

Before unveiling his Jordan Valley pledge, Netanyahu gambled that the push for cameras would impress potential Likud voters, who are often suspicious of Arab voters and respect politicians who monitor them. But there is speculation the backlash against Likud’s attempt to undermine legal authorities just before the election could harm him. 

Benny Begin, son of the first Likud Prime Minister and a former Likud MK announced he won’t vote the party, saying it’s paying a price for “arrogant, conceited, rude” behaviour. 

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Israel Beytenu, has been working hard to convince right-wing voters that Netanyahu acted cynically with the cameras bill. Lieberman said that it isn’t about serious fraud detection, but rather a bid to “inflame the tensions” to galvanise voters. As the man who stopped Netanyahu from forming an election after the April election, Lieberman is receiving major attention in this campaign. 

Blue and White’s strategy for the final stretch of campaigning appears to be highlighting the corruption cases against Netanyahu, and focusing on his likely reliance on far-right and religious parties if he heads the next coalition. 

Blue and White candidate Gabi Ashkenazi, former IDF chief of staff, said that if Netanyahu is in charge the next government will be a “narrow, radical, extremist government with racist elements”. 

His party wants a unity government. It is open to sitting with Likud – if the party drops Netanyahu as leader. “We will not sit with Netanyahu, full stop,” said Ashkenazi. “The right thing for the people of Israel is a unity government; the public wants unity.” 

Lieberman is also pushing hard for a unity government, and shares Blue and White’s disdain for Netanyahu. 

Analysts say they don’t expect big last-minute changes in polling. “I’d be surprised if you see any major shifts in the polls,” Gadi Wolfsfeld, an elections expert from the Interdisciplinary Centre in Herzliya, told The AJN. “Most people have decided which camp to vote for.”

The big unknown factor, he said, is how many people actually go to vote. “The question we really don’t know, since we haven’t had elections in quick succession, is turnout,” he said, explaining that the success of parties will hinge on their ability to overcome voter fatigue and get them to polling stations. 

Questions over turnout have prompted some politicians to call for Australian-style compulsory voting in the future, and Lieberman said, “We want to implement the Australian law ‘copy-paste’ here for the State of Israel.”

If the final count reflects the polls, either Likud or Blue and White could get chosen to try forming a government, said Wolfsfeld. President Reuven Rivlin will decide who is chosen based on who each party nominates, weighting their choices according to how many seats they control.

According to the Channel 11 survey released on Tuesday, Blue and White stands to win 32 seats and Likud 31 seats. The mostly-Arab Joint List is polling at 10 seats, and the rightist Yamina and Israel Beytenu each stand to win 9. Ultra-Orthodox parties look set to secure 14 seats between them. Left-wing parties Labour and the Democratic Camp are polling at five and six seats respectively. 

As Lieberman is keeping his cards close to his chest, and refusing to say who he will nominate, we don’t know from polling data who will receive most nominations. 

Wolfsfeld predicts that the election will be decided in the hours and days after polling stations close. Unless either party steams ahead in results, Gantz will quickly start working to secure Lieberman’s nomination, while Netanyahu will quickly start working to get politicians from other parties to defect to Likud. Whoever succeeds, said Wolfsfeld, will become the next PM.

NATHAN JEFFAY