Poll: Rivlin Is People’s Choice for Israel's President

Six candidates to vie for role in June 10 vote by MKs.

The presidential race (Amos Biderman)
The presidential race: Reuven Rivlin, the people's choice, is the one on the left.Amos Biderman

Former Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin (Likud) remains the public’s favorite candidate to be the next president, beating out both a Nobel Prize laureate and a former Supreme Court Justice, a Haaretz poll has found.

The poll − which was conducted on Tuesday, the day the candidate list closed − found that 31 percent of respondents preferred Rivlin as the next president, when Shimon Peres' term ends. Other recent polls have produced similar results.

The bigger surprise is that the public’s second and third choices were the two candidates from outside the Knesset − Prof. Dan Shechtman, who won the Nobel Prize in chemistry, and former Justice Dalia Dorner.

Shechtman was supported by 22 percent of respondents and Dorner by 11 percent.

This, however, matters relatively little, since the president is chosen by the Knesset in secret ballot, rather than the public. And among Knesset members, Shechtman and Dorner are thought to have relatively little support.

At the bottom of the list were the other three candidates from within the Knesset. MK Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (Labor) was backed by 10 percent of respondents, while MK Meir Sheetrit (Hatnuah) and former Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima) garnered four percent each. Almost a fifth of respondents − 18 percent − were undecided.

Opposition from Netanyahu

Even though Rivlin is a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, Netanyahu has fiercely opposed his candidacy.

The poll found that only 10 percent of respondents attributed the premier’s opposition to substantive reasons, while a whopping 74 percent attributed it to personal reasons. The remaining 16 percent said they didn’t know.

The survey was conducted by the Dialog company among 503 respondents. It has a margin of error of 4.4 percent.

The election will take place on June 10. Despite numerous efforts, Netanyahu was unable to find a candidate of his own to run before the candidate list closed at midnight last night. He is therefore thought unlikely to throw his weight behind any of the candidates.

Because of the unprecedented number of candidates, none of the six contenders is considered likely to win in the first round of voting. All will campaign until the last moment, but so far, none has the support of a majority of Knesset members.

For much of Tuesday, speculation was rife that these six might be joined at the last minute by a seventh. Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein fueled such speculation in an interview with Army Radio.

“My feeling is that there will yet be surprises today,” he said. “I’m afraid to turn off my phone even for a few moments lest there be additional candidates.”

Since the most likely new candidate was thought to be former Foreign Minister David Levy, whom Netanyahu had at one point considered backing, reporters quickly converged on his house in Beit She’an.

Only at about 5 P.M., however, did Levy emerge to dispel the rumors. While he said he had been urged to run by “many people,” both within the Knesset and from among the public, he decided he should do so “only if there were as broad a consensus as possible” behind his candidacy, “and this doesn’t exist.”

To run, candidates need the signatures of at least 10 MKs, and no MK can sign for more than one candidate. Thus altogether, about 70 MKs wound up signing the forms. Rivlin had the most signatures, 16. But MKs aren’t obligated to vote for the person they signed for, and some have already stated publicly that they won’t do so. For instance, MK Moshe Feiglin (Likud) agreed to provide Shechtman’s 10th signature to enable him to run, but said he had no intention of voting for him.

The campaign is likely to be bitter. Several MKs have secretly promised support to more than one candidate, and one privately admitted on Tuesday that he has been lying in his public statements about whom he plans to support. Other MKs are still undecided, or have refused to announce their choice.

At this stage, therefore, it’s impossible to assess the balance of forces among the candidates.