Netanyahu Supporters Scramble to Dissuade Kahlon From Running on Separate Ticket

Polls show popular minister winning fewer seats than previously projected.

Senior politicians in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday scrambled to dissuade outgoing Communications Minister Moshe Kahlon from running on an independent list in January's Knesset elections.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, who joined Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman in the mediation, told Netanyahu after speaking with Kahlon: "There is still a chance of bringing him back to the Likud."

Rivlin said he told Kahlon: "You are part of the Likud's DNA. Come back home."

Netanyahu may meet Kahlon for a tete-a-tete before the latter makes up his mind whether to leave the Likud and form his own party.

Many in the Likud fear that a new party formed by Kahlon will draw votes away from the Likud, rather than from centrist parties.

Kahlon told associates he would decide in a few days whether to quit the Likud and contend in the Knesset elections at the head of a separate list. His associates say his decision will be based on the results of an in-depth survey he has commissioned and on consultations with associates and family members.

Meanwhile, two surveys released on Thursday shattered the great expectations raised by a survey released by the Rafi Smith Institute earlier this week. The survey, commissioned by Kahlon's associates, had predicted 20 Knesset seats for a list headed by Kahlon, spurring him to consider forming his own party after quitting the Knesset.

But a survey conducted by the Maagar Mochot research institute predicts Kahlon's list would get 13 Knesset seats, Channel 2 reported on Thursday. According to this survey, the bulk of Kahlon's votes - accounting for six Knesset seats - would come from the Likud, four would come from Labor, one from Shas and another from Yesh Atid.

Another survey, by Geocartography, predicts a Kahlon-headed party would get only 10 Knesset seats.

Kahlon shocked the political echelon last month when he announced he would be stepping down from political life. "I've announced that I won't campaign for a Knesset spot, but I am not quitting the Likud," he said. But recent reports indicated the outgoing minister was weighing the formation of a new, socially oriented party, geared toward challenging Netanyahu's socioeconomic policies.

Political sources Thursday cast doubt on the ability of such a party - which is expected to be essentially rightist - to draw a significant number of votes from Labor.

An NGO called The Social Guard on Thursday released a report showing Kahlon's voting patterns in the Knesset were "antisocial according to almost every social parameter." The report rebuts Kahlon's image as a champion of social justice and gives him a low "social score," as measured by his voting patterns in the Knesset. The NGO's "social scale," created in cooperation with The Public Knowledge Workshop, gives Kahlon minus six - a score lower than some of his fellow Likudniks such as Gila Gamliel (who received minus one ), Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom, Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon and Minister Yossi Peled (who each received minus four ), and Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (minus five ).

The Social Guard also checked the number of times Kahlon voted in favor of a progressive socioeconomic policy, comparing the data with that of other Likud ministers. The survey reveals that Kahlon supported progressive policies in only 37 percent of the votes he took part in, positioning him in seventh place among Likud ministers alone. He trails Gamliel (with 50 percent ), Peled (with 44 percent ), Ya'alon (with 43 percent ), Katz (with 41 percent ), and Michael Eitan and Benny Begin (with 38 percent each ).

The bills in question that Kahlon voted against - citing coalition discipline - included introducing a VAT exemption for young couples buying their first apartment; raising welfare stipends for senior citizens; funding and constructing shelters for victims of domestic violence; creating subsidized loans for Israel Defense Forces veterans, as well as for those eligible for public housing; forming day-care centers in the workplace; forbidding parallel membership on the boards of banks and public companies; and introducing a VAT exemption on water and sewage payments.

Nir Kafri