Haaretz Popularity Poll Finds Peres More Loved Than Ever, Livni Crashes

Poll shows that Kadima would capture fewer Knesset seats under Tzipi Livni than under her main challenger, Shaul Mofaz.

Kadima chief Tzipi Livni's problems are growing two and a half weeks before the party's primary: She has come in last in a key poll, and a Channel 10 program has raised questions about the use of Kadima party funds.

The annual Haaretz-Dialog poll rated Israel's top 16 politicians; President Shimon Peres came in first. As reported by Haaretz Thursday, the poll shows that Kadima would capture fewer Knesset seats under Livni than under her main challenger, Shaul Mofaz.

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In 11th place in the Haaretz-Dialog poll was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; in 13th place was Histadrut labor federation chief Ofer Eini.

Meanwhile, former Supreme Court President Dorit Beinisch received a 57 percent approval rating, with 25 percent expressing disapproval.

Only a few weeks ago, Livni told Haaretz that "Mofaz knows that Kadima under his leadership will fall." But the Haaretz poll gave Kadima 10 seats under Livni - her lowest showing so far - and 12 under Mofaz.

"What we saw this week was a real collapse of Tzipi Livni's political branding," a Likud member said. He was cheered by Netanyahu's rise in the polls alongside Livni's slide, as well the decline by budding politician Yair Lapid.

"Livni's political rise was meteoric until she decided not to join Netanyahu's government," he said. "This poll could very well be the last nail in her political coffin."

But according to a Livni activist, "We see other figures. There's a clear, strong trend of Kadima voters who want Tzipi, and that's what's important in the primary. If Tzipi doesn't head the party, voters will flee."

Another person in Livni's circle said her supporters had never claimed she would bring in more Knesset seats as Kadima's leader and do not claim it now. This Livni aide said they had claimed that "only with Livni can Kadima win. The party's core voters prefer her, and what's more, she's the one who can bring in people who are now sitting on the fence."

Livni campaign activists said they have a list of 15,000 people who have declared they will vote for Livni.

A senior figure in the campaign of a Livni challenger said some MKs were keeping channels to Mofaz open "and say they will support the victor."

Two more key Kadima figures have recently crossed over from Livni to Mofaz - Roni Ben-Hamu, head of Kadima's southern district, and another activist from the south, Itamar Shimoni.

"We're getting other figures," said MK Nachman Shai, a Livni supporter. "I have a good feeling from conversations I've had with activists. Even if people move from here to there, that doesn't mean they take the whole camp. Kadima is clearly going through a crisis, but some of that is the result of the primary and the split in the party."

Livni and the lawmakers supporting her met on Thursday for a photo op as they phoned voters. Kadima officials said Livni's mood seemed good. "But you have to take into consideration that people learn to wear a mask," one added.

The Channel 10 investigative program "Hamakor" raised questions about the use of Kadima party funds.

An official involved with the program said Kadima people tried to stop the broadcast. He said several prominent attorneys were involved in the effort, and phone calls were made to senior figures at Channel 10. Callers reminded station directors that Kadima people had helped it when it was in danger of being shut down, the official said.

Another issue arose when the chairwoman of Israel's election committee, Edna Beckenstein, said Kadima's deputy director general would not be able to take unpaid leave from his Kadima job to work for the Livni campaign until the committee deliberates the matter. The deputy director general, Eli Yedid, is in charge of the party's election-day organization.

The committee will meet Sunday to discuss the matter, which was brought to its attention by complaints by the campaigns of Livni's rivals, Mofaz and Avi Dichter.

The Mofaz campaign said the results of the Haaretz-Dialog poll conform with its own information.

"Life isn't a public opinion poll. The country and society are in bad shape and Kadima needs to be repaired so it can present itself to the voter as an alternative," Mofaz said. "I intend to do that, so the gap the poll showed between Likud and Kadima will soon be irrelevant. Kadima under my leadership will replace the Netanyahu government."

Kadima MK Yohanan Plesner, a Mofaz man, said the erosion can be seen at the grassroots level. "So it doesn't surprise us that now it's coming out. Mofaz is showing that he knows how to bring in Knesset votes from the right wing," Plesner said. "But this is just the beginning of the road, so we'll work hard to decide the struggle in Kadima first, then the struggle against Netanyahu."

According to Dichter, "Livni has managed to bring Kadima down. It doesn't matter if it's 10 seats or 12, we've shrunk to half or less of what we were."

But people in Kadima say the party's crisis is affecting all camps, because the Haaretz survey and other polls show that the party is losing roughly half its support.