Ultimately, the numbers speak for themselves, and they don’t lie. Incidence of the coronavirus is measured in numbers, and so are deaths. The unemployed and the newly poor are measured in numbers, too.
But lack of confidence in the government is also expressed in numbers – 26 seats for Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, 23 seats for Naftali Bennett’s Yamina. This is a consistent, ongoing trend signifying the collapse of one leader and the rise of an alternative at a time when the only issue on the agenda is the virus.
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This isn’t a unique point in time or an unusual jump due to a fleeting enchantment with Bennett. Granted, the Gila Gamliel effect presumably influenced the dramatic poll results released by Channel 12 Tuesday night. But excluding the effect of that errant minister, what we saw on both sides is fundamentally no different than what we’ve seen for the past week or two.
Bennett hasn’t done anything special. He hasn’t issued any bombastic statements or pulled any surprises out of his sleeve. He’s just been working as usual – circulating on the ground, proposing solutions on social media and getting interviewed. His statements sound quite reasonable. And they’re falling on attentive ears. With numbers like these, he has already crossed the Rubicon. We won’t hear any more pledges of loyalty to Netanyahu from him, not even in exchange for a promise to rotate the prime minister’s job (which would clearly never be kept). For him, these numbers are a license to kill – through the ballot box, of course. And the seats he’s winning from the public mean one thing only: anyone but Bibi.
Shalom Hanoch sings, “The public is stupid, and for that they will pay.” The public indeed is paying a price, but not because they’re stupid. The poll shows the opposite. The people are smart. They’re being forced to pay because they have no other choice. They are held captive by a failing government and a dangerous, corrupt prime minister neck-deep in his own political and legal considerations that kill off any chance of seriously confronting the coronavirus crisis.
Netanyahu’s motives are only becoming more transparent: The extreme lockdown, the refusal to allow small businesses that do not serve customers face-to-face to operate, the insane tweets over the protests versus the shameful silence in the face of the violations by the ultra-Orthodox. It seeps down to the Likud-supporting mainstream. Likud supporters are suffering too, and they also know who’s to blame.
Likewise, a decisive number of Israelis say they want to call an early election: 49 percent versus only 30 percent that would rather continue under the current government. In times of war – and this period is one of those times – Israelis normally would not hear any talk of an election. First we must win, then the leaders can pay their debts at the polling stations. Now, for the first time, the situation is reversed. Election now, they say.
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Among those identifying as center-left voters, the figures are clear, even though many are on the fence in terms of whom they would vote for. This is another cause for concern for Netanyahu; a significant number of Knesset seats aren’t currently being reflected in election polls, but on Election Day, these voters would be willing to give a vote – any vote – to anyone committed to bringing his failed, destructive reign to an end.
The echoing, consistent failing grades given to Netanyahu in the latest monthly surveys indicate not just a crisis of lack of faith but a breaking point, and it’s hard to see a way back from it. The case of coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu is an inverse illustration of this. At some point, after several inflated declarations of self-importance and without actual results, Gamzu received low scores from the public. Last week, during a typical attack of passing blame, Netanyahu hit him with a blitz of attacks by senior Likud members. The result? Gamzu has been given new credit. If the government is against him, the public is for him.
Back to Bennett. He can decide to say that Netanyahu is a magician. Through two mistakes, Netanyahu pulled Bennett out of the political abyss and raised him to godlike status. The first happened when Netanyahu ran to disband the Knesset after Hayamin Hehadash did not receive the minimum number of votes to make it in, thus giving him the chance to reinvent himself with a new party, Yamina. The second was when, under pressure from his family, he tossed Bennett out of the unity bloc that was coming together. What had Bennett asked for at the time? Just the Health Ministry. That fatal mistake is now costing Netanyahu his health.