A week after Benny Gantz’s maiden speech ahead of the April 9 election swept away the center-left and sent the new candidate soaring in the polls, the “Gantz effect” seems not to be fading, but neither is it gathering momentum with two months to go before the election.
According to an opinion poll conducted by Haaretz and Dialog under the supervision of Prof. Camil Fuchs, Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael party is maintaining its post-speech strength, receiving 22 Knesset seats. It was the second-best showing for a party in the poll, after Likud, which led with 30 seats.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would of course be willing to accept this outcome, in which his current coalition (including Yisrael Beiteinu, which recently left the coalition for electoral reasons) numbers 64 MKs of 120 total seats, without Orli Levi-Abekasis’ Gesher (still at four seats, just above the voter threshold).
Gantz's Hosen L’Yisrael has not significantly dented Likud’s or other right-wing parties’ support at the district level. It’s there, but not to a point where it poses a risk to a fifth term for Netanyahu. About two seats-worth of Hosen L’Yisrael voters voted Likud in 2015.
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Netanyahu has no reason at the moment to fear that Gantz will ruin his camp. On the spectrum from right to left, 67 percent of those asked perceive of Gantz as left/left tending center/center. Even the addition to his ticket of right-wingers Moshe Ya’alon, Zvi Hauser and Yoaz Hendel, for whom Gantz obviously paid Ya’alon an exorbitant price, doesn’t paint the former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff in right-wing shades.
Netanyahu’s nightmare scenario, in which the votes for one or two of his “natural partners” fall below the electoral threshold, does not seem to be coming true, for now. They all make it into the Knesset and they all have five seats, including the leaderless Habayit Hayehudi.
That extreme right-wing party has even grown stronger according to recent polls, apparently due to reports that former military chief rabbi, Brig. Gen. (res.) Rafi Peretz, was chosen to lead it.
The picture is less optimistic for the center-left. Hosen L’Yisrael, together with the Labor Party (with 5 seats, not that far above the electoral threshold), Yesh Atid (9) and Meretz (5, also teetering dangerously close to the threshold) does not form a strong bloc, totaling only 40 seats. Together with Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al (5) and Ayman Odeh’s Joint List (7), the bloc has 52 MKs, far from making Gantz the next prime minister.
The destruction wrought by the new meteor streaking through Israel’s political skies, over the heads of Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay and Yesh Atid Chairman MK Yair Lapid, can be seen in the segmentation of the seats. Almost nine seats-worth of voters for Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s Zionist Union in 2015 have moved to Hosen L’Yisrael. Three seats-worth of voters who were in Lapid’s corner in the last election have happily bolted to Gantz.
Until Gantz tossed his hat into the ring, most of these 12 seats were Yesh Atid’s, with a minority for Labor. But these voters saw neither Lapid nor Gabbay as prime ministerial material or potential challengers to Netanyahu. If Gantz holds on until April, this trend will increase and some of the voters still faithful to Yesh Atid or Labor could cast a “strategic vote” for Gantz.
Although Netanyahu’s situation is good, deeper data show cause for concern from his perspective:
1. The undisputed “Mr. Security” is losing his advantage over his main rival. They are statistically tied as far as who the public believes will better handle security. That means that Gantz’s campaign will be about security, security and security. On issues like the economy and foreign affairs, in which Netanyahu has him beat, he has nothing to sell.
2. A significant number (47 percent) of those asked do not want to see Netanyahu as prime minister again after the election. This is a greater majority than the right-wing camp has, which means that the strength of the entire camp as an electoral brand outstrips that of its leader. That is the opposite of the message Netanyahu is trying to send — that without him there is no right wing, no government, no country.
3. If almost half of those polled are now saying no to a fifth term for Netanyahu, what impact will a pre-election decision by the attorney general to indict him have?
4. The same number (46 percent) does not agree with the prime minister that “the game is rigged” and that the attorney general has surrendered to pressure from the left and the media. When Netanyahu accused the police and its former commissioner Roni Alsheich of framing him, he received much greater support.