Poll Shows Israel’s Biggest Opposition Party Loses Support if Leader Replaced

Yesh Atid is predicted 15 seats – down from its current 17 – with Lapid as a leader, but two less with Ofer Shelah ■ Netanyahu-led bloc has clear majority, according to Channel 12 survey

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Yair Lapid attends an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, September 15, 2019.
Yair Lapid attends an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, September 15, 2019. Credit: REUTERS/Amir Cohen

Yesh Atid, Israel's biggest opposition party, would lose support if its leader is replaced in a primary, according to a Channel 12 News poll whose results were released Saturday.

The poll found that little would change if Ofer Shelah, who said this week that he plans to run against Yair Lapid for Yesh Atid’s leadership, won that party’s primary. If Shelah were chairman rather than Lapid, the poll found, Yesh Atid would have two fewer seats – 13 – than if it kept Lapid. 

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The poll also found that an alliance of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties would be able to form a coalition government if an election were held today. The poll found that combining the seats of four parties – Likud, Yamina, Shas, and United Torah Judaism – would yield 65 seats out of the Knesset’s 120.

The country narrowly averted calling a fourth election in less than two years with legislation passed last week that extended the deadline for passing a state budget. If a budget is not passed by the new deadline of December 23, an election would automatically be called. The budget has been the subject of dispute between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, with the former demanding that a one-year budget be passed and the latter insisting on a two-year budget as outlined in their parties’ coalition agreement.

Netanyahu’s Likud party would receive 31 seats, according to the poll – down from its current 36. Yamina, the far-right party headed by Naftali Bennett that is currently in the opposition, would surge to 19 seats, making it the second-largest party – significantly more than its current six seats. An alliance with the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and Torah Judaism, currently part of the coalition and which would each get eight seats, according to the poll, would be enough to clinch a Knesset majority.

Yamina chose not to be part of the unity government formed this year, saying it would “prepare for the day after Netanyahu,” with Bennett later criticizing its coronavirus response and Netanyahu’s decision to suspend West Bank annexation as part of the country’s agreement with the United Arab Emirates to normalize ties.

The poll also had the largest opposition party, Yesh Atid, falling slightly to 15 seats from its current 17, and the Joint List alliance of largely Arab parties maintaining its 15 seats. Gantz’s Kahol Lavan, currently part of the coalition with 14 seats, would drop to 11 seats.

Yisrael Beiteinu, the right-wing party led by Avigdor Lieberman, whose refusal to join Netanyahu in a coalition led to the prime minister’s failure to form a government after two straight elections, would get eight seats, up from its current seven, according to the poll. The left-wing Meretz party would go up to six seats from its current three, according to the poll.