Benny Gantz is now level with Benjamin Netanyahu as the public’s preferred prime minister, and could lead the largest party if he merged with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, according to a series of polls following his speech on Tuesday night.
A poll broadcast by Hadashot TV news predicted that Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael (‘Resilience for Israel’) party could win 21 seats, still some way behind Netanyahu’s Likud predicted to win 30 seats. A Channel 13 poll predicted Gantz’s party could win 24 seats and a Walla News poll predicted it could win 19 seats. If Gantz and Lapid were to run together under Gantz’s leadership, the Hadashot survey shows the party surging past Likud and winning 35 seats. Prior to his speech on Tuesday night, Gantz was predicted to win 13-15 seats.
In head to head polls asking Israelis who they prefer to be prime minister, the Hadashot poll said 35 per cent of people supported Gantz and 36 per cent supported Netanyahu. This is the first time any candidate has come close to Netanyahu on a head to head poll since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu took office in 2009.
If Gantz’s party were to win the most seats in the 9 April election, or if he were able to form an anti-Netanyahu majority coalition in the Knesset, he could be asked to form the next government.
However, much of Gantz’s increased support appears to be at the expense of other centre and left parties, especially Yesh Atid and Labor. Yesh Atid is predicted to win 11 seats in the Hadashot poll, 9 in the Channel 13 poll, and 12 in the Walla poll. Labor is predicted to win just 6 seats in the Hadashot and Channel 13 polls, and 7 in the Walla poll.
Another significant feature of the latest polls is the number of parties close to the electoral threshold and in danger of not winning any seats in the election, including the centrist Gesher party of Orly Levy; the left-liberal Meretz; the national religious Jewish Home; and the hawkish-nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party led by Avigdor Lieberman. This increases the likelihood of party mergers ahead of the 21 February deadline for submitting party lists. The party of former Foreign and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni is currently polling well below the electoral threshold of 3.25 per cent.
The significant threat posed by Gantz to the ruling coalition was reflected in a series of blistering attack ads launched following his maiden speech, trying to depict the former IDF Chief of Staff as a weak leftist.