Netanyahu’s challenger Benny Gantz’s troubles in the polls worsen as the bribery cases against Netanyahu appear to be a witch hunt and the story of the Iranian-hacked phone refuses to die
According to the newly published opinion poll by Walla, Benny Gantz’s new party has managed to break through several negative milestones on its way down. For the first time, the party that boasted about its ability to reach the coveted 40 seat level, crashed below the 30 seat level, polling at 29, down seven from its all time high of 36. Another first was Blue and White’s failure to come in as the largest faction in the new Knesset, coming in second to Likud, which showed up first with 32 seats. This is particularly painful, because Blue and White’s only hope to for a coalition government depends on it coming in first with a large enough lead over the Likud; a lead that would force the President to task its leader, Benny Gantz with forming the new government. Coming in second and with little to no chance to form a ruling bloc of 61 seats spells definite doom for the ambitions of various ex-generals who form the leadership of the new party.
Finally, for the first time, Blue and White, which is an uneasy marriage of Yair Lapid’s veteran Yesh Atid (there’s a future) party and Benny Gantz’s Resilience for Israel party, is polling less well than the two parties would have done, had they run separately. For Yair Lapid, a veteran politician who has no meaningful military service or business accomplishments and whose name recognition comes from his famous journalist father and his days as a popular TV personality, this news, if it indeed holds, is devastating. Lapid was happy as the biggest opposition party, but decided to gamble it all and hitch his wagon to Benny Gantz and his merry band of generals. The only reason for this gambit was to reach the prime minister’s office according to the “rotation” agreement Lapid got Gantz to offer him as the price for joining forces. This agreement stipulates that should Blue and White win the elections and form a coalition government, Gantz will serve the first two years as PM and Lapid the second.
Should the Blue and White party, after all the hype, manage to only come in second, the blow to Lapid’s reputation as a savvy politician will be severe and his hopes of reaching top dog status in Israeli politics will never have been so distant. And yet, the trends flow unmistakably in that direction. Not only is Blue and White collapsing in he polls, it is dragging down with it the entire center left bloc. Should the results of the Walla poll hold (they won’t), this bloc will boast only 52 seats, 9 of them belonging to the anti-Zionist united Arab faction. This means that Blue and White enjoys less than 40% of Zionist support in the Israeli parliament. The center right, however, can, according to these results, rely on the solid support of 68 out of 120 seats and form a stable coalition government.
The personality contest between Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu is also skewed against the challenger. Asked who they wanted to see as prime minister, 46% of the respondents preferred the incumbent Netanyahu, while only 28% opted for the challenger Gantz. The rest either preferred someone else or had no opinion. These poll results, like any others, should be viewed with a large degree of caution since there are still three weeks until the election and the four seat minimum rule can wipe out many seats from either bloc. Nevertheless, the trends are definitely in Netanyahu’s favor.
The poll in question was taken before the state witness against Netanyahu in one of his bribery cases, the one that accuses him of personally profiting from the large deal between Germany and Israel for the purchase of several modern attack submarines, recanted his testimony. The witness was immediately arrested and dragged to a police interrogation room where he felt unwell and had to be hospitalized. While the Israeli police and the prosecutor’s office are saying that they can still use the witness’s testimony and that the case against Netanyahu is intact, there can be no denying that the charge against the Solicitor General Shai Nitzani of overstepping his bounds in applying pressure to witnesses has just become much stickier and those who felt that Netanyahu may have been unfairly treated, but were giving the Department of Justice the benefit of the doubt may now return home and cast their ballots for the Likud.
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Finally, the sad story of Benny Gantz phone being hacked by Iran is refusing to die. Gantz, a cautious man by nature, has failed to address the issue head on, first accusing Netanyahu of digging up an old case of little importance, then refusing to elaborate what was on his phone and thus failing to allay the fears that he may be the target of Iranian blackmail. Iran’s recent statement that they have not broken into Gantz’s phone only made matters worse for Gantz, since everyone in Israel sees in this Iranian communique a tongue in cheek admission that they indeed have in their possession the entire contents of the private phone of a man who is an ex Chief of General Staff and who is now asking Israelis to trust him with the helm of state. This places Gantz in the unenviable position of continuing with less than credible denials that his phone contained anything of value, while at the same time declining to disclose to his potential voters what was really in it. In this, Gantz is virtually telling his voters that they cannot be relied upon to know what Iran already does. Netanyahu, smelling blood, simply asked: “Gantz, what are you hiding?”
Time will tell, but this may yet become known as the kill shot that put an end to the great white hope du jour of the Israeli left and sent yet another general to make millions in the consulting trade.
The trial of Solicitor General Shai Nitzani for treason should be interesting. Pass the popcorn!