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Israeli public prefers Gantz over Netanyahu according to fresh polls amid Hamas war

Minister Benny Gantz speaks during a press conference at the Ministry of Defense, in Tel Aviv. Dec. 16, 2023. (Photo: Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was the most popular leader in Israeli politics for many years. However, new polls indicate that the Israeli public currently prefers former Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz over Netanyahu.

If elections were held today, Gantz’s National Unity party would reportedly become the largest party with 39 seats, according to Israel's Maariv news outlet. According to a local Channel 12 report, Gantz would earn 35 seats, a dramatic increase compared to the party’s current 12 parliamentary seats.

The Maariv poll predicted that Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party would collapse to merely 16 seats from its current 32 seats if elections were held in Israel today.

In addition, the poll also predicted that opposition leader Yair Lapid, the leader of the Yesh Atid party, would shrink by almost 50%, from 24 to only 13 seats.

A Gantz-led political coalition would reportedly be able to muster some 71 seats, a fairly comfortable majority as only 61 seats are needed to establish a ruling coalition. By contrast, the current Netanyahu-led coalition would shrink to only 44 seats compared to its current 64 seats, according to the Maariv poll.

In other words, the Netanyahu-led coalition would no longer have a majority if elections were held today. Channel 12's poll predicted a slightly tighter race but still with an edge for a Gantz-led coalition winning 67 seats compared to 48 seats for the current Netanyahu coalition government.

Even as a political rival to the Israeli prime minister, Gantz agreed to temporarily join the Netanyahu-led coalition government to unite the Israeli public after the unprecedented Hamas massacre of over 1,200 Israelis and the abduction of about 240 into Gaza on Oct. 7, the attack that led to the current war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza.

Netanyahu was long considered the most suitable politician to lead Israel. However, the Oct. 7 attack seriously undermined Netanyahu’s previous image as 'Mr. Security.' The fresh Channel 12 poll suggests that only 29% of the respondents prefer Netanyahu to be prime minister, compared to 42% who prefer his political rival Gantz. Some 19% of those polled favor former Mossad Chief Yossi Cohen to lead the Jewish state if he were to enter Israeli politics. Furthermore, when respondents were given the choice between Netanyahu or former Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, the poll showed that Bennett (31%) was slightly favored over Netanyahu (30%).

The rise of Gantz in the polls indicates that the Israeli public approves of his decision to temporarily join Israel's War Cabinet, the current Netanyahu-led emergency coalition government amid the ongoing war with Hamas. Gantz, who currently serves as a minister without portfolio, has been present in all key decisions affecting Israel, amid the nation’s greatest crisis since the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

Gantz is a retired IDF chief of staff who entered Israeli politics in 2018. In the lead-up to elections in April 2019, Gantz formed a political alliance called the "Blue and White" electoral coalition. This coalition was a merger of three parties: Israel Resilience, Lapid's Yesh Atid party, and Telem (led by Moshe Ya'alon)

While lacking Netanyahu’s charisma and political experience, some pundits believe Gantz brought moderation and a sense of unity in the highly fractured and divisive Israeli political system.

A July 2023 poll had already indicated that Gantz’s party would become the Knesset’s largest party, with 30 seats compared to 29 seats for Netanyahu’s Likud. However, since the outbreak of the Hamas war, Netanyahu has been sinking dramatically in the polls, while Gantz is currently enjoying a surge in popularity.

The All Israel News Staff is a team of journalists in Israel.

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