With Israel’s parliamentary election looming on Tuesday, incumbent prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu is beginning to face a steep climb to victory — and he’s losing support in the United States as well.
Leading Israeli newspaper Haaretz published a poll Thursday that had the Zionist Union candidate bloc, led by the opposition Labor Party, ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud Party by a margin of 24 parliamentary seats to 21. And the gap is widening: Zionist Union’s advantage grew by one parliamentary seat over the previous Haaretz poll, while Likud lost two.
In the Israeli electoral system, voters select party lists instead of individual candidates. The 120 seats of the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, are then allocated proportionately to all lists that met a certain election threshold. As a result of the system, parties often merge their lists in order to gain a stronger advantage over their rivals. At least ten separate lists are expected to exceed the threshold in this election.
Zionist Union was formed by two leading opposition figures: Isaac Herzog of the Labor Party and Tzipi Livni, the Justice Minister in Netanyahu’s recently dissolved cabinet. (RELATED: Will Netanyahu Remain Israel’s Prime Minister?)
Livni, a former Likud politician, has headed a party called Hatnuah since 2013. The list’s two leaders have agreed to rotate the role of Prime Minister if they win on Tuesday.
Their bloc is also expected to receive the support of the Joint List, an alignment of Israel’s various Arab parties. Since no single party has ever won a sufficient majority of the Knesset to form a working government on its own, leading parties depend on the support of smaller ones, which in Israel are manifold, fickle and ideologically diverse.
Despite Zionist Union’s strong showing in the Haaretz poll, it also showed 48% of respondents saying Netanyahu was more “appropriate” as Prime Minister than Herzog.
Meanwhile, Netanyahu has bad news on another front: his speech before Congress last week had the opposite of the intended effect on the U.S. According to a Gallup poll released on Wednesday, 38 percent of Americans viewed him favorably after his speech, as compared to 45 percent the month before. His ratings in the States just before the speech were “among the highest Gallup has measured for him.” (RELATED: Israelis And Iranians Keenly Watch Bibi In DC)
The poor polling numbers seem to have taken a toll on Netanyahu. In a Thursday interview with the Jerusalem Post, he urged voters to back Likud, warning that a Zionist Union victory, “with the backing of the Arab parties,” would “cause such a monumental shift in policy that it will endanger the security of Israel.” Livni and Herzog, he claimed, “can’t stand up for a second” to the United States’ attempts to reach a nuclear deal with Iran.
He also complained of a “massive effort of millions of dollars” from groups outside Israel, engaging in “secret dealings” to destroy his candidacy. He declined to go into specifics.
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