Less than three weeks since the end of the last election campaign and the beginning of the coronavirus crisis in Israel, the two major political trends as the country concludes one of the grimmest weeks in its recent history, are: Netanyahu and the Likud have settled on 40 Knesset seats in a future election; and Benny Gantz is approaching the most critical moment in his fledgling political career, according to Direct Polls.
Gantz managed to do what no other left-leaning candidate had been able to do for nearly two decades: receive the legitimacy and support of more than five rightwing mandates who believed his views were sufficiently rightwing to justify moving behind him and abandoning a declining Netanyahu.
In less than six months after entering politics, Gantz took the reins of the center-left bloc, pushing out of the way his competitors – Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, as well as Avi Gabay, Tzipi Livni and a slew of other qualified and popular Labor politicians.
The secret for being able to attract voters with seemingly contradictory points of view was Gantz’s strategy of agenda ambiguity, which he and the Blue&White campaign team have perfected, attracting the bulk of “anyone but Bibi” voters across the political map. The new party was comprised of so many contradictions, that its four leaders (“The Cockpit”) were making irreconcilable statements every day, and it worked, because, above anything else, they promised to unseat Netanyahu.
But No one imagined, least of all the Blue&White team, that this ambiguity would have to carry the day in three successive election campaigns over less than a year, providing distinctly opposed opinions and avoiding the burning issues of the day such as the Nationality Law, the Draft Law, and the Deal of the Century.
When challenged, Gantz et al said theirs was a big and inclusive party with many opinions, but in the end only one view would carry the day, the chairman’s view. It still didn’t make sense, especially in Israel’s ideologically-based parties, but Blue&White voters were ready to forgive even that, provided that the payoff would be the decapitation of King Bibi.
But then, a few weeks before the third election round, one additional burning issue took center-stage: will Blue&White invite the Joint Arab List in the government coalition.
We should emphasize at this point the distinction—which is clear to most Israelis—between Israeli Arab citizens and the Joint Arab List. With few exceptions, the majority of Israeli Jews not only believes in upholding the human and civil rights of Arab citizens, but practice these values every day. Most Israelis run into Arabs at work, on the beach, in the parks, in restaurants, and accept them. What else are they supposed to do? Roughly 20% of Israelis are Arab and it’s in both groups’ best interests to get along.
The Joint Arab List is a different story altogether. Forged not by ideology but by the need to survive Avigdor Liberman’s draconian legislation which set the threshold vote at 3.25%, meaning a party has to get 4 seats before it can enter the Knesset. As a result, some reasonable, business-oriented Arab leaders were forced to join hands with fanatical Islamists, communists and Palestinian nationalists, many of whom are on the record as denying both the Jewish state and its Zionist agenda.
And a month ago, Gantz stepped on the biggest political landmine of his short career when he had to decide: Tibi or Bibi. As a result, in less than a month, he set fire to almost six mandates he had taken from the right. The vast majority of Blue&White voters the left, like most of his party, could see with their own eyes the takedown of the reviled PM right-wing replacement, and solidified their commitment. But for about five soft-right mandates it was a bridge too far – and they started to return home, awarding Likud the largest vote on March 2, and now getting Likud and Bibi to 40 mandates, should elections be held today.
As a result, a third consecutive mandate survey of Direct Polls in 10 days indicates that the trend has stabilized, with Blue&White losing four mandates to Likud.
As it appears now, Gantz realizes he has lost his strategic advantage, and should he not cut his losses and sign a rotation government in collaboration with Netanyahu – he will not be able to regain the confidence of those five-six mandates from the right that were ready to follow him back in April.
The fourth election’s outcome, according to Direct Polls, will be more reminiscent of the 2015 results, which gave Bibi a rightwing government without Liberman. Time will tell.
The survey was conducted by Shlomo Filber and Tzuriel Sharon, owners of Direct Polls LTD, on March 19, 2020 at noon, using a digital system integrated with a panel, among 602 respondents, ages 18+, with a +-4.2% sampling error and 95% probability.