Photo Credit: Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel announce the formation of their Zionist Spirit party, July 27, 2022.

According to a Panels Politics Institute poll published by Maariv Friday, if the elections for the 25th Knesset were held today, the newly hatched Haruach Hatzionit party (commonly translated as Zionist Spirit, we considered calling it Zionist Ghost, or Zionist Wind, all of which are proper translations) would receive 3.3% and manage, for the first time for both its partners this election season, to cross the 3.25% vote threshold. Ayelet Shaked (formerly Yamina) and Yoaz Hendel (formerly Derech Eretz) would therefore collect 4 seats.

This could mean that, should Hendel not object, he and Shaked could deliver the much needed 4 votes to complete a right-wing coalition government, an all-right government as local media call it. We’ll get to it further down. First, the other scores:

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The two large parties remain about the same: Likud led by Benjamin Netanyahu gets 35 seats (compared with its current 30); Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid gets 23 (compared to its current 17).

Blue & White–New Hope, led by Benny Gantz and Gideon Saar, continues to lose popularity, dropping from 12 to 11 seats, with the lost vote shifting to the Zionist spirit.

Religious Zionism, where the skirmish between Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben Gvir continues, remains with 10 mandates, which is better than its current 6, but lower than the best figure for the NRP heirs – 12.

Shas led by Aryeh Deri is unchanged with 8 mandates, but United Torah Judaism led by Moshe Gafni drops to 6 from its current 7. That seat was also picked up by Shaked and Hendel.

The Joint Arab List led by Ayman Odeh retains its 6 seats, and Ra’am led by Mansour Abbas keeps its 4. To remind you, when those two factions ran together in 2015, they collected 13 seats. The whole certainly is bigger than the sum of its parts.

Yisrael Beitenu led by Avigdor Liberman also loses one seat and drops to 5. Maybe Smotrich put a hex on Liberman when he told a reporter (not knowing he was being recorded), “We Must Kill Evet [Liberman].”

The Labor Party led by Merav Michaeli drops this week from 5 to 4 mandates – the same as Meretz. But for Meretz, the drop to 4 is from its current 6, while Labor sinks to 4 from 7. Here’s the question: would Labor and Meretz running together match their current combined number of 13? Would it even match this poll’s 8? It’s going to be a very long election season.

Let’s do the blocs math: Likud – 35 + Religious Zionism – 10 + Shas 8 + UTJ – 6 + Zionist Spirit – 4 = 63.

It’s certainly enough for a solid, right-wing coalition government, with a big added advantage over the previous ruling coalition which was filled with unknown variables in several key parties. With the exception of Ben Gvir, who may or may not settle his differences with Smotrich, these parties are mostly disciplined, ready to work hard, and (we hope so badly) scandal-free. In this mix, the future of the largest coalition member, Likud, will depend on the progress of Netanyahu’s trial, and on whether or not the current rather vicious internal fighting will subside after the primaries.

There’s also the element I repeat here with the tenacity of an old bulldog: Netanyahu will never form a government where he would mark the left wing. He needs someone more to the left of him to be able to carry out without political consequence the dirty stuff, like uprooting settlements, raising taxes, whatever schmutz that must be done but shouldn’t stick to his Armani suit. His most recent pick was Benny Gantz, but even Gantz learned eventually that life with Bibi is a painful experience for his leftwing patsy. So much so that Gantz went into a political marriage with Gideon Saar, Bibi’s sworn enemy.

All things being equal, my money is on Labor, if it doesn’t form a joint faction with Meretz. It won’t be the first time Labor crossed the aisle, ostensibly to tame the “right-wing extremists” such as Religious Zionism. But Mrs. Smotrich didn’t raise a fool, and he is liable to stand on his hind legs over Merav Michaeli as fiercely as he did over Mansour Abbas.

This poll is not a breath of fresh air to Yair Lapid and the center-left. The bloc math without the Joint Arab List is grim:

Yesh Atid – 23 + Blue & White-New Hope – 11 + Israel Beitenu – 5 + Labor – 4 + Meretz – 4 + Ra’am – 4 = 51.

Even with the tacit support of the Joint Arab List, the left still doesn’t reach the desired 61. Not even close. It may be time for Yair Lapid to book himself a lecture series in Europe for the winter semester.

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David writes news at JewishPress.com.
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