Israel's Netanyahu rapidly losing popularity, new poll shows

The Prime Minister's troubles come amid soaring regional tensions, which the opposition accuses him of aggravating

A banner depicts Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a demonstration against the government's judicial overhaul in Tel Aviv. Reuters
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party would lose 12 seats if an election was held today, a low that the party has not seen in almost two decades, according to a poll released by Israeli news outlet Channel 12.

Coalition partners would also lose a significant share of the vote, giving the government a total of just 46 seats, well below the 61 needed to secure a majority. Today’s coalition currently holds 64 seats.

According to the poll, opposition party National Unity, headed by Benny Gantz, would more than double its presence in parliament with a total of 29 seats, almost as much as Likud’s current tally of 32.

The devastating figures come as Mr Netanyahu faces serious questions from both politicians and the public over his handling of Israel’s current security crisis and his divisive push for judicial reforms that have sparked the largest protest movement in Israeli history.

Anger has been rising at home and abroad over Israel’s treatment last week of Muslim worshippers who barricaded themselves inside the prayer hall of Al Aqsa Mosque.

The worshippers said they were defending the holy site from Israeli settlers seeking access to the sacred area on which the mosque sits.

Israeli officials say that they were rioting and stockpiling weapons to use against settlers.

Al Aqsa is the third holiest site in Islam, while Jews revere the site as the location of biblical era temples.

On Sunday, Israeli Police commissioner Kobi Shabtai defended police actions to clear the site but admitted that officers used “a little too much force”.

The scenes led to soaring tensions with Palestinians and rocket attacks from militant groups in Lebanon, Syria and the Gaza Strip on Thursday, prompting retaliatory strikes from Israel.

On Monday, two Israeli soldiers were wounded by gunfire in the flashpoint West Bank city of Nablus, the military said.

Later, a Palestinian was killed during an Israeli military raid near the West Bank city of Jericho, the Palestinian health ministry said.

Also on Monday, the mother of two British-Israeli sisters killed in a shooting in the occupied West Bank on Friday died from injuries sustained in the attack.

Later in the day, an Italian tourist died in a car ramming in Tel Aviv. Seven others were injured, all tourists.

A man inspects damage at his house left by a rocket following Israeli air strikes in Al Qulaylah, on the outskirts of the city of Tyre, south of the Lebanese capital Beirut on April 7. AFP

Opposition leader Yair Lapid said he was “even more worried” about the situation after attending a security briefing on Sunday at the Prime Minister's invitation.

In a televised statement, Mr Lapid, whose Yesh Atid party is also lagging in support according to Channel 12's poll, said Mr Netanyahu “needs to announce that he has taken the firing of Defence Minister Yoav Gallant off the table, to admit that he cannot rely on his Cabinet and to create a small, stable security forum to deal with the situation”.

“What our enemies see in front of them, in all arenas, is an incompetent government. A cabinet no one trusts,” he said.

Mr Netanyahu said he was firing Mr Gallant after the defence minister said publicly last month that the judicial reforms posed a “tangible” threat to national security, citing threats from a growing number of elite Israeli reservists to boycott service in protest and growing intelligence that Israel’s enemies were seeking to exploit the domestic turmoil.

Mr Gallant has still not formally been removed from his position, and appeared alongside the prime minister during a visit to the scene of Friday's shooting in the northern West Bank.

The damaging poll results come as more cracks appear within the coalition, the most right-wing in Israeli history.

On Monday, seven government ministers staged a march through the West Bank, including far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Minister of National Security Itamar Ben-Gvir, according to Channel 12.

Security officials have privately warned that the march will further strain Israeli forces in the area, which they say are already “stretched thin”.

The route of the march passes close to the Palestinian town of Huwara, where Israeli settlers went on a rampage in February, setting fire to Arab homes and property, after two Israeli brothers were killed outside the town earlier.

Mr Smotrich drew worldwide condemnation for later calling for the town to be “wiped out”, and subsequently apologised for his comments.

The Finance Minister, who heads the Religious Zionism party, joined forces with Mr Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party during the last elections.

They won 14 seats, and joined Mr Netanyahu’s coalition to much criticism among liberal Israelis given the pair’s far-right manifestos.

Following his meeting with Mr Netanyahu on Sunday, Mr Lapid labelled Mr Ben-Gvir a “TikTok clown who has lost the trust of the police” and called on the prime minister to remove Mr Smotrich from a second position he holds in the Defence Ministry.

Channel 12’s poll on Sunday also showed declining public support for the far-right alliance, which the broadcaster said would lose three seats in an election.

The survey gathered data from 699 respondents, 100 of whom were not Jewish.

Two other polls published at the end of March also predicted a drop in support for Likud, and a surge in popularity for National Unity.

Updated: April 10, 2023, 5:37 PM