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Israel’s Netanyahu Scrambles As Polls Show Rival’s Lead Growing

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Israel’s Netanyahu Scrambles As Polls Show Rival’s Lead Growing

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress at the Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

By Batsheva Sobelman, Los Angeles Times (TNS)

JERUSALEM — Four days before Israel’s general election, public opinion polls on Friday pointed to a widening lead for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rival.

However, the polls also suggested that some 15 percent of the electorate remained undecided, and Israeli elections are known for substantial last-minute vote swings.

Netanyahu’s camp appeared to take seriously his apparent electoral peril. The prime minister, who until now had made almost no campaign appearances, embarked on a blitz of media interviews and speeches.

A series of polls on Friday – the last such surveys that will appear before the vote – showed the center-left Zionist Union, headed by Isaac Herzog, with its largest lead yet, outpolling Netanyahu’s conservative Likud by between two and five seats in the 120-member Knesset, or parliament. In Israel, votes are cast for parties, not individuals.

The prime minister insisted that the Israeli public still backed him, though polls pointed to more people wanting him gone than for his tenure to continue. Netanyahu said voters perhaps mistakenly believed he would agree to form a “unity” government with Herzog’s bloc, a scenario the Israeli leader has ruled out.

“The majority of the public wants me as prime minister, but some think they can enjoy both worlds and vote for another national party and have me as prime minister,” the Israeli leader told several news outlets. “Anyone who wants me as prime minister must vote for Likud.”

Warning of his dovish rivals’ supposedly soft positions on the Palestinian issue, Iran and terror, the prime minister sounded a familiar note: that the country’s security belongs in his hands. But he acknowledged he risked being tossed out of office “if the national camp doesn’t come to its senses and vote for Likud.”

According to the polls, only half of the Likud voters of 2013 intended to vote for the party this time around.

On Friday, Netanyahu reached out to voters over Facebook, taking questions from the public on a range of issues. He claimed Herzog and opposition candidate Tzipi Livni, with whom Herzog has said he would rotate the premiership, would make concessions under international pressure that would endanger Israel’s security.

“They want to capitulate; we want to stand strong,” he said.

During the campaign, Herzog crisscrossed Israel with multiple daily appearances and interviews. Netanyahu largely refrained from direct campaigning, relying on his stature as the incumbent to keep him in the public eye.

After focusing on security and Iran’s controversial nuclear program for much of the campaign while skirting the socioeconomic challenges that trouble many Israelis, Netanyahu acknowledged high housing costs and pledged to address the issue. According to polls, Netanyahu’s party has lost considerable support to centrist parties focusing on concerns such as the cost of living.

While Netanyahu’s camp sounded the alarm to regain lost support, his rival urged his own backers to keep going full steam and avoid complacency.

“The polls show the trend clearly; we’re on our way to victory,” Herzog said on Facebook. “But to form the next government we need a much bigger camp.”

With the campaign clock ticking down, candidates and campaigners were out in force Friday, competing for attention in crowded public venues. Herzog was attending a rally in the southern city of Ashdod and an open-air market in Tel Aviv, among other stops.

Commentators noted the Zionist Union’s growing lead, but warned not to count Netanyahu out.

“Nothing is final,” columnist Ben Caspit wrote in Friday’s editions of the Maariv newspaper. “The gap is not inerasable.”

Sobelman is a special correspondent. Times staff writer Laura King in Cairo contributed to this report.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress at the Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C.   (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)



  1. Lynda Groom March 13, 2015

    If Bibi loses at home some of the blame will surely fall on his appearance before Congress. I can already smell the irony.

  2. Dominick Vila March 14, 2015

    Looks like the GOP sided with a loser. That is, unless they show the Likud how to win selections Florida style.

  3. Grannysmovin March 14, 2015

    Perhaps the people of Israel are tired of war and would like to at least consider peaceful alternatives and to spend the money and energy on rebuilding Israel economically which will also strengthen them as a country.

  4. Tony Torres March 14, 2015

    Bibi should lose,if Israeli wants peace,if Israeli want to build fences rather than bomb them. I think and hope that the Israeli people are smart enough to see thru Bibi for what he is, a War Hawk, nothing else makes Bibi tick except war.

  5. FT66 March 14, 2015

    I am excited waiting to see the results. People in Israel can’t live their entire lives with war monger like Netanyahu. Vote for a CHANGE which will bring peace of mind to you all.

  6. charleo1 March 14, 2015

    My sense is the Israeli public sees Netanyahu’s using his appearance to politicize the U.S. support of their Country, by criticizing the President’s and the five other Nation’s negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program. As a stunt that might help him with his base. But, also one the average Israeli fears might have overall negative repercussion within the U.S. that would be harmful to the strength of the relationship between the two allies going forward. I believe many feel it smacks of the same, Party first politics, that aren’t appreciated any more in Israel, than they are when the hard Right uses them in this country, to pander their own extreme political base. And and politics aside, it also amounts to what is an unfair slap in the face of a President that has supported Israel every step of the way, in every conceivable way imaginable. It has been this President, even in the face of Netanyahu’s disproportionate destruction, and loss of civilian life in Gaza, and the near worldwide condemnation of it. Has consistently championed the Right of Israel to defend to herself against the Hamas rocket attacks coming out of Gaza, and Southern Lebanon. It has been this President that has lobbied for, and Israel that has received, even more generous aid in military supplies, and material, than was allotted under any, any… of the previous administrations. He has also instructed his diplomatic contingent at the UN, to stand firmly against the vast majority of the other members, and countries, in opposition to the recognition of Palestine as a legitimate State. And who among the wide majorities of our own Jewish Community that cast their votes in this country in the cause of electing, and re-electing President Obama, doubts they have a friend in Barack Obama? Or that any of the Supreme Council of Iran doubts for one second, this President’s promise to obliterate the Islamist Republic, in answer to every hardliner’s threat to attack, or destroy the Israeli State? No I don’t believe the average Israeli sees in their best interests, their Prime Minister traveling 6000 miles to attempt to humiliate, and insult the President of their strongest ally, and most ardent supporter on the Planet, For the prime purpose of bolstering his own chances of re- election at home.

  7. Snoopdoggyd March 14, 2015

    Good, he should lose.

  8. weary_jane March 14, 2015

    He refrained from campaigning in Israel, but came to the USA to do the work of his reelection. He’s as senseless as our Congress members who invited him. Hopefully, he will lose, and so will those members of Congress when the time comes.

  9. FireBaron March 14, 2015

    So, it appears that his PR stunt of appearing before Congress didn’t work out the way he hoped. Too bad. I guess the Israeli voters are smarter than the average Republican Congressman.

    1. Independent1 March 14, 2015

      Let’s certainly hope so when the final votes are counted. Bibi is just too much of a war hawk.

  10. Daniel Jones March 14, 2015

    I hope that Israel prospers–by kicking him and his war-hawk ilk out and keeping them out and *keeping* them out, to the point of electing the party that does not contain such assholes.
    I especially hope the world points out that the only people that think like the fools calling themselves conservatives these days are the thugs and the fanatics. Say, around 2016?

  11. Mightyike March 14, 2015

    Good riddance to bad rubbish says I.

  12. Thomas Aquinas March 15, 2015

    To be brutally honest, the religion of democracy seems to be a recipe for mayhem and instability in countries with mixed ethnic and religious populations.

  13. FireBaron March 16, 2015

    Maybe if he got that rectocraniotomy he is in such desperate need of, he would see the handwriting on the polls.


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