03/29/2023, 21.33
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Legal reform crisis helps Gantz, punishes Netanyahu

Mass protests weaken support for the current government. Projections from two recent polls suggest the ruling coalition would drop to 53 seats out of 120. Voters prefer Gantz over Netanyahu by 37 to 30 per cent, while the other main opposition leader, Lapid, is just holding his own. Meanwhile, US President Biden snubs (again) Israeli Prime Minister.

Jerusalem (AsiaNews) – If elections were held in Israel now, support for Benny Gantz, leader of the National Unity alliance, would double, denying incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu his current majority in the Knesset with far fewer than the 60 seats needed to govern in the 120-member parliament.

The government’s controversial reform for Israel’s justice is the main factor in this major shift in public opinion which drove hundreds of thousands of Israelis into the streets backed by the firm opposition of many members of the judiciary, the defence community and among military reservists, forcing the government to put its plans “on hold”.

The crisis that cut support for Israel’s current government, at least temporarily, also impacted Israel’s relations with the United States, where President Joe Biden said that the Israeli prime minister would not be coming to the White House any time soon.

Many Israel watchers have their sight on Benny Gantz, a former Chief of the General Staff, leader of the centrist Blue White alliance and one time speaker of the Knesset, defence minister and alternate prime minister of Israel (the other was Yair Lapid).

The other main opposition leader, Yair Lapid, has not profited from the situation. Support for former general is up thanks to the fallout from the crisis triggered by the judicial reforms proposed by Israel’s religious right, which are reviled by a large part of the Israeli population.

Two polls released on Monday indicate that Gantz and his National Unity alliance would double their votes, getting 23 seats according to Channel 12 and 21 seats according to Kan News, up from 12.

Prime Minister Netanyahu's Likud would drop from 32 to 25, while the ruling coalition would see its majority shrink below the 60-seat threshold, from 64 to 53-54. Lapid’s party would lose two seats, from 24 to 22.

When respondents were asked  who should lead the country, 31 per cent said Prime Minister Netanyahu against 32 per cent for Lapid; when asked to choose between Netanyahu and Gantz the response was 30 per cent for the Likud leader and 37 per cent for the former defence minister.

According to Channel 12, about 63 per cent of respondents – including 60 per cent of Likud voters – are in favour of the  decision to delay judicial reform and start fresh negotiations among the parties as Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged. Only 24 per cent of respondents are against a pause and would like to push the reform through.

On the same question, the Kan News poll shows that 62 per cent of respondents support a pause of the legislation, and 22 per cent saying that it should continue.

Some 68 per cent of respondents in the Channel 12 poll give Netanyahu a poor grade for his performance, with only 25 per cent rating him positively.

In addition, 63 per cent of respondents (58 per cent among Likud voters) oppose Netanyahu’s decision to sack Defence Minister Yoav Gallant over his call for a pause.

The hard-line wing of the government, primarily National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, are against any pause, pressing for quick approval.

To avert a government crisis, Netanyahu announced the creation of a "national guard" under the control of National Security Minister Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, giving him a de facto private militia, as ex-police commissioner Moshe Karadi described it.

Against all this, many reservists, members of the defence establishment, and the judiciary are quite outspoken in their criticism of the proposed judicial reform, which risks turning a political crisis into a much broader crisis that will affect Israel’s security.

The crisis caused by the proposed judicial reform inevitably has had an impact on Israel’s foreign relations.

US President Joe Biden has signalled that he is not pressed to see the Israeli prime minister at the White House, while Netanyahu’s embrace of the religious right risks losing him the support of the US Jewish community, as well as its influence and economic power.

Unlike recent practice, four months after taking office, the Israeli prime minister has not yet been invited to Washington, and he is not likely to be.

"Like many strong supporters of Israel, I am very worried,” President Biden said. “Hopefully, the prime minister will act in a way that he will try to work out some genuine compromise, but that remains to be seen.” Hence, he is not planning to meet Netanyahu, at least “not in the near term”.

Quickly, Netanyahu responded saying that Israel will not make any decisions “based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” while a terse Ben-Gvir said that Israel was “not another star on the American flag.”

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