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Monday, March 8, 2021

Netanyahu Politics Possibly Behind Increased Left Support for Arab Joint List

Political experts say poll showing increased left, right support for hardliners reveals the influence of the prime minister

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(The Media Line) A new poll shows that 62% of Israel’s left support including the Arab Joint List in the government. At the same time, 37% of the Israeli right expressed support for controversial far-right activist Itamar Ben-Gvir as a future government minister.

Experts explain that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s politics are behind both results, which show a drift toward the extremes. However, parties on both sides are staying the course despite the shift in the electorate.

Israel will be going to its fourth round of elections in two years on March 23. With slightly more than a month to the elections, Israeli radio station 103FM on Monday released a poll conducted by the research institute Panel Politics to gauge the views of the electorate. While the poll revealed no surprise fall or rise in parliamentary power for any party, its questions about support for the inclusion of formerly off-limits elements in Israeli politics in the future government revealed surprising results that have generated headlines.

The first question asked respondents whether they supported or opposed appointing Ben-Gvir as a minister in the next government. Ben-Gvir, a leader of the Otzma Yehudit party who is associated with the Kahanist movement, is a well-known far-right activist whose political legitimacy has been questioned by fellow members of the Israeli right in the past. In response to the question, 37% of those self-identifying as right wing responded that they supported appointing Ben-Gvir to a minister position. Some 25% of all respondents – identifying as right, center and left – also supported his appointment, while 46% of the larger group said that they would oppose appointing Ben-Gvir.

In a second question, respondents were asked if they supported the inclusion of the Arab Joint List in a future government. The Arab Joint List, now comprising three separate Arab-majority parties running together, has been considered off-limits for a variety of positions considered radically left, including a call for Israel to remove its designation as a Jewish state. The poll showed that 62% of the Israeli left supports forming a future government that includes the Joint List. Some 80% of voters on the right opposed the proposition, as well as 64% of all voters.

The poll, which appears to show a shift toward the extremes on both sides of Israel’s political map, has raised eyebrows.

The primary goal of people that define themselves as left wing is to stop Netanyahu from getting reelected.

“It is possible that had we asked the same question three years ago, we would have received completely different results,” Menachem Lazar, the head of Panel Politics, told The Media Line, referring to the increased right-wing acceptance of Ben-Gvir.

Lazar said that this shift is “the result of a long process – an almost two-year process of legitimization – of preparing the public opinion to accept that Ben-Gvir is a legitimate lawmaker, a legitimate coalition member and a maybe even a legitimate minister.”

This process, he explains, has been pushed by Netanyahu, who has urged more mainstream right-wing parties to merge with Ben-Gvir’s small Otzma Yehudit. By doing this, Netanyahu is hoping to avoid losing right-wing votes to small parties that normally don’t cross the electoral threshold of 3.25% or some 4 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament.  

The change in Israel’s left, Lazar says, is also brought about by Netanyahu, but for opposite reasons.

“The primary goal of people that define themselves as left wing is to stop Netanyahu from getting reelected. Some were willing to include the Joint List in the government from the get go, but others are saying just like what we identified on the right with regard to Ben-Gvir – if this is what is needed to avoid Netanyahu as our next prime minister, let the Joint List be a part of the government,” he said.

The pollster points to Netanyahu’s recent flirtation with Islamist lawmaker Mansour Abbas as a move that legitimized acceptance of the Joint List on the left. If Netanyahu is open to having such an Arab partner, Lazar says, “then why not?”

Efi, a young Jerusalemite supporter of the Likud Party headed by Netanyahu, took a less partisan stance when describing his support for an appointment of Ben-Gvir, were it on the table.

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