The Slatest

Netanyahu Not Doing Great in Israeli Polls

A Netanyahu campaign poster in the city of Ranat Gan.

Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty

Benjamin Netanyahu’s foray into partisan American politics via a speech to Congress has made him a very controversial figure here in recent weeks, and new polls indicate that—with March 17 elections drawing close—he’s hardly universally beloved in Israel either at the moment. From the Wall Street Journal:

Two polls on Wednesday put Isaac Herzog, leader of the dovish Labor Party, slightly ahead and suggest that support for Mr. Netanyahu and his Likud party among working-class Jews has eroded because of their widespread perception that he has focused on nuclear threats from Iran and extremist Muslims at the expense of economic problems.

“He’s talking about something that isn’t relevant—Iran and ISIS,’’ said Avi Biton, owner of a snack bar and a Likud voter in previous elections.

(The crucial snack bar demographic!)

Israel’s election will allot seats in its parliament (the Knesset), after which the leader of the party that wins the most seats will likely form a governing coalition and become prime minister. The polls cited by the Journal anticipate that Herzog’s Zionist Union alliance will win either 25 or 24 seats out of 120, to Likud’s 21. (Herzog says he will hand over the prime minister’s job to alliance partner Tzipi Livni in two years if victorious.)

Herzog, 54, is the son of a former Israeli general who also served as the country’s president and ambassador to the United Nations. His nickname is “Bougie.”

As both the Journal and Haaretz point out, Herzog’s party’s surge doesn’t appear to be driven by particular affection for the man himself: In the Haaretz poll, 48 percent of respondents given a direct choice between Netanyahu and Herzog said the former was the “most appropriate” candidate for the prime minister’s job; only 34 percent said Herzog was. That said, Herzog has narrowed his deficit on that question from 26 points to 14 points in just the last 10 days, and since Israel doesn’t elect its leader directly, his relative lack of personal popularity might not matter in the end anyway.