Israelis head to polls for third time on Monday

Israelis head to each new election with a little less enthusiasm as polls show no way out of the deadlock.

By David Isaac, World Israel News

Israelis wearily head to their third election in a year on Monday. The political gridlock is unlikely to be broken this time either as polls show neither party gaining enough seats to form a majority.

For most of the three-month campaign, polls showed Blue and White led by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz with a slight lead.

Then last week they showed the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, pulling ahead. Now, polls show a dead heat.

Israel Hayom, Israel’s largest daily, published poll results on Friday showing both parties at 33 Knesset seats. Maariv gave each 34 seats. Walla! news published a poll showing each party also at 34 seats. Israel’s public broadcaster, Kan, had the Likud slightly ahead at 35 seats.

Own goals scored by Gantz don’t appear to have influenced his supporters. He has made repeated verbal miscues, making malapropisms, stumbling over words, getting names wrong as well as well-known expressions. It has reached the point where it has become a campaign issue – and one exploited by the Likud.

The decision less than two weeks ago by the State Attorney’s Office to investigate the Fifth Dimension, a cyber security company led by Gantz, also doesn’t seem to have siphoned votes from Blue and White.

On the Likud side, Netanyahu’s boundless energy and by far his strongest campaigning of the three elections also hasn’t moved the needle. Netanyahu has criss-crossed the country, taken to the airwaves and presented himself to adoring audiences as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead the country.

“We have turned Israel into a world power, a leader in cyber technology, natural gas, water, agriculture, technology, intelligence,” Netanyahu boasted at a recent campaign stop.

In recent weeks, he jetted from the White House to Moscow to bring home a young Israeli woman jailed there on drug charges, and flew to Uganda for a meeting with a leader of Sudan, a longtime enemy country.

However, the 300,000 Likud voters that he says are sitting on the sidelines have not made their presence felt in the polls. That is the number of votes Netanyahu lost between the first election in April and second in September.

What’s at stake

The Likud says only a right-wing victory will ensure the annexation of the Jordan Valley and significant portions of Judea and Samaria, as promised in the Trump administration’s peace plan.

Blue and White says that democracy is at stake and accuses Netanyahu of corruption. Last week, Gantz accused the prime minister of a “hate crime against democracy.”

“What you have done in the last month is not a campaign of hatred but a hate crime against democracy and Israeli democracy,” Gantz said, referring to Netanyahu’s attacks on the state prosecutor and attorney general.

Netanyahu was indicted on charges of corruption in three separate cases. The trial will open on March 17, two weeks after the election.

AP contributed to this report.