Category: Weekend Perspective

Israel was built on the multi-party system. Throughout most of the 20th century Israelis voted for parties over leaders and ideas over people. The mainstream observation of how Israeli politics has changed in the 21st century is the movement of voters to choose leaders over parties and people over ideas. This movement, along with the increase of the electoral threshold, has led to a rise in the number of political arrangements between parties, resulting in just ten Factions for the 20th Knesset. Livni’s Party would not pass the threshold without Labor. Degel HaTorah would not be in Knesset if not for Agudat Yisrael. The same could be said for The Joint List of Hadash, Ra’am, Ta’al and Balad. Tekuma owes their Knesset survival to Bayit Yehudi. The technical bloc of Yachad which failed to cross the threshold is another example.

Israel does not have fewer parties but they do have fewer faction leaders at the top of Knesset lists. One of the most remarkable events of the last election was “The Debate” between eight Faction leaders. Bayit Yehudi’s Naftali Bennett, Yisrael Beitenu’s Avigdor Liberman, Shas’s Aryeh Deri, Kulanu’s Moshe Kahlon, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, Meretz’s Zahava Gal-On, The Joint List’s Aymen Odeh and Yachad’s Eli Yishai all participated. Netanyahu, Herzog and Litzman were all absent. The Debate focused on how the leaders would solve issues and for the most part ignored their parties. A year after the elections and all these leaders are still leading their parties.

On Wednesday the Knesset ended its winter session. The Knesset passed roughly 110 new laws in 74 plenum sessions and conducted about 1,600 committee meetings over the winter. Before breaking for recess one would think that people would be summarizing their accomplishments or talking about their goals for the next session. Instead the conversation was focused on what would happen to Shas or the Zionist Union if they lose their leaders. Because there has been no turnover since the election, I’d like to extend that question and examine what would happen today if the leaders from each Faction were removed.

Let’s start with Netanyahu. The Likud was founded in 1973 and its founder Menachem Begin became Prime Minister in 1977. In fact all four Likud leaders (Begin, Shamir, Netanyahu and Sharon) have become Prime Minister. Of course Likud has had its low points, such as their drop from 38 seats in 2003 (40 following the Yisrael B’Aliyah merger) to 12 in 2006. Likud is on a hot streak and has been the ruling party for the past three terms. They have plenty of candidates who can take over the party and try to become the fifth party leader, and perhaps Prime Minister.

Following its establishment in 1968 the first five Labor Party leaders (Eshkol, Meir, Rabin, Peres, Barak) became Prime Minister. The next five (Ben-Eliezer, Mitzna, Peretz, Yachimovich and Herzog) have not. How would things look without Herzog? I think it could be very likely Herzog loses his next primary before the police make a decision on whether or not to officially press charges. It is possible that the new Labor leader decides to dump Livni. It is less likely, but possible, Livni dumps Labor if she doesn’t like the new leader. There are many candidates and it will be difficult to predict a final result here. Margalit, one of the Labor candidates facing Herzog in the primary that still doesn’t have a date, warned against becoming another Kadima. Kadima fell from 28 seats in 2009 to 2 seats in the following 2013 election. I don’t see Labor falling under the current 3.25% threshold but there is a likely scenario where Lapid takes the momentum and Labor finishes in the high single digits.

The Joint List is a new endeavor, and choosing rookie MK Odeh to lead it was an interesting choice. When you have a collection of four parties anything is possible, and Hadash might not stay if they do not have the top spot on the joint list. Also Odeh may not be re-elected as the leader of Hadash because predicting Central Committee elections is about as accurate as predicting an American Caucus Election.

There is no Yesh Atid without Yair Lapid. The good news for Lapid is that he stands a lot to gain from Herzog’s current troubles. What would happen without Lapid? The current #2 Yael German is not the type of person capable of winning double-digits and Lapid’s former #2 Shai Piron is not either. This is how center parties work and that is also why they don’t last. There is no future for this party without Lapid. The MKs would all scramble and end up in either Likud or Labor.

The same can be said about Kulanu. Without Moshe Kahlon there is no Kulanu. Most of the MKs would probably immediately merge with Likud.

Without Naftali Bennett the Bayit Yehudi would probably go back to the three seats they had with their first leader Professor Daniel Hershkovitz, but the new 3.25% electoral threshold creates a bleak outlook for the party after Bennett. Of course there is the argument that if Ayelet Shaked took over the party that might not be the case.

The focus of Shas has always been on their spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who founded the party in 1984 and de-facto ran it until his death in late 2013. In a clever series of moves Deri was able to regain control of the party and ultimately oust Yishai, who had taken over for him in 2000 after Deri entered prison. If Deri leaves it will be difficult for Yishai, who led the party for 13 years, to come back to Shas, but he might run again with Yachad. The current Shas #2 Itzick Cohen, who also served as interim leader during Deri’s brief retirement prior to last election, is the most likely candidate to replace Deri if he faces jail time again. Cohen lacks the star power needed to keep Shas above the threshold in the post-Yosef era, and Yishai’s list might split the vote enough to throw Shas under the threshold.

Health Minister Litzman was graded as the most popular minister by the general public. There is no chance the Rabbis of the sectorial parties that make up the Faction would replace him against his will. The leader of the UTJ list is also irrelevant to the number of votes they receive. UTJ is the exception to the current trend of voting for leaders over parties.

Liberman is Yisrael Beitenu, just like Lapid is Yesh Atid and Kahlon is Kulanu. Liberman’s party has finished with 4, 12, 15 and 6 seats in the four elections of six when not on a joint ticket. The latest polls have been better for Liberman but this is still a party that will disappear after Liberman leaves. In a case like that most of the MKs would probably join the Likud.

Zahava Gal-On is considered popular within Meretz circles, and any replacement would probably lead to a decline in support for a party that is already flirting with the 3.25% threshold.


To summarize, what would happen to the ten Knesset lists if they replaced their leaders ahead of the next election?

Yesh Atid, Kulanu and Yisrael Beitenu would completely collapse without their leaders and end up under the threshold. Bayit Yehudi, Shas and Meretz would most likely collapse without their leaders and would see a significant decline in seats. Likud, Zionist Union and UTJ are less likely to see a collapse with a new leader, and the Joint List’s fate is too volatile to predict.

One of those cardinal rules in western world politics is if you want to win an election to lead your country you must win the center. In a two-party system that usually means politicians will go to either extreme to win a primary and will walk-it-back to the center to win the general election. In a multi-party system, such as Israel, it is much easier. You can simply create your own party, label yourself as center, and skip the primary.

There is an unofficial rule in Israeli politics that to be a serious Prime Minister candidate you must have first served in one of the top three ministries: Defense, Foreign or Finance. There is a good argument for this unofficial rule since the only exceptions are the first Prime Minister and Defense Minister David Ben-Gurion and the long-time Opposition Leader Menachem Begin.

Sharett, Meir, Shamir and Barak were all Foreign Ministers before they became Prime Minister. Eshkol and Olmert were first Finance Ministers. Peres was a Defense Minister before Prime Minister. Sharon had served previously as both Defense and Foreign. Rabin inherited his first term from Meir, but had Defense Ministry experience before he won an elected term. Netanyahu had experience as Deputy Foreign Minister before winning his first election and had previous Foreign and Finance Minister experience before he won his second.

This week two public polls were released. One measured public opinion on Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party. The other poll offered a fictional scenario poll in which a group of centrist figures would win 23 seats to 22 for the Likud. This fictional poll is the first one published that does not have Likud in first place so the pundits have been having a field day with it. The list, which was read out in a random order without naming the leader of the list, would include the unlikely trio of Netanyahu’s former Likud #2s Kahlon and Gideon Sa’ar, along with former IDF COS Gabi Ashkenazi.

One poll was discouraging for Kahlon’s future, and the second poll was promising for him.


Moshe Kahlon first ran for Knesset for Likud in 1999 and was placed #38 on the Likud Knesset list that won 19 seats under Benjamin Netanyahu. After Ariel Sharon defeated Ehud Barak in 2001 Kahlon was appointed to a senior position in hardline-Minister Uzi Landau’s Homeland Security Ministry. Kahlon improved to #25 for the 2003 Likud list led by Prime Minister Sharon that would win 38 seats and Kahlon was elected to the Knesset in a rookie class that would produce two future Likud #2s Gideon Sa’ar and Gilad Erdan. Kahlon sided with Landau and became one of the “Likud rebel MKs” against Ariel Sharon and his disengagement plan.  Kahlon was considered a hawk and frequently expressed his opposition to a Palestinian State. Kahlon was the surprise of the 2006 Likud primary and received first place. For the 2006 Election Kahlon was #3 on the Likud Knesset list behind the reserved spots for Benjamin Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom. Netanyahu appointed Kahlon as Chairman of the powerful Likud Central Committee, and Kahlon won re-election to the important post in 2008. During his second term Kahlon was appointed Knesset Economy Committee Chairman, the highest position given to the opposition Likud by the Olmert government. Many of his internal rivals struck political deals to weaken him and Kahlon dropped in the next primaries to fifth place and was #6 on the 2009 Likud Knesset list that won 27 seats and returned Benjamin Netanyahu to the Prime Minister’s Office. Netanyahu handed his ally Kahlon the Communications portfolio and later on gave him a second portfolio, the Labor and Welfare Ministry, after Isaac Herzog resigned the post.

Kahlon was considered very popular in public opinion polls, frequently receiving the top mark among all ministers thanks to his cellphone reform, yet he decided to take a break from politics and not run in the 2013 election. Suddenly rumors spread that Kahlon was considering running on a new list for 2013 and various scenario polls conducted by the television stations increased speculation. After an initial silence, Kahlon announced he was not running on any list in 2013 and he appeared in Likud TV commercials. However, already before the 2013 election cycle was finished, there were rumors that Kahlon was preparing himself for the next cycle to run at the head of a new center party, similarly to what Lapid had just done.

Kahlon wanted to be a Prime Minister candidate, and he made the calculation that Netanyahu was not going to give him one of the top three ministries unless he formed his own party. This was reinforced when the new center party Yesh Atid won 19 seats out of nowhere and Lapid received the Finance Ministry. Sa’ar, Likud’s #2 for the second straight election was actually demoted from Education to the Interior Ministry. Kahlon was ahead of Sa’ar and Erdan, his 2003 Likud classmates, in realizing the only way to really force Netanyahu’s hand was to create his own party and be a coalition partner capable of collapsing the government.


There is no long-term future for “center” parties. Some of these parties last a term and others have lasted as many as three. It is the same problem each time. The party is centered (pun intended) on one popular individual and after that individual leaves the party collapses. There are other problems of course. The MKs of center parties are usually chosen by the popular individual, instead of democratic primaries, and with that kind of power the popular individual usually leads to selecting unthreatening personalities that frequently turn out to be completely clueless and/or useless lawmakers. These MKs are subject to turning on their former boss and examining options to jump to another party if their current party is crashing in the polls. Another problem is that when it comes to voting on legislation there is no “center button”, there is a decision that must be made, for or against. In Israel events change rapidly, and it is almost impossible to stay in the center without constant flip-flopping, and that usually leads to untrustworthy and unfavorable numbers that prevent you from doing any long-term planning.

People look at Kadima when they say that the center can maintain long-term success. After all Kadima was represented in Knesset for close to ten years through three elections and by three different leaders. Ehud Olmert led the center party Kadima to 29 seats in 2006 and became the first centrist Prime Minister. Of course it was Ariel Sharon’s party that Olmert inherited. Kadima’s next leader Tzipi Livni failed to maintain Olmert’s coalition, and couldn’t create a new one afterwards either, despite winning Phase 1 in the 2009 election with 28 seats. The thing is that Livni’s Kadima was not Olmert’s Kadima, not really. There was a lot of turnover, a lot of new faces and MK Ze’ev Elkin decided that he’d rather move to the Likud than remain in a Livni-led Kadima. When Shaul Mofaz won the Kadima leadership it changed the party again. Kadima fell from 28 seats to two. Of course to be fair Mofaz’s Kadima wasn’t Livni’s Kadima either. Livni in fact had seven Kadima MKs break off and create a new party for her. Other Kadima MK refugees ran to the Likud and a few ran in the Labor Party primaries. One Kadima MK even tried to run as part of an Arab list.

After raising the electoral threshold to 3.25% the 20th Knesset tied a record for electing just ten lists. I’ve gone on record predicting that the next Knesset will most likely elect a single-digit number of lists for the first time as the Israeli political landscape in my opinion consolidates instead of splits. This might be the first Knesset term in a while where there is no “new white knight savior” candidate. Instead we might have a new alliance list that is made up of many personalities and parties that all want to capture the center vote without actually having to be in the center.


Kahlon’s numbers are dropping. He has not received double digits in any poll conducted since he joined the coalition. Housing prices are not going down, he has not taken on the banks as promised, his flip-flop on the natural gas deal has hurt his credibility, and he is perceived by many as the weak ineffective fig leaf of the coalition. The good news for Kahlon is that he still owns ten seats, he is sitting in the prestigious Finance Ministry, and he is the senior coalition partner of the government. Kahlon will have time to see his current reforms through after agreeing to a two-year-budget for 2017 and 2018.

As for his future, the likelihood that Kahlon runs alone in the next election is small. The Kulanu Party is simply not conducting themselves as a party that is seeking re-election. Kulanu is completely absent in the field and seems to be going through the motions instead of putting down roots.

Kahlon will probably do what previous center party leaders have done before him – try to make a deal. Kahlon will no doubt try to get the deal Tzipi Livni made where Herzog appointed her to #2 on a joint list where she was allowed to keep her own independent party and appoint her own people. Despite the current scenario poll, a Livni-type deal is something that today would only be worthwhile for Kahlon if it came from Netanyahu or Lapid. In fact, Kahlon negotiated possible joint lists with both of them before the previous election but realized he would have more power long-term if he ran with his own party now and sold high when he has the party funding of a ten-seat-party that didn’t spend much money during the previous term. Most of the Kulanu MKs would prefer Likud to Yesh Atid and returning to the Likud makes more sense for Kahlon as long as Netanyahu and his allies remain strong in polling. Netanyahu has already made a few deals to place a different party head at #2 and run on a joint list, most recently in the 2013 election that Kahlon decided to sit out. Even if Kahlon does prefer Lapid, Netanyahu is older than Lapid, and that is a factor for anyone who wants to be Prime Minister one day.

What about our weekend scenario poll? Kahlon has good relations with Sa’ar, and he views him as an ideal #2. However, if Sa’ar wouldn’t agree to be Netanyahu’s #2, why would he agree to be Kahlon’s? Ashkenazi, a former IDF COS, does not seem like a #2 type of player. Sa’ar is more popular than Kahlon, but Kahlon won’t agree to hand his party over to someone else. Attaching Sa’ar’s name to scenario polls makes for interesting conversation, but he will most likely wait for the next Likud leadership election or, the less likely option, start his own party as Kahlon did before him.

Our scenario poll does teach us that Lapid loses his standing the minute there is a better perceived alternative to Netanyahu. If Lapid had convinced Livni or Kahlon to be his #2 in the previous election he would most likely be the leader of the second largest list and the official Opposition Leader right now. Lapid is already inheriting Kulanu and Zionist Union voters, but he might lose them if he doesn’t include their leaders. As Herzog’s grip weakens the Zionist Union MKs are becoming increasingly independent and a chunk of them might break off and join a new center alliance with or without Herzog.

So, we have a group of politicians who are looking to the center for their political survival, and Kahlon is an important key for many of them. Many of Kahlon’s opponents know there is likely a scenario where they will need him and his ten seats of party funding to ensure their survival. It is a real dilemma for these figures if they should publicly attack Kahlon or not. If you attack Kahlon too much you might be sending him straight into the hands of Netanyahu. If you don’t attack him enough he might use you as a bargaining chip before jumping into Netanyahu’s arms anyways. For now the tactic some are using is attacking the Kulanu Party instead of Kahlon directly.

There probably is no future for the Kulanu Party, but there is a future for Moshe Kahlon.

This week marked two anniversaries for Prime Minister Netanyahu. Sunday marked his 10th year in office as Prime Minister and Thursday marked a year since the most recent Knesset election that most polls and pundits said he would lose.

Although Netanyahu is celebrating both of these achievements, he is a man who looks ahead, and has his eyes on two key dates in 2019. Netanyahu has been in office for so long that you can remove the three-plus-years from his first term in the nineties and he is still ahead of third place Yitzchak Shamir. However, if Netanyahu is still sitting in the Prime Minister’s Chair on July 4, 2019, he will tie David Ben-Gurion as the longest serving Prime Minister in Israeli history, a record that would help define his legacy as his generation’s Ben-Gurion, the first Prime Minister born after the establishment of the modern State of Israel. Of course if you decide, as some do, not to count the days that Ben-Gurion served as Prime Minister before the first Knesset, Netanyahu will pass Israel’s first Prime Minister in late 2018. I’d rather focus on the future United States Independence Day, since Ben-Gurion did act as Prime Minister from May 14, 1948 – March 10, 1949, even though no one elected him.

The second date is the next scheduled election on Tuesday November 5, 2019. The chances the Knesset completes the current term are very slim since almost every Knesset term is cut short. However, the possibility is worth examining since his narrow 61-seat coalition is running more smoothly than expected. To pass Ben-Gurion Netanyahu must find a way to bring this current term to at least the beginning of 2019. Netanyahu can pass “the old man” even if he calls for an early election in January 2019 and loses, thanks to a 90-day-minimum election period and an approximately two-month coalition-building process.

A huge key for Netanyahu to achieve this feat is passing a two-year-budget for 2017 and 2018. The struggle of passing a State Budget is viewed by most as the biggest test for any government and it becomes even tougher with a narrow 61-59 margin. There are few opportunities where defeating the government can lead to replacing it. The new rules passed by Liberman & Lapid in the last government, when they were in the coalition, made it much more difficult for a government to be toppled by a no-confidence motion vote.


Netanyahu’s ability to achieve either 2019 date is dependent on the state of his current government. This weekend’s Comprehensive Panels poll measures the public opinion on the popularity of the parties, ministers, and asks an array of useful questions to gather data on the state of his current government.

To get a good picture of where things stand on a party-to-party basis let’s measure this poll against the average of the previous ten polls and the election results of a year ago and view the poll’s additional questions in that context.

Netanyahu’s Likud won 30 seats in the election, the 10PA (10-poll-average) is 26.9 and Likud received 26 in this poll. Netanyahu is graded 4.6 by the public on a 1-10 scale for his job as Prime Minister. He receives even lower marks as Foreign Minister (4.1), Communications Minister (3.9), Economy Minister (3.9) and Regional Cooperation Minister (3.8). In head-to-head matchups for Prime Minister Netanyahu defeats both Lapid and Bennett by 11 points each. He defeats Ashkenazi by 14 and Liberman by 26 points. Netanyahu does the best against Opposition Leader Herzog with a whopping 31 point margin of victory. A majority of voters are against Lapid joining a national unity government and an even larger majority reject the Zionist Union entering a national unity government. Likud ranks 5th of the 10 lists in terms of voter regret with 17%. 6% wished they voted for Bayit Yehudi, 6% for Yesh Atid and 5% for Yisrael Beitenu. 21% of 2015 Likud voters feel Netanyahu holding on to the Communications portfolio and his policies are a danger for democracy and freedom of expression. There are more Israelis who believe there is an alternative to Netanyahu, but that is an opinion that is heavily weighted by center and left voters. 53% of right voters overall and 70% of Likud voters do not see an alternative to Netanyahu.

Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz is the highest ranked Likud Minister and is ranked second among all ministers with an impressive 5.8 showing. Despite the impressive score Katz ranks fifth, both among the general public and Likud voters, in the question of who should replace Netanyahu as Likud leader when he eventually retires. Yaalon (5.4) is the second most popular Likud minister on the list and tied for fourth most poular overall. The Defense Minister ties for second in the general public as Netanyahu’s replacement but slips to third among Likud voters. Homeland Security Minister Erdan is the third most popular Likud minister and ties for sixth among all ministers. The #2 on the 2015 Likud list is fourth among the five options among the general public but among Likud voters Erdan jumps to second place and is within the margin of error of defeating Likud’s #2 in the 2009 & 2013 Elections, Gideon Saar. Saar has a more comfortable lead with the general public. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat is another candidate that does better among the general public (second) over Likud voters (fourth).  Culture & Sports Minister Regev is ranked fourth among the Likud ministers. In one of the more fascinating questions we learn that Regev is viewed by Sephardic Jews and Likud voters as advancing Sephardi interests while Ashkenazi Jews and the general public think that she is harming Sephardi interests. The lowest ranked Likud Minister, a long-time Netanyahu loyalist, is Yuval Steinitz, who finishes among the bottom five of all 19 ministers.

Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid dropped from 19 seats to 11 in last year’s election. Their 10PA is 18.0 and they received 21 in the latest poll. This is Yesh Atid’s second straight poll with a 21-seat showing, and there is momentum since the party has not dipped under 15 seats in any poll conducted since November. Yesh Atid has tied or placed higher than the Zionist Union in nine of the eleven polls conducted over the last year. Lapid is five seats behind Netanyahu in this poll, and he ties with Bennett as the best candidate to go head-to-head with Netanyahu. Over a third of Yesh Atid’s growth is from Kulanu voters, and about a fifth comes from the Zionist Union. Yesh Atid also takes votes from Meretz, Likud and Yisrael Beitenu. Only Meretz and UTJ voters regretted their vote less than Yesh Atid voters. Lapid is doing a good job sensing the pulse of voters as the general public doesn’t want Yesh Atid to join the government. The only bad news for Lapid is the popularity of UTJ leader Litzman as Health Minister who replaced Lapid’s current #2 Yael German and Litzman’s refusal to shake his hand or even acknowledge his presence.

Zionist Union captured 24 seats last March. Their 10PA is 17.1, and they are trending down, receiving just 15 seats in this poll. If it wasn’t bad enough that Opposition Leader Herzog fares worst among potential candidates in a head-to-head matchup with Netanyahu with a 31 point deficit, only Kulanu and Joint List voters regret their decision from last year more than the Zionist Union voters. Herzog’s 3.5 rating on a 1-10 scale as Opposition Leader is worse than all of the 19 ministers of Netanyahu’s government and about two-thirds of Israelis want him to stay out of government. It seems that Meretz, the only party that nominated Herzog in Phase 2, is the only opposition party that still seems to take Herzog’s leadership of the opposition seriously.

Bayit Yehudi fell from 12 seats to 8 in the last election. In this poll Bayit Yehudi climb back to 12. This is pretty consistent with their 11.5 10PA that has been slowly trending upwards. Education Minister Naftali Bennett is tied for fourth among all ministers with a 5.4 record with the general public and his key ally, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, outscores him for third place with a 5.7 showing. In another encouraging finding for the Bayit Yehudi leader, Bennett ties Lapid as the best candidate against Netanyahu in a head-to-head matchup 40% Netanyahu to 29% Bennett. Bennett putting up better numbers than Ashkenazi, Liberman and Herzog, among general public voters is something that baffled many analysts I spoke with over the weekend and might indicate the popularity of his educational reforms. Tekuma Minister Uri Ariel is ranked as third to the bottom with a 4.2 score. Bayit Yehudi finished seventh among the ten lists in terms of voter regret.

The Joint List won 13 seats a year ago. They have a 12.8 10PA and received 12 seats in the latest poll. Their bad news is the four parties that make up the list will use the finding, that their voters regret their vote more than any other party except for Kulanu, to fuel in-fighting. Their good news is that they remain pretty consistent with a high of 14 and a low of 12.

Yisrael Beitenu fell from 13 seats before the election to just six seats after it. Analysts have had a tough time understanding Liberman’s long-term strategy after his bizarre decision to leave the Foreign Ministry on the table, after nominating Netanyahu in Phase 2, that left him in the opposition. Yisrael Beitenu has an 8.3 10PA and receives nine seats in the latest poll. Although his party is slowly recovering Liberman loses to Netanyahu 49% to 23% in a head-to-head matchup, and he is losing 5% of his previous voters to Yesh Atid. Liberman has run on a joint list in two of his six elections, and it is possible he will look to do so again next time. Yisrael Beitenu ranked fourth in voter regret.

UTJ receives seven seats in the latest poll. The joint Agudat Yisrael-Degel HaTorah list lost their seventh seat in the previous election. UTJ has a 6.6 10PA and has received either six or seven seats in each of the last 11 polls. UTJ ranked 10 of 10 on voter regret. UTJ leader and Health Minister Yaakov Litzman ranked as the top minister in Israel with a 6.4 score among the general public.

Shas receives six seats in the latest poll, a drop of a seat from the seven they received in the election. Shas has a 6.8 10PA and is trending down with six six-seat showings in the last nine polls. Shas Religious Services Minister David Azoulay ranks 18th out of the 19 ministers at 4.2. Shas Leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri ranks dead last with 4.1 among the general public.  Shas finished six of ten on voter regret.

Kulanu receives six seats in the latest poll. Kahlon’s party received ten seats in the elections and has a 6.5 10PA, failing to make double digits in every poll conducted since last year’s election. Of the ten lists Kulanu voters regret their vote the most. Many of those voters now prefer Lapid. Finance Minister Kahlon ties for sixth among all ministers, Avi Gabai is ninth, and Yoav Galant is 16th.

Meretz recaptures the sixth seat in the latest poll that they had lost in the election. Meretz’s 10PA is 5.5 and they rank ninth out of the ten lists in party regret.


Netanyahu, who was unopposed, has already secured his nomination as Likud’s candidate for Prime Minister in the next election. The previous Knesset term was the second shortest in history. After a year his four coalition partners do not have a good reason to topple the government. His senior coalition partner, Kulanu, has dropped in polls and is now ranked 9th of the 10 parties in 10PA. Bennett needs more experience as a minister and security cabinet member before he can compete as a Prime Minister candidate on the right. Both Shas and UTJ enjoy the budgets they secured in the coalition agreement and the leverage they enjoy in a narrow coalition. There is no external threat to the coalition as the opposition remains fragmented. Lapid may have narrowed the gap in the polls but in the current Knesset there is a large 19-seat difference between Likud and Yesh Atid, and the only opposition party that is cooperating with Lapid is Liberman.


What we learn from this poll as Netanyahu celebrates two important anniversaries in 2016 is that the chances Netanyahu makes it to both key 2019 dates seem higher than they did last year.

Next week will mark one year since the March 17, 2015 election. Overall there have been ten public polls released since the election. These are all recent polls since there was no public polling on Knesset seats from late March through late November. Following every election there are questions on the accuracy of polls. When media outlets start ordering polls again there are questions on the necessity of polling in the middle of a term when there is no election in sight and before the end-of-term mergers and splits. My argument here is that polls are more accurate than they are given credit for, and their influence on Israeli politics is profound.

Polling is a science, but it is not an exact science. If the parameters of the model are off so is the estimated margin of error. The Israeli system for allocating seats is a complicated one, and most polling companies cannot predict all mathematical scenarios with their models. Some models are better than others, but each one has its flaws. The saying goes that if you ask two Jews a question you will get three opinions. Polling Jews can be difficult, and finding a representative sample of minority groups can prove even more difficult. However, polling is still the best tool we have for measuring public opinion.

Polling is not just a scientific tool. It can also be used as a political tool because many undecided voters make up their mind by looking at the polls that can influence their final vote. It was for that reason that Israel passed a law prohibiting the publishing of election polls in the last five days before an election. It is difficult to make a final prediction when you need to do so five days in advance.

In 2015 polling companies were blamed not only for getting it wrong with their last polls five days before the election, but also for getting it wrong with the exit polls. The exit poll average was correct on eight of the ten parties with a +1/-1 margin of error. The exit polls were wrong on the two largest lists, Likud and the Zionist Union. That was enough for no media outlet to order a public poll of Knesset seats for the 8 months following the election.

My weekly Poll of Polls model and Election Forecast was carried by The Huffington Post, Haaretz, Jerusalem Post, Jewish Press, Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight, and others. I updated my final prediction model for 2015 with my latest momentum model that tracked the week-by-week changes of the 15-week-campaign in addition to the methodology of my 2013 model that took into account voter exchange agreements, disqualified votes, votes from parties not expected to pass the 3.25% threshold, fractions of seats, and various 120th seat (last seat) scenarios. My model was released 5 days before the election, and I predicted correctly +1/-1 on eight of the ten party lists with the exception of the Bayit Yehudi to Likud swing that occurred during the five day public polling blackout.

Phase 1 is something that polling can measure (read a quick explanation of the three phases of choosing a Prime Minister here My Weekend Perspective: The Key to Defeating Netanyahu is Phase 2). Phases 2 and 3 require a different type of analysis. Many analysts’ pre-election coalition scenarios were flat out wrong. My Phase 2 prediction of Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas, UTJ & Kulanu recommending Netanyahu for Prime Minister was correct. My prediction that there would be some sort of change between Phase 2 and Phase 3 was also correct. Yisrael Beitenu opted to vote against the government in Phase 3 despite their Phase 2 nomination of Netanyahu.

There have been ten polls released for public consumption since the election and all of them have been conducted over the last four months. The idea behind polling Knesset seats during a Knesset term is not about predicting election results. The purpose is to measure the popularity of each party based on the policy choices they are making and their public responses to current events.

The chart below averages these ten polls. I’d like to offer my analysis and explanation of why this polling matters. Likud remains in first place with a drop from 30 seats to 26.9. Despite the 3-seat drop Likud is in first place and has been in first place in each of the ten polls. Yesh Atid jumps from 11 seats to 18. This is the largest jump and the most important as Lapid’s party goes from the fourth largest party to the second largest. The Zionist Union drops from 24 to 17.1 and more importantly from the second largest party in Knesset to third place in the average of polling. The Joint List goes from 13 seats to 12.8 and drop from the third to fourth largest party. Bayit Yehudi jumps from 8 to 11.5 and improves a spot to enter the top 5. Yisrael Beitenu improves two spots as they go up from 6 to 8.3 seats. Shas stays in the same spot as they go from 7 seats to 6.8 in polling. UTJ goes up a spot from 6 to 6.6 seats. Kulanu drops four spots from 5th to 9thplace, and not one poll has Kahlon in double-digits as they dip from 10 to a 6.5 average. Meretz remains in last place above the threshold as they grow from 5 to a 5.5 average.

In terms of the blocs we are pretty much where we were before the election with 66.6 for the right-religious bloc and 53.4 for the center-left-Arab bloc. Not much has changed since the election results of 67-53.

This week the Knesset had their monthly discussion with the Prime Minister as mandated by the signatures of 40 opposition MKs. Following the Prime Minister’s speech, Opposition Leader Herzog got up to speak and for the first time decided to use the occasion to target Lapid over Netanyahu in his attacks. When the Opposition Leader dedicates his 40 signatures speech for an attack on the head of another opposition party, as opposed to the prime minister, as is customary, there is no external threat to the government. There was no reason to attack Lapid unless Herzog has been looking at the polls.

Herzog’s speech attacking Lapid proves the relevance and influence of polls on politics, why polls do matter in the middle of a term, and how polls can be used as a political tool instead of a scientific one.

2015 Results 10 Poll Avg 2015 Placing 10 Poll Avg Up/Down
Likud 30 26.9 1st 1st 0
Yesh Atid 11 18.0 4th 2nd 2
Zionist Union 24 17.1 2nd 3rd -1
Joint List 13 12.8 3rd 4th -1
Bayit Yehudi 8 11.5 6th 5th 1
Yisrael Beitenu 6 8.3 8th 6th 2
Shas 7 6.8 7th 7th 0
UTJ 6 6.6 9th 8th 1
Kulanu 10 6.5 5th 9th -4
Meretz 5 5.5 10th 10th 0
Right-Religious 67 66.6 n/a n/a n/a
Center-Left-Arab 53 53.4 n/a n/a n/a


Exit Poll Source:


Quick recap for new followers: The road to the Prime Minister’s House is a 3-phase process. Phase 1 is the results of the Knesset election process. Phase 2 is the nomination process at the President’s Residence. Phase 3 is the Knesset vote that approves the government presented by the Prime Minister candidate that was nominated by the President and succeeded in forming a coalition.

I believe I am the only website that has tracked every Knesset-seat-poll over Netanyahu’s second, third and fourth terms as they were published or broadcasted.  Loyal readers have noticed that under every poll I match the blocs up in a specific way that examines the Phase 2 chances of a Netanyahu re-election. From time to time people question that breakdown. Already in 2010 I was criticized by my followers for not using the standard coalition-opposition breakdown. Current events highlight the importance of why I divide up the blocs the way I do.

In 2009 Tzipi Livni won Phase 1 with Kadima winning 28 seats to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud with 27. For some curious reason some in the international media decided to believe Livni’s spin from election night that she had a good shot at succeeding Ehud Olmert as Prime Minister. Most insiders knew that wasn’t going to happen. Of course many anti-Netanyahu analysts and pundits hoped that the former Director-General of the Prime Minister’s Office under Netanyahu’s first term Avigdor Liberman would take Yisrael Beitenu’s 15 seats to Livni over his former boss. In Phase 2 Netanyahu received the nomination of 65 MKs. Livni entered the President’s Residence with 28 seats and left with no other party agreeing to nominate her despite her Phase 1 victory.

It was during Phase 2 of the 2009 process that I realized the vital importance of the right-religious bloc. Ehud Barak brought Labor and their 13 seats into Netanyahu’s coalition so that he could remain the Defense Minister. National Union and their four seats were left out in the cold despite their Phase 2 nomination of Netanyahu. This was interesting on both fronts. Barak, who didn’t nominate Netanyahu in Phase 2, only entered the government in Phase 3 because Netanyahu had enough seats to run a government without him. Perhaps more importantly, Netanyahu was willing to give up on a party that nominated him in Phase 2.

In 2013 Netanyahu’s Likud Beitenu alliance with Liberman won Phase 1 with 31 seats. For some curious reason some people believed Labor Party Leader Shelly Yacimovich who gave a speech election night, when partial results showed a 60-60 bloc tie, claiming that an anti-Netanyahu bloc could be formed to oust him. Results started to indicate the right-religious bloc would get its 61st seat and Yair Lapid announced he would nominate Netanyahu for another term.  In Phase 2, Netanyahu had 82 MKs nominations and many options. His first move was to sign a coalition deal with Livni, who didn’t nominate him in Phase 2, who only entered the government in Phase 3 because Netanyahu had enough seats to run a government without her. Despite nominating him in Phase 2, Shas, UTJ and even Kadima were all left out.

In 2015 Netanyahu’s Likud won Phase 1 with 30 seats. For some curious reason some people believed Zionist Union/Labor Party Leader Issac Herzog who gave a speech election night that he had a shot at building a coalition. Besides overpromising on ministry portfolios Herzog faced the situation that Kahlon said he wouldn’t sit with the Arabs, Liberman said he wouldn’t sit with Meretz and the Haredim said they wouldn’t sit with Yesh Atid. Of course many anti-Netanyahu analysts and pundits hoped that the former Likud Central Committee Chairman and the only Likud Minister Netanyahu trusted with two portfolios during his second term Moshe Kahlon would take his ten seats to Herzog. There was also talk of President Rivlin pushing a national unity government even though the law states clearly that the President must give the first crack at forming a new coalition to the candidate that produces 61 or more nominating votes. Netanyahu received 67 MKs’ nominations to Herzog’s 29. The only other list to back Herzog was Meretz. The Joint List and Yesh Atid made the decision not to nominate Herzog in Phase 2. Netanyahu produced a 61-MK narrow coalition in Phase 3 after failing to come to an agreement with Liberman.

An interesting aspect of the 2015 election was the Arab-Left-Center bloc that can be labeled the “Anti-Netanyahu-Bloc”. If the four lists – Zionist Union, Yesh Atid, The Joint List and Meretz – would have together produced 61 seats then Netanyahu would have been defeated. We have established that there are changes in coalition politics between the nominating process of Phase 2 and the vote of Phase 3. In this scenario it would have been enough for the The Joint List to nominate Herzog in Phase 2 and serve as a placeholder for the Haredim or Liberman to replace them for Phase 3. The problem with the math was that even in this event Herzog would not be able to complete a coalition puzzle for Phase 3, but it could have been enough for Netanyahu to retire during Herzog’s failed attempt and for Likud to choose someone else that would be able to form a coalition afterwards.

This weekend reports surfaced of the latest attempt to unseat Netanyahu – a party or bloc of Lapid-Kalon-Liberman-Sa’ar-Ashkenazi. This reminds me of the Olmert-Livni-Lapid-Ramon-Shelly meetings to run on a party or bloc for the 2013 elections. The attempt is to prevent Netanyahu from reaching 61 in Phase 2. This measure has failed in the past because despite what the mainstream media says there has been no one else with the ability to be competitive for those 61 Phase 2 nominations. However, this modified plan to prevent Netanyahu from reaching 61 nominations as opposed to an alternative of a single candidate trying to secure 61 for themselves is an interesting development. As I stated previously, had the “Anti-Netanyahu-Bloc” of the center-left-Arab reached 61 seats it could have been possible to oust Netanyahu.

It is enough for one of the chips to fall out for a plan like this to collapse. At the once-every-five-years Yisrael Beitenu conference Liberman slammed Netanyahu saying he can’t trust him and won’t promise to recommend him as PM in next election. The part many reporters left out was that he also said he would never join a left-wing government. You might be able to count on Liberman to back an alternative candidate for Phase 2, but you run into the same Phase 3 problems of the previous election of his refusal to sit with Meretz or the Arabs.

Kahlon’s Faction Chairman MK Roy Folkman told Knesset TV on December 22nd that “the Prime Minister contacts us all the time and he places a lot of concrete proposals on the table but merging Kulanu into the Likud is not relevant at this point in time”.  Before the last elections Kahlon, after flirting with Lapid, started negotiations with Likud on a joint list that went on until a day before the final lists were submitted. If Kahlon, whose voters mostly supported Netanyahu for Prime Minister, moved away from the Likud he’d have to revamp his list because many of his MKs prefer Netanyahu to Lapid.

In the event we are talking about a “center-bloc” instead of a “mother-party”, Liberman, Kahlon and even Netanyahu’s former #2 Gideon Sa’ar might balk at not nominating Netanyahu. Despite “talking tough” they have all fallen in line with Netanyahu during the Phase 2 process. The three are all center-right and might not want to risk ending this current long tenure of the right in power just to remove Netanyahu. More importantly, the three all want senior portfolios and are more valuable to Netanyahu than the Herzog-Livni-Lapid-Ashkenazi struggle for the top spots. Liberman can’t be Defense Minister if Ashkenazi is a player. Kahlon can’t keep a senior portfolio if all the top center-left candidates are expecting one. Sa’ar isn’t going to come back to politics unless he gets one of the top three or four ministries. Egos and portfolios matter. Some argue it was Herzog’s indication that he would give Finance to Lapid over Kahlon that led Kulanu into the coalition. Liberman said he would have signed the coalition deal if Netanyahu agreed to give him the Defense Ministry and if Netanyahu hadn’t reached 61 MKs with his current coalition he might have done just that.

If the current coalition of Likud, Bayit Yehudi, Shas and UTJ are able to stay over 61 MKs none of this will even matter. Netanyahu knows this and that is the plan he is working on. Although I’m sure that if the current coalition grows in the next election the narrative will shift and there will be analysts and pundits that will assure us Shas would prefer a coalition where they would receive lower budgets and less power.


I’m going to keep measuring the blocs according to my Phase 2 predictions as I have since 2010. Liberman, Kahlon & Sa’ar will remain in the right column and Lapid & Ashkenazi will remain in the left. The right-religious bloc is the best indicator of Netanyahu’s chance at a fifth term. The center-left-Arab bloc is the key to defeating Netanyahu.