Israel’s nationalist religious Jewish Home party is continuing to win support away from the rightwing Likud party of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of January 22 elections, according to a poll published Tuesday.
The party led by Naftali Bennett is now projected to win 13 seats in next month’s elections, the survey published in the daily Haaretz shows, up two from the newspaper’s last poll on December 10.
The Likud party, which is running on a joint list with the ultranationalist Yisrael Beitenu faction of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, has seen its projected majority drop by four seats since the last poll, to 35.
The Likud-Beitenu list is still far ahead of the opposition, with its closest competitor — the Labour party — projected to win just 17 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
But the rising popularity of the Jewish Home faction has surprised political observers, and comes despite a flap last week over comments in which Bennett said he would refuse orders to evacuate Jewish settlements if he were in the army.
The comments prompted harsh criticism from Netanyahu and others, but while Bennett backtracked somewhat, his statements appear to have won him new support among the rightwing backers of settlement construction — a Netanyahu constituency.
“Netanyahu and Likud-Beiteinu have gone too far,” Haaretz analyst Yossi Verter wrote. “They got carried away in their attack on Bennett. They turned him into the darling of the right, a national figure.”
The growing popularity of Jewish Home makes it likely the faction can secure several cabinet posts, but it is not expected to upset overall expectations for the electoral results.
The rightwing bloc, including the Likud-Beitenu list, Jewish Home, the ultra-Orthodox Sephardic Shas and the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi United Judaism Torah, is expected to garner around 67 seats in the Knesset, a strong majority.
The centre-left bloc is expected to win around 53 seats, with Labour leading the pack, followed by the HaTnuah party of former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, with around 10 seats, and the Yesh Atid faction with nine.
The vote’s biggest loser looks set to be Kadima, the centre-right party that won the most seats in the last elections, but is projected to take just two this time.