Israel faces possible snap election – and the return of Bibi Netanyahu

Just 28% of Israelis say they want the current government to continue.

Updated: June 15, 2022 - 10:47pm

The Facts Inside Our Reporter’s Notebook

Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is facing calls for a snap election from critics who say he is too soft on terrorism, while a growing number of Israelis are responding by supporting Itamar Ben Gvir, who is seen as the further right, populist alternative to former PM Benjamin Netanyahu.

Less than a year after Netanyahu's ousting, Bennett has lost his majority coalition in the Knesset, increasing the possibility of Israel holding its fifth election in three and a half years. Bennett nonetheless stressed the successes of his government during his weekly cabinet meeting on Sunday.

"This government cannot be stopped. It must continue to fight for the Israeli public. This government has done in one year what other governments have not done in a decade," he said.

Just 28% of Israelis said they want the current government to continue, according to a Maariv poll released last week. Nearly 40% of respondents said they would prefer to have another election. 

On Monday, Yamina faction leader MK Nir Orbach reportedly got into a shouting match with Bennett the same day he left the prime minister's coalition government, according to Israel National News

This puts Bennett's coalition at 59 seats, two short of a majority in the 120-member Knesset.

If Israel held elections right now, former PM Netanyahu's Likud party would win 34 seats while his allies in the Religious Zionist Party/Jewish Power Party would win 11 seats, Shas would win eight and United Torah Judaism would win seven. This puts the right-wing coalition at 60 seats, one shy of what is needed to form a new government, but it would still be more seats than Bennett's coalition currently has.

While Netanyahu seems to be the top contender, a rising star in Israel is Jewish Power MK Ben Gvir, who is known for his hardline stance against terrorism. Last week he posted a video of Israelis being attacked by terrorists on the street. In his caption, he tweeted that there needs to be an increase in the presence of security forces so "every rioter who tries to murder cops and soldiers knows he will get a bullet in the head," as translated. 

Haaretz, a liberal Israeli news outlet, compared Ben Gvir to Trump. 

"In that respect, Netanyahu isn’t Israel’s Donald Trump, he’s what stopping the rise of Israel’s Trump. He’s the left edge of the right, and is blocking the rise of populism. When he goes, the sky will fall," the paper said.

Many young Israelis in Jerusalem told Just the News that they would support Ben Gvir. 

On Jerusalem Day last month, 16-year-old Navi came to celebrate and said if he could vote, he would pick Ben Gvir. 

Navi's friend said they were there to "build the Third Temple on the Mount," a controversial point of view, as some Orthodox Jews will not visit for religious reasons and some Muslims protest when Jews visit Al Aqsa Mosque, the site of Judaism's holiest site of the Temple Mount. However, Ben Gvir has visited the location, stirring up headlines in doing so.

Three other teenagers at the event told Just the News that they would vote for Ben Gvir first, followed by Netanyahu as their second choice. 

When asked about the current prime minister, one of the teenagers said, "Bennett sucks," and accused him of being a liar. 

Israeli Daniel Luria, who immigrated to the Jewish state from Australia 26 years ago, would not comment on the prime minister to Just the News, but he did say that "Oslo is dead," referencing the Arab-Israeli accords created under then-President Bill Clinton in an attempt to create peace.

"There's 21 Arab countries all around us. There's no shortage," he said. "If there's an Arab that wants to leave here and not [live] in a Jewish state, then he's welcome to leave. But this is a Jewish homeland for the Jewish people. And anyone else that wants to live here, they have to accept that."

The tensions are felt on the Arab side as well. One Arab Christian, who preferred to not be identified, told Just the News, "the Zionists, they are mafia."

The Arab Muslim grocery store owner next to him grabbed a can from his shop and pointed to the expiration date. He predicted that the United States has a "few years" left while Israel only has a "few months" before expiring. When asked why those nations will fall, but the Arab Palestinians will remain standing, he said the Palestinians are right while Israel and the United States are not.

Both men said they would be friends with a Jew, so long as they were not Zionist.

In a different part of the market, an Arab leather-goods store owner told Just the News that if another election is held, he would vote for Netanyahu. When asked why, he predicted other Arab Israelis would as well because they are used to his leadership. Netanyahu served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999 and again from 2009 to 2021.

Sarah and Rachel, two Israeli mothers who came to celebrate Jerusalem Day together, both expressed their support for Netanyahu. 

"We love our country. We just need to switch the government and everything will be fine," Sarah said, adding that they would vote for "Bibi Netanyahu, the one and only."

Rachel lauded the 72-year-old former prime minister as a leader "for the world."

When asked about Ben Gvir, the women expressed their amusement with him but said that Israel needs Netanyahu. 

The Likud leader is foreshadowing his efforts to make a comeback. Many doubted that it was possible given the corruption allegations against Netanyahu. 

Netanyahu's political efforts seem to mirror those of former President Trump, especially with his posts on social media. And just as a Biden-Trump rematch seems increasingly likely, so does the possibility of another term with Netanyhu as the Israeli prime minster.