Netanyahu fails to score big polling bounce following congressional speech

Israeli PM remains locked in a tight election battle following divisive address on Iran

By Luke Brinker

Published March 5, 2015 2:33PM (EST)

  (AP/Gali Tibbon)
(AP/Gali Tibbon)

As Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu inveighed against the Iranian nuclear negotiations in a controversial speech before Congress on Tuesday, Israeli news stations carried the address live, at prime time, two weeks before an election in which Netanyahu's rightist government could be toppled by a center-left coalition. With Netanyahu's Likud Party running neck-and-neck with the Zionist Union camp, it would have been naive to view the speech only through the prism of international diplomacy, without considering its intended domestic political consequences.

But two new polls suggest that Netanyahu failed to score a significant boost in public support following his address. The Washington Post reports:

Israel’s Channel 2 news said Netanyahu’s Likud party had increased its likely support by one seat in the parliament. On rival Channel 10, Likud had gained two seats to tie its main challenger.

In answer to Channel 2’s question — “Did the speech strengthen or weaken support for Netanyahu?” — 44 percent of those surveyed said it strengthened support, 43 percent said it had no influence and 12 percent said it weakened support for the premier.

The findings underscore that Netanyahu's speech was polarizing not only in the U.S. -- where Democrats denounced House Speaker John Boehner for inviting Netanyahu without notifying the Obama administration -- but also in Israel, where Netanyahu's opponents, including Zionist Union leaders Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livini, condemned Netanyahu for further isolating Israel on the international stage.

Though some polls show that the Zionist Union has moved ahead of Likud, a Netanyahu loss would still be considered an upset: Combining with smaller rightist parties, Likud likely has multiple paths to forging a coalition government following the March 17 elections. But if Netanyahu hoped that his speech this week would make his re-election a slam-dunk, he appears to have come up short.

Luke Brinker

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Benjamin Netanyahu Iran Israel Israeli Elections Polls