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Despite Not Being PM, Why Does Israel's Benjamin Netanyahu Still Reign in Polls?

© AFP 2021 / YONATAN SINDELIn this file photo taken on December 22, 2020 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves after a speech at the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem
In this file photo taken on December 22, 2020 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leaves after a speech at the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) in Jerusalem - Sputnik International, 1920, 01.08.2021
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The name of the former PM is associated with a number of achievements in Israel. He has been branded Mr Security, someone who stands firm in the face of security threats and international pressure, and he is also linked to reforms in the economy that have improved the lives of ordinary Israelis.
Almost two months after Naftali Bennett took over the nation’s top job, effectively ending the 12-year tenure of former PM Benjamin Netanyahu, a recent poll shows that the new prime minister is still struggling to lift his image.

Bibi Still Reigns Supreme?

According to a survey conducted by Channel 12, only 14 percent of those asked believed Bennett was up to the task. His coalition partner and Israel's Foreign Minister Yair Lapid was backed by 24 percent of respondents, while 40 percent still felt Netanyahu was the best suited for the job.
That same poll also found that Netanyahu's party Likud managed to maintain its position, and if elections were held today, it still would have received 30 out of the 120 seats available in the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.
 
© AFP 2021 / MENAHEM KAHANANaftali Bennett, Israeli parliament member from the Yamina party, gives a statement at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2021. - In power for 12 consecutive years, Israel's embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces being toppled by a motley coalition of lawmakers united only by their shared hostility towards him. Under the agreement, the right-wing nationalist Bennett would be premier for two years, to be replaced by the centrist Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party in 2023.
Naftali Bennett, Israeli parliament member from the Yamina party, gives a statement at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2021. - In power for 12 consecutive years, Israel's embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces being toppled by a motley coalition of lawmakers united only by their shared hostility towards him. Under the agreement, the right-wing nationalist Bennett would be premier for two years, to be replaced by the centrist Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party in 2023. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.09.2021
Naftali Bennett, Israeli parliament member from the Yamina party, gives a statement at the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem on June 6, 2021. - In power for 12 consecutive years, Israel's embattled Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces being toppled by a motley coalition of lawmakers united only by their shared hostility towards him. Under the agreement, the right-wing nationalist Bennett would be premier for two years, to be replaced by the centrist Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party in 2023.
 
Yigal Rabinovich, a 29-year-old supporter of Netanyahu from Afula, in northern Israel, says the former prime minister’s support stems from him having "a solid base of loyalists", who vote for his party "no matter what" and who follow him "wherever he goes".
Over the years, Netanyahu has managed to create an image of an indispensable politician, one, who can stand firm in the face of security threats and international players alike; one, who understands the economy. 

Netanyahu's Achievements

In many ways, he delivered on his promises. His 12 years in office saw a relative quiet in terms of security. Although his tenure was also associated with three military campaigns in Gaza, the number of those killed or injured in Israel was significantly lower than the previous decade, when the nation lost more than a thousand people.
In terms of the economy, Netanyahu also registered a number of achievements. He was the one who brought major international companies to invest in Israel. He insisted on drilling in the Mediterranean to extract gas and he was the one who opened the country to the world, moves that eventually lifted the Jewish state's income and pushed the public's living standards up.
 
© REUTERS / RONEN ZVULUNLeader of Israeli Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with his Likud party in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 14, 2021.
Leader of Israeli Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with his Likud party in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 14, 2021.  - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.09.2021
Leader of Israeli Opposition Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a meeting with his Likud party in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem June 14, 2021.
 
On the international stage, Netanyahu succeeded in establishing stable and friendly relations with a number of important players, including Russia and China, but yet these achievements weren’t enough to help him retain his job.

Down With Netanyahu?

The year 2020 was exceptionally difficult for Netanyahu. With the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic and the government’s decision to shut the country down to stop the virus from spreading, crowds took to the streets all across the nation demanding he step down.
Those calls continued to sound loud and clear in May when Netanyahu appeared in court for the first time over charges of fraud, bribery, and a breach of trust in a series of graft probes that include buying positive press and receiving illegal gifts from a rich donor.
Netanyahu tried to present the situation as if there was a plot to get him. He accused the press, the judiciary, and the police of colluding against him. He sounded the alarm that if his right-wing supporters didn’t wake up and vote for him in the polls, he would lose, and the future of the country might be at risk.
Recalling those days, Rabinovich says, many conservative voters were complacent. They didn't believe Netanyahu's days could be numbered.
 
© REUTERS / RONEN ZVULUNA protester wearing a mask depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a sign with the word "Liar" in Hebrew, gestures during a demonstration against Netanyahu before his corruption trial resumes, near Jerusalem's District Court April 5, 2021.
A protester wearing a mask depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a sign with the word Liar in Hebrew, gestures during a demonstration against Netanyahu before his corruption trial resumes, near Jerusalem's District Court April 5, 2021. - Sputnik International, 1920, 07.09.2021
A protester wearing a mask depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a sign with the word "Liar" in Hebrew, gestures during a demonstration against Netanyahu before his corruption trial resumes, near Jerusalem's District Court April 5, 2021.
 
"Many thought that his warnings were empty and that they were a part of his strategy. Now we know he was right. They only wanted to get rid of him".
Rabinovich doesn't believe in the allegations against the former prime minister. He says that in his eyes Netanyahu will remain innocent until proven otherwise. And he also says Netanyahu is destined to make a comeback.
"I voted for him in the past, and I will do that in the future, especially given the way the current government is behaving".
The Bennett-Lapid coalition vowed to tackle the coronavirus pandemic and the economic crisis it unlocked. They also promised to improve the lives of ordinary Israelis and change what they called Netanyahu's incorrect foreign and domestic policies. But for Rabinovich, their government is unlikely to have any significant impact.
"Bennett forged that coalition by force. It should have never been established. They have so many opinions within one government. They will never be able to pass laws not only because they can't agree on anything but also because they are afraid of the public's reaction. This government is doomed, and when it falls Netanyahu will be waiting around the corner".
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