An Israeli television news survey aired at the weekend showed that the vast majority of citizens are pleased with Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership during the coronavirus crisis.
A full 74 percent of respondents to the Channel 12 News poll said that in terms of the health aspect of the crisis, Bibi did a great job. In other words, most Israelis attribute the nation’s low infection and death rates to the heavy lockdown restrictions imposed by the government.
Even among left-wingers, who believe Netanyahu is a threat to Israel’s democracy, 58 percent approved of the prime minister’s performance.
This is a theme that has played out numerous times over the past decade or so. A large portion of Israelis do not like, or at the very least do not trust, Netanyahu, and yet a clear majority begrudgingly views him as the nation’s most effective leader.
On the economic front, Netanyahu ranked somewhat lower. Still, a 53 percent majority said he managed the economy as well as possible during the crisis. And that’s despite the fact that a full quarter of Israel’s workforce is currently unemployed.
Similar numbers have of course been seen around the world, and there was likely little more Netanyahu could have done to prevent the hit to Israel’s economy. Similarly, Israel doesn’t have the national budget to conduct large-scale bailouts of hard-hit companies and industries.
Still, it is a point of great concern, and one for prayer, that 57 percent of Israelis say they aren’t sure they will economically survive the coronavirus.
Seizing the opportunity
Politically, the coronavirus has been a boon to Netanyahu. That’s not to say he did’t genuinely work for Israel’s sake during this crisis. But there’s no denying that it represented an opportunity for him personally.
Prior to coronavirus arriving in Israel, Netanyahu was again struggling to put together a governing coalition and was facing a corruption trial that could not only end his political career, but send him to prison. He’s still facing the latter, though the trial is no longer a top priority to most Israelis. And it’s thanks explicitly to COVID-19 that Bibi’s chief rival, Benny Gantz, did a full about-face and agreed to join a unity coalition under Netanyahu’s leadership.
With most Israelis, even those to the left of the political spectrum, giving him such a high approval rating during this time of unprecedented adversity, Netanyahu is sitting pretty politically for the time being.