Yair Lapid, Binyamin Netanyahu
Yair Lapid, Binyamin NetanyahuMarc Israel Sellem/POOL/Flash 90

Israelis are increasingly open to the possibility of electing former Finance Minister and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid as Prime Minister, a new poll shows, which indicates both Lapid and his party are growing in popularity.

According to the survey, conducted by Teleseker on behalf of Channel 1, Lapid and incumbent Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu are in a virtual tie. When asked which candidate they preferred for the premiership, 23% said Netanyahu was their choice, compared to 21% for Lapid. In a distant third was Education Minister and Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, followed closely by former Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon at 6%, and his successor Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) at 5%.

Opposition leader and Zionist Union chief Isaac Herzog came in last, with a mere 4%, tied with former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.

The 2-point gap between the Prime Minister and Lapid is the narrowest lead held by Netanyahu over a rival in polling since the 2015 election. The last poll, conducted by Statnet (formerly Dialog) and publicized on December 30th, gave the Prime Minister a 12-point lead over Lapid, 27-15, despite Yesh Atid’s 4-seat edge over Likud.

The new poll also showed Lapid’s Yesh Atid party defeating Likud in new elections, rising from the 11 mandates it won in 2015 to 26. The Likud, by contrast, would fall from 30 seats to 22.

In third place is the Jewish Home, which rose from the 8 seats it won in 2015 to 14. The Zionist Union came in fourth, plummeting from 24 to just 13 mandates.

The predominantly Arab Joint List party sank slightly, from 13 seats to 12, while Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu showed a 50% gain, rising from 6 seats to 9.

The haredi parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism, remained stable with the 7 and 6 seats they currently hold. The left-wing Meretz party gained a single mandate, rising from 5 to 6, while Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu dropped from 10 to just 5 seats.

Turning to the recent decision in the case of Sgt. Elor Azariya, convicted of manslaughter in the death of an Arab terrorist last March, the survey shows a majority of Israel’s opposing the court’s ruling.

Fifty-one percent of Israelis said they disagreed with the guilty verdict, compared to 37% who agreed with it. A wider majority (62%) say Azariya should receive a pardon, while 25% say he should not.

Earlier polls show similar results, with a Gal Hadash survey showing 70% of Israelis favor a pardon, compared to 19% who oppose. A Midgam Research Institute poll showed 67% in favor of a pardon, with 19% opposed. The Midgam poll also showed 51% of Israelis disagreed with the court’s decision, while 36% supported it.