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Photo Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photos: Pool, Gali Tibbon/Getty Images

The Bibi Barometer is a weekly feature of the new Axios from Tel Aviv newsletter. Sign up here.

Israel is slowly emerging from its second national COVID-19 lockdown, but Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is struggling to rebound politically from widespread criticism over his handling of the second wave.

Why it matters: Israel’s power-sharing government — the dysfunctional result of a year-long political standoff — is in danger of collapse less than six months after it was formed. Israel could soon face new elections, perhaps in March.

  • Netanyahu would enter them at possibly his weakest point politically in the last decade.
  • His trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust is due to resume in January with witness testimony and the presentation of evidence. Netanyahu may have to sit in the courtroom three days a week to wage his defense.
  • For the last three months, there have been frequent demonstrations near Netanyahu’s official residence in Jerusalem led by young people frustrated by the economic crisis and the government’s handling of COVID-19.

Flashback: Netanyahu’s approval ratings looked strong in May as his new government was sworn in, with the first wave of the pandemic having been suppressed by an early lockdown

  • The exit from lockdown proved far trickier politically, and his party slid in the polls from a projected 40 seats to 27 amid perceptions he’d mishandled it.
  • Netanyahu’s relations with coalition partner Benny Gantz are terrible, and their power-sharing government is dysfunctional and paralyzed.
  • Meanwhile, Netanyahu’s archrival Naftali Bennett, who heads a hardline right-wing party, has eaten into his conservative base and even picked up some center-left voters by focusing relentlessly on the pandemic.
  • A recent poll projected 24 seats for Bennett’s party in a potential election — three times the number it has today.

What’s next: The next two months will be critical for the future of Netanyahu’s government.

  • If it fails to pass a 2020 budget before Dec. 23, it will automatically collapse, triggering early elections.
  • Gantz is insisting that the 2021 budget be passed this year as well, but Netanyahu wants to put that off until March.
  • If no agreement is reached by mid-November, Israel will be on track for yet another election.

Go deeper

Jan 27, 2021 - World

Netanyahu doesn't want a fight with Biden over Iran — yet

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photos: Eric Baradat (AFP), Gali Tibbon (AFP)/Getty Images

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, hoping to avoid an immediate clash with President Biden over Iran, will give dialogue a chance, Israeli officials say.

Why it matters: Biden intends to try to resume the 2015 nuclear deal, which Netanyahu vehemently opposes. The two are on a collision course, and memories are fresh of the crisis in U.S.-Israel relations when Netanyahu was publicly campaigning against Barack Obama's attempts to reach a deal — including in a speech to Congress.

2 hours ago - Health

Meta removes over 600 accounts linked to COVID disinformation effort by China

Facebook's corporate headquarters campus in Menlo Park, California. Photo: Josh Edelson/AFP via Getty Images

Meta announced Wednesday it has removed over 600 Facebook and Instagram accounts linked to a Chinese influence operation that claimed the U.S. was pressuring the World Health Organization (WHO) to blame COVID on China.

Why it matters: Though Meta said the network was unsuccessful, it marks yet another COVID disinformation campaign instigated by China in an effort to discredit the U.S.

Stacey Abrams launches second campaign for Georgia governor

Photo: Eze Amos/Getty Images

Stacey Abrams, voting rights activist and former 2018 candidate for Georgia governor, is running for the position again in 2022. Abrams would be the first Black female governor in the country.

Why it matters: Abrams caught national attention in 2018 by narrowly losing an election to Republican Gov. Brian Kemp in a state held firmly by the GOP for nearly two decades.