ELECTION DAY AS IT HAPPENED: PM, Gantz deadlocked; Arabs up; Liberman kingmaker
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ELECTION DAY AS IT HAPPENED: PM, Gantz deadlocked; Arabs up; Liberman kingmaker

Turnout slightly up on April’s vote; parties campaign feverishly for last minute votes, Blue and White cautiously celebrates win but exit polls shows no easy path to coalition

  • Supporters of the Blue and White party react as the exit polls are announced, September 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
    Supporters of the Blue and White party react as the exit polls are announced, September 17, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/FLASH90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanya speaks at the Likud headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, on September 18, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanya speaks at the Likud headquarters on elections night in Tel Aviv, on September 18, 2019. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • Blue and White head Benny Gantz addresses supporters at the alliance's campaign headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019, as his allies Yair Lapid (2nd-R) of the Yesh Atid party and Moshe Yaalon (R) of the Telem party speak behind. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
    Blue and White head Benny Gantz addresses supporters at the alliance's campaign headquarters in the Israeli coastal city of Tel Aviv early on September 18, 2019, as his allies Yair Lapid (2nd-R) of the Yesh Atid party and Moshe Yaalon (R) of the Telem party speak behind. (EMMANUEL DUNAND / AFP)
  • (L to R) Joint List candidates Ofer Cassif, Heba Yazbak, Mtanes Shehadeh, Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi, Aida Touma-Suleiman and Iman Khatib Yassin appear before supporters at the alliance's campaign headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth on September 17, 2019, as the first exit polls are announced on television. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
    (L to R) Joint List candidates Ofer Cassif, Heba Yazbak, Mtanes Shehadeh, Ayman Odeh, Ahmad Tibi, Aida Touma-Suleiman and Iman Khatib Yassin appear before supporters at the alliance's campaign headquarters in the northern Israeli city of Nazareth on September 17, 2019, as the first exit polls are announced on television. (Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
  • Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Israeli secular nationalist Yisrael Beyteinu party, gives an address at the party's electoral headquarters in Jerusalem late on September 17, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
    Avigdor Liberman, leader of the Israeli secular nationalist Yisrael Beyteinu party, gives an address at the party's electoral headquarters in Jerusalem late on September 17, 2019. (JALAA MAREY / AFP)
  • Ayelet Shaked (R), leader and candidate of the New Right party that is part of the Yamina political alliance, speaks to the press while flanked by Jewish Home member and candidate Moti Yogev (L), National Union party leader and candidate Bezalel Smotrich (2nd-L), (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
    Ayelet Shaked (R), leader and candidate of the New Right party that is part of the Yamina political alliance, speaks to the press while flanked by Jewish Home member and candidate Moti Yogev (L), National Union party leader and candidate Bezalel Smotrich (2nd-L), (Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to commuters in front of the public bathrooms at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, September 17, 2019. (Screen capture: Facebook Live)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaking to commuters in front of the public bathrooms at the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, September 17, 2019. (Screen capture: Facebook Live)
  • An Arab Israeli woman on election day at a polling station in Haifa,  on September 17, 2019. The sign on the door warns the unauthorized photography is illegal. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
    An Arab Israeli woman on election day at a polling station in Haifa, on September 17, 2019. The sign on the door warns the unauthorized photography is illegal. (Photo by Ahmad GHARABLI / AFP)
  • Labor-Gesher party leader Amir Peretz poses for a photo next to an Iron Dome battery model after casting his ballot at a voting station in Sderot, September 17, 2019 (Flash90)
    Labor-Gesher party leader Amir Peretz poses for a photo next to an Iron Dome battery model after casting his ballot at a voting station in Sderot, September 17, 2019 (Flash90)
  • A woman casts her vote with her child at a voting station in Safed, on election day, September 17, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)
    A woman casts her vote with her child at a voting station in Safed, on election day, September 17, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)
  • President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, September 17, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    President Reuven Rivlin casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, September 17, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Shas leader Aryeh Deri, second right, blows a shofar at the grave of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on September 17, 2019. (Yaakov Cohen/Shas)
    Shas leader Aryeh Deri, second right, blows a shofar at the grave of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on September 17, 2019. (Yaakov Cohen/Shas)
  • Israeli children accompany their father in a polling booth during Knesset elections at a polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin, on September 17, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)
    Israeli children accompany their father in a polling booth during Knesset elections at a polling station in Rosh Ha'ayin, on September 17, 2019. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Israel’s election day events through Tuesday and into Wednesday.

Most polling stations open across country

Most polling stations across the country have opened as of 7 a.m. Some ballot boxes in smaller towns will only open at 8 a.m.

Most voting stations will close at 10 p.m. (except for those that close earlier), at which point exit polls will be released.

Deri blows shofar at rabbi’s grave to kick off electioneering

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri and his band of Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox men have started off voting day with a visit to the Jerusalem grave of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the late spiritual leader of the party.

Deri blows a shofar, traditional for the days ahead of the Jewish New Year, and vows that “today we stop this ‘secular government,’ and safeguard the Jewish State on the path of [Rabbi Yosef].”

Shas leader Aryeh Deri, second right, blows a shofar at the grave of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef on September 17, 2019. (Yaakov Cohen/Shas)

Liberman: ‘There will be government without ultra-Orthodox and no 3rd elections’

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman says before voting: “We will set up a government without the ultra-Orthodox. There will be no third elections. There will certainly not be 61 votes to dissolve the Knesset.”

Earlier this year Liberman refused to join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu unless the bill formalizing exemptions to mandatory military service for yeshiva students was passed as is, a demand flatly rejected by the premier’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners.

That impasse helped trigger the new elections.

Rivlin says ‘will do everything’ to prevent 3rd round of elections

In a Facebook video President Reuven Rivlin says he will do everything within his power to prevent a third round of elections without the formation of a government.

“I will do everything I can to prevent further elections and to establish a government quickly,” the president vows.

He also calls citizens to go out and vote, despite the sense of frustration from the second set of elections within a year.

Peretz: ‘If Labor-Gesher doesn’t do well, PM will get government of immunity’

Labor-Gesher chief Amir Peretz, whose party is hovering at around five seats in polls, even less than its current record-low of six, casts his vote in southern town of Sderot and warns that if his party does badly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will form a coalition that will give him immunity from prosecution on possible corruption charges in the coming months.

“It’s a close fight. Every vote will make a difference. If Labor-Gesher does well, there will be an upheaval today. If Labor-Gesher does not do well, Netanyahu will get a government of immunity,” Peretz says. “It’s a close fight, every vote counts. I call on Labor-Gesher voters to go out and vote for the long-awaited upheaval.”

Shaked: ‘We are at war, Netanyahu is trying to hurt us’

Voting in Tel Aviv this morning, Yamina chair Ayelet Shaked tells activists that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is trying to damage her party’s chances in the elections.

“We are at war,” Shaked says. “You have to work hard at the polling stations and convince all right-wingers to vote for us. It will be tough due to Netanyahu’s gevalt campaign trying to hurt us,” she adds, referring to the prime minister’s traditional last-minute scare tactics.

Democratic Union: Activist beaten by Likud supporters at polling station

The Democratic Union party says an activist was beaten by a group of Likud supporters outside a polling station in Petah Tikva while trying to prevent the removal of election signs.

In a statement, the Democratic Union says the activist is in a good condition and is filing a complaint with the police.

The party adds that a phone line has been opened for the reporting of unusual activity at polling stations.

Central Elections Committee chair: Suspected election tampering must be reported

The chair of the Central Elections Committee calls on the electorate to get out and vote before asking for any suspicion of election tampering to be reported.

In a press briefing at Knesset, Orly Adas tells public to dial *8492 or *8354 if they see or suspect any impropriety.

Adas says the committee has experienced “complex times” and an intensive work schedule to get ready for a second round of voting so soon after April’s election.

Tel Aviv urges residents to vote with pink balloon campaign

The city of Tel Aviv is urging residents to vote through a campaign of pink balloons around the city, as in this early-morning photo.

Pink balloons tied to cars along a Tel Aviv street in a municipal campaign urging residents to vote in parliamentary elections on September 17, 2019. (Simona Weinglass)

The politicians are voting in droves

Politicians from across the political spectrum are letting everyone know they’ve voted.

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman casts his ballot on September 17, 2019. (Courtesy Yisrael Beytenu)
Labor-Gesher chair Amir Peretz casts his ballot accompanied by his wife, September 17, 2019. (Courtesy Labor-Gesher)
Yamina chair Ayelet Shaked casts her ballot with family members in Tel Aviv, September 17, 2019. (Courtesy Yamina)
United Torah Judaism head Yaakov Litzman casts his ballot on September 17, 2019. (Courtesy UTJ)
Likud candidate Gideon Sa’ar casts his ballot in Tel Aviv on September 17, 2019. (Courtesy)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein casts his ballot with his wife, September 17, 2019. (Courtesy)
Democratic Camp candidate and former prime minister Ehud Barak casts his ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv, September 17, 2019 (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Economy Minister Eli Cohen and his wife Anat vote in Holon on September 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

In Modiin, a moment of camaraderie across party lines

Israelis can be better than their fractured politics. Blue and White and Labor-Gesher volunteers help Likud counterparts set up their stand in front of a polling station in Modiin.

Netanyahu: Vote will be close, go and vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges “every citizen of Israel to come and vote.”

As he votes in Jerusalem, he also quotes US President Donald Trump’s assessment of the vote.

“President Trump said yesterday that the vote will be close. It will be close, so go and vote.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara vote at a school near their official residence in Jerusalem. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Otzma Yehudit: Without us there won’t be a right-wing government

Otzma Yehudit chair Itamar Ben Gvir, voting in the Kiryat Arba settlement in Hebron: “Although Yamina doesn’t stop distributing fake messages and fabricating rumors that are aimed at damaging us, the entire political system understands that [only] if we enter the Knesset, will there be a right-wing government. The right-wing government is in danger and without us, Netanyahu does not have the right-wing government and has no chance of getting 61 right-wing MKs.”

Otzma Yehudit chair Itamar Ben Gvir votes in Kiryat Arba, September 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

— Raoul Wootliff

An eager Yamina activist keeps the faith outside a Jerusalem polling station

The polls in the Tali Geulim school in Jerusalem’s Baka neighborhood are bustling with young families and older, long-time residents.

“Vote ‘tet-bet,’ they’re the best,” a young activist says outside the voting place, using the initials for the right-wing Yamina party.

“Of course!” a yarmulke-wearing man with two young children responds.

“One of ours!” the activist says excitedly.

— Judah Ari Gross

‘Things aren’t so bad here,’ say voters sunning on a Tel Aviv beach

Times of Israel reporter Jacob Magid has the toughest job of all this election day — walking the beaches of Tel Aviv and quizzing people about their voting choices.

On Hilton Beach, a young couple in their 20s are unrolling their towels on beach chairs. Carmel and Elbaz joke that they’re “the only right-wingers within a few good kilometers.” He’s voting Yamina and she’s voting Likud.

“Walla, bro, things aren’t so bad here,” shrugs Elbaz. “I think this time they’ll end up having a unity government but I doubt that’ll change much.”

Couple Carmel and Elbaz on Hilton Beach in Tel Aviv on election day, September 17, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

As they slather up their two toddler sons with suntan lotion at Mezizim Beach, Shira and Doron admit that they haven’t yet decided whom they’re voting for.

“It’s between Blue and White and Meretz (Democratic Camp), but in the end it’ll be up to Uri,” says the young mother pointing at her youngest son being lotioned by his father and holding a bag of Bamba.

Giddy with excitement, and with suntan lotion still not rubbed in on most of his face, he shouts “Gantz!”

Mezizim beach in Tel Aviv on election day, September 17, 2019. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

At Frishman Beach, the Geula family from Nes Ziona is sitting around a plastic table after just having downed shots of Arak.

“Vacation day, no?” says a buzzed Shai. His wife, two brothers and sisters-in-law made the trip to the beach on the day of the April election as well.

The Geulas were divided by gender over who they were voting for, with the men supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and the women planning to vote for Blue and White later today.

“They pretend that it’s a gender thing, but look there are no women at the top of Gantz’s list,” says Shai.

“There are barely any women on Bibi’s list either. Just [Culture Minister] Miri Regev, and she’s nuts!” his wife, who is also named Miri, scolds.

— Jacob Magid

Labor-Gesher says Likud behind anonymous text messages urging it to bow out

The first fraud complaints have begun to arrive at the Central Elections Committee’s office in Jerusalem.

Prospective Labor-Gesher voters have received text messages from unidentified senders — which is illegal — warning voters that the party isn’t passing the electoral threshold.

The message reads: “To keep Netanyahu from remaining in power, that guy without the mustache [Labor-Gesher leader Amir Peretz] must announce he’s dropping out of the race. They’re not passing the electoral threshold!”

Labor-Gesher is filing a complaint about the text messages alleging that they are the brainchild of the Likud campaign.

Ayelet Shaked: Support female leadership

Yamina chair Ayelet Shaked, voting in Tel Aviv, urges right-wing voters to think about the overall rightist “bloc,” and not back Likud alone.

“What’s important is the size of the bloc, not of the [Likud] party,” she says.

She adds: “I call on women especially to vote. Support female leadership.”

Ayman Odeh to Arab voters: No one will give us rights – we must take them

Joint List head MK Ayman Odeh votes in Haifa. He urges Arab Israelis to vote.

“We can deliver a historic achievement today. I urge every voter to come to the ballot box with their friends and relatives. Each vote for the Joint List will allow us to fight for peace, equality, and social justice for everyone. And infrastructure. Nobody will give us the impact and rights we deserve — we have to take them ourselves,” he says.

Arab Joint List chief MK Ayman Odeh votes in Haifa on September 17, 2019. (Courtesy)

— Raoul Wootliff

Yamina says its ballot slips were stolen from Hadera polling station

Yamina complains to the Central Elections Committee that its ballot slips have been stolen from a polling station in Hadera.

The slips, at the polling site in the city’s Tahkemuni school, were replaced by New Right party slips from the April race, in an apparent bid to confuse Yamina voters into turning in invalid ballots.

Yamina is asking the elections committee that all “New Right” votes submitted from that station be counted as Yamina votes.

Netanyahu: If you don’t vote, Ayman Odeh will bring me down

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes to Facebook for his first live broadcast of the day, and warns that “if you don’t go to vote, [Arab Joint List leader] Ayman Odeh will succeed in bringing me down.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Turnout reaches 15% as of 10 a.m., 2.1 points up from April race

The Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas gives the first turnout numbers, based on reports from polling stations and a survey of some 500 statistically representative stations chosen by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

As of 10 a.m., voter turnout is 15 percent, the committee says, 2.1 percentage points higher than at the same hour in the April 9 race.

A total of 956,856 votes have been reported from 8,596 polling stations, roughly 80% of all stations. That’s combined with survey data from 493 statistically representative stations.

The actual turnout is higher, as some 9.5% of eligible voters live overseas, according to CEC figures, so the figure of 15% is out of the 90.5% of the overall electorate that’s in the country, or some 16.6% of Israeli eligible voters currently in Israel.

The figure also doesn’t include soldiers’ ballots, which have not yet been opened.

Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas gives turnout figures as of 10 a.m. on election day, September 17, 2019. (YouTube screen capture)

Election official says five polling stations reported disruptions

Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas lists five polling stations that reported problems this morning.

In Tel Sheva in the south, one station opened late due to electrical problems.

In the Arab town of Sakhnin there were reports of threats from “political elements,” Adas says without elaborating. Police are handling the incident, she says.

In a Tel Aviv polling station, a ruckus broke out after a journalist started filming the station without the required permission from election officials.

In the northern city of Karmiel, a man was caught handing out official ballot envelopes with the “gimel” symbol of the United Torah Judaism party. The man was detained and questioned by police.

In Or Yehuda, an individual was questioned after filming in a polling station.

Benny Gantz: Everyone should vote, even if not for me

Blue and White chair Benny Gantz votes in Rosh Ha’ayin. He urges all Israelis to follow suit.

“Shalom, citizens of Israel. We are happy to start our morning with this vital act for Israeli democracy. I call upon all Israeli citizens to go and vote according to their conscience. I recommend voting Blue and White but I respect any decision. The most important thing is that you all fulfill your primary civic duty. Today, we are voting for change. We will succeed in bringing hope, all of us together, without corruption and without extremism. May we have a successful day throughout the country.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Likud, Blue and White both insist the other side’s voters are flooding the polls

Likud and Blue and White both insist the other side’s voters are flooding the polls — after the Central Elections Committee releases the first turnout figures as of 10 a.m. showing a 35-year high of 15 percent.

Blue and White officials tell the Times of Israel that the high turnout is not happening in left-leaning Tel Aviv, where they say turnout is down by 2.5 percentage points from the April race.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, meanwhile, posts a glossy graphic to Twitter purporting to show a vast disparity between what he calls “leftist cities” and “Likud cities.”

“Leftist cities” Hod Hasharon, Herzliya, Kfar Saba, Ra’anana, Givatayim and Modiin have a turnout ranging from 68% to 78%, whereas “Likud cities” Ashkelon, Beersheba, Netanya, Tiberias, Hadera and Bat Yam range from 52% to 63%.

Arab Israeli activist Afif Abu-Much replies to Netanyahu with contradictory figures showing relatively low turnout in left-leaning cities — Tel Aviv 63%, Arab Nazareth 39.8% — and much higher figures in right-wing settlements, from Yitzhar in the northern West Bank (81.6%) to Beit El near Ramallah (85.1%).

It’s a safe bet, dear voter, that you’re being spun by all concerned. Just go vote.

Yaakov Litzman: Haredi community faces ‘campaign of intimidation’

United Torah Judaism head Yaakov Litzman votes in Jerusalem, and urges his Haredi electorate to take the vote seriously.

“This is a fateful and critical day for the State of Israel. At the end of the incitement campaign of intimidation against Haredim, this evening we will find out whether or not Jewish values and Jewish heritage will be harmed. If United Torah Judaism is strong and big then the inciters and abusers of Judaism will have failed in their plot. I urge everyone to obey the instructions of our great rabbis and vote UTJ.”

— Raoul Wootliff

‘They’re all corrupt,’ scoffs Ashdod voter David Levy, saying he’s going Blue and White

Ashdod resident David Levy, who in the past either voted for Likud or the pro-settler party of Naftali Bennett, says he doesn’t believe any politicians but is going to vote for Blue and White this time around.

“They’re all corrupt. The ask for your vote and then screw you the day after. The only party that really works for its people is Agudah,” he says, referring to part of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism faction.

“Netanyahu did great things for the economy, but he has failed on security,” he says.

Levy, who is secular, says he is voting for Blue and White this time because he trusts the abilities of party leaders Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. “Three [IDF] chiefs of staff, and they’re all stupid and only Bibi is smart? Come on,” he scoffs.

— Raphael Ahren

Yisrael Beytenu claims its ballots were hidden in Ashdod stations

The Yisrael Beytenu party files a complaint with the Central Elections Committee over “attempted election fraud” in Ashdod ballot stations.

At two ballot stations, the party’s ballot slips were found covered up by other parties’ slips, party officials say.

Voters were also reportedly instructed in those stations, situated in heavily Russian-speaking areas where Yisrael Beytenu’s voters are concentrated, not to seal the envelopes containing the voting slips — thus invalidating the ballots, according to Yisrael Beytenu.

The party’s complaint lists the two stations’ addresses as Harav Shaul 8 and Shevet Binyamin 19 in the city.

Man held in Kafr Qassem for trying to vote with someone else’s ID

Police say a man from the Arab town of Kafr Qassem attempted to vote using another man’s identity card.

“The suspect, 40, from Kafr Qassem, was detained and taken for interrogation in a police station. The circumstances of the incident are being investigated,” police say.

— Judah Ari Gross

Blue and White says it’s losing as right-wing rushes the polls

Blue and White is ratcheting up the anxiety, claiming that right-wing voters are flooding the polls.

“According to real-time numbers from the Central Elections Committee, Blue and White voters are voting in much lower numbers than supporters of Netanyahu, [Itamar] Ben Gvir and [Betzalel] Smotrich!” the party says in a statement on social media.

It warns: “If you don’t leave your homes and go vote, we’ll lose the country to a government of extremists! Blue and White must be the largest party if we want to hand the country back to the normal and moderate Israeli majority! It’s in your hands!”

Likud declares ’emergency’ over purported high turnout among Arabs, leftists

Likud declares an “emergency meeting” of party and campaign officials at 2 p.m. in the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem “amid the high turnout in the Arab sector and in the bastions of the left.”

Claims that leftists and Arabs are voting “in droves” characterized Likud’s last three campaigns, including when the figures showed the claim to be incorrect.

Blue and White claimed just a short time ago that turnout has risen in right-leaning areas.

Don’t believe either until official numbers are in. Just go and vote your conscience.

Police briefly shut Umm al-Fahm ballot station after man caught filming

Police briefly close down a polling station in the Arab town of Umm al-Fahm after an observer begins filming voters in an apparent violation of the law, police say.

“He was escorted out of the polling place by police officers, and afterward there was a larger gathering of citizens. Out of concern that there would be violence in the area, it was decided to close the station until police finished dealing with the event,” police say in a statement.

Police say there have not yet been any other significant disturbances at polling places.

The station has reopened.

— Judah Ari Gross

Turnout hits 26.8% by noon, 2 points higher than in April

Voter turnout hits 26.8 percent of eligible voters by noon, the Central Elections Committee’s director Orly Adas says.

That’s 2 points higher than April’s 24.8% by this hour, an “impressive trend,” according to Adas.

The latest figure means 1,713,936 voters have already voted, according to the committee’s figures, drawn from reports from 8,652 polling stations, about 80% of the total, as well as a survey of 513 representative stations nationwide.

Shaked says Otzma Yehudit masquerading as Yamina in ‘illegal’ vote poaching bid

Yamina’s chair Ayelet Shaked says the extremist Otzma Yehudit party has launched an “illegal” text message campaign pretending to come from her party that is calling on voters to switch their votes to Otzma Yehudit.

In a screen capture from a phone that she shared on Twitter, a text message purporting to come from Yamina reads: “Dear Mordechai Ifrach, at our last consultation we decided to give two [Knesset] seats to Otzma Yehudit. Please act accordingly.”

The message is signed “Yamina staff.”

“A crime by Otzma Yehudit,” Shaked tweets in response. “An urgent petition was filed to the Central Elections Committee. All morning they’ve been spreading lies.”

After a similar previous message claimed that Nobel-laureate Yamina supporter Prof. Israel Aumann had switched his support to Otzma Yehudit, Shaked wrote: “Prof. Aumann asked to clarify that he’s calling to vote for Yamina.”

Yair Lapid warns of ’emergency’ for Israeli democracy

Blue and White no. 2 Yair Lapid warns “this is a time of emergency for our democracy.”

“I’d love to stand here and say today is a celebration of our democracy, but this isn’t a holiday. This is a time of emergency for our democracy. At this urgent hour, we’re getting reports from all around the country that Bibi [Netanyahu] is managing to get his people out. If Bibi has one more seat [than Blue and White], we’ll have a government of extortion and racism, with [Bezalel] Smotrich, [UTJ head Yaakov] Litzman and [Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar] Ben Gvir.”

He adds: “If you want a fair government, that will take care of health, education, the things that are actually important, our children’s future — then go out there…. Right now, our numbers are lower than his. This is no time for small parties, no time to go to the beach.”

At ’emergency meeting,’ Netanyahu warns Arabs set to win 15 Knesset seats

At an “emergency meeting” of senior Likud officials to consider the party’s response to a purported rush on the polls by “Arabs and leftists,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns that the Arab Joint List is on track to win 15 seats.

If it does, it would be the highest-ever showing for Arab candidates, and more or less in keeping with the community’s actual numbers among the Israeli adult population.

Reports surface of fake tallies and voter identity theft at some polls

The Central Elections Committee reports several additional incidents at polling stations.

In Yarka, voting was briefly suspended when the station’s head noticed ballot envelopes had disappeared. The regional elections chief, who is always a serving judge, arrived at the scene to investigate. Police have also been called in.

In Beit Shemesh, a voter arrived at the poll to discover she’d already voted. She filed a police complaint.

There were also several attempts by party observers at polling stations to film the procedures. “Police have dealt with all cases,” the elections committee’s Orly Adas says.

Separately, Channel 13 reports that all the staff at a polling station in Fureidis have been replaced by the Central Elections Committee amid concern that fictitious vote tallies were being reported.

At least 50,000 visit national parks

At least 50,000 Israelis visit national parks throughout the country so far today, according to the Israel National and Parks Authority, taking advantage of the national holiday.

Likud cameras ‘won’t stop me,’ says Arab man at Sakhnin ballot station

Young and old residents of Sakhnin, a large Arab town in the Galilee, trickle into classrooms in a small school on Tuesday to cast ballots in Israel’s second national elections in 2019.

It was a slow morning. Two hours after the voting booths at the Al-Salam Elementary School opened at 9 a.m., only some 30 voters had cast ballots in the center of town. Sahknin is home to approximately 30,500 people.

Hamad Khalailah, a 28-year-old lawyer, who said he voted for the Joint List, an alliance of the four largest Arab-majority parties, remarks that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party’s efforts to send activists armed with cameras to polling stations in Arab communities did not make him think twice about casting a ballot.

“I wasn’t scared to come here,” he says. “It is my right to vote and Netanyahu will not stop me from doing that.”

— Adam Rasgon

‘To make sure PM isn’t embarrassed, Arabs and leftists must vote in droves’

Some left-wing Israelis are laughing it up over Likud’s “gevalt!” campaign, which seek to pressure their voters to head to the polls by alleging massive voter turnout for the other side.

“Listen, I’m now in Tel Aviv and there’s an immense line here of leftists the likes of which I’ve never seen before. Something is happening here, I’m telling you,” writes Haaretz’s crime reporter Josh Breiner in a tweet that includes a photo of people standing in line in Tel Aviv.

He continues: “In my forty years of journalism I’ve never seen this kind of hysteria.”

Then comes the punch line: “It’s the line for Benedict’s at Sarona Market” — a popular restaurant.

Mickey Gitzin, a longtime left-wing activist and now head of the New Israel Fund’s Israel office, urges leftists and Arabs to vote, if only to avoid any embarrassment for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has spent the day warning of an Arab and leftist run on the polls.

“To prevent the embarrassing situation where we discover, God forbid, that the prime minister is lying, dear Arabs and leftists, please vote in droves. This isn’t an endorsement of any side, only a real concern for the integrity of the institution of the prime minister.”

Facebook suspends Netanyahu chatbot for illegally publishing polls

Facebook suspends Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook chatbot — which engages visitors to the prime minister’s Facebook page — for the remainder of election day after it illegally shared polling information.

It is illegal to publicize polls in Israel in the run-up to elections.

A Facebook spokesperson says: “We’re working with elections officials around the world to help ensure the integrity of the elections. Our policy explicitly states that developers are required to obey all laws applicable in the country where their application is accessible. Therefore we’ve suspended the [Netanyahu] bot’s activity, in light of the violation of local law, until the close of the polls” at 10 p.m. on Tuesday.

Facebook had temporarily suspended the bot last week after it warned visitors of a possible “secular left-wing weak government that relies on Arabs who want to destroy us all — women, children and men.” Netanyahu has insisted he does not share that view of Arabs, and said the bot’s message wasn’t written by him.

Prisons Service operating 56 polling stations for 8,000 incarcerated eligible voters

Israel’s Prisons Service says it has opened 56 polling stations in prisons throughout the country.

Some 8,000 prisoners are eligible to vote.

Parks Authority: 130,000 use election holiday to visit national parks

The Nature and Parks Authority says the number of visitors taking advantage of the national holiday to visit parks hits 130,000. The most popular parks are Caesarea and Masada, followed by Yarkon-Tel Afek, Ashkelon and Gan HaShlosha.

— Sue Surkes

Police shut three polling stations in Yarka over fraud suspicions

Police shut three polling places in the Druze village of Yarka in northern Israel over suspicions of election fraud.

“A report was received of suspicion of counterfeiting at three polling places in the village of Yarka. There is a suspected attempt to bring voting envelopes into the polling places,” police say.

“In accordance with an instruction from the regional election committee, the three polling places have been closed until the investigation is completed.”

— Judah Ari Gross

Voter turnout hits 36.5% as of 2 p.m., or 0.7 points above April race

Voter turnout as of 2 p.m. reaches 36.5 percent, the Central Elections Committee says.

That’s 2,331,974 voters, give or take.

Unlike earlier figures that counted actual votes cast in some 80% of polling stations, the 2 p.m. number is based on a statistically representative survey of 501 polling stations nationwide conducted at that hour by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The figure marks a 0.7 point increase from the same hour in the April 9 race, a narrowing of the gap between the two races.

Elections chief Melcer denies report he ruled not to count Otzma Yehudit votes

The Central Elections Committee denies a media report claiming that committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer has ruled not to count votes for the far-right Otzma Yehudit party because of widespread voter fraud. A spokesman for Melcer says no such ruling has been issued.

— Sue Surkes

Five polling stations shuttered in Druze town over fraud, violence

The Central Elections Committee says police temporarily closed five polling stations in Yarka over voting irregularities.

Once reopened, the stations will remain open until midnight, two hours longer than the 10 p.m. closing time elsewhere, the committee says.

Election observers have been sent from the Central Elections Committee in Jerusalem to ensure the five stations are properly run for the remainder of election day.

According to CEC director Orly Adas, ballot envelopes were found missing in one station, and were then recovered when a local woman was caught attempting to stuff them in the ballot box.

The woman and two suspected accomplices were detained.

The other four shuttered stations reported violent incidents, Adas says.

In the last election, Likud won the most votes in the northern Druze town.

Nobel winner says extremist party sent fake messages of his support

Nobel-winning professor Yisrael Aumann files a complaint with the Central Elections Committee against the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, which he says has “spread a false report” that he supported the party.

His lack of support, he clarifies, is not because he disagrees with the party, but because he believes it doesn’t stand a chance to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold.

After prospective voters began to receive text messages claiming Aumann’s support, Yamina candidate Naftali Bennett called the famed game theory pioneer.

“I said that if there was a reasonable chance that they’ll pass the threshold, then maybe it would be worthwhile to help them do so,” Aumann told the Srugim website. “But I added that in my view the polls showing them getting four mandates was spin, that they don’t have a reasonable chance of passing the threshold, and that [voters] should back Yamina.”

Likud installs dozens of face-recognizing cameras outside Arab polls

The ruling Likud party seems unwilling to leave Arab Israelis alone. Channel 13 reports that Likud, prohibited from posting cameras inside Arab polling stations after attempting to do so secretly in April, has installed “dozens” of facial-recognition cameras outside Arab polling stations.

The move is part of a burgeoning campaign strategy that seeks to reduce Arab turnout and mobilize right-wing voters by warning of Arabs — as Netanyahu has said multiple times today — rushing to the polls.

Channel 13’s Akiva Novick posts to Twitter a video he says shows one such camera installed last night outside a polling station in a village near Nazareth.

Likud has “no comment,” a spokesman says.

PM’s Facebook chatbot reinstated after he promises to stop breaking election rules

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Facebook chatbot is reinstated after Likud MK David Bitan promises elections czar Justice Hanan Melcer it will no longer be used to publish poll results, which is illegal on election day. The reinstatement is also conditioned on Netanyahu stopping his illegal radio or television interviews, which are also not allowed on election day.

Facebook said earlier today it had banned the chatbot for the remainder of election day at Melcer’s request, but some two hours later Melcer made the decision to reinstate it.

Channel 13 corrects: Likud’s cameras outside Arab polls can’t recognize faces

Channel 13’s reporter Akiva Novick faced withering criticism after reporting Likud’s installation of dozens of “face-recognizing” cameras outside Arab polling stations.

Some social media users noted he was pushing a story leaked to him by Likud itself, which was allegedly attempting yet again to suppress Arab turnout by frightening Arab Israelis away from the polls.

He responds on Twitter with the clarification: “‘Face recognition’ — Likud means it will watch the video afterwards and mark down faces. This isn’t some amazing technology.”

In clarifying, he seems to reveal that he did indeed get the information from Likud itself.

Voter turnout hits 44.3% at 4 p.m., 1.5 points higher than April race

Voter turnout as of 4 p.m. hit 44.3 percent, the Central Elections Committee says.

That’s 2,834,584 voters.

The figure is made up from reports from 8,681 polling stations, over 80% of the total stations, as well as a survey of a representative sample of 513 stations by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The figure marks an increase of 1.5 points over the same time of day during the April race.

Netanyahu: Otzma Yehudit ‘very far’ from entering Knesset

With scarcely four hours left till polls close, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu turns on the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, insisting in a Twitter post that the party is “very far from the electoral threshold. Every vote for Otzma will get thrown out. Our fight with Lapid-Gantz is closer than ever,” he warns, and urges right-wing voters to vote Likud.

Man held for ‘Bibi is a Nazi’ graffiti on Tel Aviv boardwalk

Tel Aviv Police arrest a 27-year-old man on suspicion that he painted graffiti with messages against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on the coastal city’s beachfront boardwalk.

The suspect, a resident of Binyamina, allegedly drew the words “Bibi is a Nazi.”

Blue and White website goes down in cyber attack three hours before polls close

Three hours before polls close, Blue and White’s website faces a “significant cyber attack,” the party says, shutting down the site.

The DDOS attack, in which large numbers of computers try to access the site at once, locking out regular traffic, was carried out by a significant cyber operation, the party says.

“Over 500 attempted breaches were detected from various servers abroad,” it says.

Elections chief okays vandalized voting slips

The Central Elections Committee says it is responding to a wave of defacing of ballot slips — by counting them as valid votes.

Ballots are not ordinarily counted if they are defaced or vandalized, but committee officials say they have received multiple reports of vandals using their time behind the partition to draw or punch holes on ballot slips belonging to parties they oppose — resulting in subsequent voters who didn’t notice the marks voting with invalid slips.

In response, the elections committee’s chief, Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, orders officials to count as valid “slips with small holes or on which someone may have drawn with a pen or sketched on the back or the front in a way that makes clear the drawing was intended to invalidate the slip,” the committee says in a statement.

Melcer also orders officials to accept voting slips that were replaced with slightly altered slips, which contain misspellings of party names and the like.

Voter turnout reaches 53.5% at 6 p.m., up 1.5 points from April race

Voter turnout reaches 53.5% by 6 p.m., the Central Elections Committee says.

That’s 3,418,531 voters, and 1.5 points more than the same time of day in the April race.

The figure comes from reports received at the CEC in Jerusalem from 8,509 polling stations, 78.9% of the total number of 10,543 stations nationwide, as well as a Central Bureau of Statistics survey of 512 representative stations.

PM claims again that turnout among leftists, Arabs outstripping Likud supporters

In an “emergency broadcast” on his Facebook page, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues new warnings of purported apathy among Likud supporters and high turnout among left-leaning and Arab voters.

“This is not a trick,” Netanyahu says of his assertion that Likud voters aren’t going to the polls.

He goes on to claim that the Palestinian Authority has put out an official message calling for Arab Israelis to vote for parties that oppose him. He does not provide details or evidence about the claim.

Police: 20 arrested, 69 investigated for breaking election laws

Police say at least 20 arrests were made today and 69 investigations were launched against individuals suspected of voting fraud and other violations of elections laws.

17-year-old detained in Jerusalem for trying to vote with someone else’s ID

A 17-year-old is detained by police for trying to vote in central Jerusalem with someone else’s identification card, police say.

The teenager is taken for questioning.

— Judah Ari Gross

Turnout in prisons reaches 74%, 4 points higher than April race

Voter turnout in prisons reaches 74 percent, the Kan public broadcaster reports, a 4-point jump over the April race.

The figure is final, as prison voting ended at 8 p.m.

The Prisons Service said earlier today it had opened 56 polling stations in prisons nationwide to ensure that some 8,000 eligible prisoners are able to cast their ballots.

Yesha Council warns turnout low in West Bank settlements

The umbrella advocacy group for West Bank settlements warns that turnout among Israeli residents of the West Bank is low.

Hananel Dorani, head of the Yesha Council, says, “We’re seeing in the large settlements in Judea and Samaria lower turnout rates than the last election. This time we’re voting for our homes, for the future of settlements, for sovereignty and development of the area.”

Election enters final hour, exit polls to follow

Party leaders are making their final frenzied pleas to voters as the election enters its final hour.

At 10 p.m., almost all polling stations will close across the country and exit polls will be posted on Israel’s three main television channels.

Ahead of exit polls, a reminder: They’re reliably unreliable

Ahead of the exit polls later this evening, bear in mind: The TV surveys in the past have been wildly off-mark and should be viewed with a fair measure of skepticism.

In April, for example, Channel 12 gave Benny Gantz’s Blue and White 37 seats, compared to 33 for Likud. Channel 13 — the most accurate of the batch — said the two largest parties would tie at 36 seats, but had the New Right passing the electoral threshold. And Kan also gave Blue and White a slight edge, with 37 seats (and 36 for Likud). In the end, the two parties received 35 seats.

This time around, the question hovering over the results will be about whether the winner can build a coalition, rather than which party receives the most seats. And that could come down to a single Knesset seat — and may only be known by tomorrow morning or afternoon.

Turnout hits 63.7% at 8 p.m., 2.4 points higher than April

As of 8 p.m., 63.7% of eligible voters have cast their ballots, the Central Election Committee says.

That marks a 2.4-point increase from the same hour during the April vote.

Joint List candidate says over half of Arab Israelis have voted

Joint List candidate Mansour Abbas says more than half of Arab Israelis eligible to vote have cast ballots.

“There aren’t any precise numbers, but I can say with certainty we have passed the 50% mark,” Abbas tells The Times of Israel at the Joint List’s election headquarters.

Adam Rasgon

Blue and White’s Tropper: Netanyahu won’t get 61 seats, ‘he failed again’

With less than half an hour before exit polls are published, the first Blue and White candidates are arriving at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, including Avi Nissenkorn and Yoaz Hendel.

“As it looks now, Bibi won’t get 61 seats. He failed again,” says MK Chili Tropper.

Raphael Ahren

Chaos in Yarka polling station as man cuts power, grabs voting slips

Police say they were called to a polling station in the Druze village of Yarka after a man apparently cut the power and “stole” a number of voting slips.

Voting grinds to a halt at the ballot box until the Central Elections Committee hands down its ruling.

The suspect is being questioned by police.

Earlier, police shut three polling places in Yarka in northern Israel over suspicions of election fraud.

Likud ministers, MK arrive in Tel Aviv for exit poll viewing party

With just 15 minutes left until exit polls are released, Likud MKs and ministers are beginning to arrive at the Tel Aviv Expo Center where their elections event is taking place.

While ministers Miri Regev and Amir Ohana declined to answer press questions on their entry, remaining stoic when asked if they were optimistic, MK Miki Zohar tells The Times of Israel that “tonight is going to be a celebration for Likud and for Netanyahu.”

Raoul Wootliff

Likud fined for giving out ice pops outside polling station

Central Elections Committee chairman Hanan Melcer rules in favor of the Blue and White Party and agrees to hit the Likud party with a stop order for distributing free ices from a car festooned with Likud paraphernalia close to a polling station.

Melcer orders Likud to pay Blue and White NIS 7,500 ($2,100) for costs. The ruling is one of around 20 that Melcer has issued during the day.

Sue Surkes

Channel 12 exit poll puts Blue and White ahead by a seat

Channel 12 exit poll:

Blue and White: 34
Likud: 33
Joint List: 11
Yisrael Beytenu: 8
Shas: 8
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 8
Labor-Gesher: 5
Democratic Camp: 5
Otzma Yehudit: 0

Right-wing bloc without Liberman: 57
Center-left, Arab parties and Liberman: 63

Channel 13 exit poll: Blue and White ahead, no majority for right-wing

Channel 13’s exit poll results:

Blue and White: 33
Likud: 31
Joint List: 13
Shas: 9
Yisrael Beytenu: 8
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 6
Democratic Camp: 6
Labor-Gesher: 6
Otzma Yehudit: 0

Right-Wing Bloc without Liberman: 54
Center-Left, Arab parties and Liberman: 66

Kan’s exit poll has Likud, Blue and White neck-and-neck

Likud: 32
Blue and White: 32
Joint List: 12
Yisrael Beytenu: 10
Shas: 9
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 7
Democratic Camp: 5
Labor-Gesher: 5
Otzma Yehudit: 0

Right-wing bloc without Liberman: 56
Center-left, Arab parties and Liberman: 64

Exit polls show Netanyahu’s bloc shy of 61 seats

The television exit polls signal there is no clear winner in the election, for now.

In all three surveys, Netanyahu cannot form a right-wing government without Blue and White or Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.

Cheers at Liberman’s party HQ as exit polls crown him kingmaker

Whoops of approval and applause break out in the Yisrael Beytenu headquarters as all three initial projections show the right-wing party and its leader Avigdor Liberman will likely play a key role in any future coalition government.

Channels 12 and 13 show Yisrael Beytenu earning eight seats in the next Knesset, while the Kan broadcaster projects it receiving 10.

Yisrael Beytenu officials say they intend to push for a unity government with the Likud and Blue and White parties.

Judah Ari Gross

Far-right Otzma Yehudit supporters struck dumb by dire exit polls

The results of the exit polls from the three major TV networks indicate that Otzma Yehudit did not cross the electoral threshold in today’s election

They are met with utter silence in the far-right party’s Jerusalem headquarters.

“What is as clear as ever is that we were right all along when we said that without Otzma Yehudit there is no right wing government,” party member and chairman of the anti-miscegenation Lehava extremist group Benzi Gopstein tells supporters immediately after the exit poll results flashed across the projector screen.

“Apparently, Bibi wants to make a leftist government with Gantz,” Gopstein adds.

Trying to calm the several dozen young party activists crammed into the basement office in the capital’s Givat Shaul neighborhood, the former chief of staff of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, Baruch Marzel, tells supporters to get some sleep and “pray for better results in the morning.”

The supporters sing a quick round of “Am Yisrael Chai” before slowly filing out of the party headquarters.

Jacob Magid

Learning lesson from April, Blue and White not celebrating… yet

Apparently applying the lesson they learned from the April 9 election night — during which exit polls showed Blue and White ahead of Likud, prompting party leader Benny Gantz to prematurely declare victory — staffers and activists with the centrist party react with a whiff of skepticism to the release of the exit polls at 10 p.m.

Spokespeople for party leader Benny Gantz are not immediately answering reporters’ requests for comments.

The activists and party staffers at Tel Aviv’s Hangar 11 respond to the first exit poll, by Channel 12, with some clapping but no great cheers, despite projecting Blue and White as the largest party. As the second exit poll, by Channel 13, also has the party in the lead, a handful of activists shout “woohoo,” but moments later the DJ in the hall starts playing music again, and the volume of cheering in the hall decreases again.

Raphael Ahren

Top Arab MK cheers exit polls, says ‘inciter’ Netanyahu can’t form gov’t

The Joint List is celebrating the projections of the exit polls, which is giving the predominantly Arab alliance between 11 and 13 seats, making it the third-largest party in the Knesset.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh says the his party has a “good feeling” that Netanyahu will not be able to form a government.

Odeh also accuses Netanyahu of inciting against Israel’s Arab population on Tuesday.

“Benjamin Netanyahu, the biggest inciter, he constantly incited today,” he says.

The Arab parties ran on two separate slates in April, receiving just 10 seats combined. In 2015, the Joint List alliance received 13 seats.

with Adam Rasgon

Blue and White MK says Netanyahu era over; Likud minister rejects exit polls

Blue and White MK Yoaz Hendel says “the Netanyahu era is over” and calls for a unity government without him.

Likud Minister Tzachi Hanegbi says he’s “convinced” that the TV exit polls are all wrong. Netanyahu “will continue to lead us for the next five years,” he says.

President says he’ll meet with party leaders once results clarified

President Reuven Rivlin says he’ll consult with party leaders on the next prospective prime minister “as soon as possible,” once the election results become clear.

He says he’ll task the lawmaker best suited with forming a coalition quickly with the job, in the hopes of preventing a third round of elections in a year.

TV: Netanyahu called Bennett, asked Yamina to join coalition

Channel 13 is reporting that Netanyahu has already picked up the phone to Yamina’s Naftali Bennett to ask him to join his coalition, though it remains unclear whether the Likud leader will indeed form the next government.

It is an apparent snub of Yamina leader Ayelet Shaked.

Likud officials take wait-and-see approach, MKs bolt party event

Likud officials react to the exit polls showing that the party may come in just behind its Blue and White rivals and not be able to form a coalition without Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu by insisting that conclusions should not be drawn until the final results are in.

“We saw this in 2009, 2015 and earlier this year. The exit polls always give us less than we actually get,” Eli Hazan, Likud’s head of foreign relations, says.

“There is no point starting to work out a coalition based on these numbers as they will change,” he insists.

Likud spokesperson Rachel Broyde similarly says that “these are just exit polls, let’s see if they hold,” but admits that if they do, “it looks like we can’t form a coalition.”

“Even according to these exit polls, which could change, a left-wing coalition includes the Arab parties,” Broyde told The Times of Israel.

“That’s their government?” she says, “Let’s wait and see.”

The several Likud MKs who were in the nearly empty hall where the party is holding its results event fled immediately after the exit polls were released, refusing to answer questions on their way out.

Raoul Wootliff

After exit polls, Netanyahu and Gantz keep their heads down

Netanyahu and Gantz watched the TV exit polls at home.

And for now, they’re not commenting.

At Blue and White’s election party in Tel Aviv, lawmakers and activists are not celebrating. Rather, the mood in the near-empty hall is rather subdued, with Israeli pop music playing in the background. There are no flags here, no cheers, few smiles on the faces of the party members.

The public was invited to the city’s Hangar 11 only starting at 1 a.m., and party leader Gantz is not expected to address them before 2 a.m., when more reliable election results are in.

It remains unclear when and if Netanyahu will give a speech.

with Raphael Ahren

Lapid spokesperson: If results true, Likud must join us — sans Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu “lost,” a spokesperson for Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid says, calling on the Likud party to depose its longtime leader.

“Obviously it’s early and we have to wait for the real results. But if this is the picture,” Yair Zivan says of the exit polls, “it’s clear that Netanyahu lost.”

“We have said all along that we want a unity government, headed by Blue and White, with the Likud and [Avigdor] Liberman, but without Netanyahu. That’s also what the majority of the Israeli public wants,” Zivan tells The Times of Israel outside the centrist party’s campaign headquarter in Tel Aviv.

“Now it’s going to be up to the Likud, whether they act in the national interest, or not,” he concludes.

Raphael Ahren

Likud says won’t dethrone Netanyahu, floats possibility of 3rd election

Likud Minister Miri Regev says the right-wing party will not dethrone Netanyahu as leader, regardless of the election outcome.

She makes the comments in an interview with the Ynet news site.

Speaking to journalists, Likud MK Yoav Kisch says he believes that “Benjamin Netanyahu will either be prime minister or we will go to third elections, I can’t see another option.”

Kisch says, however, that “we must wait for the final results which I hope will be better for Likud.”

with Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu also said to call up ultra-Orthodox parties

Netanyahu has also spoken to the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties, United Torah Judaism and Shas, to discuss a future coalition partnership, the Ynet news site reports.

This comes after he reportedly phones Bennett of the Yamina party with an invitation to join his government — even though the election results are not yet in and won’t be for hours.

For Yamina, breaking up is apparently easy to do

An hour after the exit polls are aired on TV, the Yamina alliance of right-wing parties breaks up.

Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett will remain together as leaders of New Right, while Rafi Peretz will lead the Jewish Home party, which will absorb Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union, according to a letter submitted to the Knesset.

The parties came together ahead of the election to run on a joint ticket and ensure that they all clear the 3.25% electoral threshold.

Blue and White ‘cautiously optimistic’ about results

Blue and White is “cautiously optimistic” that Israel will get a new leadership, a spokesperson for party leader Benny Gantz says.

“Right now, the plan is to wait, be cautiously optimistic, wait for the final results and hope that we’re at a moment of change, a moment the nation is waiting for,” Melody Sucharewicz tells The Times of Israel.

Asked whether Gantz would consider a rotation deal with PM Netanyahu, which would see Gantz serve first as prime minister, to be replaced in two years by the Likud leader, she replies: “Our goal is clear, and nothing has changed: to build a stable, secular national unity government, without Netanyahu. Tonight, we came one step closer to having a new leadership.”

Raphael Ahren

Yisrael Beytenu candidate calls for unity government with Likud, Blue and White

The Yisrael Beytenu party intends to call for a unity government made up of itself, Blue and White, and Likud, according to the party’s third-highest candidate, Yevgeni Soba.

He stresses that the actual results of the elections have yet to be released, but indicates that the party is pleased with the forecasts.

“The results speak for themselves,” Soba tells The Times of Israel at Yisrael Beytenu’s campaign headquarters in Jerusalem.

All three major television projections show no clear majority for Likud or Blue and White without Yisrael Beytenu.

“We got a mandate for a wide, national government,” Soba says.

He says the next government needs to be “without the ultra-Orthodox, without the messianists,” in an apparent reference to the right-wing religious Zionist parties.

Soba says that while this is the larger, strategic goal, the party will consider reasonable alternatives if they are presented and seem more feasible.

“This is the strategy, but tactically, I don’t know. Maybe [party leader Avigdor] Liberman just now made a deal with Netanyahu, maybe he made one with Gantz,” he says.

Judah Ari Gross

Ignoring exit polls, Likud activists cheer Netanyahu as ‘king of Israel’

Likud activists trickle into the hall where the party is holding its election results event as the Likud jingle begins to blast from the speaker system.

Joining in with the music, a small group of Likud supporters wearing Netanyahu T-shirts wave flags and throw ballot slips in the air in celebration, then sing “Bibi Melech Yisrael [Bibi, king of Israel].”

Yamina says it’ll stick together for coalition negotiations

As Yamina dissolves, leader Ayelet Shaked says the right-wing alliance will still conduct its coalition negotiations as a bloc.

She thanks her party members and supporters.

Exit polls give the right-wing slate 6-8 seats.

Palestinian official hopes next Israeli government will focus on peace

A senior Palestinian official says he hopes the next Israeli government “will focus on how to make peace.”

In the closing days of his campaign, Netanyahu had vowed to annex large parts of the West Bank, which Israel seized in the 1967 war and which the Palestinians consider the heartland of their future state.

Saeb Erakat says Israel “cannot have peace or security without ending the occupation, without two states, the state of Palestine to live side by side with the state of Israel in peace and security on the 1967 lines.”

The Trump administration is set to release its Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, but the Palestinians have rejected the proposal outright.

with AP

Labor head: No chance we’ll join a Netanyahu government

Labor-Gesher party leader Amir Peretz doubles down on his vow not to join a Netanyahu-led government.

“There’s no chance we’ll join Netanyahu,” he says, according to Army Radio.

Apparent kingmaker Liberman urges unity government, even if it excludes him

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman says he wants a “wide, liberal, national government” made up of his party, Likud, and Blue and White.

He says Israel only has a national unity government in cases of emergency, and this is true today.

“I don’t want to scare or depress anyone, but in every way — economically and security-wise — we are in an emergency situation,” he says.

He says he won’t consider any other offers, even if it includes “rotation deals” of the premiership.

Liberman calls for President Reuven Rivlin to organize an “informal” meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, even before the final results are published.

Liberman says he is prepared to not be a member of the government — to have it only made up of Likud and Blue and White — seeing it as preferable to “variations of a narrow government.”

Judah Ari Gross

Final turnout was 69.4%, higher than April vote

It’s official: The turnout in Tuesday’s election was higher than April, defying predictions of a depressed showing as Israel held its unprecedented second election in five months.

The Central Elections Committee says the final figure, as of 10 p.m. when polls closed, is 69.4%.

That’s a 1-point increase from the previous election in April, but lower than the previous 2015 national vote (72.36%)

Likud minister: Unity government a possibility — if Liberman is out

Not all Likud members are ruling out the possibility of a unity government with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz.

Justice Minister Amir Ohana, for example, tells Army Radio that it’s a possibility, so long as Avigdor Liberman is not a part of it.

He also floats the possibility that Labor leader Amir Peretz will join, citing the upcoming Trump peace plan as incentive for the dovish party leader to enter a Netanyahu-led coalition.

Likud’s No. 2 says party will stick by Netanyahu, come what may

Likud MK and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says that the party will stick by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regardless of the election results.

“Likud is a united party and will continue to be so. Likud is the only democratic party in the political system, headed by an elected leader, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu,” the party’s No. 2 tells reporters at Likud’s election results event.

“I urge other party leaders not to try to determine who will be our leader — any such attempt will not succeed. Unity is the secret of the Likud’s power over the years and it will continue to be so in every situation.”

Raoul Wootliff

Vote-counting begins, will take hours

The Central Elections Committee begins to publish the first election results, with just 0.07% of ballots tallied by midnight.

You can follow along here.

In shift, Shas signals openness to possible unity government

United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman doubles down on his pledge not to sit in a government alongside Blue and White’s Yair Lapid, amid calls for a unity government.

But Aryeh Deri, the leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, strikes a conciliatory tone.

“I hope that all the boycotts disappear, it was only an election campaign,” says Deri, urging Israelis to “forget the language of incitement and division” that raged during the campaign and unite.

Updated Channel 13 exit poll gives Arab list record 15 seats

An updated Channel 13 exit poll gives the Joint List 15 seats, which would mark a record-breaking outcome for the Arab political party, despite attempts by Netanyahu to push back against Arab voters.

The amended poll:

Blue and White: 32
Likud: 30
Joint List: 15
Shas: 9
Yisrael Beytenu: 8
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 6
Democratic Camp: 6
Labor-Gesher: 6
Otzma Yehudit: 0

The survey gives 53 seats for the right-wing bloc, and 67 for the combined center, left, Joint List, and Liberman.

Likud MK urges patience until results come in, says ‘all options on table’

Likud MK Sharren Haskel tells The Times of Israel she’s waiting for the final election results before drawing any conclusions.

“These are exit polls, not the real results. We are obviously disappointed with these if they are the results, but last time we saw the same and when the real results came in we saw Likud gain an extra four seats,” says Haskel.

“Everything is on the table. Our first call is to the religious parties, the Yamina party. Hopefully we will get good news. If not we may turn to Liberman, maybe try to get some people from Blue and White,” she says.

“We hope we will not end up with third elections, but it might be on the table as well,” she adds.

Raoul Wootliff

Blue and White applauds as amended exit poll boosts center-left

Loud cheers erupt at the Blue and White headquarters in Tel Aviv as Channel 13 presents its updated exit poll, which shows a strengthened center-left bloc.

The party’s jingle is blasted loudly through the speakers as the station reports that according to its updated prediction, the center-left bloc will reach 59 seats. That includes the predominantly Arab Joint List with a whopping 15 seats. Gantz has ruled out inviting the Joint List to join his coalition.

Raphael Ahren

Revised Kan exit poll: Deadlock continues, no majority for right-wing bloc

The Kan public broadcaster also revises its exit poll with new data:

Blue and White: 32
Likud: 31
Joint List: 13
Shas: 9
Yisrael Beytenu: 9
United Torah Judaism: 8
Yamina: 7
Democratic Camp: 5
Labor-Gesher: 6
Otzma Yehudit: 0

Right-wing bloc without Liberman: 55
Center-left, Arab parties and Liberman: 65

Arab party leader waiting by the phone for call from Gantz

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh says he expects Blue and White leader Benny Gantz will pick up the phone tonight and invite him to join a center-left coalition, as an exit poll predicts a significant boost for the Arab political alliance.

“I assume I’ll get a call from Gantz tonight,” says Odeh, according to Channel 13.

Gantz has ruled out teaming up with Odeh’s Joint List. Arab parties have never sat in an Israeli government coalition for ideological reasons, and, mutually, Jewish parties have long opposed their inclusion. Odeh broke with decades of longstanding opposition earlier this year, announcing he would be willing to join a coalition, under certain conditions.

Odeh credits Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s fiery rhetoric against Arab voters for the ostensible increase in turnout in Arab communities.

“Netanyahu’s attack helped us get the voters out,” he says.

Official results have yet to be released.

Arab MK: Thanks to Netanyahu, the Arabs voted in droves

A Joint List MK is mocking Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2015 election day warning that the Arabs were voting “in droves” as TV forecasts bend in the party’s favor. Netanyahu has stepped up that rhetoric in this campaign cycle as well, calling for cameras to be installed in Arab polling stations to combat alleged voter fraud.

Netanyahu’s comments got Arab voters fired up and served as a “wake-up call,” Ahmad Tibi tells Army Radio.

“Our desire to be an influential actor [in the next government] dovetailed with the desires of the public — and the Arabs voted in droves,” a triumphant Tibi says.

Likud and Blue and White tied with 32 seats in updated exit poll

Channel 12 also updates its exit poll, which now sees Likud and Blue and White tied with 32 seats apiece.

The Joint List is also up in this poll, rising to 13 seats.

The political deadlock persists under this scenario, with Netanyahu apparently blocked from forming a right-wing government without Blue and White and Liberman. The Yisrael Beytenu leader, in this forecast, retains his kingmaker status.

The updated Channel 12 survey:

Blue and White: 32
Likud: 32
Joint List: 13
Shas: 9
Yisrael Beytenu: 9
United Torah Judaism: 7
Yamina: 7
Labor-Gesher: 6
Democratic Camp: 5
Otzma Yehudit: 0

Right-wing bloc without Liberman: 55
Center-left, Arab parties: 56
Liberman: 9

Ashkenazi counsels patience, says Blue and White waiting for final results

Blue and White’s Gabi Ashkenazi says the centrist party is waiting for the final results before making any grand announcements, adding they learned from past mistakes.

During the previous election, Blue and White’s Benny Gantz declared victory overnight based on exit polls and partial results, which he later had to walk back.

Ashkenazi thanks supporters and campaign activists in a speech at the Blue and White post-election party.

Netanyahu set to give ‘important, short’ speech

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads to the Likud party event in Tel Aviv, where he will deliver an “important, short” speech, his spokesman says.

Lapid cheers: The extremists were kept out of Knesset

Yair Lapid addresses the Blue and White event. “The citizens of Israel proved today they were better than their politicians and their politics,” he says.

“The extremists remain outside the Knesset or shrank,” he cheers, referring to Otzma Yehudit (which fell under the electoral threshold, according to exit polls), and some elements of the Yamina party.

“Today the Israeli values returned to the center stage of Israeli politics,” he says.

He also urges patience, saying it will take time for the results to be clarified.

Gantz calls for unity government, national healing, says he spoke to left-wing leaders

Benny Gantz takes the stage, as supporters chant, “Here he comes, Israel’s next prime minister.”

“Of course we’ll wait for the real results, but it seems we have accomplished our mission,” he tells supporters and activists.

Just five percent of the votes have been counted.

“Blue and White was, and remains, a strong and central political force and it is because of you,” he says, to cheers.

Gantz thanks his supporters, family, and party members.

According to exit polls, “it seems Netanyahu didn’t accomplish his mission,” he adds.

Gantz cautiously says that based on current projections, over a million Israelis have voted for the centrist party.

He says he will work on building a “wide unity government.”

The Blue and White leader calls for national healing now that the election is over.

“The journey to repairing Israeli society begins” tonight, he says.

“We must work swiftly” to mend the divisions in Israeli society, he says. Israel “is wounded and the time has come to heal it,” he adds.

Gantz says he spoke to the leaders of Labor-Gesher and the Democratic Camp and they agreed to meet soon.

He intends to call Liberman soon, he says, and wants to speak to “everyone.” He doesn’t specifically mention Likud or the ultra-Orthodox parties.

“The [work of] unity and reconciliation is ahead of us,” he says, urging his political rivals to put aide their disagreements. “Let’s work together.”

Just 5% of votes counted, signaling long night ahead

As of 2:15 a.m., just five percent (336,341) votes have been counted.

The Central Elections Committee has warned the process will take longer this time, and the full picture may not emerge until Wednesday afternoon.

By contrast, during the April election, 1.6 million ballots had been tallied by this hour.

Likud’s Sa’ar dismisses speculation MKs could bolt party, join unity government

Likud’s Gideon Sa’ar, long seen as a possible successor to Benjamin Netanyahu, dismisses speculation senior party members could break ranks and join a Gantz-led unity government.

“Don’t count on cracks in Likud. You’ll only find headlines here in the prime minister’s speech,” he tells reporters ahead of Netanyahu’s address at the Likud post-election event.

Gantz and Odeh speak, agree to meet

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Joint List head Ayman Odeh speak on the phone and agree to meet.

Netanyahu arrives at Likud HQ, set to give speech

Benjamin Netanyahu arrives in Tel Aviv to address Likud supporters.

He is met by cheering supporters. Waving flags and throwing Likud ballot slips in the air, the activists chant “Bibi Bibi Bibi” — his nickname — as well as “we don’t want unity.”

He makes his way to the stage, embracing Likud members along the way.

Netanyahu’s spokesman Yonatan Urich introduces him as “the prime minister and the next prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.”

Raoul Wootliff

PM: We must block government with anti-Zionist, terrorist-glorifying Arabs

Benjamin Netanyahu takes the stage.

“As you see, I am hoarse,” he begins, as a heckler yells his praises from the crowd. “And as you know, it’s better to lose your voice than to lose the country!”

The prime minister thanks his supporters, ministers, and mayors who backed him.

“I said the election was hard. That’s not the word,” says Netanyahu.

“We faced a campaign that was so tilted against us by the biased media, so against us,” he says.

“We’re still waiting for the results. But one thing is clear, the State of Israel is at a historic turning point. We are facing immense opportunities, and immense challenges… including the existential threat from Iran,” says Netanyahu.

He praises the soaring Israeli economy and flourishing diplomatic. And he says Israel must ensure these achievements continue.

The Trump administration will soon unveil its peace plan, and the negotiations over it will shape Israel for years, he says.

In the face of this, Israel needs “a strong government, a stable government, a Zionist government, a government that is committed to Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people,” Netanyahu says.

There cannot be a government that relies on the anti-Zionist Arab parties, he continues. “Parties that praise and glorify blood-thirsty terrorists who kill our soldiers, our citizens, our children.”

He is interrupted by chants of “we don’t want unity.”

Netanyahu says he spoke to his prospective coalition partners, who all stand with him, and will soon launch negotiations to create a “strong Zionist government” and thwart the formation of a “dangerous anti-Zionist” government. “We will protect this country,” he vows.

Netanyahu expected to meet with right-wing leaders Wednesday

Benjamin Netanyahu will invite right-wing party leaders to a meeting on Wednesday afternoon, reports say.

With the meeting, the prime minister will kick off his attempts to shore up right-wing support for his continued leadership of the country.

10% of votes have now been counted

The Central Elections Committee says 10 percent of the nation’s ballots have now been counted.

Likud and Blue and White are currently in the lead, with extremist Otzma Yehudit failing to pass the electoral threshold.

Tiberias mayor’s party gets only 2% of city’s vote

Some unfortunate news for the mayor of Tiberias. Ron Cobi’s fringe party, the Secular Right, received only 2.27 percent of his own city’s vote, with 90% of local votes counted.

Cobi currently has 0.13% of the national vote, with around 10% of the vote counted.

Ron Cobi, mayor of Tiberias seen outside Tiberias municipality building in northern Israel, April 1, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Small Jordan Valley community votes overwhelmingly for Blue and White

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week announced his plans to annex the Jordan Valley after the election, in a bid to boost his electoral prospects.

It seems at least one Jordan Valley community was not impressed. In the small community of Tomer, 205 voters voted overwhelmingly for Netanyahu’s rival Blue and White.

Benny Gantz’s party received 45% of the vote, while Likud took in only 29%. Next in line was Labor-Gesher with 8% followed by Yamina with 7%.

With quarter of votes counted, Likud has slight lead over Blue and White

With 25.7 percent of votes counted, Likud is leading with 28.4% to Blue and White’s 25.4%.

If it keeps that lead it could bring about a very different result to that which was predicted in exit polls.

But of course, there are many more votes to count.

Channel 12: Unofficial tally of 85% of votes shows Knesset deadlocked

Channel 12 is reporting results it says it has received from inside sources in the Central Elections Committee, which the news channel claims reflect around 85% of the national vote.

According to those unofficial results, Likud and Blue and White are tied at 32 seats; next is the Joint List with 12 seats; Shas and Yisrael Beytenu have 9 seats each; United Torah Judaism has 8; Yamina has 7; Labor-Gesher is at 6; and the Democratic Camp has 5.

The right-wing bloc has a total of 56 seats, the center-left has 55 and Liberman has 9.

Channel 12 explains its data on the fact that a large majority of votes have already been counted, but due to increased scrutiny, the CEC is doing recounts in order to ensure the information it puts out is accurate.

This liveblog is closing, but live updates continue

A tumultuous and dramatic day and night come to an end, but events continue to develop as Israel finds itself without any candidate who has a clear path to forming a government.

We are continuing our live coverage as the country wakes up to the aftermath of this turbulent campaign, and a new liveblog is running here. We’ll have all the real-time updates Wednesday from Israel’s election fallout, and all other developments.

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