'We can be proud of ourselves, and we will be'

Defeated Gantz promises to bring hope despite ‘gloomy skies’

Acknowledging center-left’s loss, Blue and White leader vows to ‘represent a million citizens who turned to us for something different’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz arrives at a polling station to vote in his hometown of Rosh Ha'ayin on April 9, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Blue and White)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz arrives at a polling station to vote in his hometown of Rosh Ha'ayin on April 9, 2019. (Sraya Diamant/Blue and White)

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, fresh from the center-left’s election loss, addressed supporters Wednesday morning and acknowledged that the “skies look gloomy,” but vowed to keep representing the “over a million citizens who turned to us for something different.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud was poised to clinch a clear electoral victory Wednesday morning with some 97 percent of votes showing his Likud party tied with Blue and White, but the right-wing bloc holding a firm lead and Netanyahu with a clear path to forming a governing coalition.

With more than four million votes counted as of 9 a.m., Likud had snagged 26.27% of the vote, or 35 seats in the 120-seat legislature — the party’s best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu. Blue and White won 25.94% of the vote, which would also give it 35 seats. In actual numbers, some 14,000 votes separated the two biggest parties.

“Friends, good morning. Yes, good morning!” Gantz said in a statement to supporters when the results had become clear, hours after making a premature victory speech.

Benny Gantz, leader of the Blue and White party, takes a selfie with his supporters during a campaign event in Tel Aviv on April 8, 2019, a day ahead of elections. (Jack Guez/AFP)

“It’s true, the skies look gloomy, but there are two things they aren’t saying: One, [the results] are not final, since there could still be electoral shifts, and we may be able to bring about political processes of one sort or another,” he said, without elaborating.

“Two, they certainly can’t hide the sunlight of hope that we have brought to the people of Israel and Israeli society. They, our voters, sought hope, and we will give it to them. They asked for a different path, and we showed them the way.”

He encouraged Blue and White supporters not to be “afraid,” using a quote in Biblical Hebrew that appeared to be a mashup of two verses: “So friends, in your enemy’s downfall do not be afraid, and in his victory do not let your heart be faint.”

Likud supporters react to the first voting results in the Israeli general elections, at the Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

And he vowed: “Therefore, we won’t retreat from our public duty to represent over a million citizens who turned to us for something different. We have secured a historic achievement. We can be proud of ourselves, and we will be.”

Hours earlier, before the official results were in, Gantz declared victory, telling supporters that “a great light shines out on Israel tonight,” He added, “This is a historic day. More than a million people chose hope.”

Other than Likud and Blue and White, no other party appeared to break double digits in the number of seats. But with five right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties managing to get some 30 seats together, Netanyahu will be able to form a government similar to his current right-wing coalition, with a solid 65 seats.

On the other side of the fence, four left-wing and Arab parties combined for just 20 seats, seemingly putting them in the opposition with Blue and White, pending coalition jostling.

Coming in at a surprising third and fourth places were the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, with 6.10% (8 seats) and 5.90% (8 seats) respectively.

Rabbi Israel Hager votes for Israel’s parliamentary election at a polling station in Bnei Brak, Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Fifth was the predominantly Arab Hadash-Ta’al with 4.61%, or six seats.

The historically dominant Labor Party crashed to sixth place with 4.46% (six seats), the party’s worst showing in its 71-year history.

At five seats each were Yisrael Beytenu (with 4.15%) and the Union of Right-Wing Parties (3.66%).

Meanwhile Meretz (3.64%), Kulanu (3.56%) and Arab party Ra’am-Balad (3.45%) had four seats each.

In a shock development, the New Right party, led by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, appeared to have failed to cross the electoral threshold of 3.25%, garnering just 3.14% of the vote.

Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked from the New Right party at an election campaign tour in central Jerusalem on January 23, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Another surprise was Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut, which had surged in surveys in recent weeks, polling as high as seven seats. In the end, the far-right pro-marijuana legalization party only drew the support of 2.53% of voters, placing it on the outside looking in.

Also failing to make it in was Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher, with 1.75%.

The results were not final, with tens of thousands of ballots yet to be counted.

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