Liveblog (now closed)

Hours before polls close, turnout highest since ’99

Over 55% of voters cast ballots by 6 p.m.; British FM hopes new government will pursue two-state solution

A prisoner casts his ballot at Rimonim prison near the Israeli city of Ra'anana, Tuesday, January 22, 2013 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)
A prisoner casts his ballot at Rimonim prison near the Israeli city of Ra'anana, Tuesday, January 22, 2013 (photo credit: Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Over 5 million Israelis are voting for the 19th Knesset Tuesday at polling stations in schools and public buildings across the country. The Times of Israel has been liveblogging every development as the day progresses. This liveblog, which ran from morning to evening, has now closed, and our new liveblog is up and running here.

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Preamble: After three months of campaigning, Israelis have the chance to exercise their democratic right Tuesday, voting in the 19th Knesset. While Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beytenu joint list is expected to easily take the most votes, returning him to the Prime Minister’s Office, the question remains how well his and other parties will do, and thus how a government will look after all the dust has settled.

The last pre-election polls, released Friday night, projected a narrow victory for a right-wing bloc. The Likud-Beytenu joint list was projected to be the largest vote-getter, with a relatively tight race projected among parties including Labor, Jewish Home, Yesh Atid, Shas and Hatnua.

The 32 parties running in the elections are beginning the day Tuesday with efforts to encourage and to help voters reach their polling places. With voter turnout expected to be relatively low among the 5.6 million eligible voters — perhaps in the mid-to-high sixty percent — each vote is taking on even greater significance.

On Monday, President Shimon Peres encouraged citizens to exercise their right to vote, saying, “It’s very important that every one of you, once every four years, shows the world that this is a democratic country, with citizens who love their country and democracy. Come out and do so, wholeheartedly, with pride and with full participation.”

Over 10,000 polls will be open in most places from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. (with stations in smaller towns and hospitals closing at 8 p.m.). Voters need to bring a valid form of identification (ID card, drivers license or passport) but don’t need the voter slip they should have received in the mail.

Results are to be announced at 10 p.m., setting off what is expected to be several weeks of wheeling and dealing as the prime minister-elect attempts to form a coalition.

While polling stations across the country are now up and running, one spot in Jerusalem’s Har Nof neighborhood is still shuttered because of technical problems, Ynet news reports.

According to the report, prospective voters are stuck waiting outside the station on Even Danan street in the capital. The station is to stay open until 10 p.m.

Campaigns are pulling out all the stops to try and snatch the last few undecided votes before polls close tonight. Some 40,000 activists and volunteers from Likud-Beytenu are fanning out at polling stations across the country Tuesday to bring a few more votes in.

Activists and volunteers from other parties are also being dispatched to polling stations and public spots, as well as manning telephones urging people to get out the vote.

A number of party leaders will also hit the streets themselves to campaign, including Labor Party head Shelly Yachimovich.

Right wing rival Naftali Bennett of the nationalist Jewish Home party plans to head south to Beersheba to stump for votes before visiting polling stations in Lod.

Tzipi Livni of the upstart Hatnua Party and lefty Zahava Gal-On of Meretz will both stick to asking for votes in polling stations in the decidedly liberal Gush Dan region.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and sons Yair and Avner wasted no time in casting their ballots in today’s election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, his wife Sara and their sons Avner and Yair cast their votes at a polling station in Jerusalem on January 22, 2013. (Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90)

Not long after polling stations opened nationwide at 7 a.m. the Netanyahus arrived at the Paula Ben-Gurion school in Jerusalem to exercise their democratic right.

The prime minister told reporters at the station, “I call on everybody to go out and vote.”

It is not known whom they voted for.

Merav Cohen, number 9 on the Hatnua list (photo credit: Flash90)

There’s kissing babies to get votes, and then there’s Hatnua’s Meirav Cohen, who went ahead and had a baby on voting day. Will it help her at the polls, though?

Cohen, number 9 on the Hatnua list, went into labor hours before polls opened early Tuesday morning. Party chair Tzipi Livni accompanied her to Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv. Cohen gave birth to a baby girl.

Cohen, 29, is a former Jerusalem council member.

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri will also be having a baby-tastic day, heading to the brit milah for the son of a longtime aide after casting his vote.

Casting his vote, Shas leader Aryeh Deri says that while he expects the party to increase the number of its seats in the next government, it is nevertheless facing challenges.

Aryeh Deri of the Shas party casts his vote on Tuesday (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“You must remember that there are two parties competing with (Shas),” Deri says at the Beit Yaakov school polling station in Jerusalem this morning, referring to the Koah Lehashpia (Power to Influence) party, headed by evangelical telerabbi Amnon Yitzhak, and the Am Shalem party, which is led by former Shas MK Haim Amsalem. Deri says that while those parties “will not pass the threshold (2% of the votes needed to enter the Knesset), they take close to two or three seats from us.”

Lightening the mood as he cast his ballot, he quips, “With this slip of paper, I hereby put (party leadership colleague/rival) Eli Yishai into the Knesset.”

Ninety-nine percent of polling stations across the country are now open. An analysis from the last election shows that polls are busiest between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m.

President Shimon Peres casts his vote at a polling station in Jerusalem (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Many politicians — including ex-foreign minister Avigdor Liberman, President Shimon Peres, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett — already cast their votes, freeing them to travel the country and rally people to also head to the polls.

Peres, who voted in Jerusalem, tells reporters that usually it’s the citizens who want something from the state, “but now, it’s the state that’s asking something of its citizens.”

When asked about allegations that he’s intervened in elections, he answers: “Of course I do. I voted. Isn’t that intervening?”

He calls on everyone to seize their democratic right and vote. He adds that everyone may have deliberations about who to vote for — but that they shouldn’t deliberate the act of voting itself.

Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) casts his vote Tuesday (photo credit: Flash90)

The army has set up 750 ballot boxes across the country for soldiers serving from Mount Hermon to Eilat.

Voting in the Israel Defense Forces began on January 19 when three Air Force officers, unable to vote later in the week, exercised their civic duty on Saturday night.

A soldier votes on a small army base near the West Bank near Shekef, near the West Bank, Monday, January 21, 2013. (photo credit: Tsafrir Abayov/Flash90)

On Sunday sailors from Navy bases in Haifa and Ashdod voted before heading out to sea; some of the members of the Sayeret Matkal commando unit also voted.

The following day the army opened voting centers across the West Bank and in the observation posts and strongholds along the Golan Heights and the upper Galilee.

Voting commenced at 8 this morning in all other bases and will continue until 10 at night.

Google partakes in the election fever with a doodle:

Google's doodle Tuesday (photo credit: screen shot, Google)

“Dear brothers and sisters, it’s happening! Give us the opportunity this time,” writes Jewish Home head Naftali Bennett on Facebook. “Whoever cares about bringing back Jewish values and the Jewish soul to the Jewish people along with values of respect for parents and teachers, the value of ‘love thy neighbor’ and the Jewish tradition, needs to act today!”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes to the Western Wall after casting his vote (Photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem/POOL/FLASH90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the Western Wall and places a note inside one of its crevices, on which he wrote “With God’s help, for the future of Israel.”

He adds, “I come to the Western Wall each time to touch the rock [foundation] of our existence, and I say a prayer for the future of the State of Israel and the future of our people.”

Interior Minister Eli Yishai (Shas) casts his ballot at the Beit Yaakov school in Jerusalem. “I hope we get more than 11 seats. All additional mandates are a blessing,” he says. “I wish great success to all the people of Israel.”

Tel Avivians get their vote on:

Tel Avivians get their vote on (photo credit: Jonathan Josephs via Twitter)

One hundred percent of voting booths have opened without a hitch, says Central Elections Committee.

All 120 current members of Knesset are out and about, either still voting or campaigning — all but one. According to the Knesset website, which shows in real time which lawmakers are currently present in the building, Yisrael Beytenu’s David Rotem is the only legislator in his office.

Former Kadima MK and current Home Front Defense Minister Avi Dichter, who is running in an unrealistic 58th spot on the Likud Beytenu list, was also in the Knesset on Tuesday morning (perhaps clearing out his office?).

By 10:30 a.m. — three and a half hours after the polls opened — some 11.4 percent of those eligible to vote have cast their ballots, Israel Radio reports. The number represents a slight uptick in turnout from the last vote in 2009, when 10.3% had voted by this point.

Ultra-Orthodox politician Rabbi Haim Amsalem casts his vote (Photo credit: FLASH90)

Here’s Shas renegade and would-be Am Shalem Knesset member Rabbi Haim Amsalem doing his bit.

Most polls have had Am Shalem failing to make it into the Knesset, but he’s convinced that he’s going to be there, and at the head of a sizable faction. “Something’s stirring,” he said in a TV interview earlier this week.

Anecdotal evidence: The taxi-driver bringing one of our staffers home from a reporting assignment late last week — French-born, Sephardi, Orthodox — said he was voting for Amsalem because he loathes Shas for taking Sephardi Orthodox Jews out of the army and out of the work force. “I’m for Amsalem,” he said with a rare passion in these lackluster elections. “Only Amsalem.”

Shelly Yachimovich, head of the Labor Party, and Yair Lapid, who heads and founded Yesh Atid, vote in Tel Aviv.

“It’s not a dream, it can be done, a few more seats and Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] won’t be the prime minister,” Yachimovich says, referring to the possibility that Labor could form the next government if it gets enough seats — something analysts are doubtful will happen. “Don’t be lazy, step out of your homes, and we can do this.” 

Leader of the Labor Party Shelly Yachimovich stepping out from behind the voting booth (photo credit: Flash90)

Stepping out from the voting booth, she adds: “The ballot I chose has the opposite of ‘lies’ written on it.” This is a somewhat unsubtle reference to the word “Emet” — truth — that appears on the Labor voting slip.

Meanwhile, Lapid votes at the Yisrael Epstein school in the affluent Ramat Aviv neighborhood of Tel Aviv.

“This is the first time I’m voting for myself. It’s a very special feeling… I remember my dad telling me about it,” says Lapid, whose father, Tommy Lapid, was a former minister, (defunct) Shinui party head, and radio and television personality.

“I hope that everyone comes out to vote to take part in this political celebration,” says Lapid. “It doesn’t matter who people vote for so long as they come out and vote.”

Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino says police are on high alert for election day and that they’ve opened a computerized Situation Room that coordinates data from polling stations across the country and gives real-time reports of adverse events.

More than 20,000 policemen, including volunteers, are standing guard this election day at over 3,000 polling stations across the country.

This year has been relatively quiet, with fewer disturbances or instances of aggression, than previous years, Danino notes.

The Central Elections Committee says that thus far, this election has had a higher voter turnout than other elections since 1999. By 10:30 a.m., 11.4 percent of those eligible to vote — some 5.6 million Israelis have the right to participate in elections — had already cast their ballots.

A woman casts her vote in the Jewish settlement of Beitar Illit (photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Hatnua head Tzipi Livni votes Tuesday morning near her Tel Aviv home and calls on fellow voters to think hard before casting their ballots.

Tzipi Livni voting on Tuesday. (photo credit: Courtesy)

“I hope that all the voters will think upon coming to the polling station about the big decisions that need to be made and will choose someone with experience to make those decisions,” she tells reporters. “I hope that Israel will wake up in the morning smiling — everyone that wants to see a different Israel needs to vote for Hatnua, headed by me, me and my colleagues. We have the experience that can change this reality.”

The various members of the animal kingdom are also taking part in Israel’s celebration of democracy today. Abiding by recent tradition, the Jerusalem Biblical Zoo has set up a ballot box where children and adults are invited to elect a new animal leader at the zoo.

Don't demur, vote lemur. (photo credit: Orel Cohen/Flash90)

The zoo employees have set up a PR campaign, pushing the attributes of everyone “from the female leadership of the lemurs to the political marsh of the marsh aviary.”

The reigning leader for several years running, according a zoo employee, is the male lion but so far this morning, she indicated, the leopard seemed to be in the lead. The ballot box will close at 4:30 p.m.

Her vote, the employee disclosed, went to the flamingos. “It’s time for a revolution,” she said.

The left-wing anti-corruption Eretz Chadasha party made waves during the campaign by publishing short video clips taking potshots at nearly every conceivable political target — claiming, among other things, that Prime Minister Netanyahu hides dollar bills in his socks and that ex-foreign minister Liberman frequents Viennese brothels with his friend Martin Schlaff.

On election day, Liberman again is the target of the party’s efforts to attract attention. Eretz Chadasha’s No. 5, Barak Segal, shows up in the Yisrael Beytenu chairman’s settlement hometown of Nokdim and heckles him on the way to the polling station. At first, Segal introduces himself politely to Liberman, but as soon as he reveals that he is from Eretz Chadasha, Liberman turns away and keeps on walking toward the polling station, completely ignoring Segal.

Avigdor Liberman, chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party, votes at Nokdim (Photo credit: Flash90)

“All the corruption will come to an end,” Segal yells, as Liberman walks on and his aides try to silence Segal.

“We will stop you, we will stop you!” Segal adds.

A man in Liberman’s contingent asks him, “Why are you talking nonsense?” to which Segal responds, “We will stop him [Liberman], because he’s corrupt!” 

“Good worries,” tweets Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, claiming that the voting slips for his party ran out in dozens of polling booths. “Don’t worry,” he adds, “there will be voting slips for everyone.”

Traffic jams up north en route to Mount Hermon are being reported by Israel Radio. Election Day is a national holiday — and with the added bonus of mild, sunny weather, a lot of Israelis have headed up north, or hit the beach.

Tel Aviv beach (photo credit: VuTheara Kham)

The Central Elections Committee is receiving complaints from various parties regarding alleged attempts to disrupt the integrity of the election process.

Here’s one: A polling station in the ultra-Orthodox section of the Bayit Vegan neighborhood in Jerusalem says the female coordinator of the volunteers at the station is dressed immodestly — she’s wearing pants — and that her attire is disturbing the election process, NRG reports.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's plea to voters via Facebook (photo credit: Publicity/Facebook)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s schedule on Election Day has been kept a secret, and the media has no idea where he is currently campaigning. But the Likud chief didn’t entirely disappear after his early morning photo-op at the Western Wall. He’s surfaced with a blue-and-white campaign doodle.

He grabs his blue drawing pen and turns to his 410,000 Facebook fans: “I ask of you: Go and vote for Mahal [the Hebrew letters on the Likud Beytenu voting slip]. Only a large Mahal will keep Israel strong.”

He also helpfully draws a Mahal voting slip under the text, in case we’re having trouble spotting it in the booths…

Voter turnout as of noon is 26.7 percent, the highest total since 1999, when 28.9% of eligible voters cast their ballots before lunch. This would put turnout on pace to break the 70% mark after polls close at 10 p.m. for the first time this millenium.

A woman casting a ballot. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In 2009, the last time Knesset elections were held, only 23.9% of possible voters had visited polling stations by noon.

The Washington Post argues in its Tuesday editorial for a better working relationship between Netanyahu, assuming he’s elected, and President Barack Obama during their next terms. The editorial cites the the “notoriously bad relations” between the two leaders — as well as Israel’s surge in far-right parties and Obama’s poor handling of Israel — as reasons they should try harder to work together next time around. 

It states: “…The wise US policy would be to concede, and maybe even welcome, Mr. Netanyahu’s reelection while quietly urging him to construct a centrist government. In the coming months Israel and the United States will likely have an urgent need to communicate clearly and cooperate closely on the threat of Iran’s nuclear program; and they must try to preserve the prospect of Palestinian statehood. Mr. Obama and Mr. Netanyahu may be political foils, but as each begins a new term their deeper interest lies in a reset of their relationship.”

To take advantage of Election Day, local stores and designers are offering special sales for would-be shoppers (most people in the country have the day off).

The feminist boutique at the port in Tel Aviv, Comme Il Faut, is selling socks at a discounted price to those who bring in their voter’s slips to show they’ve already cast their ballots.

Women’s clothing designer Ronen Chen says it doesn’t matter if you vote “classic brown or relaxing blue,” the most important thing is to vote. 

Here’s an advertisement for a sale beginning Election Day at the Enki by V.V. fashion studio. It says “Enki votes.”

ENKI by V.V., January 2013 (photo credit: Courtesy)

While most would say the high voter turnout numbers represent a boost for democracy, one government minister seems to indicate it may have been better if some of those voters stayed home.

Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar, from the Likud-Beytenu list and possibly in line for a promotion, says he is worried by the high numbers in certain areas.

“We are definitely disturbed that in centers where the left is strong, there are higher voter turnout percentages,” Sa’ar is quoted saying, adding that his party is working to get similar numbers among supporters of his list.

Sa’ar’s comments run somewhat contrary to the pro-democracy zeitgeist in Israel over the past several days that urged voters to get out and vote, no matter which party they vote for.

A view of the voting slips used in the general elections Tuesday. The slips show the 32 parties’ shortened names or acronyms, which are between one and three Hebrew letters. (The parties’ full names are written in full in Hebrew, and in Arabic, at the bottom of the slip).

Parties publicize their ballot letters ahead of elections. They have to reserve the letters with the Central Elections Committee, and if a newer party wants to use the ballot letters of an older party, it has to get its permission. 

One of the advantages of the system, the Knesset claims, somewhat dubiously, is that it’s easier to use for illiterate people or new immigrants who don’t know Hebrew yet.

A view of the voting slips used in Tuesday's elections for the 19th Knesset (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Desperately seeking something to broadcast on a notably quiet Election Day thus far, Army Radio is playing a 1992 skit in which comedian/musician Gidi Gov is impersonating Yitzhak Rabin struggling to utter the name “Shimon” — his perennial rival Shimon Peres.

Rubi Polishuk, played by Sasson Gabai (photo credit: Courtesy Keshet)

Israel Radio is interviewing vacationers up north.

Channel 10 is doing an astrology segment, “Mystic time” — a pre-recorded astrology segment. “Vered, don’t rush into anything,” a caller is being advised. “Take your time.”

And Channel 2 is showing repeats of “Polishuk” — a local comedy about, how appropriate, a spectacularly inept politician, promoted far above his competence level. Thank goodness we don’t have any of them in real life.

Police say they’ve received 65 complaints of voter fraud or other irregularities by 12 p.m.

Hatnua leader Tzipi Livni takes a break from her very grueling Election Day schedule to visit Merav Cohen’s newborn baby girl at Ichilov Hospital in Tel Aviv.

“This adorable baby symbolizes all that we’re fighting for — the decisions that face us here deal with life and death, peace and, heaven forbid, war. To face this type of reality, we need a leadership that’s experienced and responsible, and that can handle the complexities of this situation. Life here isn’t a reality show; our decisions and our choices will affect these children and their future,” Livni tells reporters.

Tzipi Livni, left, visits Merav Cohen and her husband, and the couple's newborn baby girl, in Tel Aviv Tuesday. (photo credit: Publicity)

Cohen, number nine on Hatnua’s list, has yet to release her baby’s name to the public — but we heard it’s between Tzipi Livni Cohen and Hatnua Headed By Tzipi Livni Cohen.

High voter turnout is continuing, with 38.3 percent of eligible voters making their voices heard by 2 p.m. The number still represents the highest turnout since 1999, when over 40 percent of voters turned out over the same time period.

A resident of Jaffa casts her vote Tuesday (photo credit: Noam Moskovich/The Israel Project)

In 2009, only 34 percent of voters came out by 2 p.m., which was still more than the 30.9 percent in 2006.

The high turnout could be an effect of many things — social media, get out the vote efforts, the importance people ascribe to this year’s election, the large number of parties competing — or it could just be the weather.

With the sun shining and temperatures soaring near an unseasonable 21 degrees Celsius (70 Farenheit) in Jerusalem, and even hotter in other parts of the country, staying at home may be an undesirable option for many, so why not put an election slip in a little blue box on the way to the beach?

Am Shalem and Koah Lehashpia (Power to Influence), the two parties seen as battling Shas for the Sephardic vote, both lodge complaints with the Central Elections Committee claiming that Shas activists are spreading rumors that the parties have dropped out of the election.

According to the allegation, Shas supporters have been walking around Jerusalem with bullhorns announcing the withdrawal of the two smaller Sephardic parties.

Earlier on Tuesday morning, when casting his vote, Shas leader Aryeh Deri said that while Am Shalem and Koah Lehashpia “will not pass the threshold [2% of the votes needed to enter the Knesset], they take close to two or three seats from us.”

A poll supervisor in the town of Arabe has complained he was threatened by local residents.

Police are investigating the report in the Arab-Israeli village near the coastal city of Acre.

A shouting match nearly turned into a fistfight among voters in Tamra, and in Umm al-Fahm a man tore the ballot box, Israel Radio reports. In the northern town of Sajour the voter rolls were stolen.

Also, large numbers of older voters have said their ballot stations weren’t wheelchair accessible, and in Beersheba a number of complaints have been filed about polling stations not accessible to physically disabled voters.

Here’s the view around the corner from The Times of Israel’s offices in Jerusalem’s leafy German Colony. It’s a glorious summer’s day — somehow, in what should be mid-winter — and there’s a holiday vibe. The cafes are packed — that’s the remodeled Caffit on the left. Families are out strolling.

Jerusalem's Emek Refaim, mid-afternoon, Election day (photo credit: DH, Times of Israel staff)

Further along the street, various school-age kids are pushing electoral leaflets and stickers — lots of Jewish Home, a little Likud, some Meretz. As you pass, they ask you if you’ve already voted, and immediately lose interest if you answer in the affirmative.

The story of the day so far is the high turnout. Who’s it good for, people are wondering? And what does it mean for the fringe parties, the might-not-make-it parties, for whom it was suggested that low turnout might represent the best hope? What does it mean for Likud, for which our surprised Mitch Ginsburg heard strikingly little support during his Mahaneh Yehuda market walkabout yesterday? What does it mean for our Times of Israel poll predictions? And what does it say about our contrary electorate — widely presumed to be disillusioned by politics, and expected to stay away from the polling stations in large numbers today.

Even as we write, one such disillusioned woman, Meirav, 30, is telling Army Radio how sick she is of the whole political business, and how she doesn’t even want to vote. Well, plenty of people evidently feel differently.

The Israeli left is awakening, Meretz head Zahava Gal-on says, pointing to the large turnout.

“We have our first opportunity in many years to build a [political] alternative to the extreme right and reinsert ideology into politics,” she states.

Despite record voter turnout, Likud says areas that are generally party strongholds are having a lower turnout than the national average.

“I therefore call on all generations of Likud voters to drop everything and go vote,” Benjamin Netanyahu says in Ashdod.

Elections Committee chairman Elyakim Rubinstein orders all parties to cease broadcasting footage of party leaders touring around the country and casting their ballots.

Rubinstein’s decision comes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cast his ballot and displayed his Likud-Beytenu ticket to the cameras. He ruled that showing the candidates voting constituted campaigning, which is forbidden in the final week of the elections.

The Central Elections Committee reports that by 4 p.m. voter turnout has risen to 46.6%, up from 38.3% two hours prior. By the same time in the last election only 41.9% had cast their ballots, and in 2006 only 39% had voted.

Voter turnout on January 22 as of 4 p.m.

The Israel Prison Service reports that as of 4 p.m. 63% of the 11,000 eligible voters in Israeli prisons had voted. This statistic shows a sharp rise from the 2009 elections, in which only 51% had voted by the same time, and only 21% in 2006.

The Israel Police reports that Election Day has proceeded without incident in most places. Since polls opened this morning it has dealt with 350 irregularities connected to the elections, including the hanging of signs in violation of regulations and fights breaking out between activists. Eleven cases have been opened relating to various crimes, such as disruptions at the polls, voter fraud, illegal voting, public indecency, and illegal posting of notices.

Britain’s Foreign Secretary William Hague has warned in the House of Commons that we’re running out of time for a two-state solution, citing settlement construction as a key impediment. “The two-state solution is slipping away,” he tells MPs.

Noting that Israel is voting as he speaks, Hague says he hopes that whatever government emerges from today’s elections “will recognize that we are approaching the last chance.”

In contrast to the politicians and columnists urging Israelis to head to the polls, Real Democracy, “a Palestinian-Israeli electoral rebellion,” exhorts Israelis to give up their votes to their Palestinian neighbors who cannot vote in today’s elections. Israeli participants pair up with Palestinian counterparts, who tell the voters whom to select at the ballots.

Among the participants in the initiative (which has roughly 3,000 Facebook followers) is Israeli actress Orly Weinerman, who famously had an affair with late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi’s son, Seif Islam Gaddafi.

Orly Weinerman (photo credit: Facebook)

She posts on the group’s wall that “we are living in an apartheid state where there is no real democracy. I am giving my vote in these elections to my Palestinian friends as part of the real democracy campaign. My friends do not want me to vote, and I am happily going to do so.”


You can read Elhanan Milller’s story about Real Democracy here.

Standing outside a polling station in downtown Jerusalem, a middle-aged religious couple prepare to enter and cast their ballots. The husband turns to his wife and asks, “Are you ready, Judy?” His wife responds, “I am ready for the messiah!”

“Vote for the right party and the messiah will come!” he responds with enthusiasm. He did not mention which party would bring about the End of Days.

Religious news site Kikar Shabbat reports that ultra-Orthodox parties are worried because “secular Israelis are storming the polling places.”

The paper reports that United Torah Judaism MK and Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman heard that close to 50% of voters in north Tel Aviv — a secular stronghold — had voted by noon. He responds saying the situation is disconcerting and that ultra-Orthodox voters must muster and get to the ballot boxes in droves.

An ultra-Orthodox man casts his vote in Bnei Brak on January 22, 2013. (photo credit: Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

On the other end of the spectrum, some ultra-Orthodox citizens went overboard in their protest of the elections in the city of Beit Shemesh, near Jerusalem. Ynet reports that a few dozen ultra-Orthodox men staged a protest outside a polling station. Police escorted the parade and it dispersed without incident.

In a separate incident, an ultra-Orthodox man in Beit Shemesh is in police custody after flipping over a table at a local polling station. The man has refused to identify himself and has been taken in for investigation.

When President Shimon Peres told people to get out and vote, Israelis took it a little too literally. Israel Radio reports that approximately 300,000 people have taken the vacation offered by Election Day to get some fresh air and enjoy Israel’s natural beauty.

The Nature and Parks Authority reports that approximately 100,000 visitors came to the country’s nature reserves and national parks. The Jewish National Fund’s park rangers report that another 50,000 visitors came to the forests under their care. The Hula Lake in northern Israel received another 4,000 hikers.

It is not clear whether the 300,000 who spent their day outdoors bothered to vote beforehand.

The Central Elections Committee reports that by 6 p.m. voter turnout has risen to 55.5%, up from 46.6% at 4. By the same time in the last election only 50.3% had cast their ballots, and in 2006 only 47% had voted.

The committee’s statisticians speculate that by the time polls close voter turnout could break 70%, or roughly 3.9 million voters, which would raise the threshold for entering the Knesset to approximately 80,000 votes.

Voter turnout as of 6 p.m.

A Koah Lehashpiya candidate was attacked by rival Shas party supporters in Holon, Channel 1 reports.

Michael Skaritsky says he entered a Shas stronghold in the Tel Aviv suburb and Shas activists cursed him and told him to leave the neighborhood.

Several others reportedly hid behind some bushes and threw stones at his car, causing light damage to the vehicle, and he retreated.

“They cursed me and threw me out of the area,” Skaritsky says.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid expresses optimism concerning the election results and his fledgling party’s prospects, Channel 10 reports.

“We have definitely been surprised by the support,” he says. “In Netanya, for example, which is a distinctly Likud city, we wiped the floor with Likud.”

The journalist-turned-politician says the high voter turnout was fed by the momentum of the social protest phenomenon Israel witnessed in the summer of 2011.

“I think we’re at the end of the era of cynicism,” he says. “People understood that being distant and apathetic… only damages their lives. Interest has returned.”

Times of Israel correspondent Haviv Rettig Gur writes that while it is highly probable that Netanyahu will be selected by President Shimon Peres to form a government, nothing is certain.

“A relatively high final turnout may mean the actual vote well reflects the right-left balance shown in the last pre-election polls on Friday, with a narrow margin between the camps,” he says.

The consequence: “Netanyahu may have to do some tricky maneuvering to guarantee his position” and Peres may be tempted to offer the Labor Party the first shot at forming the coalition.

Merav Cohen, No. 9 on the Hatnua list, gave birth to a healthy baby girl on the eve of the elections. She says in an interview with Channel 2 that all is well with her and her newborn daughter.

Hatnua candidate Merav Cohen shows off her newborn baby in a TV interview, Tuesday (photo credit: Channel 2)

We’re heading into the last hours before the ballots close on Election Day and await the first exit polls and final results. Thanks for following the first part of our liveblog of the 2013 election. You can find our detailed coverage of the conclusion of Election Day, including final results and exit polls here. It’s going to be a long night.

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