The Times of Israel liveblogged election day’s events as they unfolded.
Many party leaders and prominent politicians have already cast their votes in the election, the fourth in two years, preparing for a day of relentless campaigning in hopes of handing their parties a last-minute boost.
Yisrael Beytenu chairman Avigdor Liberman votes at his home community, the settlement of Nokdim, and repeats the claim that these elections were called because of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s desire to “evade” his corruption trial.
Also among the first to vote is Shas leader Aryeh Deri, in the Har Nof neighborhood of Jerusalem. He calls on voters to show up and “bring about a decisive result, we can’t go to a fifth election.”
Fellow ultra-Orthodox MK Yaakov Litzman, the former leader and current No. 2 of United Torah Judaism, votes in Jerusalem, saying, “Haredi Jewry and everything that is sacred to the Nation of Israel hang in the balance.”
Yamina No. 2 Ayelet Shaked casts her ballot in Tel Aviv, saying the party “can this time finally put an end to this endless election loop.” She adds: “I promise that if you vote for us there won’t be fifth elections.”
Labor leader Merav Michaeli hasn’t voted yet, but she pays a visit to Rabin Square in Tel Aviv, where former prime minister and Labor leader Yitzhak Rabin was murdered in 1995.
“These are very important elections, they are wide open and in our hands,” she tells reporters. “I came here to the place where it all was halted, because I promise to return to Rabin’s path. We mustn’t give up,” she says, referring to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Itamar Ben Gvir, the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit faction’s candidate in the Religious Zionism party, has arrived at his polling station in the southern West Bank settlement of Kiryat Arba to cast his ballot.
He tells The Times of Israel that he’s particularly confident that he’ll cross the electoral threshold in this round after failing to do in the past three, when he ran both independently and in a conglomerate of far-right parties.
He says Prime Minister Netanyahu’s effort to merge Otzma Yehudit with Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union and the far-right Noam party has helped all but solidify his chances of making it into the Knesset.
“We’re going to celebrate this evening, God willing,” he tells supporters as he enters the polling station.
Arriving at a polling station in Beersheba, Religious Zionism party candidate Itamar Ben Gvir is mobbed by young party activists eager to grab a selfie with the far-right politician.
Even the Likud party volunteer at the polling station asks to snap a photo with Ben Gvir.
The smiling Religious Zionism candidate tells the crowd of two dozen that he’s heard “reports” of a spike in left-wing voters and calls on supporters of the party to turn up to vote.
He does not provide evidence for higher left-wing turnout, just two hours after polls opened.
Joining other politicians, several right-wing party leaders cast their votes.
Religious Zionism’s Bezalel Smotrich, voting in the West Bank settlement of Kedumim, expresses optimism that a right-wing government headed by Benjamin Netanyahu is within reach.
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett — who is also celebrating his birthday — votes in Raanana, calling on the public to vote “so that finally, we will form a government that cares.”
New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar votes in Tel Aviv, flanked by supporters, and says it’s a “moving occasion for me, three and a half months after forming New Hope. We have a clear way and big hopes for the future.”
United Torah Judaism leader Moshe Gafni also casts his ballot in Bnei Brak.
The most senior Likud member to vote thus far is Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, who votes in Herzliya and says he’ll go to other cities to campaign for a high turnout among supporters.
The first complaints of vote fraud are starting to trickle in.
The New Hope party files a formal complaint with the Central Elections Committee claiming that its ballots have been removed from several voting stations in Haifa, Sderot, Yavne and Ramle. They are calling the disappearances “systematic” and “nationwide.”
At least two ballot stations, one in the Wadi Nisnas neighborhood in Haifa and the other in Beersheba, are reporting that Joint List ballots have disappeared.
And Yisrael Beytenu is reporting that its ballot notes in two ballot stations in Ashkelon were covered up by Shas and Likud ballots.
Complaints are surfacing on social media of election observers arriving late at some stations and saying they received envelopes for their ballots that someone had marked with a pen.
Ballot envelopes cannot have any distinguishing markings on them whatsoever. Any envelopes marked in any way are disqualified for fear of fraud. Any voter who is handed a marked envelope at the ballot station should throw it out immediately and demand another envelope from ballot station staff.
As Israel votes, the number of serious COVID-19 cases nationwide has dropped under 500 for the first time since December, compounding the success of the vaccination campaign.
The Health Ministry says 942 new cases were identified yesterday, with 1.6% of tests giving a positive result. The basic reproduction number is down to 0.6.
There have been 829,288 confirmed cases since the pandemic began, with the number of active cases dropping to 14,679. Of them, 499 are in serious condition, including 255 listed as critical.
The death toll rose to 6,114.
More than 4.6 million Israelis have now received both vaccine doses.
The latest top politicians to vote in the elections are Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Blue and White chair Benny Gantz, Joint List head Ayman Odeh and Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz.
Lapid, casting his ballot in Tel Aviv, says: “This is the moment of truth for the State of Israel and in the end everything comes down to two options – a strong Yesh Atid or a dark, dangerous, racist and homophobic government that will take money from hardworking people and give it to people who don’t work.”
Gantz, in Rosh Ha’ayin, warns Netanyahu will instate a “different regime” if he wins.
Horowitz calls the vote “the most dramatic choice in Israeli elections for many years.”
President Reuven Rivlin votes in Jerusalem, calling on the public to cast their ballots and expressing concern for Israel’s democracy caused by the extended political crisis.
“I am voting for the last time as president, but also as a concerned citizen,” says Rivlin, whose term ends in the summer. “A fourth election [in two years] harms the public trust.”
Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas casts his vote in a quiet schoolyard square in his hometown of Maghar in northern Israel.
Abbas says he is optimistic that he will pass the electoral threshold; Ra’am has seen increasingly favorable polling in recent weeks, but is still in danger of falling below the threshold.
“We’re looking for meaningful representation for Arab Israelis, representation that can influence decision-making,” Abbas tells reporters, adding that “every party that hopes to be in power” has sought to reach out to his party in the past few weeks.
“They are checking to see our stance. We don’t have an unequivocal answer, but we will put forward our demands,” Abbas says.
Asked directly whether he will join with Netanyahu in the next government, Abbas repeats his main message: “Whoever comes toward us, we’ll work with them.”
“I don’t rule out the possibility,” Abbas says, before setting off for Ra’am party headquarters in Tamra.
Netanyahu has repeatedly ruled out a government propped up by the Islamist party.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes in the Knesset election in Jerusalem with his wife Sara, expressing hope that “this is the last election” after an extended political crisis.
“You touched our hearts,” Netanyahu tells reporters.
He calls on everyone to vote and refuses to comment on what the results will be from within the polling station.
“This is a festival of democracy. This is a happy country. Israel is a country where people are smiling,” he says.
Sara thanks the health staff who treated her, the Israelis who sent wishes for her a recovery, and her husband.
Earlier, the premier streamed live on Facebook, speaking with supporters around the country to urge Likud voters to go to the polls. He repeats that Likud has two seats “missing” that it needs to win to get a 61-strong majority.
At a largely empty polling station in the southern town of Ofakim, far-right Religious Zionism party candidate Itamar Ben Gvir tells the half a dozen party activists present that he wants to take on the position of defense minister of the south and the Galilee in the next government, a post that currently does not exist.
He says he will help protect residents of the north and south against the “Bedouin terrorism” throughout the streets.
Three of his supporters begin cheering his name, saying “Hey-Ho, look who’s come, the next defense minister of the south and the Galilee!”
A blushing Ben Gvir tells the teens that they need to work on shortening the chant.
The first turnout figures for the 2021 election are out. Turnout has been rising steadily over the past three elections.
Will that rise continue this time around? There are reasons to think that it might.
The April 2019 election saw a turnout of 68.41%. In September 2019 it rose to 69.8%, and in March 2020 to 71.5%.
According to the Central Elections Committee, turnout by 10 a.m. was 14.8%, a slight rise from last year’s 14.5% at that hour.
One possible reason to expect that that bump will only grow over the course of the day: Last year, over 100,000 Israelis, mostly young, were traveling abroad on election day. That’s not happening this year, according to Population Authority figures. More Israelis are home, so more may find their way to their ballot station.
A tried-and true- tactic from previous elections, the so-called “gevalt” campaign, makes an appearance on this election day as well, as various party leaders try to create the impression that they are doing badly or their rivals are doing well.
On the right, a spat breaks out between Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism parties over whether the latter is in danger of falling beneath the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the votes.
Bennett cites US strategic adviser George Birenbaum claiming Religious Zionism is comfortably above the threshold with at least 6 Knesset seats (4 is the minimum) and is in “no danger,” with Yamina seeking to court voters who are debating between the two.
Religious Zionism director Yehuda Vald responds by saying: “That is how someone who has decided to lie looks. Bennett has decided to wipe out Religious Zionism and thwart a right-wing government.”
Meanwhile, Avigdor Liberman, who leads the Yisrael Beytenu party that has adopted an anti-Haredi stance, warns of “mass turnout” in ultra-Orthodox areas.
Ahmad Tibi, the leader of the Ta’al faction in the predominantly Arab Joint List, casts his ballot in his hometown of Taybeh.
“Every vote for the Joint List is a veto of Netanyahu, Ben Gvir and Smotrich,” Tibi says, referring to the prime minister and two members of the far-right Religious Zionism party.
The Central Elections Committee says it has been notified of at least 31 incidents of attempted voter fraud.
They include an attempt to vote as another person, an attempt to vote with more than one envelope, and several attempts to vote under the identity of a deceased person.
Some 20 voters cast their ballots in envelopes that lacked the necessary signature by an election worker.
After initially slightly leading over last year’s election, turnout figures are dipping, according to Central Elections Committee figures.
As of noon, 25.4% of eligible voters cast their ballots, more than two points less than the 27.6% figure at the same hour in the March 2020 election.
While voter turnout has generally been high so far, the situation in different in Arab-majority locales, according to the Mossawa Center advocacy group.
There have been various reports of low turnout and empty voting stations in Arab towns and communities.
According to the Haaretz daily, the Joint List party has been studying the turnout data and concluded that as a whole, turnout is around 13-14%. Turnout in the general population, by contrast, already reached 14.8% some three hours ago.
At the current rate, the party estimates, turnout in the Arab community will end up at a low 55-56%.
The Civil Service Commission will probe Cabinet Secretary Tzahi Braverman, after he revealed who he voted for despite being a public servant.
Braverman tweeted a photo of himself voting and revealing he was voting for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud.
As a public servant rather than a political official, Braverman is barred from publicly endorsing a political party even though he formerly was a prominent Likud activist and campaigner.
The tweet was deleted only after three hours, in which the act was slammed by critics.
According to the Haaretz daily, the Civil Service Commission said the tweet went against the public service rules and will be probed by its disciplinary branch.
Cyprus officially announces that it will allow vaccinated Israelis to enter without PCR tests or quarantine starting April 1, according to Hebrew media.
Kids and those who have recovered from COVID-19 will be able to enter the island country if they present a recent negative coronavirus test.
United Torah Judaism party leader Moshe Gafni responds to Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman, who has been repeating a message that ultra-Orthodox Israelis are “rushing to the polling stations,” mimicking a controversial tactic employed in 2015 by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against Arabs.
Gafni says: “We will today erase the smile of this anti-Semite.”
Meanwhile, the Haredi parties report a lower turnout than in the previous elections, similar to the current trend in the general public. In Hasidic areas, they estimate turnout to be 3% lower than last year.
An Israeli aid group has partnered with US-based organizations to set up 21 computer centers in Eastern Africa.
SmartAID says in a statement that together with STEMpower and DHL, it is setting up the computer and electronic labs across Ethiopia, South Sudan and Kenya.
“These centres are teaching tens of thousands of students attending higher academic institutions, and will also offer after-school courses to hundreds of thousands of students attending primary and secondary schools within the universities’ surrounding areas,” the statement says.
“Most of these students have never had the opportunity to work with real science & engineering equipment, nor have they ever had the tools to interact with computers, software, and to learn programming and coding.
The computers are said to be mostly solar-powered and therefore to use little electricity.
Turnout in the Knesset election as of 2 p.m. was 34.6% — a drop of 3.5% from same time on the previous election day a year ago, the Central Elections Committee says.
That is the lowest turnout for that hour in Israeli elections since 2009.
Prof. Shmuel Shapira, the head of the Defense Ministry’s Biological Institute who has been the driving force behind the efforts to develop an Israeli COVID-19 vaccine, will reportedly step down unexpectedly in May, further casting doubt on the future of the vaccine effort.
Shapira, 66, could have retained his post for at least another year until he reaches retirement age, and even then could have extended his tenure, Haaretz reports.
The announcement comes as the vaccine production has been significantly lagging behind its international competitors, and as the vast majority of eligible Israelis have already gotten the Pfizer inoculation.
The Israeli vaccine is still deep in the trial phase, and many of its volunteers have stopped their involvement to get the Pfizer shot.
It isn’t clear who will replace Shapira, the report says.
Arab voter turnout has improved slightly over the past few hours, reaching around 23% by 2 p.m., the Joint List party says.
The equivalent figure for all Israeli voters at 2 p.m. was 34.6%.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah party and the rival Hamas terror group would each fall well short of a parliamentary majority if elections are held in May, forcing them to partner with each other or with smaller parties to form a government, according to a poll released today.
Abbas has decreed Palestinian elections for May 22 in what would be the first general vote since Hamas won a landslide victory in 2006. The process appears to be on track, but disputes between the long-feuding factions could cause the vote to be delayed or canceled, as has happened in the past.
The poll by the Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research found that if elections were held today a single Fatah list would win 43% of the vote and Hamas would win 30%, with 18% of voters undecided.
But a faction led by Mohammed Dahlan, a former senior Fatah leader who had a falling out with Abbas and is based in the United Arab Emirates, would win 10%. Nasser al-Kidwa, who was kicked out of Fatah after forming his own list, would win 7%. They would mainly draw votes from Fatah, dropping its share to around 30%, the poll says.
The PCPSR carried out face-to-face interviews with 1,200 Palestinians across the West Bank and Gaza, with a margin of error of 3%.
PCPSR director Khalil Shikaki says Fatah is seen as best able to address most of voters’ top concerns, including restoring national unity, improving the economy and lifting the Israeli-Egyptian blockade of Gaza that was imposed after Hamas, which openly seeks Israel’s destruction, seized power in 2007. But Fatah’s internal rivalries could weaken it vis-à-vis the more disciplined and unified Hamas.
“Both Fatah and Hamas have major problems,” Shikaki tells reporters. “Hamas’ main problem is the perception that it cannot address the major challenges. Fatah’s major problem is the splits.”
Election officials say 1,200 people who currently have the coronavirus have availed themselves of a special shuttle service to bring them to special voting booths, out of 6,700 carriers eligible to vote.
Another 250 voters are expected to use the service in the coming moments.
Among those in quarantine, just over 1,000 people have used a similar service, out of 22,000 voters who are in isolation.
There are nearly 15,000 people with the coronavirus in the country, most of them too young to vote. Most of the nearly 60,000 in quarantine are also not yet 18 years old.
Turnout as of 4 p.m. is at 42.3 percent, the Central Election Committee announces.
The figure confirms the low turnout seen all day thus far. In the last election, 47% of voters had cast ballots by this point, and in September 2019, 44.3% had.
Some parties are beginning to broadcast panic in a bid to drive supporters to voting booths, sending out messages claiming that turnout is low in areas where they enjoy the widest support.
Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich sends out a message blaming over-eager Passover cleaners for the poor turnout.
“We’re seeing low turnout in our areas, apparently because of Passover cleaning. Cleaning is important, but go vote,” he chides in a video.
“Friends, this is no joke,” laments Labor head Merav Michaeli. “Turnout numbers are low. We won’t be able to effect change this way. It’s in out hands. Go vote [Labor].”
Likud tweets out a message claiming that Tel Aviv and suburbs are seeing high turnout.
“And what’s happening in Likud strongholds? Ashkelon, Beersheba, Ashdod, Tiberias, Jerusalem, Kiryat Shmona — why is turnout low? Go vote [Likud] now or you’ll get [Yair] Lapid, a rotation and another election. Two more seats to [Likud] and we win,” the party says.
While voting booths may be mostly empty, beaches, malls and supermarkets are having a banner day as Israelis take advantage of the warm weather and the day off.
With Passover set to begin Saturday night, many are using the time to shop for food or clean their homes of any leavening.
Temperatures around the country are higher than normal for this time of year, though a storm system moving into the area has turned the skies into pea soup. Nonetheless, pictures and videos show thousands enjoying the great outdoors (many of whom presumably voted already or will do so later).
In Bat Yam, Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu stops at a mall to demand that shoppers “leave the mall and go vote [Likud].”
The Yesh Atid and Blue and White parties are involved in a heated tiff as they try to maneuver for the support of strategic-minded voters.
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is claiming that internal numbers show all parties in his anti-Netanyahu bloc passing the threshold, meaning that those who had been voting for Blue and White or other small parties to help them get over the Knesset threshold hump no longer need to and can now vote for him.
But Blue and White disagrees.
“Lapid is lying, the danger has not passed,” a party representative says, according to Channel 12 news.
With the threshold only determined based on actual turnout and four hours to go until polls close, chances are that both are just spinning yarns for the voters.
Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu is blitzing potential voters’ ears in Beersheba, telling residents of the Negev city that they are going to miss out unless they vote Likud.
“Everyone needs to bring four people. Beersheba is going to lose, I’m telling you,” he says through a bullhorn, which candidates are technically not allowed to use.
“Bibi the king of Israel lives,” the crowd sings at him.
Despite tales of packed supermarkets and malls, credit card processing firm Automatic Banking Services says spending is down today compared to the last election.
The firm says nearly NIS 1.1 billion ($334 million) in credit card transactions were made between 9 a.m. and 6 p.m. today, down 5.2% from March 2, 2020.
Voter turnout is at 51.5 percent as of 6 p.m., the Central Election Committee announces.
The figure is 4.8% lower than at the same time in the last election and the lowest figure recorded since 2009.
The figure represents 3.3 million voters having cast ballots, the CEC says.
Israel is a small country, but major party chiefs usually find ways to avoid running into each other on election day, but not Labor leader Merav Michaeli and Blue and White head Benny Gantz, who have an awkward run-in at Tel Aviv’s Dizengoff Center.
A video shows the two exchanging a few words amid a loud and boisterous scrum inside the mall. Gantz’s comments are muffled by his mask, whereas the maskless Michaeli is drowned out by drums and the chanting of her name.
The Israel Defense Forces says a rocket was fired out of the Gaza Strip into Israel.
No alarms sound in populated areas.
The military does not say where the rocket landed, but there are no reports of injuries or damage.
The rocket attack comes a short while after Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu visited the northern Negev to stump for support.
A rocket shot from Gaza has landed near Beersheba.
The attack occurred around the time Prime Minister and Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu was campaigning in the city.
Some reports indicate he was there at the time of the attack, but Likud says he had left the area by then.
Channel 12 shows a clip of Netanyahu and his entourage leaving a Beersheba restaurant. Likud says the footage preceded the rocket fire.
Several candidates have been campaigning in Beersheba and other areas of the northern Negev throughout the day.
The rocket seemingly landed in an open area without causing damage or injuries. No alarms sounded.
Gaza terror groups have previously targeted Netanyahu when he campaigns in the south, twice forcing him offstage at events in 2019.
Blue and White head Benny Gantz takes his candidate hat off and puts his defense minister beret on, stopping election campaigning to hold a security consultation following the rocket attack near Beersheba.
There continues to be confusion over whether Prime Minister Netanyahu was in the city at the time of the attack. A video appears to show Netanyahu being ushered swiftly out of a restaurant in the city, though it’s unclear if it was in reaction to the attack.
The Likud party maintains that the prime minister was on his way out of the city when the rocket attack occurred.
Pollsters for Channels 12 and 13 are previewing what they say are “dramatic” exit poll results as they crunch the numbers with less than two hours to go until polls close.
“In all my years I’ve never seen such dramatic and decisive results,” Channel 13 pollster Kamil Fuchs says.
Channel 12 numbers man Mano Geva also says the results are “dramatic.”
Both pollsters also point to low turnout in the Arab community as an important factor. Geva calls the Arab vote “problematic.”
The previews of the exit polls are generally frowned upon as they can affect the outcome of the election. The news channels have also been known to overplay the drama of the exit poll results, which are often less than dramatic as well as dramatically incorrect.
As the clock ticks down to polls closing at 10 p.m., some parties are continuing to frantically urge supporters to the ballot box.
“Right-wing rule is in danger due to Likud voters staying at home,” party head Benjamin Netanyahu tweets. Go now to vote to save the right-wing government at the last moment. Make sure to bring as many Likud voters as possible.”
New Hope head Gideon Saar is warning that Likud leader Netanyahu is “close to his 61st seat if you don’t vote now.”
“Bring friends,” he says in a video.
Blue and White head Benny Gantz, meanwhile, is continuing to push against Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, releasing a slickly produced video accusing him of spreading “fake news,” for claiming that Blue and White is doing well.
Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu has yet to comment on the Gazan rocket that appeared to target his visit to Beersheba, but his opponents are seizing on the attack to strike at him.
“In the 2009 campaign, Netanyahu promised to bring down Hamas rule in Gaza. Now he gives them vaccines … no wonder they think we are a joke,” tweets New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar.
“Bibi is weak against Hamas,” tweets Naftali Bennett. “I wish Netanyahu would fight Hamas like he fights me. Hamas is laughing at Netanyahu’s weakness.”
Central Elections Committee head Orly Adas announces that turnout remains low, with 60.9% of eligible voters casting ballots by 8 p.m.
The number remains 4.7% lower than the last election, and the lowest since 2009, when 59.7% had voted by this point.
Reports indicate that turnout is especially low in Arab majority locales, under 50 percent by many estimations, leading to fears of poor results for the Joint List and Ra’am.
At a press conference, Islamic Movement Secretary Ibrahim Hijazi tells Ra’am supporters that they estimate the current turnout among Arab voters is 45 percent.
Hijazi pleads with Arab voters to head to the polls.
“The Arab lists are in danger. The matter is in your hands,” says Ra’am candidate Mazen Ghanaim.
Politicians are gearing up for post-election shindigs, soirees and pity parties as Israel’s fourth election in under two years draws to a close.
Exit polls will be released at 10 p.m. and will likely set the tenor for the rest of the evening, though they will be updated and likely change significantly as actual results filter in.
Some events will see party leaders giving victory speeches before masses of adoring crowds, while some other parties are gearing up for more modest affairs designed mainly for media consumption.
Meanwhile, rumors among journalists, analysts, politicians and others over what the exit polls say, and whether Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu will have enough support to form a new government, have hit a fever pitch.
The Blue and White party has filed an emergency request for the election to be extended by two hours, claiming that the move is justified given the coronavirus crisis and low turnout numbers.
The request is unlikely to be accepted, with five minutes to go until polls close.
Exit poll results from Channel 12 news show Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu needing Yamina to reach 61 seats, but the numbers are far from decisive. The channel gives a tentative pro Netanyahu bloc 53 seats, and an anti-Netanyahu bloc 59 spots, and Yamina, which can swing either way, eight seats.
The results are as follows:
Likud – 31
Yesh Atid – 18
New Hope – 6
Joint List – 9
Yamina – 8
Yisrael Beytenu – 6
Shas – 9
UTJ – 6
Labor – 7
Meretz – 6
Religious Zionism – 7
Ra’am – 0
Blue and White – 7
The exit poll from Channel 11 (Kan), published as polling stations close, predicts the parties will score as follows:
Likud: 31 seats
Yesh Atid: 18
Joint List: 8
United Torah Judaism: 7
Religious Zionism: 7
Blue and White: 7
Yisrael Beytenu: 7
New Hope: 6
In terms of blocs, that adds up to 54 for the pro-Netanyahu camp — or 61 if Netanyahu wins the support of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina.
The anti-Netanyahu camp has 59 seats. The Arab Ra’am party is seen failing to clear the Knesset threshold.
Channel 13’s exit poll is as follows:
Yesh Atid: 16
Joint List: 8
Yisrael Beytenu: 8
Blue and White: 8
United Torah Judaism: 7
Religious Zionism: 6
New Hope: 5
The poll indicates Netanyahu could form a government if Yamina joins him, giving him the coveted 61 seats.
Pro-Netanyahu bloc: 54
Anti-Netanyahu bloc: 59
The Joint List election event erupts in cheers as the coalition of Arab parties takes nine seats in the Channel 12 exit poll.
Another roar rips through the crowd as Ra’am fails to pass the election threshold, per the exit poll.
“9-0! 9-0!” some activists cheer.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh thanks his voters for turning out. While the Joint List is predicted to drop from 15 to 9 seats, a further drop had been anticipated.
“We will remain a thorn in the side of Netanyahu and his partners,” Odeh says.
Odeh says it is still unclear whether Ra’am will enter the Knesset.
“You are our people, no matter what happens. We are one people,” Odeh says.
Religious Zionism’s party headquarters erupt in celebration as exit polls indicate that the alliance of far-right factions not only managed to cross the electoral threshold, but outperformed expectations and put it in place to become a major player in the next Knesset.
Religious Zionism will have seven seats in the upcoming Knesset, according to exit polls from Channel 12, Channel 13 and the Kan public broadcaster. The result would be far stronger than the four-five seats polls had been predicting for weeks. The results would put both neo-Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir and anti-LGBT canddiate Avi Maoz in the Knesset.
Moreover, the pro-Netanyahu bloc of religious, right-wing parties of Likud, Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Yamina will have just enough seats to form a 61-member coalition, if exit poll results are accurate.
Dozens of young supporters of the party broke out in dance as one exit poll after another offered generous results for Religious Zionism.
The activists cheered Smotrich’s name for several minutes in the Modi’in ballroom before calming down and quietly soaking the results in. Party chairman Bezalel Smotrich is not slated to address supporters until later in the evening.
Amid the euphoria of being projected to get nine seats despite the loss of Ra’am, Joint List politicians warn their constituents that the results are not yet final.
Balad chief Sami Abou Shehadeh tells Arab voters to hold their breath as “the vote is likely to shift one way or the other in the coming hours.”
“For the last two hours, there was an outpouring of voters to the polls. But at the same time, it’s clear there was a substantial decline in the Arab vote,” says Ta’al MK Osama Saadi.
Yamina head Naftali Bennett, who holds the key to Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu being able to form a government, gives few hints as to what direction he may go in.
“I shall do only what is good for the State of Israel,” he says.
Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist Ra’am party is projected to fall short of the four-seat threshold to enter the Knesset, says he believes by the morning, the actual vote count will show his party returning to the halls of power, Ynet reports.
According to Channel 12 news, turnout in the Arab community was only 44%, part of what may have sunk the party.
Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer also says he thinks the exit polls are mistaken, noting that they did not account for the 600,000 absentee ballots, which may account for as many as 15 seats.
“History shows that our results will be better in the actual count. Nothing will be clear until Friday afternoon.”
Exit polls show the party getting 6-8 seats.
Yamina says that based on the initial exit polls that gave the party 7-8 seats, it will have to have a “serious discussion” about who to back as prime minister, saying it will make the decision “that is best for the public that voted for us.”
Speaking to The Times of Israel moments after the exit polls showed that neither the pro- or anti-Netanyahu bloc had received 61 seats, and that Yamina would be able to give either side a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, party spokesman Moshe Basus says, “we will hope for the best and do the best by what the public gave us.”
“Once the results are final, we will sit down and have a serious discussion on what is best for the public that voted for us,” Basus says.
Yamina was one of only two parties that did not take a clear stance on backing or opposing Netanyahu as prime minister. The other, Ra’am, was predicted not to pass the electoral threshold in all three exit polls.
Last week Bennett publically signed a pledge not to sit in a government in which Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid is the prime minister.
The Israel Defene Forces says it saw 77% turnout for the election among its ranks, the highest number in some 20 years.
The high turnout stands in stark contrast to the general population, with only 60.9% turnout as of 8 p.m. The Central Election Committee has yet to announce the final turnout total.
It has also not yet begun to post actual vote counts, despite being on a tight schedule to complete the tally before the long weekend.
Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu has spoken by phone with Aryeh Deri, whose Shas party is projected to get up to nine seats in the Knesset, making it the second largest party in a potential Netanyahu-led governing coalition.
Netanyahu congratulated Deri and the two planned to continue a discussion on the election results later in the evening, the Shas head’s spokesman says.
Netanyahu also spoke by phone with Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich and congratulated him as well, according to a Religious Zionism spokesman. The far-right party is projected to get 6-7 seats.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu is declaring electoral victory based on exit poll results showing his party getting over 30 seats and enough to form a majority — with the support of Yamina.
“Israeli citizens, thank you,” Netanyahu tweets. “You gave a huge win to the right and Likud under my leadership. Likud is the biggest party by far … It’s clear most Israelis are right-wing, and want a strong, stable right-wing government.”
Netanyahu speaks by phone to Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, who indicates he may play hard to get, telling his erstwhile partner that he’ll only be ready to get down to brass tacks once the actual results are in. He says his decisions will be guided by what’s best for the country.
In Modiin, Religious Zionism supporters break into a frenzy as extremist Itamar Ben Gvir arrives at a party event.
Candidate Orit Strock, who is slated to enter the Knesset if exit polls prove accurate, says she is deeply moved by the initial results of the election.
Exit polls from all three major networks have Religious Zionism picking up seven seats.
Strock, no. 5 on the slate, tells The Times of Israel that the results show that there is a broad section of the public that is hungry for a party that doesn’t whitewash its views and is unabashedly supportive of the Jewish people’s right to the Land of Israel.
Strock says her party is not a gimmee for Netanyahu, who will have to commit to safeguarding the country’s Jewish identity, strengthening Israel’s grip over the West Bank and major judicial reform that limits the power of the court.
While she recognizes that annexing large parts of the West Bank may take time, Strock says her party in the short-term will demand the legalization of all outposts beyond the Green Line.
Speaking to party supporters, Labor head Merav Michaeli celebrates her party’s return from the trash bin of history.
“They managed to assassinate Yitzhak Rabin, but they didn’t manage to kill off his path,” she says.
The party had been projected to fall well short of entering the Knesset just a few months ago, but is now projected to win seven seats.
“Many of you didn’t believe me, but I knew it could be done,” she says.
New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar tells a gaggle of supporters that he is still committed to not joining a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.
He notes the party’s relatively poor showing in exit polls, which show it getting as few as six seats, down from surveys two months ago that had shown him getting over 20.
“We did the best we could in not easy circumstances,” he says, noting that it’s the only brand new party actually making it into the Knesset.
Channel 12 updates its exit poll results, giving Blue and White 8 seats, up from 7, and knocking Shas down a seat to 8.
The update also moves Meretz up to 7 seats.
The results give the anti-Netanyahu bloc 60 seats, but that’s only if right-wing parties Yisrael Beytenu and New Hope find a way to accept partnering with the Joint List. The pro-Netanyahu bloc, together with Yamina, would snag the other 60 seats.
The Central Elections Committee announces that 67.2% of eligible voters cast ballots in the election, down from previous years, but slightly improved from poor turnout results throughout the day.
The figure is the lowest since 2009, when 64.7% voted.
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, placed in the potential role of kingmaker, refuses to say if he will grant Benjamin Netanyahu key support, instead telling supporters only that “what was will not be.”
Bennett calls for national healing and says “a real right-winger doesn’t hate, he unites.”
“We will act so Israel’s leadership moves from baseless hatred to free love. As a former defense minister, I say that only a united nation can stand securely against its enemies,” he says, adding that judicial reform will be a main goal of his party.
He says despite his commitment to right-wing ideals, “we don’t intend to allow anyone to destroy the nation. What destroyed nations in the past is tribalism and we understand the weight of the responsibility.”
He asks supporters to wait for actual election results.
Itamar Ben Gvir, a Jewish supremacist seemingly slated to enter the Knesset with Religious Zionism, decides to channel civil rights icon Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in a victory speech to supporters.
“I have a dream,” he says. “I have a dream that IDF soldiers will live in a nation that has their backs. … I have a dream that a right-wing government will strengthen the Jewish identity of the country.”
Ben Gvir was carried to the stage while lifted by supporters on a chair, adding to an already palpable Orthodox wedding vibe at the event, with large circle dances for the men and a walled-off space in the corner for the women.
Party leader Bezalel Smotrich ascends the stage to speak after him, but only after showing off his dance moves.
“We will put the Torah first,” Smotrich says. “Blessed are you Lord our God, the good and the benevolent.”
Smotrich says his party managed to bring unity to the national religious camp.
Smotrich highlights the party’s secret weapon — thousands of young activists from across Israel and the settlements who volunteered their time on behalf of the party.
“No other party had this,” he boasts.
Also present is Bentzi Gopstein from the anti-miscegenation group Lehava who was banned from running for Knesset in 2019.
He tells The Times of Israel that he’s confident that the Religious Zionism MKs will “fix this injustice.”
Channel 12 has updated its exit poll figures again, showing dwindling support for a possible pro-Benjamin Netanyahu bloc.
Likud has dropped down to 30 seats, and Yamina has lost a seat, falling to 7.
Shas moves back up to 9 seats and Blue and White drops back to 7 seats.
The net effect is 61 seats for an anti-Netanyahu amalgam of parties, 52 seats for the right-religious parties backing Likud, and Yamina in the middle with 7, meaning that even with Yamina’s support, Likud would not be able to form a government.
Pollster Manu Geva says the next exit poll update will be the last, with actual results expected to begin trickling in.
Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid, speaking just as an exit poll is released showing him potentially beating out Netanyahu for the first time, tells supporters that he’ll start working on cobbling together a “sane government” tomorrow.
He praises his party’s discipline in staying out of the mud and making sure that smaller parties in his potential bloc crossed the Knesset threshold.
“Three months ago, we brought down the government. We were the fourth largest party in Israel and now we are the second largest and leading the change bloc,” he says. “We did it with responsibility, we made sure to keep all the parties in the bloc above the threshold and to keep alive the chance of change in Israel.
“As of this moment, Netanyahu does not have 61 seats but the bloc that seeks change does. We’ll wait for the actual results. But as things stand, there will not be a government with the Kahanists… and homophobes,” he says. “I’ve started speaking to party leaders and we’ll wait for the results but we’ll do everything to create a sane government in Israel.”
“We have reason to be proud of the way we have behaved, and even more reason to be proud of the result we have achieved,” he says.
A new exit poll from Channel 13 is also bad news for Benjamin Netanyahu, showing the Likud leader’s bloc dropping from 54 seats to 53, with another seven seats from Yamina, creating a possible 60-60 deadlock.
Meanwhile, the Central Elections Committee has begun releasing actual results. The 40,000 votes counted so far track fairly closely with the exit polls, albeit showing higher than projected levels of support for Religious Zionism, and lower levels for the Joint List, likely reflecting the demographic makeup of the ballot boxes tallied so far.
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, perhaps the biggest surprise of the night, delivers a measured speech to supporters, saying that those who eulogized the party were premature.
“We chose to fight, and we will continue to struggle for our values and remain part of the national leadership,” he says.
Exit polls show the party getting as many as seven seats, after pre-election surveys had showed it not entering the Knesset.
Channel 12 has updated its exit poll for what pollster Mano Geva says is the last time, showing a few slight changes for some parties, but keeping the blocs the same, with Netanyahu backers at 52 seats, and everyone else except Yamina at 61 seats.
An update from Kan also eats into what had looked like a lead for Netanyahu, showing Netanyahu and Yamina with 60 seats, one shy of a majority.
Mansour Abbas of the conservative Islamic party Ra’am tells his supporters the party has won more than enough votes to make it into the Knesset. “The exit polls said we didn’t make it, but we did ultimately cross the threshold,” he says.
Sources in his party tell Haaretz it has won at least 142,000 votes. Other sources put the number at 160,000, Channel 12 says.
Should the party indeed cross the 3.25% support threshold, its four resultant seats would significantly shake up the political map. The party has expressed a willingness to work with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, though Netanyahu has said he will not include it in his coalition or even rely on its outside support for a majority.
It is impossible to know how many votes will be needed to enter the Knesset as it depends on turnout, but with fewer people voting in this election than the last few, 142,000 votes may be enough to reach 3.25%.
All three major exit polls show the party falling short of the Knesset. Kan reports that its exit poll shows the party at around 2.4%.
Official results published on the Central Elections Committee’s website show close to 415,000 ballots have so far been counted.
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is currently leading with nearly 26 percent of the counted ballots, followed by Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid with over 11% of votes.
In Jerusalem, the parties currently with the most votes are Shas, Likud and United Torah Judaism, while in Tel Aviv, Yesh Atid, Likud and Labor are leading based on the initial count.
Prime Minister Netanyahu arrives at the Likud election party in Jerusalem, where the mood appears largely subdued after updated exit polls indicated the premier’s right-wing religious bloc fell short of a majority.
Netanyahu and his wife Sara take the stage as the Likud jingle plays, waiving to cheering lawmakers and supporters. Chants of “Bibi, king of Israel” are heard.
He says “this evening we achieved a great accomplishment,” noting Likud finished well ahead of other parties. Exit polls said the party would get 30-31 seats, down from 36 in the outgoing Knesset.
Netanyahu touts the success of Israel’s vaccination drive and says Israel is now exiting the pandemic, which he calls “the third world war.”
He calls for the formation of a “stable government” and says he won’t rule out anyone.
Netanyahu claims any government that is formed without him as prime minister will quickly collapse, resulting in yet another round of elections.
“We can’t go to fifth elections,” he says.
Netanyahu hints he may try to pick off candidates from other parties to reach a majority, after speaking with the heads of right-wing and religious factions.
“I will speak will all MKs who espouse the principles I spoke about,” he says.
Those principles include support for free-market economic policies, “safeguarding the Land of Israel,” countering Iran and opposing the ICC war crimes probe of Israel and Palestinian terror groups.
The Israeli military strikes the Gaza Strip after Palestinian terrorists in the coastal enclave fired a rocket into Israel yesterday during the general elections.
The Israel Defense Forces says combat planes and helicopters attacked a rocket production facility and military post belonging to Hamas, the terror organization that rules Gaza.
The rocket landed in a field near Beersheba, shortly after Prime Minister Netanyahu made a campaign stop in the southern city.
The four members of the so-called Middle East Quartet discuss the resumption of “meaningful negotiations” to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in their first meeting since US President Joe Biden took office.
The body, which comprises the United States, Russia, the European Union and the United Nations, met virtually yesterday, a UN statement says.
“The Envoys… met virtually to discuss returning to meaningful negotiations that will lead to a two-state solution, including tangible steps to advance freedom, security and prosperity for Palestinians and Israelis, which is important in its own right,” it says.
They discussed “the need for the parties to refrain from unilateral actions that make a two-state solution more difficult to achieve,” in an apparent reference to Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank.
The meeting came as Israel was holding its fourth election in less than two years, with right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeking to extend his record 12 consecutive years in power.
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