To wild cheers and chants, Netanyahu lauds his ‘incredible victory’
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ELECTION DAY AS IT HAPPENED: From start of voting to Netanyahu’s victory speech

Over 4 million Israelis voted, with final results showing Blue and White neck and neck with Likud, but PM with clear path to coalition. Here’s how ToI liveblogged it all

  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud Party candidates and MKs attend an event as the results of the Israeli general elections are announced, at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019. (Gili Yaari/FLASH90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Likud Party candidates and MKs attend an event as the results of the Israeli general elections are announced, at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019. (Gili Yaari/FLASH90)
  • Head of the Blue White political party Benny Gantz speaks to supporters as the results in the Israeli general elections are announced,  at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 09, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)
    Head of the Blue White political party Benny Gantz speaks to supporters as the results in the Israeli general elections are announced, at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 09, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/FLASH90)
  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019. (Thomas COEX / AFP)
    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud Party headquarters in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019. (Thomas COEX / AFP)
  • 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)
    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)
  • Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh (c) of the Hadash party flashes the victory gesture as he reacts at the party's headquarters in Nazareth in northern Israel on election tonight on April 9, 2019. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
    Israeli Arab politician Ayman Odeh (c) of the Hadash party flashes the victory gesture as he reacts at the party's headquarters in Nazareth in northern Israel on election tonight on April 9, 2019. (AFP/Ahmad Gharabli)
  • Head of the Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon speaks to party supporters at the party headquarters, on April 09, 2019. (Roy Alima/FLASH90)
    Head of the Kulanu party Moshe Kahlon speaks to party supporters at the party headquarters, on April 09, 2019. (Roy Alima/FLASH90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraces his wife Sara amid confetti during his victory speech before supporters at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv after April 9, 2019's elections. (Thomas Coex/AFP)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu embraces his wife Sara amid confetti during his victory speech before supporters at Likud party headquarters in Tel Aviv after April 9, 2019's elections. (Thomas Coex/AFP)

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

Israelis expected to head to the polls, the beach and the malls

Israelis are expected to take advantage of unseasonably warm temperatures and the national holiday.

Under a new initiative by the Central Elections Committee and the Transportation Ministry, interurban public transportation is free until the end of the day.

Election Day has become an opportunity for Israelis to spend time at the beach, hold family barbecues in national parks across the country, and hike trails from the north to the south as well as hitting malls and attractions.

Polls open across Israel as 2019 elections get underway

Ten thousand seven hundred and twenty polling stations across Israel open their doors for the country’s 6,339,279 eligible voters to cast votes for the 21st Knesset.

Voters will be able to choose between a record 39 parties competing in Israel’s first Knesset election since 2015. Up to 14 parties are expected to enter the Knesset.

Polling stations will be open from 7 a.m. until 10 p.m. when exit polls are released. Official results will trickle in overnight.

With candidates traversing the country in a final push for voters, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will vote in Jerusalem at 10:30 a.m. after his chief rival Benny Gantz votes in his home town of Rosh Hayin at 8 a.m.

— Raoul Wootliff

Rivlin calls on public to vote, says all citizens have equal rights

President Reuven Rivlin calls on the Israeli public to vote, declaring that “democracy is not self-evident” and should not be taken for granted.

“Elections are a celebration of democracy,” Rivlin says. “This is the day of exercising our right to govern our fate, as citizens with equal rights and as partners in the political enterprise of the State of Israel.

“Democracy is not self-evident, nor is a state’s ability to preserve its democratic character, the independence of its governing institutions, and its uncompromising commitment to civil equality and equality before the law,” the president adds.

“It is enough to look at our neighbors, as well as the situation of the citizens of many other countries around the world, in order to realize that the citizen’s right to shape his life, his fate and his future is obtained by hard work.”

‘If you’re going to be f***ed for 4 years, let it be someone you choose’

Condom company Durex Israel gets into the spirit of the day with an election-themed online commercial.

“If someone’s going to fuck you for four years, at least let it be someone you choose,” the advert reads.

Shas leader Aryeh Deri casts his ballot

Shas leader Aryeh Deri votes, posting a message on Twitter asking people to go out and vote.

“We must have a strong Shas to preserve the Jewish culture of the country, the Sabbath, tradition and the Jewish soul. We must have a strong Shas to continue to be here for the weak that only we care about,” Deri writes.

Blue and White activists await Gantz’s arrival at polling station

Blue and White activists in Benny Gantz’s home town of Rosh Ha’ayin prepare for his arrival at the polling station in the Nofim School in the center of the town.

Some 30 activists in party T-shirts wave Israeli flags and chant, “Today we are replacing the government” as voters enter the polling station.

Gantz is set to arrive to vote here sometime after 8 a.m.

Surveys have shown Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck and neck or slightly ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud, but with Netanyahu better placed to muster a majority coalition of right-wing parties and retain his office.

Blue and White activists in Benny Gantz’s home town of Rosh Ha’ayin prepare for his arrival at the polling station in the Nofim School in the center of the town, April 9 2019 (Raoul Wootliff)

— Raoul Wootliff

Blue and White activists believe party will take more votes than Likud

Blue and White activists in Benny Gantz’s home town of Rosh Ha’ayin say they are optimistic about the party’s chances and believe it will win more votes than Netanyahu’s Likud.

“We have the momentum, we have the people, we have the spirit. I’m very positive about our chances to really make a change today,” says Omer, a Rosh Ha’ayin resident who has joined the Blue and White local branch.

“Benny Gantz is the right person for the job. He is honest. He is professional. He cares about the country and he will do he job properly,” he says, railing against Netanyahu. “The situation here under Bibi has become unsustainable. He only cares about himself. The public discourse is so divided, so hateful, and he is to blame.”

Blue and White activists Omer (L) and Oren (R) awaiting the arrival of Benny Gantz at the Rosh Haayin polling station, April 9, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

— Raoul Wootliff

Melcer says has no authority to intervene in block on Ben Gvir’s Facebook page

Central Election Committee Chairman Justice Hanan Melcer rejects an election-day petition from Itamar Ben Gvir, a candidate from the extremist Otzma Yehudit party running on the Union of Right-Wing Parties slate, requesting he intervene in Facebook’s blocking of Ben Gvir’s page.

Melcer says he has no authority to intervene in the matter.

The post that led to Ben Gvir’s barring through today’s elections for “violating community standards” was an Otzma Yehudit ad featuring its top candidates with the slogan saying there can be “1,000 dead terrorists, [but] not a single hair will fall from an IDF soldier.”

Feiglin on those who won’t join coalition with him: ‘It’s them or us’

Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin responds to reports that Shas, United Torah Judaism and Kulanu have told Netanyahu that they will not agree to sit in a coalition with him.

“They say it’s them or us. They are right. They represent the old establishment that have controlled the budget and only cared for themselves. We represent change, the people, freedom,” Feiglin says in a video sent out to supporters.

— Raoul Wootliff

Elections committee chair says candidates cannot be interviewed today

Justice Hanan Melcer, head of the Central Elections Committee that administers the election, says political candidates are not allowed to be interviewed by media outlets today.

This is the first time such an order has been issued. Melcer based his order on election laws that forbid electioneering and campaign advertising from 7 p.m. the evening before election day.

The instruction is under discussion at a committee meeting after an appeal.

Gantz arrives to vote and tells supporters: ‘Let’s make it happen’

Benny Gantz arrives at the Nofim School in Rosh Hayin to vote.

“We are so proud of you all. Let’s make it happen,” he tells activists outside the polling station.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz arrives at a polling station in the town of Rosh Ha’ayin on April 9, 2019 (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

— Raoul Wootliff

Meretz, Yisrael Beytenu complain of missing, vandalized ballots

Two parties say voters have reported that their ballots were missing at the polling station.

Yisrael Beytenu says party activists at polling stations in Ashdod — a city with large numbers of Russian speakers — and Safed discovered that the ballot papers for the party had gone missing. After party officials complained, the ballots were located, the party said.

Meretz also complains of “many reports of vandalism of Meretz ballots,” and asks local elections committees to instruct polling station managers to inspect the ballots occasionally to ensure they are not being destroyed by voters.

Ballots that are damaged or otherwise written on are liable to be invalidated during the count.

Politicians flock to the polls Tuesday morning to cast their vote

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, right, votes in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy)
United Torah Judaism lawmaker Moshe Gafni votes on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy UTJ)
Education Minister Naftali Bennett votes in Ra’anana on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Education Ministry)
Immigrant Absorption Minister Yoav Gallant votes on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy)
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan votes on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy)
Shas party chairman and Interior Affairs Minister Aryeh Deri casts his ballot at a voting station in Jerusalem, April 9, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz votes at a polling station in his hometown of Rosh Ha’ayin on April 9, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Rivlin tears up at voting station: ‘For 50 years I’ve voted here with my wife’

President Reuven Rivlin, voting in his hometown of Jerusalem, tells the television cameras he hopes in the next election he’ll be able to vote alongside his wife, who lies in hospital amid complications from a lung transplant last month.

“For 50 years I’ve voted here with my wife. I’m optimistic and full of hope that next time we’ll vote here in our regular place,” Rivlin says, visibly tearing up.

Rivlin’s wife Nechama underwent a lung transplant last month which was initially successful, but she was hospitalized suddenly last week with breathing problems, forcing Rivlin to return early from a state visit to Canada.

Rivlin adds a call for Israelis to go out and vote. “Not the president and not the heads of the parties will decide who is the next prime minister. The only ones who will decide who the prime minister will be, and what the government will look like, is you. And to have that influence, you have to vote,” he says.

Labor’s Gabbay: ‘Vote your conscience’

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay accompanies his mother to a polling station on Shaul Avigur Street in Jerusalem to vote on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy/Ra’anan Cohen)

Accompanying his mother to vote in Jerusalem, Labor party chairman Avi Gabbay urges voters to ignore the coalition calculations and machinations and “go with your own conscience.”

“Today is a festival of Israeli democracy. Election day. A day that we hope will end with the replacement of the government. I call on all the people of Israel: Go with your conscience. If your conscience says the Labor Party, if you believe in our team, if you believe in our way, then vote for Labor,” he says.

— Raoul Wootliff

Bennett urges right-wing voters to ignore Netanyahu’s ‘gevalt’ campaign

Voting in Raanana, Education Minister and New Right co-chair Naftali Bennett urges voters not to believe Benjamin Netanyahu’s “gevalt” campaign to draw right-wing voters from smaller parties to the Likud.

“Do not believe the gevalts. Today the elections are about only one thing – will we support IDF soldiers and will Israel return to winning?” Bennett says.

“I want to ask everyone to vote for the New Right. We are good people who do good for the people of Israel.”

Education Minister Naftali Bennett votes in Ra’anana on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Education Ministry)

— Raoul Wootliff

Arab-majority parties worried about turnout in Arab towns

Voters in Umm al-Fahm and Iksal, Arab towns in the north, start to arrive at voting booths.

Ahmad Darawshe, assistant to Hadash-Ta’al candidate and veteran lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, expresses concern about voter apathy in Arab communities.

“Today, we are confronting indifference to voting in the Arab community,” he tells The Times of Israel outside of the Razi School in Iksal. “The situation is worrying, but party activists are doing extra work to encourage people to vote.”

Ahmad Darawshe, assistant to Hadash-Ta’al candidate Ahmad Tibi, in the northern Arab town of Iksal. (Adam Rasgon/Times of Israel)

— Adam Rasgon

Photos: Knesset speaker Edelstein, FM Katz, Feiglin cast their votes

Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz votes on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Katz)
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein votes on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Edelstein)
Union of Right-Wing Parties leader Rafi Peretz votes on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy)
Itamar Ben Gvir of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties slate, votes near his home in Hebron, April 9, 2019. (Courtesy)
Zehut party chairman Moshe Feiglin votes on April 9, 2019. (Courtesy Zehut)

A few dozen polling stations opened late — out of over 10,000 nationwide

The Central Elections Committee says just a handful of polling stations failed to open on time on Tuesday.

According to committee director-general Orly Adas, a few dozen stations opened late — out of more than 10,000 nationwide — because of ballot officials who arrived late.

Likud said to deploy 1,300 hidden cameras in poll stations in Arab towns

The Ynet news site carries a startling report, unconfirmed as yet by official sources.

It says the Likud party has deployed no fewer than 1,300 hidden cameras in the shirts of elections observers in polling stations in Arab towns where the party’s campaign staffers suspect there was “problematic” levels of election fraud.

The effort cost Likud “a not insubstantial sum,” Ynet says.

Likud already has a long history of campaigning against the Arab community in ways many critics, including some in Likud itself, have deemed racist. In the 2015 election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu drew widespread criticism for claiming on election day — incorrectly, as it turned out — that Arab voters were “coming in droves” to the polls. The 2019 Likud campaign has warned voters that the election was “either Bibi or Tibi,” a reference to Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi.

Voter turnout as of 10 a.m.: 12.9%, slightly lower than in 2015

Voter turnout as of 10 a.m. is at 12.9%, Central Elections Committee director Orly Adas tells reporters at 11 a.m.

That’s 0.8 percentage points lower than at the same hour in the 2015 election, which came to 13.7%.

The turnout is among all eligible voters, Adas notes, and an estimated 11.9% of eligible voters live permanently overseas – in a country that has no absentee ballot.

Actual turnout is thus closer to 14.6% of eligible voters currently living in Israel.

The figure is from reports submitted by 7,031 out of over 10,000 polling stations nationwide, Adas says.

Police waiting for judge’s instructions to intervene over Likud cameras

A senior police official says Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, chair of the Central Elections Committee, is examining the legality of Likud’s apparent planting of hundreds of hidden cameras among its polling station observers in Arab towns.

The police official says if it turns out the cameras constitute an illegal disruption of the election process, police are ready to step in and act according to Melcer’s instructions.

The Likud camera effort includes an estimated 1,300 devices in Arab towns throughout the Galilee and Negev, according to reports, including in Arab-majority areas in Haifa, Nazareth, Tamra and elsewhere.

Man arrested for attempting to install hidden camera in Rahat polling station

A young man in the southern Bedouin town of Rahat is caught attempting to install a hidden camera in a polling station, in an apparent attempt at forcing the disqualification of the entire ballot. The man is arrested by police.

Lapid: ‘We’re now a centimeter from victory’

Voting at a polling station in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Ramat Aviv, Blue and White number two Yair Lapid says that the party needs just “a tiny push” to win.

“We are nearly there. We need two more seats and we have won and it will be a historic day for Israel. Just a tiny push and we are there,” Lapid tells supporters. “Benny Gantz said this week that we are a meter from victory, well we are now a centimeter from victory.”

In a message to voters considering other left-wing parties, Lapid says, “A vote for others is a vote to give Netanyahu another four years.”

Blue and White party no. 2 Yair Lapid arrives to vote at a polling station in the Ramat Gan neighborhood of Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

— Raoul Wootliff

Police confiscate hundreds of hidden cameras at polling stations

Channel 13 reveals that it was police officers deployed to polling stations who discovered the hidden cameras being used by election observers from Likud in Arab towns.

Police found such cameras in towns across the country, including Sakhnin, Majd al-Krum, Nazareth, Tamra and Jisr a-Zarka.

Police removed the cameras, but allowed the observers to continue working at the stations.

Police commanders are now awaiting orders from Central Elections Committee head Justice Hanan Melcer as to the legality of the hidden camera campaign before acting on the issue.

Over a thousands cameras were reportedly found in Arab polling areas, but a handful were also discovered in Haredi ballot stations.

Before voting, Netanyahu warns supporters, ‘don’t be complacent’

Before heading to his polling station in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu takes to Facebook to once more urge right-wing voters to cast their ballots for his Likud party, telling viewers to convince their friends and family to go to the voting stations as well.

“I ask of you to go out and vote. Don’t be complacent. It’s not in our pocket. It will only be in our pocket if you come out and vote Likud,” he says.

Sitting down in the patio of his residence, he then takes questions from Facebook users, most of whom compliment him and declare their support for his party.

“Well done,” Netanyahu replies to one woman who says she’d already voted Likud on Tuesday morning. “Wait a second, that’s not enough,” he quickly adds. “Did you check with the neighbors? Did you send messages to family, to friends and acquaintances? Vote Likud. Only a large Likud will prevent a left-wing government.”

— Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu casts ballot in Jerusalem, calls voting ‘a holy act’

Voting “is a holy act, it’s the essence of democracy,” Netanyahu tells supporters as he votes in Jerusalem. “You must choose well, I can’t say [more],” he says, smiling, a reference to restrictions on political interviews on election day.

“We have so much more to do, continuing to strengthen our economy and development,” he then says, warning Israelis that “if you don’t go out to vote, you’ll get [Yair] Lapid as your next prime minister.”

Zehut claims its ballots are being hidden at Givatayim polling station

Zehut party activists release a video from a polling station in the central Israeli town of Givatayim showing what they say are attempts to hide their party’s ballot slip behind other slips with similar letters.

Facebook screen capture from Zehut activists in the central Israeli town of Givatayim that appears to show Zehut’s ballots hidden under other parties’ ballots. (Facebook screen capture)

— Melanie Lidman

Elections Committee: It is forbidden to film voters

The Central Elections Committee says, “It is forbidden for polling station committee members and other staff to film voters or the voting process. It is permitted to film only in extraordinary circumstances for the purposes of reporting” incidents of alleged fraud.

“Police should be notified in the case of illegal filming,” the committee says.

The statement comes after police and ballot officials catch hundreds of Likud staffers and observers carrying hidden cameras into polling stations in Arab towns nationwide.

Hadash-Ta’al says hidden cameras meant to ‘prevent Arab citizens from voting’

The Arab-majority party Hadash-Ta’al slams the “illegal” action by the “extremist right” to place hundreds of hidden cameras in Arab polling stations.

“The extreme right understands our strength and ability to topple the government, and is crossing all red lines, using illegal means, to interfere and prevent Arab citizens from voting,” the party says in a statement.

“But we know our strength. We’re going to vote today despite them.”

Bibi vs. Tibi, in pictures

In the first month or so of the campaign, Likud claimed the election was between Bibi — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — and Tibi — Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmad Tibi. (That is, the party claimed, a vote for Blue and White leader Benny Gantz was tantamount to a vote for Hadash-Ta’al’s Tibi.)

Here it is in election day pictures: Bibi vs. Tibi.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes in Israel’s parliamentary elections in Jerusalem, on April 9, 2019. (Ariel Schalit/Pool/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes in Jerusalem on April 9, 2019. (Haim Zach/GPO/Flash90)
Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi, center, stands alongside his daughter, left, and wife, right, as he casts his vote during Israel’s parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019 in the northern Israeli town of Taibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)
Arab Israeli lawmaker Ahmed Tibi, center, stands alongside his daughter, left, and wife, right, as he casts his vote during Israel’s parliamentary elections on April 9, 2019 in the northern Israeli town of Taibe. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP)

Over 80,000 take advantage of election-day vacation, flock to national parks

More than 80,000 people are taking advantage of the day off of work and school on Election Day to visit Israel’s national parks, the Nature and Parks Authority announces.

The most popular parks are Caesaria, Masada, Beit Guvrin, Banias, Ein Gedi, and Tel Dan.

The Authority is running election-related activities for children, such as a vote for a favorite migrating bird in many of the national parks, including at Zippori National Park and at Einot Tzukim near the Dead Sea.

— Melanie Lidman

Skirting electioneering restrictions, Netanyahu turns to voters via Facebook

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday works around existing electioneering laws that forbid campaigning on Election Day by taking to Facebook constantly and repeatedly throughout the day.

Israel’s electioneering laws, most of them written in the 1950s, are specific about restrictions on radio and television advertising, as well as media interviews and public signs and posters — but are famously silent on more modern avenues of communications like social media. An attempt to update the laws in the outgoing Knesset was stymied — by Likud.

With Facebook an open and permitted platform, some parties are taking advantage, especially Likud, while rival Blue and White appears to be relying more on its activists on the ground and photo ops of its leaders to mobilize support.

Netanyahu started election day with a live question-and-answer session on Facebook.

After voting, he posted a video imploring voters to head to the polls and vote for Likud. Striking a personal note, the prime minister and his wife next released a video from outside the polling station after voting at the school their sons attended.

After voting, Netanyahu and his wife Sara headed to the party’s get-out-the-vote phone banks where he called potential voters to encourage them to vote for Likud, although the one call he made on camera was less than successful due to the combination of a bad phone connection and disbelief from “Dalia” on the other end of the line.

“I encourage you to go out and vote, and to vote for Likud, so that we can continue our work,” the prime minister said.

He told the woman on the other end of the line to check Facebook so that she can see that it really was Netanyahu. When it appeared the woman was unable to check the social network, Netanyahu asked his wife to speak to the woman in a further attempt to prove that it was really them.

“We are happy to hear you will be voting Likud,” Sara said.

Gantz in Ashdod: ‘We’re going to win’

Speaking to voters in the southern city of Ashdod, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says he’s “going to win.”

“The Likud has realized that we are going to be the biggest party and in order to ensure this we must continue all the time and in every place, to join, to go to vote, to influence, to exercise your voting privilege,” he says.

“We are going to win. We’re half a meter away. One final push and we’re going to get it done. Good luck to us all.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Labor’s Gabbay votes in Tel Aviv, urges ‘Jews, Arabs, Druze’ to go vote

Avi Gabbay votes in Tel Aviv with his wife and son.

“Go vote, Jews, Arabs, Druze,” Gabbay says.

“I lead the most serious party in Israel, that’s our greatest achievement,” he adds.

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay, accompanied by his wife and son, casts his ballot at a voting station in Tel Aviv on April 9, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Gantz comes across traffic accident, helps motorcyclist

As he drives north from Ashdod to Rishon Lezion, going from one get-out-the-vote event to another, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz comes across an accident on Route 4.

Gantz is first on the scene, finding a motorcyclist strewn on the road. He calls an ambulance and waits for it to arrive, before continuing to his event in Rishon.

Voter turnout at 24.8% at noon, 2 points below 2015 figure

Central Elections Committee figures say the voter turnout as of noon is 24.8 percent, 2 points below the figure of 26.8% at the same hour on election day in 2015.

Netanyahu defends hidden cameras in Arab towns, to ‘ensure fair vote’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is challenged by reporters over news that Likud had deployed hundreds of hidden cameras to polling stations in Arab towns.

He appears to defend the action, which the Central Elections Committee earlier today said was “forbidden.”

“There should be cameras everywhere, not hidden ones,” he says.

Asked by a reporter why the cameras are necessary, he says it’s to “ensure a fair vote.”

Holon polling station security guard accidentally fires gun; no one hurt

Central Elections Committee director general Orly Ades gives an update on election-day problems.

She tells reporters at the committee’s headquarters in Jerusalem that a security guard at a polling station in the central Israeli city of Holon accidentally discharged his gun, but that nobody was hurt and police are investigating.

Committee chairman and Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer instructed police to probe suspicions raised over the past two hours that the voting slips of a particular party have been marked up, disqualifying the ballot slips, and that slips for a number of parties have disappeared. The parties are not identified in the statement. Depending on the extent of the marking of the slips, the committee will consider whether to regard the slips as acceptable despite the markings.

Elections chief issues directive: No filming inside polling stations

Central Elections Committee chairman Justice Hanan Melcer issues a directive prohibiting filming voters inside polling stations, “except in the case of a special incident” in which audio recording is also allowed.

The directive comes after police and ballot officials catch hundreds of Likud staffers and observers earlier in the day carrying hidden cameras into polling stations in Arab towns nationwide.

During the vote count at the end of the day, cameras will be permitted, so long as all those present at the station are informed and a note is made in the polling station’s minutes of the decision. Only the police or a representative of the Central Elections Committee chairman will be allowed to view materials caught on camera. It is prohibited to photograph voter lists or minutes that include voter information, Melcer says.

— Sue Surkes

Likud video warns of Blue and White ‘secret deal’ with Arab parties

Likud publishes a video of a secretly recorded conversation between Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah and Labor MK Amir Peretz discussing a purported “secret deal” — i.e., talks — with Arab parties over who they will recommend for prime minister.

The slick video follows a months-long campaign by Likud warning that a vote for Blue and White was tantamount to a vote for anti-Zionist Arab parties.

Likud confirms hiring 1,200 election observers with hidden cameras

Likud confirms it hired 1,200 election-day polling station observers, and equipped them with hidden cameras, saying it did so to catch voter fraud.

Secretly filming voters on Election Day is illegal, Justice Hanan Melcer, chair of the Central Elections Committee, noted earlier today.

Voter turnout among prisoners passes 50%

Voter turnout in prisons passes 50 percent, the Israel Prisons Service says.

Fifty-eight polling stations in the country’s 28 prisons opened at 8:30 this morning, serving the country’s 8,000 prisoners.

The 50% turnout figure was passed at 12:15 p.m.

Polls close in the prisons at 8:30 p.m.

Early indications suggest Arab turnout could be relatively low

There are early indications voter turnout may be down in Israel’s Arab communities.

The Abraham Fund Initiatives, a non-governmental organization that follows political and social issues in Arab communities, said a recent poll it conducted indicated just 51.2 percent of the Arab public was expected to cast ballots on Tuesday. In 2015, 63.7% of Arabs voted in the elections.

Many voters in Arab towns are telling reporters today they don’t think voting will improve their lives.

— Adam Rasgon

Union of Right-Wing Parties ordered to stop suggesting Bennett supports them

Following a petition from the New Right party, the Central Election Committee orders the Union of Right-Wing Parties to stop sending out an old video message by former Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett — now the head of New right — calling on Israelis to vote for his old party.

Jewish Home is now part of URWP, and URWP officials are saying the video is meant to highlight Bennett’s abandonment of Jewish Home to voters who may be uncertain which of the two right-wing parties to vote for.

The Central Elections Committee says using an old video in which the leader of one party is seen urging votes for another could amount to voter fraud.

— Jacob Magid

Likud defends its cameras: ‘The problem is in the Arab community’

A Likud campaign officials defends the party’s deployment of hidden cameras at polling stations in Arab towns, saying the “problem is in the behavior of those people in the Arab community,” not in Likud’s measures “to ensure a fair vote.”

After police and ballot officials discovered hidden cameras at hundreds of polling stations, the Central Elections Committee on Tuesday said it was illegal to film voters and the voter lists at the ballot stations, and that only police and committee officials were allowed to examine footage obtained from the stations.

Attorney Koby Matza, who represents the Likud party, insists the cameras deployed to polling stations in Arab towns “weren’t hidden, but were visible, and were placed in the community where there is a significant concern about fraud.”

The comment contradicts police officials who said the cameras were small and hidden in the shirts of some 1,200 observers deployed by Likud to Arab-majority areas.

“The cameras were intended to ensure a fair vote,” Matza says. “The problem is in the behavior of those people in the Arab community. I’m getting reports from polling stations all over the country where our representatives, of Likud especially, are kicked out of the polling stations in the Arab sector.”

Blue and White lawmaker slams Likud’s conspiracy claims as ‘desperate lies’

After the Likud campaign issued two videos today claiming it had recordings showing a conspiracy between the Blue and White party and Arab factions — reminding many of Netanyahu’s warnings in 2015 that Arabs were voting “in droves” — one Blue and White lawmaker heard in the recordings called the claims “lies.”

“The desperate Netanyahu is spreading lies, cooked up from bits and pieces of secret recordings, including of conversations of mine,” MK Ofer Shelah says. “There are no secret deals, there’s no conspiracy. There’s only Bibi, who knows that only through cheating will he be able to hold on to power. Today we will toss out the liar.”

Blue and White cries foul over alleged ‘systematic’ ballot vandalism

Police are investigating what some Blue and White officials are claiming amounts to a systematic campaign to vandalize — and thus disqualify — Blue and White ballots around the country.

Multiple parties, from far-left to far-right, have claimed ballots were damaged, hidden or missing at a few of the 10,000 polling stations around the country. But according to Blue and White activists in a complaint filed with the Central Elections Committee, its ballot slips were being “systematically” damaged.

Elections Committee chair Justice Hanan Melcer says that if police find evidence of widespread vandalism meant to disqualify Blue and White votes, he would instruct polling stations to count damaged or marked ballots for the party as valid.

In a video, party no. 2 Yair Lapid responds to the report, urging voters to carefully check their ballot slip to ensure it isn’t marked in any way, in order to ensure it won’t be disqualified during the vote count tonight.

“I’m here at Blue and White headquarters,” Lapid says in the video. “We’re getting reports from all over the country about attempts to vandalize pey-hey slips,” he adds, using the two Hebrew letters that identify the party on the slips.

“They’re writing ‘x’ on the back, or some other small mark. That’s enough to disqualify the ballot. This is an organized effort to undermine the democratic process, and we must stop it. Anyone who goes to vote, make sure your slip is clean. If you see something like this, report it to the police or the ballot station committee. This is an attempt to undermine the democratic process on the part of parties that are afraid we’re going to win the election.”

Voter turnout hits 35.8% as of 2 p.m.

Voter turnout reaches 35.8 percent as of 2 p.m., according to the Central Elections Committee.

That’s close to the 36.6% figure seen at that hour in the 2015 election.

Arab party says turnout in community at just 15% as of 2:30 p.m.

Fifteen percent of Arab Israeli eligible voters have voted as of 2:30 p.m., Hadash-Ta’al’s election headquarters says.

The figure is based on data collected by the party’s headquarters, says Kamila Tayoon, a Hadash spokeswoman.

Hadash-Ta’al is an alliance between a socialist Hadash, which emphasizes Arab-Jewish cooperation, and exclusively Arab faction Ta’al.

Tayoon adds: “This number is slightly lower than past years, but we believe a large number of people will vote in the late afternoon.”

Police step up security around MK Smotrich after Knesset receives threat

Police place extra security around MK Bezalel Smotrich of the Union of Right-Wing Parties today after a man arrived at the Knesset the previous evening with a letter threatening to hurt him.

Smotrich confirms that he had been contacted by the Knesset Guard and informed of the decision to increase security around him and his family.

A police cruiser was assigned to patrol around his home on Tuesday morning, and officers accompanied him to his ballot station to vote earlier today.

Arab journalist draws online ire over ‘flocking to the poll’ post

Arab Israeli journalist Lucy Aharish posts an Instagram photo of herself “flocking to the polls,” and draws the ire of right-wing pro-Likud trolls.

Her comment is a reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s warning to his supporters in the 2015 election that Arab voters were “flocking to the polls in droves.”

The morning post drew some 4,000 likes by the afternoon, and nearly 400 comments, many of them angry attacks.

View this post on Instagram

נהרתי לקלפי… צאו להצביע!!!!

A post shared by Lucy Aharish (@lucyaharish) on

Netanyahu urges beachgoers in Netanya to ‘leave the water and go vote Likud’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is walking on Poleg Beach in Netanya, calling on bathers to “leave the water and go vote [for Likud] so we close the gap with Lapid and Gantz,” the Likud party says.

“You’ll wake up [tomorrow] with Yair Lapid as prime minister of a left-wing government,” Netanyahu is quoted as saying by a Likud statement. “Leave the beach, get out of your homes, come vote Likud.”

New Right takes cue from Likud, warns it’s losing because of low turnout

New Right party leader Naftali Bennett issues an emergency call for support, claiming his party is in “a bad situation,” in his own “gevalt” campaign some six hours before polls close at 10 p.m.

Saying the party has been hurt by claims by Likud and United Right-Wing Parties that they could, respectively, lose to Blue and White or fail to pass the electoral threshold, Bennett urges activists to spread similar claims about New Right.

“I ask you to say that those campaigns are incorrect, and that instead, it is we who are in real danger,” he implores his party’s activists.

“If we do not change the vote trend, we will wake up tomorrow with Ayelet Shaked no longer justice minister, and us having lost our ability to influence.”

— Raoul Wootliff

150,000 Israelis head to national parks on election day

Some 150,000 Israelis took advantage of Tuesday’s Election Day, which is a national holiday, to visit national parks. The most popular parks, according to the Nature and Parks Authority, are Caesaria, Yarkon-Tel Afek, Masada, Banias, Ein Gedi and Tel Dan.

Yisrael Beytenu complains of purported New Right campaign targeting its voters

Yisrael Beytenu files a complaint with the Central Elections Committee over what it says is an online campaign by the New Right party telling YB supporters that the party won’t pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.

Netanyahu accuses Blue and White of vandalizing Likud ballot slips

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses Blue and White activists of invalidating Likud voting slips, a short time after Blue and White files complaint over its own slips being vandalized.

“Go to the polling stations and vote Likud. And make sure there are Likud voting slips, because [Blue and White leaders Yair] Lapid and [Benny] Gantz, their people, are marking up the slips,” he says in a new campaign clip filmed at a Netanya beach.

— Raphael Ahren

Elections chief orders Shas to stop giving out candles to voters

Central Elections Committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer issues a temporary injunction forbidding the ultra-Orthodox Shas party from distributing boxes of candles. Giving gifts to voters is explicitly outlawed in Israeli election law. Melcer orders Shas to provide an explanation.

— Sue Surkes

Arab turnout estimated at 20%, but may rise significantly in evening

Voter turnout in Arab communities is estimated at some 20 percent, according to Hebrew media reports, far lower than the estimated 40% nationwide by around 4 p.m.

The gap might be partly closed in the evening hours, as Arab communities have higher percentages of the self-employed and small business owners than the rest of the country — people who would choose to work today despite the national holiday.

Likud convenes ’emergency meeting’ over purported low turnout

Likud continues its campaign of dire warnings of a looming election collapse, widely seen as a bid to increase turnout among its supporters rather than a reflection of actual poll data the party possesses.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, however, insists otherwise, saying repeatedly today that the party was headed for an election loss that would mean a “left-wing” government rising in its stead.

At 4:30 p.m., Netanyahu’s campaign releases a statement saying the prime minister is now convening an “emergency meeting” at his Jerusalem residence of campaign staffers to decide on next steps to increase turnout.

Pollsters: Arab turnout may be lowest in decades

Prominent pollsters are starting to tell media outlets that their exit polls — which by law can’t be released until after polls close at 10 p.m. — are showing dramatically reduced turnout in Arab towns.

Pollster Camil Fuchs is quoted by journalist Raviv Drucker as saying, “Voter turnout in the Arab community is something we’ve never seen before.”

Meno Geva, another well-known pollster, tells Channel 12 that polls in Nazareth, Umm al-Fahm and other Arab population centers show startlingly low numbers arriving at polling stations.

Two major Arab parties are running today. Hadash-Ta’al, a merger of two parties from the outgoing Knesset’s Joint (Arab) List, had six seats in the final election poll on Friday. The Ra’am-Balad alliance of Arab factions was heading for four seats, just above the 3.25% Knesset threshold.

Voter turnout in the army reaches 37.4% as of 3:30 p.m.

Voter turnout in IDF bases is at 37.4 percent as of 3:30 p.m., some 1.5 hours ago, according to reports.

That doesn’t include soldiers on leave who will vote in their local civilian polling stations.

A quick note on the claims of so many parties that they’re all losing

So what’s happening with the claims by so many parties, especially on the right, that they’re in “dire straits” and voters aren’t turning out?

If Arab turnout is at record lows and the last reported general turnout figure, as of a couple hours ago, shows that overall turnout isn’t much lower than in the recent past, then it follows that Jewish turnout must be up.

Is it mathematically possible Jewish turnout is up, but all Jewish-majority parties are somehow falling behind everyone else?

A quick recap: Blue and White is accusing the Labor party of cutting into its voting base and reducing its likelihood of being able to topple Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Labor, in turn, is accusing Blue and White of using it as a prop for its own “dire straits” — or “gevalt” in the Israeli slang — campaign.

The Union of Right-Wing Parties is accusing Zehut of pulling away its religious-right youth, and of New Right of drawing away its more liberal wing; New Right is warning it is dropping below the 3.25-percent electoral threshold because URWP is running fake videos pretending that its leaders are urging supporters to back URWP and Likud is warning that a vote for New Right will end up bringing Blue and White to power. Likud, indeed, is saying it is in an “emergency situation” and is about to lose the election to Blue and White; Yisrael Beytenu is complaining New Right’s campaign warning it could drop below the electoral threshold is “outright lies.” And so on and so forth.

Everyone seems to be trying to galvanize a soporific base by claiming it is about to lose the election. If early turnout figures are right, most if not all of them are lying.

— Haviv Rettig Gur

Blue and White’s Benny Gantz: ‘We have to work harder, Likud is lying’

In a video responding Likud’s claims of low turnout among right-wing voters, Blue and White party chief Benny Gantz says Likud is “lying.”

“Our numbers are good, but not good enough” to win the election, he warns. “We have to work harder. Likud is lying. We can’t get distracted, we have to make the effort, make sure our ballot slip is valid” — a reference to claims of “systematic” vandalizing of Blue and White ballots at polling stations — “and help us carry the day.”

Voter turnout hits 42.8% at 4 p.m., nearly 3 points behind 2015

Voter turnout as of 4 p.m. is 42.8 percent, the Central Elections Committee says.

That’s nearly 3 points behind 2015’s 45.4% at that hour.

UTJ chief Litzman says his party, too, is losing badly at the polls

United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman joins the chorus of party leaders warning they’re losing badly at the polls, telling supporters on a visit to polling stations in Tiberias, “We’re following the numbers, and we must close the gap soon.”

He adds: “That’s especially true in Tiberias, which is dealing with Sabbath problems…. If we’re strong enough, we’ll deal with that.”

Melcer: We’ve been replacing missing ballot slips, police are investigating

Central Elections Committee chief Justice Hanan Melcer sounds a calming tone amid accusations by multiple parties that their ballots were being stolen or vandalized at polling stations.

He tells the Walla news site that election officials had anticipated attempts to remove ballot slips from polling stations, and were replacing any missing ballots with others held in reserve for the purpose.

“The problem of the removal of ballot slips happened in the last election, too,” Melcer says. “We kept enough in reserve, and as soon as it happens, we have been providing replacements.

“As for vandalized slips, this happened at a relatively large number of places, and I have instructed that an investigation be opened, and have filed a complaint with police.”

He says “initial steps” are already being taken in that regard.

Gantz to issue ’emergency’ statement over purportedly ‘close’ exit poll figures

Blue and White’s Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are holding an “emergency meeting” at 6 p.m. because of purportedly “neck and neck” polling numbers.

It is illegal to publicize polling figures until the end of election day, so their claims of being on the verge of losing should be taken with a grain of salt. Likud is claiming the very same thing, and probably for the very same reason — to galvanize supporters who may be too distracted or otherwise uninterested in actually heading to the polling station.

“According to the exit poll, the battle between [Likud and Blue and White] is close,” Blue and White claims.

Tibi warns both Arab parties could be kicked out of Knesset

Hadash-Ta’al lawmaker Ahmad Tibi takes to Twitter to warn that the low turnout being reported by pollsters in Arab towns — the only electoral turnout warning that has so far been confirmed by pollsters — is threatening to kick the Arab parties out of the Knesset altogether.

“The low turnout in Arab towns is a real threat to both [Arab-majority] lists,” Tibi says in a Twitter post, calling the development “a serious blow to Arab representation in the Knesset.”

17,000 officers keeping order in polling stations, police officer says

Police Deputy Commissioner Alon Levavi says 17,000 officers are deployed nationwide to secure some 10,000 polling stations and ensure election day goes off without a hitch.

Turnout slightly up among soldiers: 59% as of 6 p.m.

Some 59 percent of soldiers have voted in Israel’s national elections as of 6 p.m., according to the military.

This is slightly higher than in the last elections, when some 57% of troops had voted by this time, the army says.

Polls officially opened for soldiers earlier this week, instead of this morning, in order to accommodate troops who would otherwise be unable to vote due to their deployment.

— Judah Ari Gross

Labor, Haredi parties and far-right all declare they’re ‘collapsing’

It seems everyone has caught the same bug. In the past hour, the left-wing Labor party, the Haredi United Torah Judaism party and the far-right Union of Right-Wing Party have all repeated their claims that they’re headed for “collapse” at the polls.

“It’s clear that voter turnout among the Haredi community is low,” says UTJ lawmaker Moshe Gafni. “That’s disastrous when it comes to elections. Half the public hasn’t gone to vote, and it’s already getting late. That’s a terrible situation for us.”

Labor leader Avi Gabbay, meanwhile, attacks Blue and White, saying, “Don’t let them decimate the Labor party” by pulling votes away, “because then we’ll be left with right-wing parties and no Labor.”

And Rafi Peretz, head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, says “internal polls we have show we’re in a bad situation. Religious Zionist could be erased from the political map.”

Lapid: Don’t believe Netanyahu, the battle is close

After Blue and White leader Benny Gantz warns of a tight race so far between his Blue and White party and Likud, Blue and White no. 2 Yair Lapid calls on supporters to make sure they vote.

“These are the last hours of the campaign. Do not believe any word that Netanyahu is now saying. The battle is close. If you do not get everyone out of the house now and send them to the ballot box, we will not win the elections.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Abbas on Israeli election day: ‘Our hands remain extended in peace’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says “our hands remain extended in peace” in a statement for Israel’s election day.

Speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah on Tuesday, Abbas says the Palestinian leadership hopes the outcome would help Israel “come to the negotiating table” and embark “on the right track to reach peace.”

But Abbas stresses that Palestinians would reject peace brokered by US President Donald Trump’s administration.

— AP

Likud prepares end-of-election event site for victory party

Tel Aviv’s Kvuzat Shlomo hall, where Likud plans to hold its end-of-election-day event Tuesday at 11 p.m., is buzzing with activity. At the home of the Hapoel Tel Aviv basketball team, dozens of reporters have either started broadcasting from the bleachers in the back or are getting ready to file news stories after what is shaping up to be a long night of counting amid reports of a close race.

“Our response at the ballot box: Only Netanyahu,” three large monitors declare in a dramatic backdrop to the main stage.

So far, no Likud politicians are present, as the event, which was initially scheduled to start at 8 p.m., was postponed to 11 p.m. due to what the Likud party says is the low voter turnout in areas usually supportive of the ruling party.

The prime minister himself is expected to show up only after it becomes clear who won the election.

Stage fireworks at Likud’s post-election event site, Tel Aviv’s Kvuzat Shlomo hall, some five hours before the party’s planned victory celebration. (Raphael Ahren/Times of Israel)

— Raphael Ahren

Mosques in Arab towns urging voters to go to the polls amid low turnout

Mosques throughout the Arab towns are urging Arab Israelis to go vote amid expectations of historically low turnout in the community, Channel 12 reports.

Arab party leader warns of ‘Knesset without Arabs’

Hadash-Ta’al party leader Ayman Odeh says the historically low turnout among Arab voters being reported by pollsters could mean a “Knesset without Arab representation,” in the latest warning by Arab leaders urging voters to go to the polls.

“We’re moving forward with all our strength, going home to home and calling on people to go out and vote. Our nightmare, which is Prime Minister [Netanyahu’s] fantasy — a Knesset without Arab representation — suddenly looks like a realistic possibility,” Odeh says in a statement.

“I know ‘gevalt’ is Yiddish,” he quips — such warnings to voters on election day are termed “gevalt campaigns” in the Hebrew press — “but our fears for our children’s future are universal.”

Turnout at 52% at 6 p.m., 2.6 points lower than 2015

The Central Elections Committee says voter turnout hits 52 percent at 6 p.m.

That’s 2.6 points lower than at the same hour on election day 2015.

Blue and White’s Benny Gantz heads home to watch exit polls

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz is heading to his home in Rosh Ha’ayin to watch the exit polls at 10 p.m. on Israel’s three major television channels.

He will later head to the Blue and White election-watching event in Tel Aviv.

With a long night ahead, footage aired by Channel 12 shows a tired Gantz in his car, rubbing his eyes.

URWP says New Right wants to ‘destroy religious Zionism’

Rafi Peretz, the head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties, lashes out at his rivals in the New Right.

“We woke up this morning with a good feeling in the field, a lot of excitement. Since then the New Right has been releasing ‘spin’ about us and is fighting us and wants to destroy religious Zionism,” says Peretz.

He urges voters to support his party, rather than Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right.

Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis may skip viewing party

Gesher leader Orly Levy-Abekasis will decide whether to attend her party’s post-election viewing party after seeing the 10 p.m. exit polls, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The centrist party has been polling under the 3.25% threshold, and barring a surprise outcome, is not expected to enter the Knesset.

Gesher party chairwoman Orly Levy-Abekasis casts her ballot at a polling station, in Kibbutz Reshafim, on April 9, 2019. (Basel Awidat/Flash90)

Elections near end; parties frantically stump for last-minute votes

The 2019 elections are heading into their final 75 minutes and party leaders, from Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu to Hadash-Ta’al’s Ayman Odeh, are frantically stumping for last-minute votes amid fears of low turnout.

At 10 p.m., the polls will close and Israel’s main television channels will release exit polls.

Central Elections Committee lays out rules for irregular ballots

The Central Elections Committee reports that it has received numerous complaints about ballot slips that have been vandalized or whose format differs from the committee-approved version.

In order to preserve the integrity of the elections, committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer instructs polling station committees as follows: Any ballot slip that has a small hole in it or that has been scribbled on with the clear intent to render it invalid, or whose format is different from the official one, should be retained by the polling station secretary.

If by the end of the vote count, the polling station finds just one of either kind of irregular ballot slip, it will be regarded as invalid. But if there are two or more examples, they should be regarded as valid. In all events, all irregularities are to be noted in the protocols.

—  Sue Surkes

Ahead of exit polls, a reminder to be wary

At 10 p.m., Israel’s main television channels will release exit polls, likely setting off a wave of frenzied analyses and speculation.

But if the off-mark 2015 surveys are anything to go by, it is best to wait patiently for the official results.

In 2015, the three exit polls put Zionist Union and Likud neck-and-neck, at 27-27, or 27-28, favoring Likud. The final results saw Likud win 30 seats and Zionist Union 24.

Likud official says party will head to opposition if it loses

If Likud loses the current elections it will serve Israel from the opposition, Eli Hazan, Likud’s foreign affairs director, tells The Times of Israel.

“I don’t see any scenario in which we could join a Gantz government,” he says, referring to Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz. Even if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were to quit politics, it was exceedingly unlikely that the party would join the government as a junior partner of Gantz, Hazan surmises.

“Whenever Likud lost an election, we always went into the opposition,” he says.

Speaking to The Times of Israel at Tel Aviv’s Kvutzat Shlomo hall, where Likud will mark the election’s end later tonight, Hazan says he agrees with Netanyahu that fewer right-wing voters have made their ways to the polls than in 2015.

“I just got a phone call from our guy in Sderot. He told me, Eli, it’s dead here. There are no voters.”

With less than two hours before the polls close, the situation was dire, he adds, but at the same time stresses that Likud is not giving up the fight. “We’re very worried, but we’re working hard. It would be irresponsible not to try to win.”

Raphael Ahren

Hadash-Ta’al says Arab turnout at 44%; Meretz seeks to keep polls open

Hadash-Ta’al says turnout in Arab towns and villages stands at 44 percent.

The left-wing Meretz party appeals to the Central Elections Committee to keep polling stations in Arab towns open for another hour, until 11 p.m., saying the “Arab public is afraid to arrive at the polls due to the use of hidden cameras.”

Polls in prisons close; 30% didn’t vote

Ballot stations in Israel’s prisons closed at 8 p.m. Some 70 percent of inmates who are eligible to vote exercised their right, according to the Israel Prisons Service.

Turnout of 61.3% recorded at 8 p.m, down 1% from 2015

As of 8 p.m., turnout nationwide was recorded at 61.3%.

In 2015, at the same time, 62.4% had voted.

Journalists, but no politicians, at sparsely attended Likud event

The hall where the Likud party is holding its election party is oddly empty. Several dozen journalists are present at Tel Aviv’s Kvuzat Shlomo hall, but virtually no ministers or even backbencher MKs have arrived. There are also no activists in the hall, which usually serves the city’s Hapoel basketball team.

In previous years, top party brass has started arriving several hours before the polls close to engage with reporters and activists.

Raphael Ahren

As polls set to close, Gantz says party will ‘make history’

With half an hour left until polls close, Blue and White leaders each release separate videos calling for for a last-ditch get-out-the-vote effort.

They all stress that the party is “just one and a half seats away from victory,” with Benny Gantz saying that they were on the way to “making history.”

But stressing that they need more support in order to win outright, each makes a plea for the public to help them, with the three generals, Gantz, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi, using military language as if managing an IDF operation.

“Get to it,” Ya’alon says.
“You have three seconds to move,” barks Ashkenazi.
“Charge forward,” orders Gantz, the commander.

Raoul Wootliff

Likud MK’s optimism wanes amid dire ‘rumors’

Amir Ohana, the first Likud MK to arrive at the party’s election event in Tel Aviv, says that until half an hour ago he was “very optimistic.”

Asked by The Times of Israel what has changed since, he replies: “Rumors. The rumors that are going around are not good.”

Raphael Ahren

Party members, activists gather in halls to watch exit polls

The political parties and their activists are gathering at halls around the country to watch the exit polls and final results.

Channel 12 exit poll has Gantz leading Netanyahu 37-33

A dramatic exit poll by Channel 12 has Gantz’s Blue and White leading Netanyahu’s Likud by four seats: 37-33.

The right- and left-wing blocs are exactly split: 60 vs. 60, with the Arab parties included in the left-wing bloc.

Channel 13 exit poll has Blue and White, Likud tied at 36

Channel 13’s exit poll has Blue and White and Likud tied with 36 seats each.

The right-wing bloc leads, with 66 seats, making Netanyahu better positioned to form a government, compared to 54 seats for the center-left.

Kan exit poll: Blue and White leads by one seat, but right-wing bloc stronger

The Kan exit poll has Blue and White with a one-seat advantage over Likud: 37 to 36.

But the right-wing bloc is stronger, according to Kan, with 64 seats, compared to 56 for the center-left.

Polls augur trouble for New Right, Zehut, Gesher, Ra’am Balad

The surveys are suggesting that four parties are in trouble and may not clear the electoral threshold: New Right, Zehut, Gesher, Ra’am-Balad.

But Israel will likely not know which of these will actually fail to enter the Knesset until most of the results are counted.

Netanyahu declares ‘clear victory’ for right-wing bloc

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declares victory for right-wing parties, following the exit polls.

“The right-wing bloc led by Likud won a clear victory. I thank the citizens of Israel for your trust. I will start assembling a right-wing government with our natural partners this very evening,” he tweets.

Activists at Likud party deflated after exit polls

After the exit polls are released, a lone Likud activist at the party’s election event starts shouting “Bibi, Bibi,” but stops after several seconds. “Fellows, this is only an exit poll,” he shouts to the television cameras that surround him. “In 1996, we went to sleep with [Shimon] Peres, and woke up with Netanyahu.”

As opposed to previous Likud election parties, the main television station’s evening news cast were not broadcast on the screens in the hall during Tuesday’s event. There is no enthusiasm in the room; in fact, the release of the exit polls was hardly noticed, as the music continued playing in the near-empty hall.

A staffer for a backbencher Likud MK walks around the hall holding a rolled-up Likud flag in his hands.

“No, I don’t feel like waving it, that’s the problem” he says.

Raphael Ahren

Gantz’s Blue and White declares victory

Blue and White is also declaring victory.

“We won! The Israeli public has had its say!” the party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid say.

Yisrael Beytenu candidate ‘pleased’ by exit polls

Eli Avidar, of the right-wing Yisrael Beytenu, says he is pleased with the initial exit poll results, showing the party earning four or five seats in the next Knesset, but will be “more pleased tomorrow” when final results come in. Recent polls had suggested the party could fail to clear the electoral threshold.

Avidar, number four on the party’s list, says it expects to gain another seat or two with the final tally.

Judah Ari Gross

New Right tells supporters: We’ll pass threshold, don’t worry

The New Right’s Naftali Bennett expresses optimism his party will clear the electoral threshold, after exit polls indicated the party will not enter the Knesset.

“Friends, don’t be discouraged. Leadership is tested in difficult moments. We have patience, faith, and nerves of steel. The New Right will pass, and will pass nicely,” Bennett tweets.

He predicts the soldiers’ votes will boost the party.

Shaked chimes in: Go to sleep, real outcome will be better

Along with the New Right’s Bennett, co-leader Ayelet Shaked tries to reassure her supporters.

“We’ll reach the goals we set for ourselves even if it takes a bit longer,” says Shaked, addressing right-wing activists at party’s headquarters after Bennett.

She tells supporters that they should “do what Boujie did and go to sleep,” referencing former Zionist Union Head Isaac Herzog’s admission from the 2015 election that he went to sleep at night rather than staying up for the results.

The two leaders appear tired and Shaked apologizes for her hoarse voice, attributing it to all the calls she made during the day to potential voters.

Jacob Magid

Liberman tight-lipped on PM candidate of his choice

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman says he won’t endorse either Likud’s Benjamin Netanyahu or Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for prime minister until the final tally from the national election is in.

“The gaps [between the exit polls] is too great and the picture is too fuzzy,” Liberman says.

The leader of the Yisrael Beytenu party, which is expected to get four or five Knesset seats, says once all the votes are counted, he will determine which party best serves his agenda and join with it to form a coalition.

Liberman says he is “glad the campaign is over.”

The former defense minister rails against the “psychological warfare” of fake surveys and polls, and says he will attempt to change campaigning laws in the next Knesset “so that they fit this century and not the 1950s.”

Judah Ari Gross

At Zehut HQ, a sense of disbelief over poor showing in exit polls

A sense of disbelief descends over the Zehut election results party as the exit poll results flash across the screen on Tuesday night and none of the exit polls have Moshe Feiglin’s pro-cannabis libertarian party crossing the minimum threshold to enter the 21st Knesset.

“I’m sad, and I’m also frustrated, it’s just hard to understand right now, the last polls had us with eight seats, so I don’t understand how we went from 8 to 0,” says Albert Levy, a French-Israeli businessman who is eighth on the Zehut list.

“My feeling is that a lot of people were worried about the right bloc or the left bloc and a lot of the votes went to the big parties,” he says. Levy says he is also worried about the close tie between the right and left blocs.

“Forget the right and left, this is not good for the political stability of the State of Israel,” said Levy. “I bet we will be back at elections in a year and a half.”

Melanie Lidman

Amended Channel 12 poll keeps 4-seat advantage for Gantz

Channel 12 has amended its exit poll with additional data.

The poll still has Gantz leading Netanyahu by four seats, 37-33. And the bloc distribution — 60 for right, 48 for center-left, and 12 for Arabs — remains the same.

Netanyahu speaks to Kahlon, Deri, Litzman

Netanyahu speaks with Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon, United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman and Shas leader Aryeh Deri.

The ultra-Orthodox parties say they will recommend Netanyahu for prime minister.

Kahlon joins Liberman in playing coy with Netanyahu — report

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon won’t commit to recommending Netanyahu to President Reuven Rivlin as the next prime minister, according to the Ynet news site.

Liberman has said he will wait for the final results before making a decision.

Senior Palestinian official says Israelis voted ‘no to peace’

A senior Palestinian official says Israelis had voted “no to peace” after exit polls following the country’s general election showed its left-wing parties were badly defeated.

“Israelis have voted to preserve the status quo. They have said no to peace and yes to the occupation,” senior Palestinian official Saeb Erekat says in a statement.

The exit polls showed right-wing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and centrist challenger Benny Gantz neck and neck after the election.

AFP

Kahlon confirms he’s not making a decision on PM recommendation — yet

Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon says he’s waiting for the final results before making a decision on whether to endorse Netanyahu or Gantz for prime minister.

Netanyahu had phoned the former finance minister and coalition partner shortly after the exit polls were released.

Hadash-Ta’al leader: In a year, we’ll be in Knesset, Netanyahu in prison

Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh responds to the exit polls.

“Our people remain, despite Netanyahu and Liberman and the fascists,” says Odeh.

“One more thing: a year from now, we will be giving speeches from the Knesset podium and Bibi [Netanyahu] will be in Ma’asiyahu prison. Good riddance,” says Odeh, referring to criminal investigations into the Likud leader.

First 30,000 votes counted: Blue and White in lead

The first official results begin trickling in.

With 29,000 ballots counted, Blue and White leads with 30.3% of the vote, followed by Likud with 24.2%. Next up are the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Labor with some 8% of the vote each, the New Right with 5%, Meretz with 4%, and Shas, Zehut, Kulanu and Gesher with some 3%.

Some 88 ballots are disqualified.

Labor chief Gabbay calls exit polls ‘a huge disappointment’

Channel 12 speculates that Labor Party chairman Avi Gabbay may resign after his center-left party appears to have done poorly in the election.

Tonight is “not a simple one for us. It’s a very not easy night for me. This is not how I hoped the night would end,” Gabbay tells Labor activists.

He calls the exit polls results, predicting the party will receive 6, 7 or 8 seats “a huge disappointment.”

Gabbay laments that his center-left party failed to partner with other parties to form a broader alliance. Gabbay says he hopes Benny Gantz forms the next government and says he spoke to the Blue and White leader to offer his support.

He thanks his supporters — but does not resign.

Blue and White’s Farkash-Hacohen invites Likud rebels into gov’t, sans Netanyahu

Likely Blue and White MK-elect Orit Farkash-Hacohen tells The Times of Israel that she believes Benny Gantz will be able to form a coalition regardless of the final results for the right or left-center blocs.

“We will form a responsible coalition because we can work with parties from across the political spectrum,” she says.

Asked if that included the Likud, Farkash-Hacohen, number 15 on the Blue and White slate, repeats the party line that it would not sit with Netanyahu but that his party was an option.

Who will they speak to in Likud? “They will have to come to us first,” she says of potential Likud rebels. “And they are welcome to.”

Raoul Wootliff

Gantz hails ‘historic day,’ again declares victory

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz arrives at his party’s election event, to huge applause.

Gantz is introduced as the “next prime minister” by activists. He is joined by Yair Lapid, Gabi Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon.

“This is a historic day. More than a million people have chosen hope,” says Gantz. “Our nation and our society has chosen to unite, chosen to flee divisiveness.”

“None of us could have done this alone. And the whole is truly greater than its parts,” he says of his political partners, thanking them.

He also thanks Benjamin Netanyahu for his “service to the state,” to laughter.

Now “we will respect the will of the people” and form the next government, Gantz says.

“We are the winners,” he says.

“We may be new, but we aren’t naive,” he says, adding that he will wait for the final results. But Gantz says he expects the official results will be to the benefit of his party.

Gantz says he’ll unite Israel, be the prime minister ‘for everyone’

Gantz says that he will be the next prime minister and will “succeed in forming a wide coalition that represents the whole of Israel.”

“Yes, friends, I will be the prime minister of everyone and not just those who voted for me. No one from a party that is not ours should worry. We all need to think about how we can work together, how we can bring everyone into the discussion,” says Gantz.

“From tomorrow, Netanyahu will be overwhelmed with his criminal cases and cannot deal with the challenges of this country, which are many. So we must form a coalition as fast as possible and we will form one which cares for the people of Israel, their health, their transport, their welfare, their security. From tomorrow, the future is Blue and White.”

Raoul Wootliff

Likud: Netanyahu in ‘advanced stages’ of forming coalition

A Likud spokesperson says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “in the very advanced stages of forming a coalition.”

The announcement comes hours before the final results are announced. It will be days before party leaders recommend their pick for prime minister and President Reuven Rivlin tasks a politician with forming a government.

Netanyahu will soon arrive at a Likud party event to declare victory. Gantz has also announced he will be “the next prime minister.”

With 228,000 votes tallied, Likud ahead by 5%

228,367 votes have now been counted.

Likud is ahead, with 29%, compared to Blue and White’s 24%.

The front-runners are followed, in descending order, by Shas (6.3%), Yisrael Beytenu (5.5%), Labor (4.9%), United Torah Judaism (4.7%), Union of Right Wing Parties (3.8%), Kulanu (3.6%), Meretz (3.2%), the New Right (3.1%), Zehut (2.8%), Ra’am-Balad (2.6%), Hadash-Ta’al (2.2%) and Gesher (1.8%).

The results are emerging from across the country and should not be seen as a representative sample until most ballots are tallied.

Kulanu leader says he’ll recommend Netanyahu for PM

Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon says he’ll recommend Netanyahu as prime minister.

Reports earlier in the evening suggested Kahlon was waiting for the final results before making a decision.

828,205 ballots counted; Likud slightly ahead with 29%

Over 820,000 ballots have been tallied, with Likud (29%) ahead of Blue and White (25%).

Shas retains third place with 6%, followed by Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism with 5%, Labor at 4.5%, Kulanu at 3.7%, Union of Right-Wing Parties at 3.5%, and the remaining parties slipping under the threshold.

The results are emerging from across the country and should not be seen as a representative sample until most ballots are tallied.

Amended Channel 13 poll has Likud ahead by one seat

Channel 13 has adjusted its exit poll as real-time official results emerge. The amended poll gives Netanyahu’s Likud a one-seat edge over Gantz’s Blue and White at 35-34.

The network had previously predicted that the two front-running parties would be tied at 36. Both Netanyahu and Gantz have crowned themselves the winners of the election.

Report: Netanyahu may ask Kahlon to merge with Likud, forming largest party

The pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom newspaper reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu may ask Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon to merge his center-right party with the Likud, making it the largest party and the best-poised to form a government.

Kahlon is a former Likud lawmaker. The report comes as exit polls are split on which party is the biggest, with Channel 12 and Kan handing the title to Blue and White, and Channel 13 giving Likud a one-seat edge. The official results are being counted.

Netanyahu en route to Tel Aviv for victory speech

Netanyahu is on his way to Tel Aviv for a triumphant speech to Likud supporters, in which he is expected to again declare victory and may announce a prospective coalition line-up.

Updated exit polls show Netanyahu headed for election victory

Channel 12 and Channel 13 update their exit polls as the official ballots are counted.

Both networks’ revised samples now indicate Netanyahu’s Likud will win 35 seats, compared to Blue and White’s 34, and can muster a coalition majority with ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties.

The Channel 12 survey previously predicted 37 seats for Blue and White and 33 for Likud; Channel 13 had the two parties tied at 36.

Both exit polls now indicate that Shas would be the third-largest party with eight seats, followed by United Torah Judaism with 7. According to the TV stations, the New Right, Zehut and Gesher will fall under the electoral threshold.

In its breakdown of the political blocs, Channel 12 gives 63 of the 120 Knesset seats to the right, compared to 57 for the center-left, giving Netanyahu a clear path to forming a government. According to Channel 13, the right-wing bloc would receive 65 seats, compared to 55 for the center-left.

Triumphant Netanyahu arrives at Likud post-election event

Netanyahu arrives at the Tel Aviv hall where Likud party activists and lawmakers have been waiting. He is welcomed with applause and fireworks and is set to make a speech.

To wild cheers and chants, Netanyahu lauds his ‘incredible victory’

Netanyahu addresses his Likud base in Tel Aviv, who are cheering wildly and whistling.

“You are terrific, thank you,” says Netanyahu, over applause.

“Remember, 23 years ago, it was the first time that Sara and I stood here. And here we have returned here, because of you and for you,” he says.

He thanks the Likud ministers and Knesset members.

“I am very moved on this night. This is a night of an incredible, incredible victory.”

He says it is a “fantastic achievement, an enormous achievement, which is almost unfathomable.”

Netanyahu applauds his supporters for securing his win in the face of a “biased media.”

He calls the Likud outcome “almost unprecedented,” saying, “When did we receive so many seats? I don’t even remember.”

Netanyahu says he’ll form right-wing government, but will be PM for all

Netanyahu says Israel, under his leadership, is strong, prosperous and “a good place to live.”

Even as he declares his win, Netanyahu also counsels patience until all the ballots are counted.

“A long night, maybe a long day, is still ahead of us and we will wait for the final results,” says Netanyahu.

Netanyahu says he is contact with right-wing parties, “our natural partners.”

“Nearly all of them have publicly declared that they will recommend that I form the next government,” he says.

“It will be a right-wing government. But I intend to be the prime minister of all of Israel, right and left, Jews and non-Jews alike.”

Final turnout was 67.9%, down nearly 4% from 2015

Some 67.9% of eligible voters exercised their right to vote on Tuesday, according to final turnout rates.

The figure is down nearly 4 percentage points from 2015, when turnout was recorded at 71.8%.

Likud still ahead of Blue and White as 1.6 million votes counted

With 1.6 million votes counted, Likud is still ahead with 28% of the vote, compared to 25% for Blue and White.

Shas retains third place, with 6%, followed by United Torah Judaism with 5.4%, Yisrael Beytenu with 4.9%, Labor with 4.4%, Kulanu with 3.6%, Hadash-Ta’al with 3.5%, and Union of Right-Wing Parties and Meretz with 3.3%, respectively. The remaining parties, for now, are under the threshold.

Blue and White closes in on Likud as 2.7 million votes tallied

Blue and White is closing the gap. With 2.7 million ballots counted, the Likud is still leading with 27.5%, but Benny Gantz’s party is on its tail with 26%.

With some 65% of the votes counted, Shas keeps its 6%, UTJ hovers just over 5%, and Yisrael Beytenu and Labor receive more than 4%, followed by Hadash-Ta’al with 3.9%, Kulanu with 3.6%, and the URWP and Meretz with 3.5%.

The remainder — including New Right, Zehut, Ra’am-Balad and Gesher — currently remain under the threshold.

3.4 million votes counted; Likud ahead of Blue and White

With 80 percent of the vote counted, Likud remains poised to be the largest party, holding 27% of the vote (931,000 ballots), according to official figures.

Blue and White follows with 25.9%. Shas is next (6%), followed by United Torah Judaism (5.4%), Labor (4.4%), Yisrael Beytenu (4.3%), Hadash-Ta’al (4.2%), Union of Right-Wing Parties, Meretz and Kulanu (3.6%, respectively).

Ra’am-Balad remains just under the electoral threshold (3.22%). Over 3.4 million ballots have been counted.

In Bat Ayin, 87 settlers vote for Arab nationalists

As the election results emerge, some on social media are pointing to an oddity in the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin, where 87 residents have apparently voted for the Arab nationalist Ra’am-Balad party.

Most residents (245) support the Union of Right-Wing Parties, with Likud coming second (92), followed by Zehut (91).

The surprise winners and (probable) losers in the race

As of now — and possibly through Thursday — it remains unclear whether several small parties will cross the electoral threshold of 3.25%. And we won’t know until all the votes are in precisely how the 120 Knesset seats will be distributed among the parties.

But Israel has nonetheless been hit with several surprises tonight.

The first is the unexpected success of the Shas party, which had previously been polling at 4-5 seats. The results, however, suggest it will win as many as eight Knesset seats, and — should Netanyahu form the coalition — could become the second-largest party in the government.

Another is the poor showing of the “dark horse” Zehut, which pre-election surveys had said could receive as many as 10 Knesset seats. It now appears unlikely to win any.

The center-left Labor Party, which governed the country in the first three decades of its existence, appears set to receive just 4% of the vote.

And most shocking of all is the humbling showing for the New Right, which is currently 0.1% from the threshold, leaving the political fortunes of former senior ministers Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked up in the air.

This liveblog is closing, but live updates continue

As the sun comes up on a new day, this liveblog is closing, but we’re not done yet. A new liveblog is running here, with all the real-time updates Wednesday from Israel’s election fallout, and all other developments. Thanks for spending the day with us.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu greets supporters at his Likud party headquarters in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on election night early on April 10, 2019 (Thomas Coex/AFP)
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To wild cheers and chants, Netanyahu lauds his ‘incredible victory’

Netanyahu addresses his Likud base in Tel Aviv, who are cheering wildly and whistling.

“You are terrific, thank you,” says Netanyahu, over applause.

“Remember, 23 years ago, it was the first time that Sara and I stood here. And here we have returned here, because of you and for you,” he says.

He thanks the Likud ministers and Knesset members.

“I am very moved on this night. This is a night of an incredible, incredible victory.”

He says it is a “fantastic achievement, an enormous achievement, which is almost unfathomable.”

Netanyahu applauds his supporters for securing his win in the face of a “biased media.”

He calls the Likud outcome “almost unprecedented,” saying, “When did we receive so many seats? I don’t even remember.”