Both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Blue and White under Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid rushed to declare victory in Tuesday’s election despite inconclusive results from the exit polls.
“We have won. The people of Israel have spoken,” Blue and White said after the exit polls were published at 10 p.m. at the end of a day of voting, with one poll giving the centrist party a clear lead.
Netanyahu also declared victory, after the two other TV exit polls gave his Likud and other right-wing parties a clear majority of Knesset seats.
“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,” Netanyahu wrote on Twitter.
A dramatic exit poll by Channel 12 had Benny Gantz’s Blue and White leading Likud by four seats, 37-33, and the right- and left-wing blocs exactly split, 60 vs. 60, with the Arab parties included in the left-wing bloc.
However, Channel 13’s exit poll had Blue and White and Likud tied with 36 seats each and the right-wing bloc leading with 66 seats.
The Kan (Channel 11) exit poll had Blue and White with a one-seat advantage over Likud: 37 to 36, but with the right-wing bloc holding 64 seats.
Nevertheless, Blue and White said the picture was clear.
“In these elections there is a clear winner and a clear loser. Bibi promised 40 seats and lost big time,” the party said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname. “The president sees the picture and must appoint the winner to put together the government. There is no other choice.”
Though both parties claimed victory, the mood at their respective headquarters was different.
The reaction at Blue and White HQ was euphoric — in part because it was the favorable Channel 12 poll that was shown on screen.
As the countdown on Channel 12 struck zero and the results of its exit poll appeared on the huge screen at the front of Blue and White’s election headquarters in the Tel Aviv Expo Center, campaign workers and party activists let out a collective shout of joy, jumping in the air in a burst of raised arms, clenched fists and emotion.
The crowd broke into chants of “Blue and White, Blue and White,” then “Who’s coming? The next prime minister,” and finally and triumphantly, “Upheaval, upheaval, upheaval,” in reference to the 1977 Likud victory after 30 years in opposition.
Meanwhile, the mood at Likud headquarters was subdued.
A lone Likud activist at the party’s election event started shouting, “Bibi, Bibi,” but stopped after several seconds.
“Fellows, this is only an exit poll,” he called 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 newscasts were not broadcast on the screens in the hall during Tuesday’s event. There was no enthusiasm, and 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 walked around holding a rolled-up Likud flag in his hands.
“No, I don’t feel like waving it, that’s the problem,” he said.
Soon afterwards, however, Netanyahu declared victory — and the Channel 11 and 13 polls gave him a basis for doing so.