Polls apart: Central Israel goes for Gantz while the south sticks with Netanyahu
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Polls apart: Central Israel goes for Gantz while the south sticks with Netanyahu

Results highlight geographical polarization with some parts of the country giving a clear lead to Likud and others opting overwhelmingly for rival Blue and White

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

People walk by election campaign billboards showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, alongside Blue and White party leaders, from left to right, Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi, in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2019. Hebrew on billboards reads, left, "A strong Likud, a strong Israel," and on the right, "Every vote counts, Blue and White victory." (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)
People walk by election campaign billboards showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, alongside Blue and White party leaders, from left to right, Moshe Ya'alon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid and Gabi Ashkenazi, in Tel Aviv, April 3, 2019. Hebrew on billboards reads, left, "A strong Likud, a strong Israel," and on the right, "Every vote counts, Blue and White victory." (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dedicated significant time on election day to warning right-wing voters of high early turnout in “left-wing strongholds” as opposed to “our towns,” where he said Likud voters were staying at home.

While a look at the breakdown of the 4,458,167 total votes by municipality does not show a significant lower turnout for towns and cities that swung right, the almost-final results do indeed show strong divisions between geographical areas, with some parts of the country giving a clear lead to Netanyahu’s Likud while others opted strongly for the rival Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz.

The polarization can be clearly seen in the results for Tel Aviv compared to Jerusalem.

The coastal city with its young, liberal voter base gave centrist Blue and White a resounding 42.7 percent of the vote, while Likud came in second place with 19% (just ahead of the left-wing Democratic Camp which scored 14.4%). In Jerusalem, the large ultra-Orthodox community pushed the United Torah Judaism party to first place with 24.9% of the vote, ahead of Likud’s 23%. Blue and White, on the other hand, won just 11.8% of the total votes in the capital.

Likud party supporters at an election campaign tour in Jerusalem, September 13, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In fact, Blue and White outdid Likud in most central Israeli towns surrounding Tel Aviv while the ruling party held strong primarily in the south of the country. In the north, a similar pattern can be seen with Gantz’s party winning big in the Haifa metropolis while Netanyahu’s swept many of the smaller “periphery” towns.

In the central Israeli town of Givatayim, for example, Blue and White won 50.3% of the vote while Likud was down at just 17.3%. In Modiin, Blue and White was on 42.9% with Likud on 22.8%. In Herzliya, Blue and White came out on top with 47.7% while Likud scored 23.3%. In Ramat Gan, Blue and White beat out its rivals with 42.9% of the vote compared to Likud’s 24.7%.

Several central towns, however, did see close races between Likud and Blue and White: in Rishon Lezion the ruling party gained 33.9%, just behind Blue and White’s 36.6%; in Rosh Ha’ayin, Benny Gantz’s hometown, Blue and White led Likud by just a handful of votes with 34.7% of total votes in the city compared with the Likud’s 34.6%.

In the south of the country, a very different picture emerged, with Likud outdoing Blue and White by the same margins it was beaten in the center of the country, if not more.

In Beersheba, “the capital of the Negev,” Likud scored 43.4% while Blue and White came in second with just 18.8%. In the coastal cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, Likud gained 40.5% and 31.2%, respectively, while Blue and White were in both cases pushed to third place with 17.3% and 16.3%, behind Yisrael Beytenu (18.3% and 18%).

The Likud routing of Blue and White in much of south could also be seen in the Negev’s developing towns, such as Dimona (55.2% -12.5%) and Yerucham (41.7% – 12.9%), the Gaza border town of Sderot (42.1% – 8.8%) and Israel’s most southern city, Eilat (42.9% – 28.3%).

In the north, Blue and White took the city of Haifa with 32.9% of the vote compared to Likud’s 23.4% but failed to win most other northern cities. In Kiryat Shmona, Israel’s most northern town, Likud gained 52.6% of the vote compared with Blue and White’s just 11.8%; in Nahariya, Likud won 41.8% ahead of Blue and White’s 24.1%.

An Israeli votes in Haifa, during the Knesset elections on April 9, 2019. (Meir Vaknin/ Flash90)

For the first time in 10 years, Netanyahu failed to win the so-called “soldiers’ vote.” This contingent of ballots cast in double envelopes to protect the validity of the vote is indeed mostly composed of members of the security forces, but also includes diplomats, handicapped citizens, hospital patients and staff, and prisoners. It is worth around 5-6% of the vote and has traditionally skewed to the right — but the centrist Blue and White won out in that ballot count Tuesday, just as it won more votes than Likud nationally.

The Central Election Committee published early Friday what it said were the “almost final” results from Tuesday’s election, with Blue and White maintaining a two-seat lead over Likud.

The committee said that 99.8% of the votes had been tallied, with the exception of those from 14 (of the over 10,000) polling booths where irregular activities had been recorded on election day, which were still being investigated.

The “almost final” results gave Blue and White 33 seats to Likud’s 31. Third was the Joint List alliance of Arab-majority parties at 13, followed by the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas with nine and United Torah Judaism with eight.

Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu also had eight seats. Rounding out the list were Yamina with seven seats, Labor-Gesher with six and the Democratic Camp with five.

The center-left bloc, including the predominantly Arab Joint List — which has never been a member of the government — has increased its power to 57 seats, with the right-wing and religious bloc at 55. Neither has the 61-seat majority necessary to form a coalition, leaving Yisrael Beytenu in the kingmaker position.

The committee stressed that the votes were not yet the final results, which will be handed to President Reuven Rivlin on September 25.

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