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What electoral threshold? Blue and White, Labor, Meretz beat gloomy forecasts

With 80% of vote counted, anti-Netanyahu bloc satellite parties seen receiving between 6 and 8 seats, after many pollsters wondered whether they would make it into Knesset at all

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US correspondent based in New York

Labor head Merav Michaeli celebrates with supporters in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Labor head Merav Michaeli celebrates with supporters in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

While the anti-Netanyahu bloc appeared Wednesday morning to be short of a clear majority, three of its smaller parties were able to breathe easier, as initial results showed that they far outperformed expectations that saw them stumbling over the electoral threshold.

With 87 percent of the vote counted, centrist Blue and White had eight seats, center-left Labor had seven seats and left-wing Meretz had five. Several polls in the weeks leading up the election predicted that Blue and White and Meretz would not receive the 3.25% of the national vote necessary to enter the Knesset, while Labor was seen in most surveys winning no more than five or six.

Anti-Netanyahu bloc voters appeared to respond well to Meretz’s frantic last-minute campaign, which warned that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would be able to form a narrow, right-wing government if Meretz failed to enter the Knesset. If it gets those five seats, the party’s No. 4 candidate Rinawie Zoabi, a prominent educator and executive director of the Injaz Center for Professional Arab Local Governance, will enter the Knesset along with former MK Issawi Frej.

Merav Michaeli’s Labor, which won seven seats last year when it ran on a joint slate with the rightist Gesher and Meretz, withstood calls to once again merge with Meretz by those who argued there was little ideological difference between the two parties.

Only a few months ago, Labor had been expected to be voted out of the Knesset in the election, as supporters demonstrated their disgust for former chairman Amir Peretz’s decision to enter Netanyahu’s government despite having vowed not to do so. After quickly reviving the party, Michaeli is set to become the only female faction leader in the Knesset. Its seven seats will see the entrance of Ibtisam Mara’ana into the Knesset. The Arab Israeli activist came under fire during the campaign for a series of anti-Zionist Facebook posts she had published over the years, but she apologized and won Michaeli’s backing.

Head of the Blue and White party and Minister of Defense Benny Gantz speaks at the Blue and White party headquarters in Ramat Gan, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

For weeks ahead of Tuesday’s election, Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz refused to capitulate to a growing chorus of center-left lawmakers and activists who called on him to pull his party out of the election in order to avoid wasting votes for the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

Blue and White, running as a united slate in the March 2020 election with Yesh Atid and the Telem party, won 33 seats and Gantz was widely seen at the time as Netanyahu’s main challenger for prime minister.

But the centrist leader hemorrhaged support after breaking his campaign vow not to enter a Netanyahu-led government. Gantz severed ties with Yesh Atid and Telem to enter the Likud leader’s coalition, clinching a power-sharing agreement that saw Netanyahu pledge to hand over the premiership to him in November 2021. The government dissolved, however, before the agreement could be honored, in what many analysts saw as a deliberate move by Netanyahu.

Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, whose party stood at 18 seats as of Wednesday morning, extolled the campaign his centrist slate ran, saying that it had avoided harming the other factions in the anti-Netanyahu bloc.

(L-R) Meretz MKs Yair Golan, Nitzan Horowitz and Tamar Zandberg celebrate with supporters at the campaign’s headquarters in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

Elsewhere, the Islamist Ra’am party appeared to cross the electoral threshold Wednesday morning, dramatically altering the breakdown of the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs and transforming chairman Mansour Abbas into a possible kingmaker.

Most polls leading up to the election predicted that Ra’am would indeed cross the electoral threshold, but exit polls on all three major networks did not draw the same conclusion. However, Abbas insisted Tuesday night that he would ultimately receive the support necessary to make it into the Knesset and urged analysts to hold their eulogies until votes were counted. After 87% of the votes were tallied, the party managed to rack up over 150,000 votes and will almost certainly have four or five seats in the next Knesset.

Ra’am split off from the Joint List of majority-Arab slated to run independently in Tuesday’s election, vowing to take a more pragmatic approach to its role in the Knesset and not ruling out cooperation with either bloc. The Islamist party also campaigned aggressively against the growing number of Joint List lawmakers who indicated tolerance to LGBT Israelis.

Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas (second from R) addresses supporters at the part’s headquarters in Tamra, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Flash90)
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