Israel: Netanyahu’s last-minute appeal for votes is blocked as Israelis cast ballots | McClatchy

Israel’s election commission chief on Tuesday barred Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from broadcasting new appeals to his followers for their support as Israelis cast ballots in a surprisingly close election that threatens to unseat the prime minister. The commission ruled that a broadcast appeal – Netanyahu had planned two television interviews – would violate the country’s ban on political ads on election day. The rejection came as officials reported that turnout by 4 p.m., at 45.4 percent, was lagging slightly behind the rate of the election in 2013. Polls remain open until 10 p.m. In a last-minute video appeal to supporters on his Facebook page, Netanyahu warned that “the rule of the right is in danger” and that “Arab voters are going in droves to the polls” in buses provided by leftist groups. “Go to the polls, bring your friends and family, vote Likud to close the gap,” he said.

Israel: Arab parties unite into potent force | Telegraph

As an Arab living in Israel, Ayman Odeh never had the brightest of political futures. His fellow Arab politicians, divided among four parties with radically different ideologies, have always squabbled too much to be counted as a real force. But now Mr Odeh could be on the verge of a major breakthrough, as the top candidate on a united list for all the Arab parties for next Tuesday’s general election. The list, which could give Israel’s Arab population unprecedented political clout, was born of necessity after Right-wingers in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, raised the threshold for representation from two to 3.25 per cent, thus threatening small Arab parties with electoral oblivion.

Editorials: The Uniquely Awful Role of Sheldon Adelson in the Israeli Election | Gershom Gorenberg/American Prospect

As the contest for who will lead the nation takes shape, the classic right-wing charge of pervasive, hostile media bias was splashed in giant tabloid type across the front page of the daily Israel Hayom last Friday. The headline read: “Netanyahu: The Media is Campaigning to Bring the Left to Power.”  The Friday edition of an Israeli paper is the equivalent of a thick Sunday edition in America; print newspapers are still very popular in Israel, and Israel Hayom is one of the two most popular papers. You might just sense a contradiction here: The most-read headline of the week in one of the country’s most influential news sources carried Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s accusation that the media is deliberately trying to take power from him and give it to the left. The irony certainly wasn’t intentional. The undeclared purpose of Israel Hayom is to promote Bibi Netanyahu. “Newspaper” in Hebrew is iton; Israel Hayom has gained the nickname Bibiton. A vast army of people wearing red overalls hand it out for free everyday, everywhere in Israel. For the newspaper’s owner, American casino billionaire Sheldon Adelson, making money isn’t the goal.

Israel: Alliance Adds Twist to Israeli Elections | New York Times

Isaac Herzog, the leader of Israel’s center-left Labor Party, and Tzipi Livni, the recently dismissed justice minister and the leader of a small centrist faction, announced on Wednesday that they would run on a joint slate in elections next March in a bid to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of the conservative Likud Party from winning a fourth term. The move injected an intriguing twist to the start of the election campaign. It also added an element of uncertainty for Mr. Netanyahu eight days after he fired Ms. Livni and his centrist finance minister, Yair Lapid, saying their public criticism of his policies made it impossible to govern the country and calling early elections less than two years after the last ballot. Mr. Herzog and Ms. Livni said that if they won enough votes to form the next government, they would take turns in the role of prime minister, with Mr. Herzog serving for the first two years and Ms. Livni for the second two, in an Israeli political compromise known as rotation. That deal seemed lopsided since the Labor Party, now with 15 seats in the 120-seat Parliament, is likely to win more than Ms. Livni’s Hatnua party, which currently has six.

Israel: Parliament disbands, sets elections for March 17 | Los Angeles Times

Israeli lawmakers voted Monday to dissolve the parliament and hold elections on March 17, making the current government one of the shortest-lived in the country’s history. With some cellphone cameras flashing but no objections, lawmakers passed the motion at the end of an hours-long discussion of last-minute legislation that included no-confidence motions and harsh criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Lawmaker Dov Khenin called the Netanyahu government “bad and dangerous” and said it had blocked all chances for a political solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the wider Arab world. Jamal Zahalka accused Netanyahu and his ministers of giving orders that killed thousands of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, and called for a no-confidence vote that would be a “harsh indictment against a criminal government.”

Iran: President-elect Hassan Rouhani hails win | BBC

Hassan Rouhani has hailed his election as Iran’s president as a “victory of moderation over extremism”. The reformist-backed cleric won just over 50% of the vote and so avoided the need for a run-off. Thousands of Iranians took to the streets of Tehran when the result was announced, shouting pro-reform slogans. The US expressed concern at a “lack of transparency” and “censorship” but praised the Iranian people and said it was ready to work with Tehran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged continued international pressure on Iran to curb its nuclear programme. “The international community must not give in to wishful thinking or temptation and loosen the pressure on Iran for it to stop its nuclear programme,” Mr Netanyahu told his cabinet, according to a statement released by his office.

Israel: Election ends in dramatic deadlock | The Independent

Israelis delivered the narrowest of election victories to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday, but did not endorse what most analysts had predicted would be a lurch to right, instead giving their backing to a broader, centrist coalition. With almost all the votes now counted, Israel’s two political blocs – the left and the right – were level on 60 seats in the 120-member Knesset, the closest Israeli election result in history. Bibi, as Mr Netanyahu is universally known in Israel, secured 31 seats, a huge disappointment for his Likud party, and its formal coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu, which lost a quarter of the 42 seats they held in the last Knesset.

Israel: Right, left blocs in dead heat as 99% of votes tallied | Haaretz Daily Newspaper

Hours after polls closed on Tuesday, and after 99 percent of the votes were tallied, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a mandate to third term as premier, but the battle between the country’s right- and left-wing blocs remained virtually in a dead heat. As voting ended Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party garnered only 31 seats − compared to the 42 the two parties won in the last election in 2009 − prompting him to announce that he was already working toward forming “as broad a government as possible. I am proud to be your prime minister and I thank you for giving me the opportunity, for the third time, to lead the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said after midnight. “It is a great honor, but it is also a great responsibility. It is an opportunity to make changes that the citizens of Israel wish upon themselves and that will serve all the citizens of Israel. I intend on making those changes by forming the broadest coalition possible, and I have begun working toward that tonight.” Leading up to the election, polls had predicted a tight race between the left and right blocs, but by early Wednesday the former had 59 seats, and the latter 61.

Israel: Inside the 2013 Israeli Election: the System and the Players |

“Bibi,” “Bennett,” “Tzipi,” “Shelly.” The way names of major candidates in the Israeli elections have been bandied about by international observers and media analysts, you would think Israeli voters are only electing the prime minister. Not so. When they enter the “Kalfi” (Hebrew for ballot box) Jan. 22, Israelis will decide the composition of the 19th Knesset (Israel’s parliament) by casting votes for whole parties—not specific candidates. Each party, which presents candidates for membership in the Knesset, must win at least 2 percent of the total vote to get two members in. The government will be established based on how many seats each party wins, and the president will appoint the prime minister, usually the leader of the party that won the most votes. That candidate must then form a coalition with other Knesset-elected parties, and those parties that are not included become the opposition.

Israel: Election Ads Ruled Too Offensive for Broadcast Rack Up Views on YouTube |

Efforts to introduce some drama, or comedy, into the somewhat lackluster Israeli election campaign, in the form of satirical television ads for two parties at opposite ends of the political spectrum, have been stifled by the country’s Central Election Committee, which deemed them too offensive to broadcast. Despite those rulings, however, both ads have attracted tens of thousands of views online this week. That has not gone unnoticed by the parties’ leaders. As the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth reported, before the ultra-Orthodox Shas Party bowed to a request to stop showing an ad that makes fun of émigrés from the former Soviet Union who are not considered Jews according to Halakha, or religious law, a party leader, Ariel Atias, said: “The ad isn’t supposed to hurt anyone. There is no word in it against Russians or any hurtful remarks, but an emphasis on Shas’s role in preventing legislation which will damage the state’s Jewish identity. We see it’s effective and tens of thousands have already viewed the video on YouTube.” Indeed, the official copy of the video posted on the Shas YouTube channel, and still featured on the party’s Facebook page, has been viewed more than 100,000 times since it was uploaded on Tuesday.

Voting Blogs: 2013 Israeli Pre-Election Report | The Monkey Cage

The coalition government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, headed by the Likud party, was sworn in on 31 March 2009, following the 10 February elections. The 18th Knesset, Israel’s parliament, was comprised of a dozen parties (exactly the same as the previous Knesset). Surprisingly, Likud did not win the largest number of seats; it came in second closely after Kadima, which won one more seat. However, Likud was able to form a majority coalition government with five other parties: Likud (27); Israel Our Home (15); Labour (13); Shas (11), United Torah Judaism (5); and The Jewish Home (3), for a total of 74 of the 120 seats in the Israeli parliament. The numerous coalition partners were quite generously rewarded in the formation of the Netanyahu government, which was one of the largest cabinets in Israel’s history. Between ministers and deputy ministers, almost one-third of the legislature held executive positions. This is a main reason why the coalition government survived almost four full years.

Israel: Likud party primary extended due to electronic voting machines problems | EJP

The Likud party primary vote to choose the list of party candidates forthe  January 22 parliamentary election, that began on Sunday, will continue on Monday, the Likud Central Election Committee decided on Sunday night. 50 to 60 polling stations will be open to voters from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The decision was made based on problems with electronic polling machines on Sunday. Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar called the Likud primary elections held Sunday a “farce” because of problems with electronic voting machines and demanded the polls be halted and held again on a later date.

Israel: Online voting breakdown dogs Israeli Likud primaries for national elections | Xinhua

Officials at branches of Israel’ s chief Likud party reported severe technical problems at polling stations countrywide Sunday morning, halting the outset of a daylong round of voting to set a party slate for national elections on Jan. 22 for the 19th Knesset (parliament). While party Chairman, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who cast his ballot at party headquarters in Tel Aviv when polling stations opened at 9:00 a.m., exhorted members to head to the polls to make their voices heard, crashed internet servers kept more than 123,000 other members from voting at sites throughout the country.

Israel: Likud officials: Netanyahu likely to halt primaries over voting malfunctions Israel News | Haaretz

Likud officials said on Sunday that they believed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would accept an offer to halt electronic voting procedures in Likud’s primaries, opting to continue the elections through casting individual ballots. The proposal was raised by Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya’alon, following a day rife with reports of voting computer malfunctions. Problems were reported at locations including Jerusalem’s main polling station — the International Convention Centers, where 80 computerized voting systems were shut down — and at the polling station in the Tel Aviv neighborhood of Yad Eliyahu, which was also shut down. Other locations with reported malfunctions were Ramat Gan, Ashdod, Gan Yavne and Mt. Hebron Regional Council.

Israel: Israel sets election date, Netanyahu seen easy victor | Chicago Tribune

Israel’s Parliament on Tuesday set a January 22 date for a national election and opinion polls predict an easy win for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in balloting expected to focus on his tough policies on Iran’s nuclear program and economics. Lawmakers approved the measure by a vote of 100 to nil after a more than eight-hour debate, dissolving parliament, or ending its term of office, effective immediately and months ahead of schedule. Israeli elections had been expected in October 2013, but it is common for governments to break up before their terms expire over disagreements about budgets, policy on religion or the nation’s conflicts with Arab and other neighbors.

Israel: Netanyahu calls early election for Israel | CNN

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for an early election after failing to agree on a budget with his coalition partners, saying the vote should be held “as soon as possible” for the good of the country. In a televised announcement Tuesday, Netanyahu said the election was necessary to ensure “a responsible security and economic policy” in the face of the economic downturn and threats to Israel’s security from Iran and elsewhere. The election will ideally happen in three months’ time, he said, rather than in October 2013, as originally scheduled. “It is my obligation as the prime minister to put the national interest above everything else,” Netanyahu said. “So I have decided that it is in the best interest for the state of Israel to go to elections now and as soon as possible.”

Israel: Centrifuges, Palestinians, army service and cottage cheese — an Israeli election primer | The Times of Israel

According to recent polls, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is cruising to reelection. His Likud party is expected to win 30 or 31 Knesset mandates, up from 27 three years ago and way ahead of second-place Labor, which the polls predict may gain about four or five seats to 17-18. Much has changed in the political landscape since 2009 — parties splintering, leaders ousted, new parties created — but despite Labor’s resurgence under new chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich and the creation of a new populist party by former TV personality Yair Lapid, Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc can reasonably expect to stay in power. Likud, Yisrael Beytenu and Shas alone could get about 55 seats; add to that the seats of the United Torah Judaism and Jewish Home parties, and Netanyahu has a comfortable majority. But Lapid — whose new Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party is expected to win up to a dozen seats — is not the only wild card. Ousted Shas member Haim Amsellem hopes to enter the Knesset with his newly founded Am Shalem (A Complete Nation) party, and ex-minister (and ex-con) Aryeh Deri is still considering whether to field his own faction. That could cost Shas important mandates, which might force Netanyahu to look for another coalition partner — perhaps the far-right National Union. And that, in turn, could push him even further to the right and toward a collision course with the US.

Israel: Israel looks to possible early election | AFP/Times of Oman

Israel was on Sunday buzzing with the possibility of an early election after a key partner in the ruling right-wing coalition threatened to pull out, and the opposition called for an autumn vote. Fresh speculation about an early general election came as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fought off sharp criticism from a former top security chief over his policies on Iran’s nuclear programme and on peace with the Palestinians. Talk of an early vote, which has been in the air for several months, was revived by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman who on Saturday said his Yisrael Beitenu party had exhausted its commitment to the coalition in a dispute over the issue of drafting Orthodox Jews into the army.