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.
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.
A three-justice panel of the Supreme Court late Tuesday ruled in favor of former public security minister Avi Dichter and against Deputy Transportation Minister Tzipi Hotovely to continue a recount of votes cast in the December 31 Likud primary. The ruling overturned a decision of the Tel Aviv District Court to freeze the recount in the ongoing saga over who will get the Likud’s 20th slot in the March 17 general election. Justices Elyakim Rubinstein, newly appointed deputy president of the court, Hanan Melcer and Yoram Danziger held that the key consideration was the will of the voters, which could best be realized by recounting votes even if there were other considerations pushing in the opposite direction. The court noted the odd circumstances of the dispute, including that both Dichter and Hotovely, at different times and depending on who was ahead in the latest results, had insisted on a full recount or on stopping the recount.
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.
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.
“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.
With only two weeks left until elections for the 19th Knesset, Tuesday will see the first of the ad campaigns which will be broadcast on radio and television for the next 11 days. Determined by a lottery and not party size, the broadcasts will begin with Rabbi Haim Amsalem’s campaign ad for his Am Shalem party. Each party will receive seven minutes for TV ads and fifteen minutes for radio. Parties with current MKs will receive an extra two minutes for each incumbent for their television spots and an extra four for radio, which means that Likud-Beytenu will have the longest air time with 91 minutes. Kadima, which was a major party in the 18th Knesset until losing candidates to fragmentation will receive 49 minutes. Labor will receive 23 minutes. New party lists such as Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Tzipi Livni’s HaTnua will receive the standard 7 minutes of air time.
Central Election Committee Chairman Justice Elyakim Rubinstein ruled Friday that a performance given by popular Israeli singer Sarit Hadad at the launch of the Likud-Beiteinu’s election campaign was in violation of campaign laws. Article 17 of the Israel Election Act states that political parties are barred from employing the services of artists as part of their campaign. Anyone found in breach of this article is subject to a fine of NIS 29,000 (roughly $7,800) – or six months in jail.