Israelis go to the polls for crunch elections

Israelis go to the polls for crunch elections
Israelis began voting today in a crunch election that could decide the future of the country’s right-wing prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, who faces corruption allegations.
4 min read
17 September, 2019
Israelis began casting their votes early Tuesday morning [Getty]

Voting began in Israel's second election in five months on Tuesday that will decide whether to extend Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's term as the country's longest-serving prime minister, despite corruption allegations against him.

Polls opened at 7am local time were due to close in most areas at 10pm.

To coincide with the vote, Israeli occupation forces imposed a "total security cordon" on the Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, closing all crossings. The cordon will not be lifted until Tuesday night.

At one Jerusalem polling station, a trickle of voters arrived just after it opened.

"I think Bibi needs to go," said Gruny Tzivin, a 37-year-old teacher, using Netanyahu's nickname.

"After so many years it is time for a change and I think it fits with what I believe in for this country."

The stakes could not be much higher for the 69-year-old right-wing leader who, as in April polls, faces a strong challenge from ex-military chief Benny Gantz and his Blue and White alliance.

Ex-defence minister Avigdor Lieberman, Netanyahu's former associate turned rival who leads the extreme right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, could play a kingmaker role with his campaign to "make Israel normal again".

Some 6.4 million people are eligible to vote.

Netanyahu voted in Jerusalem alongside his wife Sara and said he expected a close election.

"President (Donald) Trump said yesterday that the elections will be tight," Netanyahu said in reference to Monday's comments by the US leader, who has been a strong supporter of the premier, calling the polls "50/50."

"I can guarantee you this morning that they are very tight."

Gantz voted in his hometown of Rosh Haayin near Tel Aviv and called on the country to reject corruption and "extremism".

"We want new hope. We are voting today for change," Gantz said after voting with his wife Revital.

"We will succeed in bringing hope. We will succeed in bringing change, without corruption and without extremism, all together."

The first exit surveys will be released just after polls close, while official results are not expected until Wednesday.

Opinion polls have indicated another tight race, showing Netanyahu's Likud and Blue and White winning around 32 seats each in the 120-seat parliament.


Netanyahu enters the election after having suffered one of the biggest defeats of his political career following the April vote.

His Likud along with its far-right and religious allies won a majority, leading Israeli President Reuven Rivlin to task the premier with forming a new government.

But following weeks of discussions, Netanyahu failed, leading him to opt for an unprecedented second election rather than risk having Rivlin choose someone else.

The danger for Netanyahu extends beyond remaining prime minister, a post he has held for a total of more than 13 years.

If he wins, many believe he will seek to have parliament grant him immunity from prosecution while facing the possibility of a corruption indictment in the weeks ahead.

Recognising the stakes, Netanyahu spent the final days of the campaign seeking to appeal to right-wing nationalists - key to his re-election bid - and to boost turnout among his base.

Those efforts have included a pledge to annex the Jordan Valley, which makes up a third of the illegally occupied West Bank, where nearly three million Palestinians live.

He has issued unfounded warnings that the vote could be stolen by fraud in Arab communities, leading critics to accuse him of racism.

Yesterday, the Israeli election committee banned an NGO from transporting Bedouin Palestinians to polling stations.

Netanyahu has highlighted the country's growing economy and his relationships with world leaders such as US President Donald Trump.

He has tried to label his main opponents "weak" and "leftist" despite their military backgrounds.

A Dutch court is hearing a case against Gantz regarding an airstrike on a home in Gaza in 2014 which killed six members of a Palestinian family.

'Rude lies'

Gantz, however, has campaigned by presenting himself as an honourable alternative to Netanyahu.

He has repeatedly spoken of Netanyahu's willingness to form a coalition with far-right parties that could help him secure immunity.

Gantz says his alliance, which includes three former armed forces chiefs of staff, wants a unity government that the vast majority of Israelis would support.

"Netanyahu continues to spread rude lies in a desperate attempt to save his government," Gantz said on Monday. "He lies, scolds, skewers, divides."

Opinion polls show the campaign by Lieberman's right-wing extremist Yisrael Beitenu party has resonated with voters.

Despite his previous racist statements against Palestinians, which included a call for a boycott of businesses owned by Palestinian citizens of Israel, Lieberman has presented himself as a staunch secularist.

His "make Israel normal again" slogan refers to what he says is the undue influence of ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties on the country's politics.

Lieberman prevented Netanyahu from forming a coalition after April polls by refusing to relent on his demand that the ultra-Orthodox be required to serve in the military like all other Israelis.

It is not clear he will endorse Netanyahu as prime minister again, which could be enough for Rivlin to allow Gantz to try to form a government.

Israel's newly reunified Palestinian-Israeli parties could also prove decisive with a performance similar to 2015 elections, when they became the third-largest force in parliament.

If so, they could block Netanyahu from continuing as prime minister by recommending Gantz.