>> Below is a rundown of Israel election day updates. CLICK HERE FOR POST ELECTION UPDATES: Netanyahu two seats away from majority with 90 percent of votes counted
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party is set to become Israel’s largest party, according to exit polls published shortly after voting ended in the country’s third election in a year. However, neither Netanyahu nor his chief rival Benny Gantz are projected a clear Knesset majority.
ELECTION DAY LIVE UPDATES
Monday, 2nd March: 11:52 P.M. Final voter turnout at 71 percent, highest since 2015
As polls closed, final voter turnout stood at 0.6 percentage points over what it was in the September election, and 3.1 percentage points over the April contest.
11:45 P.M. Kahol Lavan defector Gadi Yevarkan says Likud got three seats thanks to Ethiopian community
“Kahol Lavan underestimated my intentions and the public that follows me,” Yevarkan, who is himself of Ethiopian origin, told Haaretz.
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“Three seats came from the community,” he added. “They gave Netanyahu his victory, and they were the ones who took it from him in the last election. Netanyahu will never forget the community.”
11:40 P.M. Yamina leader and Defense Minister Naftali Bennett: "Proud we won... we will prevent a Palestinian state"
Naftali Bennett, who heads the religious Zionist alliance Yamina part of the right-wing bloc welcomed the victory, saying PM Netanyahu already called him.
"After a difficult year, and despite our disagreements, we managed to put together an amazing team," Bennett said, referring to tensions in the religious Zionist camp.
"We will prevent a Palestinian state," Bennett, who currently holds the defense portfolio in the Netanyahu government, added.
11:30 P.M. Shas leader Arye Dery: "We'll form government tomorrow"
"Tomorrow, the leaders of the right-wing bloc will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and we, with the help of God, will implement today's clear decision today and immediately establish a government headed by Netanyahu, a right-wing government," the Sephardi ultra-Orthodox party leader told jubilant supporters.
11:15 P.M. Exit poll results analysis: Constitutional crisis looms
If Monday night’s exit polls are accurate or nearly accurate, half of the Israeli electorate voted for a man set to go on trial in two weeks for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. They did so fully knowing the charges against him. They voted for him because they trust him more than they trust Benny Gantz.
How did Bibi do it? The answer is simple. This is what he does. He doesn’t lie down after a setback. From the morning after the last election, he was already planning this election campaign. He knew that with 55 seats he wouldn’t be able to form a governing coalition, and his only option was to brazen things out and head for a third election. (Read Anshel Pfeffer's full analysis of the Israeli election exit polls.)
11:10 P.M. Gantz thanks supporters and voters
“Thanks to the thousands of activists and over a million voters who chose Kahol Lavan," Gantz tweeted. "I will keep fighting for you.”
11:05 P.M. Kahanist party chief Ben-Gvir says other leaders "not ready" for a real right-wing party
Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the extreme-right Otzma Yehudit, which failed to make it into the Knesset according to exit polls, says other right-wing leaders “stabbed us in the back,” but “we ran a great campaign nonetheless.”
According to him, his party “challenges them. They’re not ready for a party that would force them to enact a right-wing policy.”
11:01 P.M. Lieberman slams ‘messianic’ right-wing bloc, won’t commit to position in coalition talks
"I looked at all exit polls, which are significantly different to all of the latest polls… Even when you look at the ultra-Orthodox, messianic bloc that got 60 seats … I think we’ll have to wait for the final results to assess the situation," Lieberman told supporters at party election headquarters.
"We should wait for the final results before reaching any final conclusions," he added. "We don’t intend to move even an inch from what we’ve promised our voters."
10:58 P.M. Joint List leader: Kahol Lavan failed because of "racist attitude"
Ayman Odeh, co-chairman of the Joint List of predominantly Arab parties, told Israel's Channel 12 that "Kahol Lavan failed because of their racist attitude toward us."
Although exit polls show the Joint List increased its Knesset presence by one or two seats, the atmosphere at headquarters is far from festive, due to the figures bringing Netanyahu closer to forming a government.
Odeh defined the achievement as historic in terms of representation for the Arab public, and he said the Arab community made a big step and answered the alliance's call to go out and vote.
10:45 P.M. Netanyahu tweets picture of himself celebrating "a great victory"
In the picture, behind Netanyahu's left shoulder, is Aaron Klein, Middle East bureau chief for alt-right U.S. news outlet Breitbart, who has been advising the Likud leader's public relations campaign.
10:23 P.M. Senior Kahol Lavan figure calls results a "failure"
"If these are the results, then yes, it's a failure," said MK Ofer Shelah, who holds the 8th spot on the centrist alliance's slate.
Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party said the prime minister spoke with the heads of all right-wing parties and agreed to form a "strong national government for Israel" as soon as possible.
Netanyahu is slated to deliver a "victory speech" at 11:45 P.M. local time, a spokesman told the media.
Bibi went gunning for his only real rival
10:10 P.M. Netanyahu tweets 'thank you' with heart emoji
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tweeted "Thank you" in Hebrew, along with a red heart emoji.
10:00 P.M. Exit polls indicate Netanyahu surges past Gantz, but one seat shy of ruling majority
Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud is predicted to win between 36 and 37 seats out of 120, followed by Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan with 32-33 seats, according to three exit polls published at the time voting ended in Israel.
According to the polls, Likud is one seat shy of a ruling majority. The right-wing and religious bloc is projected to win 60 seats while the center-left bloc is projected to win 52-54 seats. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu party is projected to have 6-8 seats.
The Joint List of Arab parties grew stronger and will be the third-largest party in the Knesset with 14-15 seats. The left-wing alliance Labor-Gesher-Meretz lost ground and is projected to win 6-7 seats.
The ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties are projected to win 9 and 7-8 seats respectively. The Yamina alliance of right-wing parties headed by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett is projected to win 6-7 seats.
Finally, the far-right Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit did not pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold in any of the exit polls and will likely not enter the Knesset.
The exit polls were released by Kan public broadcasting's Channel 11 and Channels 12 and 13.
9:04 P.M. Voter turnout at 65.6 percent with an hour before the close of polling stations
The voter turnout stands at 65.6 percent as of 8 P.M., 1.9 percentage points higher than it was in the September election and the highest rate since 1999.
8:43 P.M. Eighty percent voter turnout in Israeli prisons
Polling stations in prisons across the country closed at 8 P.M. The voter turnout stood at 80 percent, higher than in previous years and higher than the national rate.
8:04 P.M. Likud fined for publishing fake video of Gantz
The Central Elections Committee hands Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud a 7,500 shekel ($2,150) fine for spreading a doctored video of rival Benny Gantz.
7:46 P.M. Polling stations for quarantined voters close
Over 4,000 Israelis currently in self-quarantine as part of a national effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus voted in special polling stations.
The 18 stations across Israel were staffed by over 100 paramedics and closed at 7 P.M.
7:37 P.M. From a Netanyahu victory to another stalemate: Five scenarios
The definition of insanity is asking the same question three times in less than a year and expecting a different answer. Or, in other words, welcome to Israeli democracy.
If the polls are to be believed, the chances of Israel’s voters delivering a dramatically different result Monday night to the ones they gave five and a half months or 11 month ago are low. But despite the low probability of any major change over such a short time, every election exists in its own right and we’ll soon have a brand-new, 23rd, Knesset – and with it perhaps new governing coalition permutations. (Read Anshel Pfeffer's full analysis on the five possible election outcomes)
7:17 P.M. Turnout is key as 'betrayed' Arab voters take aim at Trump, Netanyahu
KAFR QASEM – Arab citizens of Israel tend to postpone voting on Election Day until the late afternoon and evening hours – the better to take advantage of the day off from work, they say. That might explain why barely a trickle of voters could be observed outside the main polling places in Kafr Qasem, an Arab town about 25 minutes from Tel Aviv, during the mid-morning hours.
Abdel Tamam, a prominent local artist, was one exception. By 10 A.M., not only had he already finished his breakfast and cast his ballot, but he was seated at his usual spot at a popular hole-in-the-wall downtown café, engaged in lively conversation with the other regulars.
He makes no secret of how he cast his ballot. “Everyone must vote for the Joint List,” Abdel Tamam declares, referring to the alliance of four Arab-led parties. “They are the only ones who can protect us from the racists here who want to uproot us."(Read the full story here)
6:56 P.M. Voter turnout continues to be highest since 1999
Voter turnout stands at 56.3 percent as of 6 P.M., 2.8 percentage points higher than it was in the September election, and the highest in 21 years.
5:43 P.M. Voter turnout highest since 1999
Voter turnout surges to 47 percent as of 4 P.M., 2.7 percentage points higher than it was in the September election and the highest since 1999.
4:55 P.M. Over 3,200 Israelis in self-quarantine due to fears of coronavirus vote in special polling stations as of 4:30 P.M.
4:29 P.M. New polling stations set up for quarantined voters
The Central Elections Committee is setting up two new polling stations in Tel Aviv and Kfar Saba for voters who are in quarantined due to coronavirus fears. As of Monday, twelve Israelis have been diagnosed with coronavirus and thousands are in self-quarantine in their homes.
The special polling stations are staffed by paramedics wearing protective suits and masks. Voters are required to wear masks and gloves as they place a double-sealed envelope in a plastic bag before slipping it into the ballot box.
In addition, hours will be extended until 7 P.M. at the other 16 special polling stations.
3:29 P.M. Voter turnout by 2:00 P.M. highest since 2013 election
Scaling up by more than 1.5 percent, voter turnout stands at 38.1 against previous cycle's 36.5.
2:56 P.M. Kahol Lavan fined for violating election law
Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan party received a 3,000 shekel ($560) fine for violating election law by using symbols of the State of Israel in its campaign materials.
2:48 P.M. Quarantined voters crowd special polling stations
Some 2,000 voters currently in self-quarantine as part of a national effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus voted in designated polling stations.
The special polling stations are staffed by paramedics wearing protective suits and masks. The voters, too, are required to wear masks and gloves as they place a double-sealed envelope holding their voting slip into a plastic bag before slipping it into the ballot box.
Another 600 voters are waiting in lines. Voting hours in these stations may be extended.
2:13 P.M. Likud ordered to cease texts falsely claiming Kahanist party dropped out of race
Central Elections Committee Chairman Neal Hendel has ordered Likud to respond to a petition by the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party by 3:30 P.M., and to cease its dissemination of false announcements against Otzma, which were sent by Likud.
Millions of text messages were sent out on Monday falsely claiming that Otzma Yehudit has dropped out of the race alongside a call to vote for Likud.
Otzma Yehudit Chairman Itamar Ben Gvir said that "Today another red line was crossed in the history of Israeli politics. Representatives from Likud and other parties are trying to hurt Otzma through means that have never been seen before." He added that Likud already has a Knesset majority and is now "asking to erase us and fears the drift in the direction of Otzma so that there will be no one to protect them on the right."
2:00 P.M. What Israel's election looks like under the shadow of coronavirus
Yuval and Aviya Oz knew that voting in the third election in less than 11 months would be odd – but they couldn’t have imagined quite how surreal the experience would be. Like over 5,000 other Israelis confined to their homes in self-quarantine as part of a national effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, their trip to the polls on Monday was the first and only time they were venturing out of their Tel Aviv apartment.
Instead of strolling into a local public school to cast their ballot alongside their neighbors as they did in the first two elections, in April and September last year, they had to drive to one of 16 special locations across the country. The special “pop-up” polling stations there are staffed by paramedics wearing protective suits and masks. The voters, too, are required to wear masks and gloves as they place a double-sealed envelope holding their voting slip into a plastic bag before slipping it into the ballot box.(Read more)
1:40 P.M. Facebook removes fake profiles aiming to suppress Arab voting
Facebook removed seven accounts it suspected were fake, which acted to suppress voter turnout among Israel's Arab population, in addition to over a hundred it removed recently.
According to an investigation by Democratic Bloc, an organization monitoring anti-democratic trends in Israel, the suspected profiles made comments to undermine Arab lawmakers and their parliamentary work, express despair in the political system and spread rumors about politicians' personal lives.
The Democratic Bloc commented that publication patterns by these fake accounts indicate "an organized, calculated and systematic operation." (Read more)
1:31 P.M. Voting rate rises by one percent compared to September election
As of 12:00, 27.6 percent of Israelis voted, as opposed to 26.8 in the previous round.
12:59 P.M. Health minister: Coronavirus situation under control
Speaking alongside the Magen David Adom CEO, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman visited a polling place designated for voters under quarantine for coronavirus. While there, he praised the Central Election Committee's work, alongside Magen David Adom and the health ministry, towards ensuring quarantined voters could cast their ballot.
"I ask you to calm the public and call once again to citizens of Israel: go out and vote without fear of corona," Litzman said. "The coronavirus situation is fully under control and the health ministry is the only one qualified to update you on the subject. Be wary of fake news."
11:49 A.M. 500 quarantined voters waiting at designated polls
Voters are crowding at the state-designated polling places for those quarantined for having possibly come into contact with the new coronavirus. Hundreds of voters in isolation have already cast their ballot, and some 500 voters are waiting at the polls.
11:36 A.M. Voting rate slightly drops compared to September election
As of 10:00 A.M., a 14.5 percent turnout was recorded, dropping from 15 percent in the previous election for that time.
11:18 A.M. Netanyahu votes, calls on public not to fear coronavirus
The premier urged citizens to come out and vote, reassuring that the necessary precautions were taken in regards to the coronavirus.
10:38 A.M. Israeli president says he's 'ashamed' of election campaign
While casting his vote, President Reuven Rivlin said: "I've been accompanying the elections in Israel almost since the country's foundation. It was always a day we considered to be a celebration of Israeli democracy, and I must say that today I feel no sense of celebration. Only a sense of hard shame, before you, the citizens of Israel."
Rivlin went on to criticize the recent campaign, saying "We don't deserve another horrible election campaign that deteriorates into such filth, like the one that ends today."
"We all deserve a government that will work for everyone," Rivlin said, beseeching Israelis to get out and vote, adding that "every vote is the right one."
9:49 A.M. Benny Gantz votes, urges voters not to be swayed by lies
Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz voted in the town of Rosh Ayin along with his wife Revital. Upon leaving the polling place, Gantz said, "Over the past few days, we've been exposed to lies, recordings and a system that's trying incite us against one another. I hope today we'll begin a process of healing and begin to live together alongside each other." He called on Israelis to vote, warning them not to be swayed by lies or violence.
8:44 A.M. Fake letter announcing Kahanist party's withdrawal from election reported
Israel's Central Election Committee said a letter that has been circulating around polling stations, allegedly signed by its chairwoman and claiming that the far-right Otzma Yehudit party has pulled out of the race, is in fact fake.
The party responded by saying "There is no limit to the despicableness and the depths to which people are willing to sink in order to hurt Otzma Yehudit." The party reiterated its intent to run and called upon right-wingers "not to vote for parties that deceive and try to slant the election."
8:31 A.M. D-Day for democracy | Analysis
The current, year-long election campaign began as a personal referendum on Benjamin Netanyahu. It evolved, at his initiative and under his direction, into a decision on the future of the State of Israel itself. Netanyahu’s desperate efforts to escape criminal prosecution led him to declare total war on democracy, the rule of law and the civic values on which they are based. Rather than facing his accusers in a court of law like a mere mortal, Netanyahu has turned his personal plight into an all-out culture war. (Read Chemi Shalev's full analysis here)
7:00 A.M. Polling stations open
Voting for the 23rd Knesset has begun as 10,631 polling stations throughout Israel open. Over 6.4 million eligible voters can head to the polling places until 10:00 P.M., and which time exit polls will be released. A final vote count will be published in the coming days.
Sunday, 11:12 P.M. Netanyahu's dream of majority spells danger for rule of law | Analysis
If Benjamin Netanyahu makes his campaign dream come true and the right-wing bloc he heads gets a 61-seat majority in the next Knesset, his immediate goal will be to head off his trial and punish the legal system for daring to investigate and prosecute him for bribery, fraud and breach of trust. A victory for the bloc will deliver an eternal blow to the rule of law in Israel, under the guise of “judicial reform” and “reining in the High Court of Justice,” a common desire of all the right-wing and religious parties. (Read the full analysis from Haaretz Editor-in-Chief Aluf Benn here)
10:30 P.M. Mood on Likud 'street' uncharacteristically happy | Analysis
Euphoria is not an exaggerated word when describing Likud circles on the eve of this third election in a year. There are those who would qualify this and speak of due caution, etc., but the dominant tone is clearly optimistic. The truth is that it’s never been like this. Every election cycle, especially in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s era, the Likud is swept up in fake hysteria which usually does not reflect the true mood, but instead is used effectively as a ploy to mobilize voters. (Read the full analysis by Ravit Hecht here)
9:40 P.M. Facebook removes Netanyahu video citing new polls
Facebook removed a video by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which illegally cited new polling numbers.
Speaking at a Likud party gathering at Airport City on Sunday, Netanyahu spoke of statistics from three hours earlier. The law forbids publishing new polls from Friday night until the closing of the polls on Election Day.
Facebook said that they had received a complaint asking that they remove campaign material that violated the local law, and therefore removed it.
8:44 P.M. Netanyahu spoke to rabbi who recorded Gantz adviser blasting him, leaked audio proves
Israel's Channel 12 News aired new material purporting to show that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was directly in touch with Rabbi Guy Habura prior to his recording of senior Kahol Lavan strategist Yisrael Bachar blasting Benny Gantz.
The ex-army chief had dismissed his adviser after the recording of him sayin that Gantz was a "danger to the people of Israel" was leaked.
"Prime minister, we'll do it," someone is heard saying in a conference call between the rabbi, Netanyahu and several other people in an audio published by Channel 12's journalist Ilana Dayan. The interlocutor is also heard promising Netanyahu that the voice of Yisrael Bachar, the political strategist for the Kahol Lavan leader, will not be blurred: "Of course Yisrael has to be heard, okay, of course."
8:20 P.M. Likud responds to accusation that it illegally published polls
In response to the petition filed against them to the Central Election Committee, Likud claimed: "It's not incidental that the law chose to set that poll results cannot be published in writing… the difference between a voice recording and a visual depiction is substantial and the difference between hearing and seeing should be considered. Two completely different senses."
Likud added that "the saying 'all the polls show'... does not constitute a poll as it does not detail the printed votes for each list of candidates."
7:52 P.M. Otzma Yehudit says it will not drop out of the race
Itamar BenGvir, leader of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, said that his party will not drop out of the race. "We're here to stay," Ben Gvir said. "The right doesn't have 61 seats without Otzma Yehudit. We promised, our word is our word."
The most recent polls project that Otzma Yehudit will not cross the electoral threshhold, nullifying votes that might otherwise go to right-wing parties.