Israeli Election Exit Polls: Netanyahu One Seat Shy of Majority

All three TV polls give right-wing bloc 60 seats ■ Likud (36-37 seats) easily tops Kahol Lavan (32-33) as largest party ■ Lieberman again potential kingmaker ■ Joint List keeps growing but center-left bloc loses ground

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters following the announcement of exit polls in Tel Aviv, March 3, 2020.Credit: AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

Exit polls Monday night showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc winning 60 Knesset seats, one shy of the majority needed to form a government, with Likud emerging as clearly the largest party, winning 36-37 seats to 32-33 for Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan. The results of the three TV exit polls indicated that Netanyahu’s relentless rallying of his voters in recent days paid off in this third election in a year.

Bibi went gunning for his only real rival

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“A huge victory for Israel,” Netanyahu tweeted after the exit polls were broadcast.

The center-left bloc was projected to win 52-54 seats. “If these are the results, then yes, it’s a failure,” said MK Ofer Shelah, who holds the eighth spot on Kahol Lavan’s slate.

Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu was projected to win six to eight seats, leaving him once again as the potential kingmaker, a role he spurned in last year’s two elections in April and September.

“We should wait for the final results before reaching any final conclusions,” Lieberman told supporters at party headquarters. “We don’t intend to move even an inch from what we’ve promised our voters,” he added, referring to his vow not to sit in a government led by Netanyahu.

Avigdor Lieberman casts his ballot, March 2, 2020.Credit: Emil Salman

The Joint List of Arab parties grew stronger and was projected to be the third-largest party in the Knesset with 14-15 seats. Exit polls gave the left-wing alliance Labor-Gesher-Meretz with six to seven seats and the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties nine and seven to eight eats respectively. The Yamina alliance of right-wing parties headed by Defense Minister Naftali Bennett was projected to win six or seven seats. Finally, all three exit polls found the Kahanist anti-Arab party Otzma Yehudit falling short of the 3.25-percent electoral threshold and failing to making it into the Knesset.

The exit polls were released by Kan public broadcasting’s Channel 11 and Channels 12 and 13.

For all the talk of voter fatigue, the turnout at 8 P.M., two hours before the polls closed, stood at 65.6 percent, 1.9 percentage points higher than it was in the September election and the highest Election Day rate since 1999. The turnout in Israeli prisons, where polls closed at 8 P.M., was 80 percent.

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 deep 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.”

Election committee sanctions parties 

During the course of the day, Central Elections Committee chairman Neal Hendel ordered Likud to halt its dissemination of false announcements that Otzma Yehudit had dropped out of the race and called on its supporters to vote Likud.

Likud sent out millions of text messages to this effect on Monday, the committee said. Otzma Yehudit said: “There is no limit to the vileness and the depths to which people are willing to sink to hurt Otzma Yehudit.”

In addition, the elections committee fined Likud 7,500 shekels ($2,150) for spreading a doctored video of Gantz.

Meanwhile, Kahol Lavan was fined 3,000 shekels by the committee for violating election laws in using symbols of the State of Israel in its campaign materials.

Facebook removes accounts to suppress Arab vote

Also on Election Day, Facebook removed seven accounts it suspected were fake and designed to suppress voter turnout among Israel’s Arab population. In previous days, Facebook removed over 100 such fraudulent accounts.

According to an investigation by Democratic Bloc, an organization monitoring anti-democratic trends in Israel, the phony profiles made comments aimed at undermining Arab lawmakers and their parliamentary work, express despair in the political system and spread rumors about politicians’ personal lives.

The Democratic Bloc said the publication patterns by these fake accounts indicated “an organized, calculated and systematic operation.”

Coronavirus quarantined go to the polls

As election and health officials sought to reassure the public that there was no unusual threat of coronavirus at the polling stations, over 4,000 Israelis currently in self-quarantine as part of the national effort to slow the spread of the disease voted in special polling stations.

A voter quarantined for coronavirus votes at a designated polling place in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2020.Credit: David Bachar

The 18 stations across Israel were staffed by over 100 paramedics wearing protective suits and masks, and closed at 7 P.M. Voters were required to wear masks and gloves as they placed a double-sealed envelope in a plastic bag before slipping it into the ballot box.

Speaking alongside the Magen David Adom CEO, Health Minister Yaakov Litzman visited a polling place designated for voters under quarantine for coronavirus.

“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.”

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