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Israel Election 2019: Netanyahu Ties With Gantz, but Has Clear Path to Form Next Government

Netanyahu makes celebratory speech: 'This is a night of great victory' ■ Likud and Kahol Lavan at a tie with 35 Knesset seats for each party ■ Gesher, Zehut, Hayamin Hehadash all fail to enter Knesset

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara wave as Netanyahu speaks at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara wave as Netanyahu speaks at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.Credit: Ammar Awad/Reuters
Hadash-Ta'al leader Ayman Odeh votes in Haifa.
Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud party leader kisses his wife Sara in from of his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.
Israeli Likud Party campaign material and posters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strown on the floor following election night at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.
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Hadash-Ta'al leader Ayman Odeh votes in Haifa. Credit: Rami Chelouche
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Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Likud party leader kisses his wife Sara in from of his supporters after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.Credit: Ariel Schalit/AP
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Israeli Likud Party campaign material and posters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu strown on the floor following election night at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.Credit: Jack Guez/AFP

UPDATE: Netanyahu has clear path to form next government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is likely to carry on to a fifth term in office and beat rival Benny Gantz in Israel's election, the latest results indicated early Wednesday morning.

Likud and Kahol Lavan are neck and neck, with the the vote tally showing that each party receive 35 Knesset seats after a hotly contested election campaign.

Benny Gantz speaks after exit poll results are released, Tel Aviv, April 10, 2019.Credit: \ AMIR COHEN/ REUTERS

However, the right-wing bloc has a clear advantage over the left, and seems to be likelier to form a coalition.

Turnout has been historically low in the Arab community, according to pollsters. Netanyahu's Likud party provided activists with 1,200 hidden cameras "to monitor" Arab polling stations — a move that prompted Israel's Central Elections Committee to file a police complaint.

8:55 A.M. Benny Gantz tells party members not to back down from duty to the public

Benny Gantz wrote his party members Wednesday morning: "It's looking bleak but the results are not yet final. It's possible that there will be electoral shifts, and that we can make certain political moves."

Gantz said that his voters wanted hope and were given hope. "They wanted a different way and we showed it to them. We will not back down from our public duty to represent over a million people who asked us for something different. It's an unprecedented historical victory. We should be proud."

5:52 A.M. 94 percent of votes counted; Likud and Kahol Lavan get 35 Knesset each

With 94 percent of the votes counted, Likud and Kahol Lavan are tied at 35 seats each, but the right-wing bloc gets 65 seats in total.

Bradley Burston and Allison Kaplan Sommer explain implications of low Arab voter turnout

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism have eight seats each, Yisrael Beiteinu and the Union of Right-Wing Parties five, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu four.

Among center-left parties, Labor gets six seats, as does Arab-majority Hadash-Ta'al. Meretz has four seats, and United Arab List-Balad barely makes it over the 3.25-percent electoral threshold, securing four Knesset seats.

Moshe Feiglin's Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked's Hayamin Hehadash and Orly Levi-Abekasis' Gesher fail to enter the Knesset.

5:18 A.M. Netanyahu and Gantz neck in neck but right-wing bloc still likelier to form government

With 93 percent of the votes counted, Likud gets 37 Knesset seats while Kahol Lavan gets 36 seats. The right-wing bloc garners altogether 67 seats, making it likelier for them to form the next coalition.

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 21Credit: Haaretz

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, both likely to back Netanyahu as next prime minister, have eight seats each.

Kahol Lavan activists cheer as exit polls pour in at the party's headquarters, Israel, April 9, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

Labor and Arab-majority Hadash-Ta'al have six seats each, and right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, led by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Meretz all have five.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu gets four seats.

United Arab List-Balad is just dozens of votes short of passing the 3.25-percent electoral threshold. Moshe Feiglin's Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked's Hayamin Hehadash and Orly Levi-Abekasis' Gesher also fail to enter the Knesset.

4:10 A.M. With most votes counted, Netanyahu's Likud maintains lead

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party gets 37 out of 120 Knesset seats, according to partial results in Israel's general election. With 79 percent of the votes counted, Benny Gantz's Kahol Lavan is only slightly behind with 36 seats.

Ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, both likely to back Netanyahu as next prime minister, have eight and seven seats, respectively.

Right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu, led by former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, as well as left-wing Labor, both have six seats.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu, Meretz, the Union of Right-Wing Parties and Arab-majority Hadash-Ta'al all have five seats.

Moshe Feiglin's Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked's Hayamin Hehadash, Orly Levi-Abekasis' Gesher and United Arab List-Balad all fail to enter the Knesset.

Average of Israeli election exit polls (Ch. 11, Ch. 12 and Ch. 13)

Netanyahu's party placed 1,200 hidden cameras in Arab polling sites.

3:30 A.M. Results begin to emerge, 64 percent of the votes have been counted

Results of Israel's election began to emerge, with 64 percent of the votes counted. According to the votes counted thus fur, Netanyahu's Likud is in the lead with 38 Knesset seats, while Gantz's Kahol Lavan comes in second with 35 Knesset seats.

Religious party Shas is standing to gain eight seats, while United Torah Judaism receives seven. Avigdor Lieberman's Yisrael Beiteinu gets six seats, as well as Labor Party, while Kulanu, Union of the Right-Wing Parties, Meretz and Hadash-Ta'al all receive five seats.

Moshe Feiglin's Zehut, Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked's Hayamin Hehadash, Orly Levi-Abekasis' Gesher and United Arab List-Balad all fail to enter the Knesset.

2:11 A.M. Netanyahu in celebratory speech: 'This is a night of great victory'

"We love you," Netanyahu told Likud supporters in a victory speech he held after exit polls showed his party has likely won the election. "23 years ago it was the first time Sara [his wife] and myself stood here, and here we return because of you and for you."

"This is a night of great victory," Netanyahu said to a standing ovation.

"I operate day and night for you, for the country, for our land," he added. "You earned an almost unfathomable feat in the face of biased media and under impossible conditions," he extolled Israelis who voted for his Likud party.

"The right-wing bloc will continue to lead Israel for the next four years," he added.

01:55 A.M. Updated exit polls show Likud overtaking Kahol Lavan by one seat

Haaretz's Allison Kaplan Sommer and Omer Benjakob explain live election results

The most recent exit polls still gave advantage to the right-wing bloc, showing that it is likely to garner 63-65 Knesset seats, while the center-left bloc has 55-57 seats, with the Likud overtaking Kahol Lavan by just one seat.

Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cast their ballots, April 9, 2019.

According to both exit polls by Channel 13 News and Channel 12 News, the Likud will snag 35 Knesset seats.

Both exit polls also showed that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked's Hayamin Hehadash party did not pass the electoral threshold of 3.25 percent. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu party is going to receive four Knesset seats, the exit polls indicated, while the United Arab List-Balad, which was at risk of not making it into the Knesset, will get four to six seats as well.

The exit polls also predicted that Orly Levi-Abekasis' Gesher party as well as Moshe Feiglin's Zehut party will fail to enter the Knesset.

1:43 A.M. Turnout at 67.9 percent as polls close, down from 2015

Voter turnout stands at 67.9 percent as of 10 P.M., when polls closed — down from 72.33 percent in 2015.

1:38 A.M. 12 Takeaways from Israel's looniest election that Netanyahu just won. Or is it Gantz? | Analysis

Based on initial exit polls, both Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu can point to historic achievements in Tuesday’s election. Gantz came out of nowhere and within a few short months set up a political party that is now inches away from power. Netanyahu overcame natural fatigue from his decade in power, three criminal indictments, a looming submarine scandal and the wholesale enlistment of his rivals. Although the jury is still out, the exit polls indicate that Netanyahu is within striking distance of a fourth straight term in office, during which he will pass David Ben-Gurion on way to become Israel’s longest ruling prime minister. Read the full analysis here (Chemi Shalev)

1:04 A.M. Feiglin says disappointed: 'There will be another election'

Far-right Zehut Chairman Moshe Feiglin, dubbed potential kingmaker in Israel's election, said Tuesday he still believes he would make it into parliament, despite exit polls suggesting his party didn't pass the 3.25-percent electoral threshold.

"I believe we're in, and Zehut will be in the next Knesset," he said in a video message.

"Even if we don't make it, it won't take long until there will be another election, and we will be there," Feiglin, running for the first time as party leader, said. "We're running long distances. This is the end of a beginning, not the beginning of the end." Read full story

12:53 A.M. Shas leader Dery says 'Gantz has no way to form government'

Ultra-Orthodox Shas leader Arye Dery, predicted six to seven seats in exit polls, said Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz "has no way to form a government."

Likud supporters cheer as the exit polls pour in, Israel, April 9, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

"The only question is whether we form a right-wing government or propose to Gantz to break up his artificial partnership with [Yesh Atid Chairman Yair] Lapid and come with us," Dery added, referring to Lapid's stances on ultra-Orthodox Jews, seen by Haredi politicians as a deal breaker in any negotiations to join a Gantz-led coalition.

12:14 A.M. Gantz hails historic day for Israel

Kahol Lavan Chairman Benny Gantz told supporters Tuesday overnight he believes he should be the next prime minister, after exit polls suggest his party is either tied or leading over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud. "This is a historic day," Gantz told party activists in Tel Aviv.

"We wish to thank Benjamin Netanyahu for his service for this country, and say that despite our many differences, we will rise above our past disagreements and grudges," Gantz said. "We will respect the voter's will — the biggest party is the one that should … form the government."

12:09 A.M. Labor chairman says disappointed with exit polls, Netanyahu must go

Labor Party Chairman Avi Gabbay told supporters he was disappointed with the exit poll results, which predicted his party receiving anywhere between six and eight Knesset seats, adding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu "must go." Gabbay vowed to "spearhead the political and social struggle" against Netanyahu, facing potential charges in several corruption cases.

Gabbay also said he spoke with Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. "I told him we will do everything" necessary to help Gantz form a government, he said.

He also pushed back at criticism from his own party over his leadership, including some calls to resign, saying he will go on leading the Labor Party.

11:41 P.M. If Netanyahu loses this election, he will have no one to blame but himself | Analysis

If the stunning — though conflicting — exit polls Tuesday night prove to reflect the actual results of the Israeli election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be hard-pressed to blame anyone but himself for the somewhat disappointing performance.

By cannibalizing votes from smaller right-wing parties in the hopes of scoring a decisive head-to-head victory against Benny Gantz, Netanyahu recklessly dismissed the possibility that several of them would disappear from the Knesset count — and from his potential government coalition. Read the full analysis here (Allison Kaplan Sommer)

Kahol Lavan activists cheer as the exit poll results pour in at the party's headquarters, Israel, April 9, 2019.Credit: Emil Salman

11:32 P.M. Labor lawmaker calls on party leader to resign

Prominent Labor MK Eitan Cabel has called on Chairman Avi Gabbay to resign, following the party's poor showing in Israel's election.

"Tonight is the most difficult night in the history of my [political] home," he said. "The Labor Party, which established this country, crashed in all exit polls and gets its worst-ever result." This failure, Cabel argues, is Gabbay's fault "and his alone."

11:32 P.M. Likud ministers say Netanyahu is next prime minister

Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel says "it is clear beyond any doubt that the Likud party has regained the public's trust. The Israeli people appreciates what we do for the benefit of the country and wants Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister for four more years."

Another Likud minister, Gilad Erdan, tweeted that "according to the preliminary results, the national camp has won and the right-wing bloc will be able to form the next government." He added a Likud-led government "represents the will of the majority of the public, and not a large party that made Labor crash," referring to Gantz's Kahol Lavan.

11:25 P.M. Kahlon won't commit to backing Netanyahu as prime minister

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon told Kulanu supporters that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called him after exit polls, predicting him four to five Knesset seats. "We've agreed to meet after final results are published and not a minute sooner."

Kahlon also thanked his supporters, gathered in Tel Aviv, and vowed to "join a government that will continue serving the entire Israeli society."

"This was a tough battle," Kahlon said. "I've been in politics for 20 years and there's never been a campaign like this one."

11:10 P.M. Right, center-left blocs tied, according to updated exit poll

Israeli elections: Voter turnout

Channel 12 News published an updated exit poll, with only minor changes to its initial poll, published an hour earlier.

According to the updated exit poll, both the right-wing bloc, headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party, and the center-left bloc, headed by Benny Gantz and Kahol Lavan, have 60 Knesset seats.

The updated poll predicts both Arab-majority parties Hadash-Ta'al and United Arab List-Balad will get six seats. Channel 12's initial exit poll predicted Hadash-Ta'al with seven seats and UAL-Balad with five.

10:58 P.M. Union of Right-Wing Parties responds to exit polls

The Union of Right-Wing Parties released a statement, saying: "This evening, above all, it was made clear that we saved the right-wing leadership by uniting with Otzma Yehudit."

"The Zionist religious way won out and proved that it is bigger than any one person. We expect the prime minister to declare in a non-two-faced way that he intends to form a right-wing government, and we see ourselves as senior partners in it," the statement said.

"In the coming hours we will enter into immediate negotiations in order to sum up the principles that will run this government even before we make our recommendation to the president," they added.

Bezalel Smotrich said the Union of Right-Wing Parties will recommend that Netanyahu receive immunity in the face of the criminal charges against him. "The deliberations and hearings will take a long time. Right now we are facing forward: Building a right-wing government is dependent on the immunity law that I spoke about a few weeks ago — it's necessary to build trust among all the Knesset members that we will be able to build this coalition for the whole term. I'm calling on all the right-wing parties to join and support this effort."

10:55 P.M. Avigdor Lieberman: surveys are 'psychological weapons'

Yisrael Beiteinu Chairman Avigdor Lieberman said he is “happy this battle is over, but it is still early to summarize or produce takeaways.” He added that the gaps between parties are too large and the bigger picture too unclear to draw conclusions, and “as someone who walked around all day in the field and saw how the exit polls were conducted, there is a non-negligible gap between the exit polls and the real voting results.” In addition, he accused pollsters of “manipulation and psychological warfare,” turning the surveys into “psychological weapons of war.”

10:50 P.M. Shas to recommend Netanyahu for forming government

Shas Chairman Arye Dery has spoken with Netnayahu and told him the party will recommend to the president that Likud form the next government.

10:48 P.M. Arab party leaders respond to exit polls

United Arab List-Balad Chairman Dr. Mansour Abbas: “We are certain that we will pass the electoral threshold; according to our data, the voter turnout in the Arab sector was above 50 percent... We should not forget that the exit polls ended at 8 P.M., so in the last two hours, there was a significant rise in the percentage of voters and support for the two Arab slates.”

Residents cast their votes in the northern city of Taibeh. Credit: Rami Chelouche

Dr. Mtanes Shehadeh, number two on the UAL-Balad slate, also expressed certainty that the party will enter Knesset, saying that exit polls have no true value. But, he added, “There is no doubt that after the results are in, the two [Arab] slates need to have a meeting and consider in order to win back the Arab public’s trust in the party.

Knesset Member Ayman Odeh, chairman of Hadash-Ta’al, responded by thanking his supporters - “Arab and Jewish democratic citizens, who came out to vote despite the incitement, hate and racist legislation and gave us their trust. Bibi understands this and so do we - there will not be change in this country without the political power of the Arab public.” He remains hopeful that UAL-Balad will join them in the Knesset.

10.45 P.M. Bennett, Shaked address supporters after two of three exit polls show them failing to make threshold

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked addressed supporters after two out of three exit polls suggest their new Hayamin Hehadash party may not enter the Knesset. "We take care of the soldiers, and you'll see that the soldiers will take care of us," Bennett said, suggesting that military ballots would ensure the votes needed to pass the voter threshold. He vows that the party will enter the Knesset and urges supporters to be patient.

Shaked says she still has work to do to overhaul the justice system, "and together we will succeed in reaching the goals we wanted, even if it takes longer, we are not giving up and we are walking on a long road. I know we will succeed."

10:32 P.M. Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg responds to exit polls

Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg told followers gathered at the Tzavta theater in Tel Aviv, "I'm late because I'm coming from Kafr Qassem. I arrived there at 8 P.M., and we decided to leave everything and head there to bolster the Arab voter turnout, after the attempts at voter suppression that took place there today."

"Israeli politics has not succeeded in doing what Meretz does: Gives real hope and the message that all citizens of the country are equal," Zandberg said. "If there is one thing that is already clear – and nothing is completely clear at this point – If Israeli politics does not relate to all the citizens of the country equally, it has no hope and it has no future. The only future lies in participation, equality and justice."

Zandberg's speech was met with loud applause as Meretz flags were waved throughout the auditorium. "This was a hard election campaign; I don't remember an election that was this hard. The fact that we don't know what the results will be is part of the challenge and part of the difficulty," she added.

10:25 P.M. United Torah Judaism responds to exit polls

United Torah Judaism said that Yaakov Litzman, head of the party, is currently speaking with Netanyahu. Litzman told Netanyahu that United Torah Judaism will recommend him for prime minister.

10:23 P.M. Hayamin Hehadash's Naftali Bennett responds to exit polls

Naftali Bennett, education minister and co-chair of Hayamin Hehadash, responded to the poll results: “Friends, don’t lose your spirit. Leadership is challenged in difficult moments. We have patience, faith, and nerves of steel. Hayamin Hehadash will pass [the electoral threshold], and will pass it well. We are sure that our way is just.”

He thanked supporters, and said that he and Ayelet Shaked, the justice minister and party co-chair, will meet with supporters at Hayamin Hehadash headquarters. Hayamin Hehadash only cleared the electoral threshold in one of the three exit polls.

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz casts vote in Rosh Ha'ayin.Credit: Moti Milrod

10:21 P.M. Netanyahu claims victory

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims victory, minutes after Benny Gantz did the same. "The right-wing bloc led by Likud won a clear victory," Netanyahu writes on Twitter. "I thank the citizens of Israel for their faith. I will begin forming a right-wing party with our natural partners tonight already." (Jonathan Lis)

10:06 P.M. Gantz claims victory

Kahol Lavan co-leader Benny Gantz claims victory after the release of exit polls, which have been contradictory. "We won!" Gantz said. "The Israeli people have spoken. Thank you to the thousands of activists and over a million voters. In these elections, there is a clear winner and a clear loser. Bibi promised 40 seats and lost, big time." (Jonathan Lis)

10 P.M. Contradictory exit polls: Gantz and Netanyahu tied ■ No clear path to premiership for either ■ Follow Haaretz's live updates as drama unfolds

TV channels have released their exit polls.

Channel 12 News has the center-left and right-wing blocs with 60 seats each – a tie. The channel's exit polls also have Kahol Lavan with 37 seats to Likud's 33.

Channel 13 has the right-wing bloc with 66 seats to the center-left's 54, and Kahol Lavan and Likud with 36 seats each.

The Kan public broadcaster has the right-wing bloc with 64 seats and the center-left with 56, and Kahol Lavan with 37 seats to Likud's 36.

The fates of several smaller parties appear to be up in the air, although all three channels have Zehut failing to meet the electoral threshold. In Kan's exit polls, Gesher, United Arab List-Balad, Zehut and Hayamin Hehadash failing to make it into the Knesset. Channel 12 has Gesher, Zehut and Hayamin Hehadash failing to pass. Channel 13 has Gesher, UAL-Balad, and Zehut falling short.

9:15 P.M. Turnout at 61.3% as of 8 P.M., down from 2015

Israel election 2019: The Netanyahus voting in Jerusalem, in the morningCredit: Emil Salman

Voter turnout stands at 61.3 percent, or 3,884,636 voters, as of 8 P.M. — down from 62.4 percent in 2015.

9:05 P.M. Meretz lawmakers visit Kafr Qasem amid reports of low Arab turnout

Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg and lawmaker Esawi Freige are in Kafr Qasem following widespread reports of historically low turnout among Arab voters. "It's not over till it's over," Freige says. "I believe that the Arab citizen knows that it is his duty to go out and vote — and yes, the young people are doing it, and doing it with pride." (Noa Landau)

8:54 P.M. Meretz requests leaving polls open late over hidden cameras

Meretz has petitioned the Central Elections Committee with a request to keep polls open for an extra hour, until 11 P.M., over the use of hidden cameras at polling stations, which the party says was a deliberate attempt at suppressing the Arab vote. (Noa Landau)

8:50 P.M. Arab parties report 44% turnout among Arabs

Following widespread reports of extremely low turnout among the Arab community, the Arab parties say the turnout stands at 44 percent, an hour before polls close. (Jack Khoury)

8:40 P.M. ‘Only Likud! Only Netanyahu!’: Forget Facebook, Israelis' phones are blowing up with text messages

Israeli phones exploded with panicked text messages throughout the day as political parties used multiple forms of manipulation — from fear to guilt to anger — to get potential voters to the polls.

The focus was on the tight race between Netanyahu and his main rival Gantz.

Cameras installed by activists near Arab polling stations. Credit: Hadash Spokesperson's Office

“Every vote that doesn't go to Kahol Lavan goes to Bibi,” read a text message from Gantz’s party. “Every voter who stays home votes for Bibi! If you haven't voted yet and you want to get rid of Bibi, NOW is the time to join your friends and neighbors and vote Kahol Lavan.”

There was even some “fake news” from Likud, claiming that the Labor Party had a “deal with the Arab parties! We have to stop this disaster!” However, most Likud texts struck a tone of victimization, Trump-style, pointing an accusing finger at the media.

“364 days a year the arena is theirs. 364 days a year we’re called corrupt fascists and beasts. 364 days a year they scream and we remain silent. But today is ours. Get your friends and neighbors, and get out to vote! Only Likud! Only Netanyahu!” Read full story (Allison Kaplan Sommer)

8:30 P.M. Labor and Kahol Lavan lawmakers respond to Likud video featuring secretly taped conversation

Knesset members Amir Peretz of Labor and Ofer Shelah of Kahol Lavan responded to a Likud campaign video that implicates the two in a secretly taped conversation. In the recording, Peretz allegedly tells Shelah, “There’s an opportunity here, that the Arabs won’t shred the deal against Bibi and Likud.”

Peretz responded: “Only someone who’s about to drown clutches at straws and turns the conversation to a political deal that didn’t exist and wasn’t created.” He added, “It seems that Likud is in despair and I hope that their hopelessness will become reality later tonight.”

“The despairing Bibi is disseminating lies,” Shelah said, “boiling the scraps of secret recordings, including my conversations. There are no secret deals, there’s no conspiracy: There’s just Bibi, who knows that only through deception will he be able to seize the government. Today we’ll throw out the liar.”

8:30 P.M. Central Elections Committee says they will accept ballots that had been purposefully sabotaged

The Central Elections Committee said that ballots that had been deliberately tampered with would be counted, so as to preserve the will of the voters. The statement came after Kahol Lavan lodged a complaint that many of their party's ballots had been sabotaged by punching small holes in them with the intent of disqualifying the ballots. Head of the council, Judge Hanan Melcer, said that the decision was made after the committee received numerous complaints of ballots that had been tampered with, or printed slightly differently than the prescribed guidelines.

Melcer decided that the ballots found with small holes or intentional scribbles should be counted. The committee also decided to accept ballots that had been printed slightly differently than the accepted format.

8:20 P.M. Mosque loudspeakers used to urge voters to turn out

Amid reports of extremely low turnout among Arabs, mosque loudspeakers in the Arab cities of Tamra and Taibeh are being used to urge residents to go vote.

Hadash Chairman Ayman Odeh has posted a video on Facebook page, urging supporters to vote and saying: "This is an emergency situation. There is a real danger of a Knesset without Arabs and without the Hadash-Ta'al slate."

7:58 P.M. Meretz chief heads to Arab city to encourage voter turnout

Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg is on her way to Kafr Qasem, located in the triangle of Arab towns and villages on the border with the West Bank, to support voting efforts in the Arab sector.

7:44 P.M. NGO buses Negev Bedouin to remote polling places

Throughout the day on Tuesday, some 50 minibuses plied the roads of southern Israel’s Negev desert — part of an NGO campaign attempting to realize Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s infamous 2015 Election Day threat that Israel’s Arabs were voting in droves, bused to the polls by left-wing organizations.

Focusing on Israeli Bedouin and organized by Zazim — a nongovernmental organization that defines itself as a campaigning community for social and political change — the minivans brought voters from remote, unrecognized villages to their assigned polling stations. Atiya al-Assam, head of the council of unrecognized villages, says that without the campaign, “most of our people just can’t vote.” Read the full story

7:30 P.M. Israel Police investigates complaints of voter fraud

Israel Police has opened an investigation into complaints of voter fraud across the country. According to a police statement, "The police have opened an investigation in regards to a small number of complaints of voter fraud at different polling stations around the country. In Ariel, a complaints were submitted by two voters who arrived at the polls to find that somebody had already voted in their name. Two similar complaints were submitted - one in the Jerusalem area and one in the center of the country - by voters who encountered a similar situation."

The statement said that the police have deployed thousands of officers, volunteers and border officers to polling stations around the country. "We are working together with the Election Council to preserve public order and prevent any injury to the integrity of the election or the secrecy of the vote."

7:25 P.M. Naftali Bennet pleads to voters to save his party

Education Minister and Hayamin Hehadash co-chair Naftali Bennett appeals to right-wing voters to resuscitate his party in a Facebook post. "Netanyahu is the next prime minister, easily," he wrote. the Union of Right-Wing Parties "has eight to ten seats. Ayelet [Shaked] and I are in an uneasy situation. A dangerous bar."

He continues: "A modest proposal - everyone, just the whole nationalist camp: Likud, Smotrich, Feiglin, everyone: come carry our stretcher. Vote only for Hayamin Hechadash. Ayelet and I gave you our souls for seven years. Please vote for Hayamin Hehadash so that we can continue."

7:19 P.M. Ahmad Tibi: Netanyahu and Smotrich's plan is a Knesset cleansed of Arabs

Ahmad Tibi, co-chair of the Arab Hadash-Ta'al slate, called on voters to head to the polls in a new video. "I'm calling on all of the Arabs to go out and vote," he says. "The statistics we're getting are very worrying. This is Netanyahu and [Union of Right-Wing Parties lawmaker Bezalel] Smotrich's plan, that the Knesset will be cleansed of Arabs. I am calling on everyone to go out and vote because your votes are crucial and decisive."

7:10 P.M. Almost 100,000 Labor Party members have not yet voted

In a last-minute campaign video, Avi Gabbay, head of the Israeli Labor Party, says that nearly 100,000 registered Labor members have not yet voted. “That’s close three Knesset seats,” he says, joined by a Labor activist. “That’s three amazing representatives from the Labor Party that are entering Knesset, becoming members of the change camp, and contributing to beating Netanyahu. And we can switch out Netanyahu.” He called on voters to go out and vote, saying that there are ways that the center-left bloc can still win.

7:06 P.M. Voter turnout at 52% as of 6 P.M.

Voter turnout stands at 52 percent as of 6 P.M., down from 54.6 percent in 2015.

6:50 P.M. Chairman of Hadash urges Arab voters to head to the polls

Chairman of Hadash, Ayman Odeh, urged Arab voters to head to the polls. "We are continuing in full force, going door to door and calling on people to get out and vote," he wrote on Twitter. "Our nightmare, which is the prime minister's fantasy – is a Knesset without Arab representation, and suddenly that's looking like a realistic possibility. I know that 'Gevalt' is a Yiddish word, but worrying about our children's future is universal."

6:48 P.M. Netanyahu’s tired opponents left waiting for him to make a mistake

Opposition leaders Avi Gabbay and Benny Gantz are hoping the prime minister can be ousted on Tuesday but, following them on Election Day, they seem to be pinning their hopes on right-wing parties failing to cross the electoral threshold, Anshel Pfeffer writes. Full story here...

6:20 P.M. Low turnout in Bedouin-majority city

Rahat, in southern Israel, is seen as one of the most important sources of votes for the Arab-led slates, but voter turnout at one polling station stands at less than 20 percent as of 5 P.M.

Sami Ashwi, an aide to the city's mayor, says he feels helpless. "You run into people who simply have a total lack of awareness of their situation and we feel helpless before this complacency. We have a few hours left and I hope we manage to do something," Ashwi says.

6:10 P.M. Abbas hopes Israeli vote leads to peace talks

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas says "our hands remain extended in peace" on Israel's Election Day, the Associated Press reported.

Speaking in the West Bank city of Ramallah, Abbas says the Palestinian leadership hopes the outcome will help Israel "come to the negotiating table" and embark "on the right track to reach peace."

But Abbas stresses that Palestinians would reject peace brokered by U.S. President Trump's administration.

6:05 P.M. Activists for Arab-led slates report distress over turnout

Activists from both the main Arab tickets have been expressing concern about low voter turnout in Arab communities.

The activists reported their concern to the campaign headquarters of both tickets, Hadash-Ta’al and United Arab List-Balad. Balad Chairman Jamal Zahalka said the data attests to “a real problem at the polling stations.”

The two Arab tickets estimated turnout in Arab communities at about 25 percent as of 5 P.M., compared to 35 percent in the last election. Full story here...

5:38 P.M. Meretz in 'danger zone,' Zandberg tells voters

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg tells voters that "we are in the danger zone. We are fighting for every vote."

5:33 P.M. Turnout at 42.8 percent as of 4 P.M.

Voter turnout stands at 42.8 percent as of 4 P.M., down from 45.4 percent in 2015.

5:20 P.M. Netanyahu tells beachgoers to vote

Netanyahu visited Poleg beach, north of Tel Aviv, to urge beachgoers to vote: "If they stay at the beach and don't vote, they’ll wake up tomorrow with Yair Lapid as the head of a left-wing government. If you want to continue with Likud, and with me, then you need to go vote. Go to the beach after!"

He also accused Kahol Lavan members of tampering with Likud ballots: "I’m telling you, go to the voting booth and vote Likud! With Lapid and Gantz, their people are marking the ballots! Look at both sides. A ballot that’s marked is disqualified. So go to the voting booth to vote Likud."

5:14 P.M. Pollster says Arab turnout at historic low

Professor Camil Fuchs, pollster for Haaretz and Channel 13, says low turnout in Arab communities "is the biggest problem. We have never seen such things, and this may be the biggest drama."

5:05 P.M. Netanyahu cancels appearance at polling station, claims he received notice of low turnout in Likud strongholds

Netanyahu cancels an appearance at a polling station in Ashdod, writing on Twitter: "At the entrance to Ashdod, on the way to a Likud event, I received a dramatic update about very low voter turnout in Likud strongholds, compared to high turnout in left-wing strongholds. I canceled the event and just left for an emergency meeting in Jerusalem. The right must be saved. There are only a few hours more. Go out and vote Likud or we will get a left-wing government."

>> Top six op-eds on Israel's elections ■ Netanyahu? Gantz? Who Would American Jews Vote for in Israel’s Elections? | Jonathan S. TobinAnnexing the West Bank: Why We Must Take Netanyahu's Pre-election Stunt Seriously | Victor KattanNon-Jews Are About to Lose the Right to Vote in Israel | Samuel Heilman

4:56 P.M. Kahol Lavan candidate Ashkenazi warns of attempt to sabotage election

Gabi Ashkenazi of Kahol Lavan warns that there are ongoing attempts to sabotage the election. "We are dealing in the past few hours with an attempt to sabotage this election, to mark Kahol Lavan ballots to get them disqualified," he said. "We are reporting these attempts and I am sure it will be taken care of." Gantz meanwhile warns in a video: "The numbers are good but it's not enough. We must work harder. Likud is disseminating lies. We must not be confused, we must work hard, to ensure that the ballot is correctly put in the box and to help us bring victory."

3:57 P.M. Gantz helps man injured in motorcycle accident

Gantz is filmed assisting a man lying in the road after being knocked off his motorcycle in an accident.

3:52 P.M. Likud claims Kahol Lavan is calling on Palestinians living in Israel to urge relatives to vote for Gantz-Lapid

Likud claims that Kahol Lavan is distributing Arabic-language calling on Palestinians living in Israel to encourage their relatives with voting rights to vote for it.

3:40 P.M. Temporary injunction issued against Hayamin Hehadash at Bennett's request

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer issues a temporary injunction at the request of Hayamin Hehadash co-chair Naftali Bennett. Bennett claims the Union of Right-Wing Parties is distributing a video on social media from his days as the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi taken during the 2015 election, in which he is seen calling on the public to vote for Habayit Hayehudi. The Union of Right-Wing Parties is ordered to respond on Bennet's claims by 3:30 P.M.

3:35 P.M. Levi-Abekasis submits complaint over posts claiming she dropped out of race

Gesher Chairwoman Orly Levi-Abekasis submits a petition to the Central Elections Committee following posts on social media falsely claiming that her party had dropped out of the race. Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer instructs social media networks to remove every post suggesting Abekasis has pulled out of the race.

3:32 P.M. Smotrich confirms receiving extra security after Knesset receives threats against him

MK Bezalel Smotrich, running on the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties slate, confirms that he was told by the Knesset's security chief that threatening letters targeting him had been received, prompting extra security for him and his family. A police car arrived at Smotrich's home this morning and accompanied him to his polling station.

3:25 P.M. Yisrael Beitenu submits complaint alleging Bennett and Shaked are spreading false claims to voters

The Yisrael Beitenu party submits a complaint to the Central Elections Committee against Hayamin Hehadash leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, alleging that they are deliberately misleading the public. The complaint involves text messages and robocalls targeting Russian speakers. The text messages claim that Yisrael Beitenu will fail to cross the electoral threshold and that Hayamin Hehadash is thus the correct choice. Meanwhile, voters have also received robocalls with someone impersonating Yisrael Beitenu candidate Evgeny Sova voicing a similar claim.

3:13 P.M. Netanyahu enlists John McLaughlin to help get right-wingers to vote

Netanyahu releases a video with U.S. President Donald Trump’s pollster John McLaughlin, together sounding the alarm that if Likud and the right-wing base do not turn out in full on Election Day, a “leftist’ government will take over Israel. Read the full story

3:12 P.M. People with disabilities reporting problems in reaching polling stations

Yuval Wagner, president of the Access Israel non-profit organization dedicated to rights for people with disabilities, says that many disabled people have reported obstacles making it difficult to reach their polling stations, despite the requirement that every polling station have at least one accessible ballot box. Wagner added that campaign booths have been placed near schools used as polling stations in several locations, which can block disabled people from making their way inside, and that there have been complaints that signs pointing to accessible booths are not sufficiently visible.

3:07 P.M. Turnout at 35.8% as of 2 P.M.

Voter turnout stands at 35.8 percent as of 2 P.M. slightly lower than 2015, when it was 36.6 percent. This equals about 2 million votes.

2:14 P.M. Feiglin is messianic but still a possible partner, Gantz tells Haaretz

Kahol Lavan chair says the Zehut leader is not as bad as other right-wing extremists, notes that Labor's Gabbay is indeed a senior partner, calls Meretz politically naive and criticizes Arab parties. Read the full story

2 P.M. Hadash busses East Jerusalem residents to polling stations

Dozens of residents of the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem reported that they were assigned to polling stations as far as a 30 minutes drive away from their homes. In response, the Hadash Party has been operating shuttle services transporting residents to polling stations.

Beit Safafa is the only neighborhood in East Jerusalem whose residents are eligible to vote since half of the neighborhood lies within the Green Line.

1:55 P.M. Election committee chairman instructs police to investigate disappearance of ballots

Israel's Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer instructed the police to investigate the disappearance of certain ballots for particular parties and the vandalizing and marking of other ballots. The Central Elections Committee said that if this turns out to be a recurring phenomenon, in order not to punish voters not responsible for the marking, the committee will consider determining these ballots as valid.

12:26 P.M. Election Committee chairman files complaint after 1,200 hidden cameras found at polling sites

Israel's Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer files complaint to the Israel Police after Likud provides right-wing activists with 1,200 hidden cameras to monitor Arab polling sites.

The police confiscated dozens of these cameras, while Netanyahu said there should be cameras everywhere in order to ensure a "kosher" voting process.

A senior police official said that at this point, there is no suspicion that a criminal offense was committed, adding that the activists caught with hidden cameras were outside the polling stations not inside them. The police are currently waiting for the Central Elections Committee's decision to determine whether the installment of the camera is an obstruction of the voting process.

The Central Elections Committee's legal counsel said, however, that polling officials could not film voters arriving at the polling stations nor during the voting process.

12 P.M. Voter turnout at 24.8 percent

Reports put voter turnout at 24.8 percent as of 12 P.M., slightly lower than turnout at this time in 2015. Voter turnout in the Arab town of Baqa al Gharbiyye was reported at 9 percent as of 12 P.M.

11:48 A.M. Netanyahu casts vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes at local polling station in Jerusalem alongside his wife Sara.

11:20 A.M. Yair Lapid casts vote: A vote for any part other than Kahol Lavan is a vote for Netanyahu

Kahol Lavan co-chairman Yair Lapid casts vote, saying “we’re a step away from victory, we need two more seats to win these historic elections in Israel. A vote for any party except Blue and White [Kahol Lavan] is a vote for Netanyahu. What we need now is to go and work hard across the country to bring the votes we need for victory.”

11:10 A.M. Arab party demands cameras illegally installed by right-wing activists be removed immediately

The Hadash-Ta’al slate files an urgent complaint to the Central Elections Committee, demanding that immediate removal of the cameras illegally installed by right-wing activists in polling stations in Arab communities. In the meantime, the police have begun removing the cameras in some polling stations.

Hadash-Ta’al says in statement: "The radical right fully understands the power we have to overthrow those in power, and [they] cross every red line through illegal measures in an attempt to intervene [in the election] and prevent the Arab citizens from voting. But we also understand the power we have, and today we are going out to vote and nothing will stop us."

11 A.M. Police deploy reinforcement to polling stations

The Israel Police spokesperson's office says additional forces were sent to local polling stations. In an official statement, the police say, "since the early hours of this morning, reinforced police forces have been deployed in polling stations throughout the country in order to maintain order and ensure that the democratic process is being implemented in accordance with the law."

11 A.M. Police find hidden cameras in Arab communities installed by right-wing activists

Israel Police find dozens of cameras installed by right-wing activists in polling stations in Arab communities, in cities including Nazareth, Reineh and Tamra. A police source, however, says filming at the entrance to polling stations does not constitute a felony unless cameras are installed behind the privacy divider.

The source added that to their knowledge, the cameras were not hidden behind the divider. It is still unclear which party initiated the installment of the cameras. A right-wing source told Haaretz that "the move was aimed to preserve the purity of the election and to assure that Ra'am-Balad won’t pass the threshold through falsifications.

A video shows the activists saying they were sent by the Likud.

10:45 A.M. Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg votes in Tel Aviv

MK Tamar Zandberg, Meretz chair, casts her vote at a local Tel Aviv polling site. "I admit I'm worried today. Meretz is in danger [not to pass the electoral threshold], and Meretz is the key for a [strong] left-center bloc. If Meretz goes down, the bloc goes down. Without Meretz there is no chance for a change," she says.

10:36 A.M. Hayamin Hehadash MK files complaint against Union of Right-Wing Parties

MK Moti Yogev from the Hayamin Hehadash party headed by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, files a complaint against the Union of Right-Wing Parties for distributing false propaganda. According to the complaint, a video of Naftali Bennett from his days as the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi has been broadcasted since this morning. In the video Bennett is seen calling on Israel's citizens to vote for Habayit Hayehudi, alongside an audio recording of Shaked backing him.

10:15 A.M. The Union of Right-Wing Parties leader says party will lead entire state

MK Bezalel Smotrich votes in the Jewish settlement of Kdumim in the West Bank. "The Union of Right-Wing Parties has already chosen to lead a long time ago, and continues, as the pioneer of Jewish settlement in Samaria, to lead the entire Jewish state," Smotrich says.

10:10 A.M. Arab slate Hadash-Ta'al banners defaced: 'Death to the Arabs'

Hadash-Ta’al banners hanging near Nazareth were vandalized with Hebrew graffiti saying “death to the Arabs" on it.

Meanwhile, Hadash-Ta'al leader Ayman Odeh casts his vote in Haifa.

"I'm happy and excited to vote today. I call on all of Israel's citizens to exercise their democratic right, especially the Arab citizens. Netanyahu doesn't want to see you casting your votes. Today we vote for a better future, for an alternative to the racist and extremist regime that has ruled here in the past decade. We must believe change is possible, that achieving equality is possible, that achieving peace is possible. Today we choose- apartheid or democracy," Odeh says.

Voter turnout in the Arab community for the election will be one of the factors affecting the representation of the Arab parties and the map of the blocs. United Arab List-Balad and the Hadash-Ta’al slate have been encouraging voters all night and morning to go out and vote.

In Sakhnin, one of the main Arab cities in the north, 30 polling stations are spread out over eight locations. Former mayor Mazen Ghanaim is running on the United Arab List-Balad slate for the Knesset and is in the sixth spot. Outgoing MK Masud Ganaim of the United Arab List also lives in Sakhnin.

A disturbance breaks out at a polling station in the Algadir School in the eastern neighborhood of the city after right-wing activists were caught with hidden cameras outside the polling stations. Only a few people have voted there thus far but party activists said the pace will pick up toward mid-day and in the afternoon.

10 A.M. Voter turnout at 12.9 percent

Polling sites are reporting a 12.9 voter turnout as of 10 A.M.. In 2015 turnout was at 13.7 percent and 2013 turnout was 11.4 percent at the same time. The overall turnout in 2015 was 71.8 percent.

9:55 A.M. Meretz files petition against Shas

Meretz filed a petition against the religious party Shas claiming its activists were distributing gifts outside polling sites in contravention of the law.

9:50 A.M. Right-wing extremists disturb Arab community polling sites

After polling sites opened in Arab communities, several towns complain of right-wing activists arriving at their voting sites with recording devices and hidden cameras. In Sakhnin, Arab party activists demanded that the right-wing extremists be removed from the site and filed a complaint with the police and the election committee.

9:40 A.M. Netanyahu invites voters to chat with him through Facebook

Netanyahu posts a video calling on voters to chat with him personally on Facebook messenger by clicking on a link. “This morning I want to talk to you personally through messenger. All you have to do is click the link. I am waiting.” Voters have also reported receiving SMS messages inviting them to personally chat through messages with the prime minister.

This is not the first time Netanyahu is using this tactic. In January Haaretz reported that tens of thousands of people have been getting personal Facebook messages from Netanyahu’s page, worded like a private message to the user: “Hello, this is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I wanted to personally ask you for your support in the upcoming election. What do you think?” The conversation is sent and managed by an automatic bot that responds to the user’s answers.

9:39 A.M. Bennett casts vote in Ra'anana

Hayamin Hehadash leader Naftali Bennett casts vote in Ra'anana, north of Tel Aviv.

9:30 A.M. Netanyahu says Zehut will join largest coalition

Netanyahu tells Likud ministers that Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin said his first call will be to the largest party.

9:30 A.M. President Reuven Rivlin casts vote in Jerusalem

President Reuven Rivlin goes to local polls in Jerusalem to cast vote. "The citizens of Israel, not party heads, will be the only ones to decide who will be the next prime minister and what the next government will look like. In order to make a difference you must go out and vote," Rivlin says.

9:25 A.M. Polling stations in prisons and hospitals open

Polling stations in prisons and hospitals throughout Israel open.

9:20 A.M. Litzman and Knesset speaker Edelstein vote

Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism chair Yaakov Litzman votes in Jerusalem and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein votes in Herzliya.

9:05 A.M. Ashkenazi and Feiglin vote

Former military chief Gabi Ashkenazi votes in Kfar Saba and Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin votes in Karnei Shomron.

9 A.M. Avi Gabbay votes in Jerusalem

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay casts vote in Jerusalem with his mother. "Today my mother voted Labor for the first time in my life. Just as my mother, we see many people who read our plan and see our team who are going to vote Labor for the first time today. You'll be surprised."

8:56 A.M. Benny Gantz votes in Rosh Ha’ayin

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz casts vote in central city of Rosh Ha'ayin, saying "We’re going to change the state of Israel." After casting his vote Gantz’s party issued a statement saying he will now go to Kfar Achim to visit his parents' gravesite.

Former military chief-of staff and Kahol Lavan candidate Moshe Ya'alon voted in Kibbutz Grofit.

8:55 A.M. Meretz asks local election committees to examine ballots

After multiple reports about left-wing party Meretz’s election ballots being corrupted, Meretz saysit had asked all local election committees to enter the ballots periodically and examine the state of the ballots

8:45 A.M. Election committee prohibits interviews

Chair of Israel's Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer prohibits the media from interviewing politicians as electioneering is illegal on election day. Media outlets cancel planned interviews.

8.30 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox to protest election in Jerusalem

After plastering walls with anti-election posters in the religious Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She'arim warning "We are against the Zionist state, don't vote in their elections," ultra-Orthodox residents plan a protest at 1 P.M.

Israel's ultra-Orthodox community does not support the election or Zionism as they believe the Messiah must come before the State of Israel is established.

8:04 A.M. Moshe Kahlon and Arye Dery cast votes

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) casts his vote in Haifa and Shas party chairman Arye Dery votes in Jerusalem.

"If Kulanu gets another seat it will change the lives of millions of citizens, of the elderly, of the disabled, of the middle class, of young couples waiting for housing," Kahlon says.

8 A.M. Ayelet Shaked votes in Tel Aviv

Far-right Hayamin Hehadash party co-chair and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked heads to local polling station in Tel Aviv.

8 A.M. Lieberman casts vote

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, votes in settlement of Nokdim. "Churchill said bad governments are the result of good people not voting. I hope the public knows these sleazy tricks [Netanyahu is pulling] and will vote for real right-wing parties," Lieberman says.

7 A.M. Polls open

More than 10,000 polling stations open throughout the country. Some 6.3 million eligible voters will cast their vote as hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to enjoy the day off.

6 A.M. Election Committee rejects Likud petition to transport Bedouins to polling stations

The Central Elections Committee denies a petition by Netanyahu's Likud against a left-wing group that’s trying to help Bedouins get out to vote.

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