Israel’s Benjamin Netanyahu Holds Slight Edge in Election Exit Polls

TEL AVIV – Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a lead over his rivals in exit polls for Israel’s fifth election in four years, but projections showed his lead to be marginal and the result could change as more votes are counted.

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According to figures from a survey by Dr. Kan, updated just before 1 a.m. Wednesday, Israel time, Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party was expected to win 30 seats in Israel’s parliament, or Knesset. His bloc of right-wing and religious allies was projected to win 62 seats from the 120-seat Knesset.

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That gives him an advantage over the current centrist Prime Minister of Israel, Yair Lapid, who has promised to form a government without Mr. Netanyahu and whose Yesh Atid party is projected to win 23 seats, according to Kan’s bloc. . 54 seats, according to the latest exit poll.

Supporters of Benjamin Netanyahu’s party on the eve of the vote displayed a banner saying “only the Likud can.”


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menahem kahana/Agence France-Presse/Getty Images

About 71.3% of eligible voters went to the polls, the highest figure since 2015, according to Israel’s Central Election Committee.

Mr. Netanyahu promised voters that he would form what would be the country’s most right-wing and religious coalition in its history. It would include an alliance of far-right and religious lawmakers proposing tough measures to quell Palestinian unrest in the West Bank and passing legislation to weaken the Israeli judiciary. The joint leader of that alliance is far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir, whose Religious Zionism party received 15 seats, according to Kan, making it the third largest party in the Knesset.

Mr. Netanyahu has promised to make Mr. Ben-Gvir a minister if he forms a government. Mr. Ben-Gvir is asking for control of the public security ministry, which would give him control of the country’s police.

Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Religious Zionist party was projected to win the third largest number of seats.


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AMIR COHEN/REUTERS

Mr. Ben-Gvir, who was convicted in 2007 of inciting racism and supporting a terrorist organization, was best known in Israel for defending Israelis accused of violent attacks against Palestinians in court, before rise to prominence last year on a law- order campaign. He has told voters he hopes to make Israelis safer by deporting people he sees as undermining the Jewish state, executing terrorists and giving immunity to Israeli troops and police who shoot and kill Arabs. who are seen holding stones or Molotov cocktails before throwing them.

At Mr. Ben-Gvir’s election night party in Jerusalem, activists cheered the exit poll results, dancing in circles while waving blue and white Israeli flags.

“It looks like Independence Day,” said Alon Hazon, 47, from Holon in central Israel. “We are ready to take back our country.”

The Arab citizens of Israel expressed their fear of Mr. Ben-Gvir. Riham Abu Nar, 19, who works at a kindergarten in Jaffa, said she was voting for the Arab Hadash-Ta’al party to prevent Mr. Ben-Gvir from gaining power.

“Itamar is really racist,” said Ms. Abu Nar, who is an Arab citizen of Israel. “He is obsessed with the Arabs. Our lives will be in danger if he is in the government.”

Mr. Ben-Gvir has denied that he is a racist.

The Islamist Ra’am party, which broke a taboo by joining the previous government, received five seats in the Kan poll, while the Arab-led Hadash-Ta’al alliance received four seats.

Mr. Netanyahu’s apparent parliamentary majority could be lost if the Palestinian nationalist party Balad passes the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the total vote. According to Kan’s exit poll, Balad has 3.1% of the total vote.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a secular centrist party allied with right-wing, left-wing and Arab factions.


Photo:

Ariel Schalit/Associated Press

Israelis remain divided over whether Mr Netanyahu – who was the nation’s longest-serving prime minister and was ousted last year – should return to power. He is loved by a large number of Israelis, many of whom refer to him as “the King of Israel.” But he has been unable to lead his Likud party to a decisive victory since 2015, as Israelis on the right and left remain torn over whether he should serve as prime minister while on trial for corruption. .

“Our good and strong governments were led by Bibi,” said Likud voter Avigayil Neuman, 28, from Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood, referring to Mr. Netanyahu by his nickname.

“I’m sick of the right-wing governments led by Netanyahu,” said Dana Lenzini, a teacher from Tel Aviv. She voted for Mr. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, saying he had done a good job in the four months he was premier.

Mr. Netanyahu’s trial on corruption charges, now more than two years old, was a rallying cry for his opponents in the past, but it is not as big in this election, with prosecutors suffering some setbacks of court However, the trial highlights the action for Mr. Netanyahu, who denies any wrongdoing. His potential coalition allies say they will pass legislation that would make him immune from prosecution. He denies that he is seeking re-election to avoid trial.

The fragmented nature of the Israeli political landscape means that parties must form coalitions to govern.


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Daniel Rolider/Getty Images

Mr Lapid, who leads a centrist secular party but allied with right-wing, left-wing and Arab factions, warned voters that women, LGBT Israelis and Arab citizens were all at risk of seeing their rights decrease if Mr. Netanyahu and his gentlemen. the right-wing and religious coalition are brought to power. Mr. Lapid made the election as a choice about the future of Israel as a democratic state.

“I know they have already declared the end of democracy a thousand times,” Mr Lapid said on Wednesday. “But this time it is not a threat. It is the electoral promise of the third largest party in Israel and the leader of the opposition Benjamin Netanyahu is entirely dependent on them.

Aviv Bertele, 42, who runs a Hebrew language school in Tel Aviv, said he voted for the left-wing Meretz party, despite being more right-wing, because he wants lawmakers who can fight against people like ‘and Mr. Ben-Gvir, whose alliance. fears that it could limit the rights of LGBT people and women.

“As a member of the LGBT community, and as someone who considers herself a feminist, I think we owe it to ourselves to protect ourselves from fascist forces like Itamar Ben-Gvir,” she said. “These elections are crucial to determine whether Israel will go liberal or become something like Iran or Saudi Arabia.”

The result of the fifth vote is likely to become clearer on Wednesday, when Israel’s electoral committee will have completed most of the votes. Under Israeli law, parties must win at least 3.25% of the vote to enter the Knesset. The fragmented nature of the Israeli political landscape means that parties must form coalitions to secure a parliamentary majority and govern. The process is likely to drag on for weeks, if not months. Analysts do not rule out a sixth election.

In the coming days, Israeli President Isaac Herzog will choose the leader he believes has the best chance of assembling a governing coalition, usually the party that wins the most seats or receives the most recommendations to form a government from its fellow legislators. This person has six weeks to try to put together a majority coalition that includes the support of the smaller parties.

Write to Dov Lieber at [email protected]

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