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  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their vote during Israel's parliamentary election at a polling station in Jerusalem September 17, 2019.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara cast their vote during Israel's parliamentary election at a polling station in Jerusalem September 17, 2019. | Photo: Reuters

Published 17 September 2019
Opinion

Opinion polls put former armed forces chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck-and-neck with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud. 

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu battled for his political survival in the final hours of a close-run election Tuesday, urging voters to support him to avert a “disaster.”

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Opinion polls put former armed forces chief Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party neck-and-neck with Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud, and suggest the far-right Yisrael Beiteinu party could emerge as kingmaker in coalition talks.

Prohibited by law from campaigning on mainstream media, party leaders took to social networks to mobilize support.

Describing a possible outcome if his supporters did not vote for him, Netanyahu wrote on Twitter, “High voting percentage in left-wing strongholds. Voting percentages low in right-wing strongholds. Disaster!”

Without their support, “we will get a left-wing government with Arab parties,” he wrote.

Gantz posted a video of himself leaning out a car window in traffic during a random encounter with a supportive commuter. Gantz’s co-leader, Yair Lapid, urged left-leaning constituents to come out and vote and said “Bibi is lying,” using Netanyahu nickname.

Netanyahu has announced his intention to annex the Jordan Valley in the occupied West Bank, where the Palestinians seek statehood. But Blue and White have also said it would strengthen Jewish settlement blocs in the West Bank, with the Jordan Valley as Israel’s “eastern security border.” The Palestinians and many countries consider the settlements to be illegal.

Palestinians and progressives slammed Netanyahu’s pledge of annexation. United States Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar previously criticized Netanyahu. 

On Tuesday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “The German government backs an internationally negotiated peace solution in the sense of a two-state solution ... annexations are always detrimental to peace solutions. They do not help and therefore we do not agree.”

Facebook suspended Netanyahu’s chatbot for illegally publishing polls. 

“We’re working with elections officials around the world to help ensure the integrity of the elections. Our policy explicitly states that developers are required to obey all laws applicable in the country where their application is accessible. Therefore we’ve suspended the [Netanyahu] bot’s activity, in light of the violation of local law, until the close of the polls” at 10 P.M. Tuesday, said Facebook. 

The election was called after Netanyahu failed to form a coalition following an April election in which Likud and Blue and White were tied, each taking 35 of the 120 seats in the Knesset or parliament. It is the first time Israel has had two general elections in a single year.

Polling stations opened at 7 A.M. local time and will close at 10 P.M. local time when Israeli media will publish exit polls giving a first indication of the outcome.

Hagit Cohen, a 43-year-old social worker, said she would back Blue and White rather than her former favorite, the now fringe Labour party, “I don’t want my vote to be wasted. Gantz may not be perfect, but enough is enough with Bibi (Netanyahu).”

“There is a definite sense of fatigue. Many Israelis are fed up with the politicians, or expect more of the same,” said Amotz Asa-El, a research fellow at Jerusalem’s Shalom Hartman Institute.

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