Netanyahu again falls short, as he and Gantz appear deadlocked in Israeli election

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Israelis went back to the polls for a second time in six months in a combative snap election between incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who is seeking his fifth term in office and has already served a record 13 years, and former general Benny Gantz.

While results are expected to come in overnight, the first exit polls show there is no clear winner in sight. Channel 12 reported Gantz’s Blue and White outpaced Netanyahu’s Likud with 34 to 33 seats in the Knesset. While Channel 13’s exit poll gave Blue and White a similar advantage of 33 seats to Likud’s 31, and Channel 11 reported a tie of 32 seats to both parties. Neither Blue and White or Likud were projected to secure the 61 seats out of Knesset’s 120 which would grant them a mandate to form a coalition. The poll that favored Netanyahu the most, Channel 12, projected that Likud could form a coalition of 57, short of the necessary 61 seats.

Most polls projected the Joint List, a coalition of four Arab parties, to cinch between 10 and 13 seats, recuperating the historic lows of last April’s elections where they dropped three seats from 2015.

Within a few hours of polls opening this morning at 8.a.m. it was clear the day was rife with election violations from a number a candidates, and Netanyahu and right-wing candidates again attempted to pump up voter turnout with allegations of increased voter turnout at Arab polling stations.

Infographic from the Institute for Middle East Understanding.

“You will decide whether a strong right-wing government will be formed under the leadership or a weak left-wing government led by Lapid-Gantz with the Arab parties. We have a big gap that we must close,” Netanyahu tweeted Tuesday. The Prime Minister’s son, Yair Netanyahu, also alleged increased voter turnout in Arab communities and even included an image of Turkish elections, presenting it as an image of Palestinian citizens.

Voter turnout in polling stations in Arab towns was at 50 percent at 8 p.m., according to YNet. Palestinian Knesset members Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi took to Twitter to encourage Palestinians to vote, posting pictures of themselves with family casting their ballots. 

“Unfortunately, there is still a low turnout in the Arab communities. Every effort must be made to raise it,” Tibi tweeted Tuesday morning, adding that Hebrew reports of an increase in Arab turnout were “tendentious.” 

Palestinian citizens of Israel tend to vote in the evening after work. Based on the exit polls, Arab voter turnout was likely between 50 and 60 percent, likely shy of voter turnout in 2015 when the party won 13 seats and became the third-largest party in Israel.

Early Tuesday Netanyahu violated election regulations by releasing polling data in a live video on social media and on Facebook. The Central Elections Committee temporarily froze his Facebook account, reactivating it once the offending posts were deleted. Shas, a right-wing religious party, also violated campaign regulations by dispensing religious books and trinkets at polling stations.

By Tuesday afternoon, Israeli outlets reported Likud had dispatched election monitors to Arab polling stations equipped with cameras with facial recognition capabilities. Reporters quickly took to social media speculating the news was leaked to outlets by a PR firm hired by Likud as a means of voter suppression. No reports of Likud members with cameras at Arab polls stations surfaced throughout the day. 

Channel 13 corrected their coverage about Likud putting facial recognition cameras outside polling stations, saying that they did not have those capabilities, but that Likud would review the footage after so as to detect individuals’ faces. 

Separately, polling stations, one Arab and three Druze, were temporarily closed after suspected voter fraud.

Netanyahu’s Likud party also doubled down on its efforts to reduce the number of Palestinian voters, issuing a request for an immediate injunction against activists who organized rides to polling stations for Bedouins in unrecognized villages in Israel.

The premier also voiced allegations that the Palestinian Authority (PA) was interfering in the elections, a claim that the Palestinian government quickly denied. 

“These charges are false and used only to justify the continuation of the rabid campaign against the PA and its leadership,” Hussain al-Sheikh, Fatah’s Central Committee Chairman said in a statement, according to Wafa news.