7 things to look for in Israel’s elections on Tuesday

An Israeli election billboard for the Likud party shows President Donald Trump shaking hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, also the Likud party chairman, on a street in Jerusalem, Sept. 16, 2019. (Ahmad Gharabli/AFP/Getty Images)

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israelis head to the polls for the second time this year on Tuesday. Exit polls from the country are notoriously fickle, so the real results of the election may leave onlookers in suspense for a bit.

Here are some of the more important things to look for on Election Day and their consequences going forward.

Are Netanyahu and Gantz heading for another tie?  

It sure looks that way. Two major polls that came out Friday — the last day permitted for survey numbers to be released — showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Benny Gantz’s Blue and White alliance deadlocked at 32 seats apiece – below the 35 each party received in the April vote. Israel’s president, Reuven Rivlin, will determine which candidate to tap to form the government based on which he thinks has the best chance of forming a stable governing coalition. Sixty-one seats in the 120-member Knesset is the number to reach. Netanyahu’s failure to form a coalition was what triggered this second election.

Will Avigdor Liberman get enough votes to be the kingmaker?

It seems likely. Both the right- and left-wing blocs appear to need his Yisrael Beiteinu party’s seats to hit the magic 61. Liberman was firmly in the right-wing camp until the last election, when he refused to join a government with his party’s five seats unless a draft law obligating haredi Orthodox men to participate in the mandatory military draft remained intact. Now Liberman is expected to pick up eight or nine seats, and he has said he will only support a candidate for prime minister who is willing to negotiate a unity government of Likud and Blue and White. It’s a tricky scenario, too, because Gantz has insisted that he will not form a unity government with Netanyahu remains at its helm. That’s one of those consequences we mentioned.

Will the far-right Jewish Power party pass the electoral threshold?

The short answer is maybe. Final polls show the party eking past the 3.25 percent minimum to acquire four seats in the Knesset after garnering a total of five seats in April as part of a Netanyahu-brokered coalition. Still, Israeli voters aren’t always square with pollsters, and some could change their mind on Election Day if it looks like Blue and White will surpass Likud. Netanyahu has been calling on Jewish Power voters for days to cast their ballots for Likud after sowing fear that the small party will not pick up enough votes to enter the Knesset and thus  waste right-wing votes.

Will Netanyahu sound the alarm on Arab voters again?

In the hours before the polls closed in the 2015 elections, the prime minister warned in a video posted on Facebook that Arab Israelis were turning out to the polls “in droves” and thus threatening the formation of a right-wing government. That didn’t go over very well internationally. In the April election, Netanyahu appealed to right-wing voters by saying that if they voted for the smaller parties, he would not have enough mandates to be tapped to form the next government. It’s an appeal he has been making with regularity during the current campaign. Maybe this time Netanyahu will try both tactics.

Will Arab-Israeli voters turn out this election?

Arab-Israeli turnout is traditionally lower than the national average, since their parties never sit in Israeli governing coalitions and are usually at odds with both the Israeli Jewish left and right. But in 2015, the four major Arab-Israeli parties put aside their own differences to form the Arab Joint List, enabling them to become Israel’s third largest party. For April’s election, the list split into two, factions, lowering the voter turnout to 49.2 percent and the combined Arab party seats to 10 from 13. The Joint List is back together for Tuesday’s election, and there has been a major push to get Arab-Israeli voters to the ballot box.

How about general voter turnout?

Political experts believe that Israeli voters, frustrated by the need for an expensive and redundant second election in five months, may stay away from the polls.  The election with the lowest voter turnout, 63.5 percent, was in 2006. April’s balloting, meanwhile, had a 68.5 percent turnout, down from 72.3 percent in 2015. Thousands of Israelis reportedly are taking advantage of the day off from work to leverage vacation time to travel abroad, and with only a lead time of a few months, some Israelis had trips scheduled that they were unwilling to cancel.

Will there be cameras in the voting booth?

Not this time. For the April elections, Likud placed 1,200 hidden cameras in polling places, mostly in Arab communities. Party officials said the cameras were aimed at preventing voter fraud, but critics said it was a tactic meant to scare away Arab voters. Proposed legislation that would have allowed activists from any party to have cameras at polling places failed to pass prior to the elections.


Here we go again: A beginner’s guide to Israel’s 2nd election in 2019