Israel: Wounded Netanyahu in desperate battle for political survival after poll blow

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LONDON GUARDIAN)

 

Israel: Wounded Netanyahu in desperate battle for political survival after poll blow

Israel’s president to meet PM and opposition leader Benny Gantz in bid to resolve election stalemate
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and President Reuven Rivlin
 Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and President Reuven Rivlin. Photograph: Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP/Getty Images

Israel’s president is set to begin two days of consultations with political parties after a deadlocked election last week plunged the country into uncertainty over who will lead the next government.

Near-final results from Tuesday’s poll showed the opposition chief, Benny Gantz, marginally ahead of the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, with his Blue and White party taking 33 seats out of parliament’s 120. The ruling Likud party has 31.

Critically, neither side appeared able to forge a majority government, even with support from allies in smaller parties.

On Sunday afternoon President Reuven Rivlin will meet both leaders in an attempt to break the stalemate or face the possibility of a potential third round of elections in less than a year. Rivlin holds a largely ceremonial post but is also responsible for choosing the candidate he believes has the best chance of forming a government. Usually, the decision is clear, and often goes to the leader of the largest party, but the muddied result has created an impasse.

Despite being Israel’s longest-serving leader and having a reputation for political sorcery, Netanyahu is fighting a tough battle. On Thursday he acknowledged his plan had failed. “During the elections, I called for the establishment of a rightwing government,” Netanyahu said in a video message. “But unfortunately the election results show that this is not possible.”

After leading the country for 10 consecutive years, Israeli media has questioned whether his era was over. His biographer, Anshel Pfeffer, wrote that, while he may still cling on, “the Netanyahu magic has been broken”.

Fearing defeat, the prime minister has called for his opponent to join him in a unity government, hinting that he might be willing to accept a power-sharing arrangement with Gantz. There is a precedent in Israel for political rivals to serve together after Yitzhak Shamir and Shimon Peres rotated the role of prime minister in the mid-1980s. However, Gantz, a former military chief, swiftly rejected Netanyahu’s offer and said he should lead because his alliance won the most seats. “We will not be dictated to,” he warned.

Israel has held two elections in five months after Netanyahu failed to cobble together a coalition following a similar result in April. Rather than give the opposition a chance to do so, he instead pushed to dissolve the Knesset, triggering repeat elections and giving himself another opportunity.

The gamble has left him in an apparently worse position and the stakes are much higher. In two weeks’ time he will face pre-trial hearings for three corruption cases against him. A majority in the Knesset could give Netanyahu – who denies any wrongdoing – immunity from prosecution.

Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Israeli secular nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party
Pinterest
 Avigdor Lieberman, whose party took eight seats, could emerge as kingmaker. Photograph: Jalaa Marey/AFP/Getty Images

At the centre of the impasse, and the man with the key to ending it, is Israel’s apparent kingmaker – the far-right ultra-nationalist Avigdor Lieberman. The staunch secularist took eight seats, but his refusal to join a government with Jewish religious groups has added further blocks.

Politicians from an alliance of the country’s minority Arab population could also play a role, after they became the third-largest bloc in the Knesset. Ayman Odeh, the head of the group, has said that he may back Gantz, but even that would not give the opposition figure a majority.

If Sunday’s talks prove fruitless, Rivlin’s office said he might invite Netanyahu and Gantz back for more consultations. The president is obliged by law to choose a candidate by 2 October, who will then have up to six weeks to form a government. If that person fails, the president can task another, but the process could break down and force the holding of a third election.

Rivlin has said he will do everything in his power to avoid such a costly scenario that would paralyse Israeli politics right into 2020. Yet some say it looks increasingly likely.

“These are early days indeed to try to make sense of what government may emerge from the migraine-inducing complexity of Israel’s elections,” wrote David Horovitz, founding editor of the Times of Israel. “But the outcome everybody professes to want to avoid is already starting to loom in the distance.

“If Netanyahu sees it as his last hope, and Gantz thinks he’ll emerge from it stronger, we may yet have to go through this all again.”

Israel: Election lists close with rifts leaving Liberman as kingmaker

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Election lists close with rifts on left and right, leaving Liberman as kingmaker

Three major takeaways as 32 parties register with the Central Elections Committee for the September 17 national vote

Raoul Wootliff
Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in Tel Aviv, July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flahs90)

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman in Tel Aviv, July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flahs90)

With 47 days to go until the September 17 national vote, all 32 parties set to run in the election, and their electoral slates, have been registered with the Central Elections Committee.

Here are three takeaways from two fairly humdrum days at the committee, as the parties filed ahead of Thursday’s midnight deadline:

1. Divided Right

The most exciting drama leading up to the closing of registration was the protracted effort, which went down to the wire, to merge the extremist Otzma Yehudit party with the newly formed United Right union.

Pressure to reach an agreement continued right up until the deadline, with party leader Itamar Ben Gvir saying he had been asked to hold out a little while longer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has been pushing for the merger on the grounds that right-wing votes could be wasted if Otzma Yehudit, whose name means Jewish Power, failed to clear the 3.25% electoral threshold.

In the end, however, those efforts failed and United Right, led by popular former justice minister Ayelet Shaked, filed its own party list without Otzma Yehudit or Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian hard-right Zehut (or, indeed, the tiny anti-LGBT Noam party, which had temporarily agreed to run with Otzma Yehudit.) Likud has (generously) estimated that those three parties are worth roughly four to five percent of the vote (180,000-216,000 votes).

The decision to forgo a merger, which United Right has said was due to Ben Gvir refusing to take any spot on the joint slate below eighth place, may well end up being good for the right-wing union and bad for Netanyahu, reducing his chances of gaining the support of at least 61 of the 120 eventual Knesset members.

Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to reporters at the Knesset before his far-right party submits its electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Instead of gathering the fringes of Israel’s right-wing, the new union has brought together the mainstream factions on the right — Shaked’s New Right and the religious-Zionist union, United Right Wing Parties — all but guaranteeing their own political survival, but not necessarily Netanyahu’s.

The union headed by Shaked could end up being a direct threat to his own support: it may boost the right-wing bloc somewhat, but it is just as likely to drain support from the Likud in favor of the new United Right, with many Likud voters likely amenable to Shaked and the type of party she is forming.

At the same time, tens or hundreds of thousands of right-wing votes may now be lost in the election if they go to Ben Gvir or Feiglin’s factions, and those parties fail to clear the threshold and enter the Knesset.

2. Democratic Camp(s)

At the other end of the political spectrum, Thursday also saw hopes dashed for a grand left-wing union made up of the Democratic Camp — itself a merger between Meretz, former prime minister Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and ex-Labor MK Stav Shaffir — and the recently announced Labor-Gesher partnership.

Despite significant internal criticism over the decision, newly elected Labor leader Amir Peretz opted to run independently of the newly formed Democratic Camp, and instead position Labor as a left-leaning socio-economic party less focused on diplomatic and peace issues.

There has been lingering anger within Labor over Peretz’s decision to merge the faction with former lawmaker Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher party, which is further to the right on the political spectrum and failed to pick up enough votes to enter the Knesset in April’s elections. Others within Labor, notably the party’s No. 2 MK, Itzik Shmuli, meanwhile, had pushed Peretz to cooperate with the Democratic Camp on a joint slate in an effort to win as many seats as possible for the left.

MK Amir Peretz, leader of the Labor party, right, and Orly Levy, head of the Gesher party, seen at an opening event for the new election headquarters in Tel Aviv, on July 24, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

As Peretz and Levy-Abekasis presented their slate on Thursday, Shmuli stood by their side, telling press afterwards that Labor was “the true camp for Israeli democrats.” A few hours earlier, Shaffir, Shmuli’s one-time partner when leading the 2011 social protests, had said that her party would be the one to “ensure the future of Israeli democracy.”

Labor has seen its fortunes tumble in recent years, hit by a rightward shift among Israeli voters, turmoil within the party, and the emergence of various new political players that have eroded its base. In April’s election, it dropped from the 24 Knesset seats it received as part of the Zionist Union in 2015 to just six. In total, the party gained only 4.43 percent of the national vote.

Peretz’s decision to stay out of the Democratic Camp will determine whether Labor, still plagued by internal divisions, will be able to regain its past glory. More likely, with the party currently hovering at around six seats, not far from the electoral threshold (as opposed to Democratic Camp’s nine to twelve seats), it may mean that the election campaign could become a fight for Labor’s very survival.

3. Liberman’s gain

While the right and left kept each other on their toes until the final hours before the Thursday night deadline, the only major party to casually file its slate on Wednesday, avoiding speculation and spin, was Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu.

Being the first to finalize its electoral list, and doing so without the need for other partners, symbolized the image of Yisrael Beytenu as a sturdy, trustworthy and even centrist party that Liberman has cultivated over the past few weeks. It also underlines his confidence given the gains his party has seen in polling, jumping from the five seats it received in April’s election to 11 in a survey released on Thursday night.

According to that Channel 13 poll, the right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties together would win 54 seats without Liberman, while the center-left and Arab factions would have 46, meaning neither side could form a coalition without Yisrael Beytenu. That means that the former defense and foreign minister would again hold the balance of power and that Netanyahu will likely be unable to form a coalition without him.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman at a campaign event for his party in Tel Aviv on July 30, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Such a turn of events would mark the second time this year that Liberman has been in the kingmaker position. In May, weeks after the previous elections, Netanyahu failed to form a new coalition when Liberman refused to join his government.

Perhaps more significantly for Liberman, Thursday’s poll showed that half of Israeli voters want to see a unity government between the Likud and Blue and White parties that does not include ultra-Orthodox factions. Yisrael Beytenu has vowed, if it holds the balance of power, to indeed force a coalition of Likud and Blue and White that does not include religious parties.

Thus, amid the splits on both right and the left, Liberman emerges from the quagmire precisely where he wants to be — as the man potentially holding the keys to a very different union: a unity government.

Israel: 32 Parties register for September elections, down from 47

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

32 parties register electoral slates for September vote, down from 47 last time

Polls suggest only nine parties may enter Knesset; a party headed by cult leader’s four wives submits slate; one aiming to advocate release of Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir does not

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, speaks outside the Central Elections Committee in Jerusalem, August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Benny Gantz, head of Blue and White party, speaks outside the Central Elections Committee in Jerusalem, August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

With 47 days to go until the September 17 national vote, all 32 parties set to run in the election, and their electoral slates, have been registered with the Central Elections Committee.

The committee’s doors opened Wednesday for the parties jostling for the Knesset’s 120 seats and closed at midnight Thursday.

The total of 32 factions is down from the last election cycle, when a record 47 parties registered for the April 9 vote. The smaller number is partially a result of mergers between parties after several weeks of horse-trading.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu heads the list for his Likud party, followed by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Foreign Minister Yisrael Katz, Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan, and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, whose Kulanu party merged with Likud in May, was placed 5th. Gideon Sa’ar, Miri Regev, Yariv Levin, Yoav Gallant and Nir Barkat round out the top 10 for Likud.

The electoral ticket submitted by Blue and White was almost identical to the one that competed in April’s elections, with changes made only to the order of candidates below number 30 on the slate. Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi occupy the top four slots.

Lapid, who merged his Yesh Atid party with Gantz’s Israel Resilience to form Blue and White ahead of the previous elections in April, is set to take over as prime minister from Gantz during the term as part of a rotation deal, if Blue and White forms the next government.

Likud and Blue and White are expected to dominate the vote, with polls predicting around 30 seats for each, roughly the same as in April.

The newly-formed United Right, an amalgamation of the New Right and the Union of Right-Wing Parties, is headed by former justice minister and New Right leader Ayelet Shaked, followed by URWP’s Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich, with former New Right chair Naftali Bennett placed at four. Latest polls suggest it may be headed for about 11 seats.

New Right chairwoman Ayelet Shaked speaks to reporters in the West Bank settlement of Efrat on July 22, 2019. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)

Ayman Odeh, Mtanes Shihadeh, Ahmad Tibi and Mansour Abbas lead the newly reunited Joint (Arab) List, which is also polling at around 11.

On the center-left of the spectrum, and polling at around six seats, Labor-Gesher is headed by Labor chief Amir Peretz, followed by Gesher’s Orly Levy-Abekasis, and Itzik Shmuli and Merav Michaeli of Labor.

Nitzan Horowitz of Meretz leads the Democratic Camp’s list, followed by ex-Labor MK Stav Shaffir, Israel Democratic Party’s Yair Golan and Meretz’s Tamar Zandberg. Former PM Ehud Barak was placed 10th on the list. This alliance is seen heading for about nine seats.

Avigdor Liberman, who helped precipitate the upcoming election by refusing to join a Netanyahu-led coalition, heads his Yisrael Beytenu party, which could be the kingmaker between the blocs, polling at around 10-11 seats.

The religious Mizrahi Shas party will once again run under the helm of party leader Aryeh Deri, while its Ashkenazi UTJ counterpart will once again be headed by Yaakov Litzman. The two ultra-Orthodox parties are seen heading for 13 seats between them.

Most polls show no other parties beyond these nine with a realistic chance of garnering enough support to enter the Knesset. That includes the far-right Otzma Yehudit and Moshe Feiglin’s quasi-libertarian hard-right Zehut.

The Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party faced immense pressure to join forces with United Right, but in the end filed to run on its own slate. The party’s list of candidates is headed by Itamar Ben Gvir, followed by former Kahane spokesman and current Hebron community leader Baruch Marzel.

Next on the slate is activist Adva Biton, whose daughter Adele was killed as a result of a 2013 West Bank terror attack, Otzma Yehudit director-general Yitzhak Wasserlauf, and Benzi Gopstein, who heads the Lehava anti-miscegenation group.

Negotiations regarding the submissions continued until the last minute, notably the protracted effort to merge the extremist Otzma Yehudit party with the newly-formed United Right union.

Pressure to reach an agreement continued right up until the deadline, with party leader Ben Gvir saying he had been asked to hold out a little while longer by Netanyahu, who has been pushing for the merger on the grounds that right-wing votes could be wasted if Otzma Yehudit, whose name means Jewish Power, failed to clear the 3.25% electoral threshold.

Thursday also saw hopes dashed for a grand left-wing union made up of the Democratic Camp — itself a merger between Meretz, Barak’s Israel Democratic Party and Shaffir — and the recently announced Labor-Gesher partnership.

Gesher party chair Orly Levy-Abekasis (L) and Labor head Amir Peretz announce their joint run in the September election, in Tel Aviv, July 18, 2019. (Roy Alima/Flash90)

Despite significant internal criticism over the decision, newly-elected Labor leader Peretz opted to run independently of the Democratic Camp, and instead position Labor as a left-leaning socio-economic party less focused on diplomatic and peace issues.

Below are all parties set to run in the election, in the order in which they registered:

1. The Da’am: Green Economy – One State
2. Social Leadership
3. Economic Power
4. Yisrael Beytenu
5. Zechuyoteinu Bekoleinu (“Our Rights Are in our Vote/Voice”)
6. Zehut
7. Uncorrupted Red White
8. Pirate Party
9. Mitkademet
10. The Gush Hatanachi (Bible Bloc)
11. Shas
12. Justice, headed by Avi Yalou
13. Kama
14. Kavod HaAdam
15. United Torah Judaism
16. Respect and Equality
17. Democracy Party
18. Noam
19. Blue and White
20. Israel Brothers for Social Justice
21. Seder Hadash
22. Likud
23. Popular Unity
24. Democratic Camp
25. Tzomet
26. Ichud Bnei HaBrit
27. Joint List
28. Otzma Yehudit
29. Secular Right
30. Tzafon
31. United Right
32. Labor-Gesher

The Kama (Advancing Individual Rights) party is headed by four wives of a polygamous cult leader, Daniel Ambash, who was convicted of sadistic abuse of his family members six years ago. Most of the wives have never renounced Ambash, a Bratslav ultra-Orthodox Jew. They still live together, view themselves as his wives and revere him. Aderet Ambash, chair of the new pro-polygamy party, said that the new faction aims to fight to keep the government from intervening in Israelis’ private lives.

A political party aiming to free Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally nearly 24 years ago, did not register. It wasn’t immediately clear why the party, Nura Deliba, did not submit its list.

Orly Adas, the director of the Central Elections Committee, had earlier told Channel 13 there was no legal precedent to ban the party from registering to run, but said the Knesset panel would try to prevent it.

The effort to form the party, whose name means “fire of the heart in Aramaic,” was condemned by Labor’s Peretz, who said the party celebrating the assassination of the Labor prime minister “crossed a red line.”

READ MORE:

Israel’s Arab Parties Unite to Make Gains in Elections

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAUDI NEWS AGENCY ASHARQ AL-AWSAT)

 

Israel’s Arab Parties Unite to Make Gains in Elections

Monday, 29 July, 2019 – 11:30
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends the weekly cabinet meeting at his Jerusalem office December 2, 2018. Gali Tibbon/Pool via REUTERS
Asharq Al-Awsat
Israel’s four Arab political parties have announced a merger ahead of September elections, hoping to boost turnout among Palestinians, which make up a fifth of Israel’s population.

Ayman Odeh, head of the Hadash party, said Monday that now that the parties have reunited as Joint List, they can address the “great challenge” facing the Palestinians of 1948.

The four factions first united in 2015, earning 13 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. But infighting later split the Joint List into two parties, which only won a combined 10 seats amid low Palestinian turnout in April’s election.

Israel faces an unprecedented repeat election in September after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a majority coalition government.

Israel: Liberman: We’ll force gov’t with Likud, Blue and White to block ultra-Orthodox

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Liberman: We’ll force gov’t with Likud, Blue and White to block ultra-Orthodox

Yisrael Beytenu leader promises ‘liberal-national’ coalition after elections; Likud: Cat is out the bag — Liberman wants leftist government; Blue and White: Better late than never

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman leaves after a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman leaves after a faction meeting at the Knesset, on May 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman said Saturday that after the upcoming elections he would force an “emergency” coalition with the Likud and Blue and White parties to block ultra-Orthodox parties from entering the government.

“We will impose a government with the Likud and Blue and White parties — it will be an emergency government, a liberal-national government. We will do everything to block the ultra-Orthodox; not to let them enter the government,” he told Channel 13 news.

Liberman, who used his party’s five seats to prevent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a coalition after the April 9 elections, is aiming to again be kingmaker or king-breaker after September’s elections. His call for an emergency government involving both Likud and Blue and White amounts to a demand for a government without Netanyahu — though he did not spell this out in Saturday’s interview — since Blue and White, under its leader Benny Gantz, has said it will not sit in a coalition with Netanyahu, who is facing indictment, pending a hearing, in three criminal cases.

Asked whether he would again recommend Netanyahu as prime minister, might recommend another candidate, or would seek to become prime minister himself, Liberman was non-committal. But in recommending Netanyahu after April’s elections, he specified, Yisrael Beytenu had been “committing to an agenda” which it then became clear the coalition Netanyahu sought to build would not have followed. Yisrael Beytenu, he said dryly, had not been “crowning” Netanyahu “for life.”

Later Saturday, in a Facebook post, he added that “the representative of the party that wins the most seats will be the candidate to form a government.”

“Netanyahu is trying to focus the campaign on who will be prime minister,” Liberman said in the TV interview. “I think the much more critical question is what kind of government it will be.”

Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman seen with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) in the assembly session in the plenum hall of the Israeli parliament, as the Israeli parliament vote on the Governance Bill, which among others will raise the electoral threshold. March 11, 2014. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90 )

A Likud, Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu coalition, without the ultra-Orthodox, Liberman added in his Facebook post later Saturday, would represent the will of “an overwhelming majority of the citizens of Israel.” He also ruled out a coalition in which the far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben-Gvir would be present.

He said he hoped Yisrael Beytenu would win enough seats in September in order to impose such a coalition. He said he’d heard ultra-Orthodox leaders saying they’d refuse to sit in a government with Liberman, and he accepted this completely. “You’ve convinced me,” he said. What was required, he said, was a government without the ultra-Orthodox. He referred to his longtime friend Aryeh Deri, leader of the Shas ultra-Orthodox party, as “my former friend.” And he complained that while Israel was currently facing a budgetary crisis, “the only place they’re not planning to cut is [in funding for ultra-Orthodox] yeshivas.”

The Likud party responded to Liberman, saying: “The cat is out the bag — Liberman says explicitly that he is willing to go with [Blue and White No.2 Yair] Lapid and Gantz, and force the establishment of a leftist government. Anyone who wants a right-wing government must vote only for the Likud party, headed by Netanyahu.”

Gantz’s Blue and White party also issued a statement, saying: “Better late than never. If Liberman had come to this conclusion before he and his party voted for the dispersal of the Knesset, they would have avoided unnecessary elections for the people of Israel.”

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz at the Knesset, June 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ben-Gvir slammed Liberman, saying he “once again proves that he is deep on the left, and lacks any ideological backbone.”

The Knesset voted to disband itself and called new elections for September 17, after Netanyahu failed to broker a compromise between right-wing secular Yisrael Beytenu and ultra-Orthodox parties in the wake of the April 9 elections. Netanyahu was thus unable to muster a majority coalition.

Initial polls have suggested Liberman may emerge from the coalition standoff in a stronger position, and increase his party’s five Knesset seats to eight or nine in the September election.

Liberman had repeatedly said he backed Netanyahu for prime minister, but would only join the government if there was a commitment to pass, unaltered, the Defense Ministry version of a bill regulating the draft of the ultra-Orthodox into the military. That version of the bill is opposed by ultra-Orthodox parties, who want to soften its terms.

Liberman said last month that he would not back Blue and White leader Benny Gantz for prime minister, but refused to be drawn on whether he would support Netanyahu.

Last week the Kan public broadcaster reported that during the failed coalition talks a month ago, Netanyahu agreed to an ultra-Orthodox demand to allow for gender segregation in public spaces.

A leaked draft of Likud’s agreement with the Haredi United Torah Judaism party stated that “within 90 days the government will amend the law in such a way that it will be permissible to provide public services, public study sessions and public events in which men and women are separated. This separation will not constitute discrimination according to the law.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosted by Minister of Health Yaakov Litzman of the United Torah Judaism party (left), at a meal to celebrate the birth of Litzman’s grandson, June 18, 2017. (Shlomi Cohen/FLASH90)

The draft agreement also barred individuals from filing a civil suit against municipal organizers of such events on the grounds of gender discrimination.

Ultra-Orthodox groups have pressed in the past to have gender segregated events or facilities, like public transport, but the moves have been knocked down by the courts, which ruled it constituted discrimination.

On Saturday, Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova condemned the army’s punishment of a soldier who put dairy and milk in the same fridge on a base, warning it could portend further religious strictures on troops.

“Today they forbid putting milk and meat together in the same fridge. Tomorrow they’ll forbid girls from enlisting in the army. In two days we’ll become the army for the defense of Jewish law,” Sova said.

Liberman on Saturday also attacked the Likud party’s recent announcement of the appointment of a new “special adviser” for Israel’s Russian-speaking community.

Ariel Bulshtein (Courtesy of EAJC)

The adviser, attorney Ariel Bulshtein, will help Likud target a demographic that will be vital for its campaign — right-leaning immigrants from the former Soviet Union. The move is meant to help the party’s efforts to siphon votes away Liberman, whose hard-nosed demands stymied Netanyahu’s efforts to build a coalition by the May 29 deadline.

“It’s an insult to the intelligence and an insult to the dignity of the [Russian] immigrants — Netanyahu has no idea what he is talking about,” Liberman said.

Netanyahu has blamed the Yisrael Beytenu party chief for “dragging the country to unnecessary elections.” Notably, it was Netanyahu who decided to call new elections. The more natural course of events would have been to inform President Reuven Rivlin that he had failed to form a coalition, at which point the president could have tasked another member of parliament with trying to do so.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

JUNE 16, 2019
CURRENT TOP STORIES

US envoy Greenblatt backs Friedman on Israel’s ‘right’ to annex some settlements

White House could delay rolling out long-awaited peace plan until November, due to political turmoil in Israel, says special envoy

L-R: US President Donald Trump's envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO/File)

L-R: US President Donald Trump’s envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on July 12, 2017. (Haim Tzach/GPO/File)

US President Donald Trump’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt on Sunday backed comments by US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, in support of Israel retaining some parts of the West Bank.

Greenblatt participated in the annual Jerusalem Post conference in New York, where he was asked about comments made by Friedman published by the New York Times last weekend.

“I will let David’s comments stand for themselves,” said Greenblatt. “I think he said them elegantly and I support his comments.”

In an interview published by the New York Times last Saturday, Friedman said that some degree of annexation of the West Bank would be legitimate.

“Under certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” Friedman said.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman speaks during the annual AIPAC conference in Washington, on March 26, 2019. (Jim Watson/AFP)

An anonymous American official later said Israel has not presented a plan for annexation of any of the West Bank, and no such plan is under discussion with the US.

Greenblatt spoke days before the US is set to lay out an economic component of its long-awaited Mideast peace plan on June 25 and 26 in Bahrain, where Gulf Arab states are expected to make pledges to boost the troubled Palestinian economy.

But it is not clear when the political aspects of the plan — which is expected to avoid calling for the creation of a Palestinian state — will be unveiled.

At the conference Sunday, Greenblatt also signaled that the White House might delay the full publication of its long-awaited peace plan until November, due to political turmoil in Israel, though he said no final decision had been made.

He said that the Trump administration would have published a blueprint for its peace plan this summer if Israel had not dissolved its parliament last month and declared another election — the second in a year — for September 2019.

“The new elections have thrown us off,” Greenblatt said.

Trump’s own reelection campaign for US president “should not be an obstacle,” he added.

In his remarks, Greenblatt conceded that there were limits to Arab concessions to the Jewish state.

Jared Kushner alongside a member of the Saudi delegation at a White House meeting between President Donald Trump and Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, March 20, 2018. (Kevin Dietsch/Pool/Getty Images via JTA)

“There is a limit how far the Arabs will go with Israel, they don’t want to sell out the Palestinians,” he said. “We are not going to push any country to go further than they are comfortable.”

However, he warned that “failure will put this in the box for a long time.” Such a development would be “a tragedy for the Palestinian people.”

Greenblatt also stressed that Washington is not seeking to oust the current Palestinian Authority leadership, which has already said it will reject the peace plan, but rather is hoping that the Palestinian people will be able to decide for themselves if they want to accept the peace deal or not.

“We are not looking for regime change in PA,” he said, before adding that “there is no question” the Palestinian people have the right to see what the plan offers before they decide.

During campaigning for the general election in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged to gradually annex West Bank Jewish settlements, a move long supported by nearly all lawmakers, in his alliance of right-wing and religious parties, and said he hoped to do so with US support.

Friedman, in the New York Times interview, declined to specify how the US might respond to unilateral Israeli annexation, saying: “We really don’t have a view until we understand how much, on what terms, why does it make sense, why is it good for Israel, why is it good for the region, why does it not create more problems than it solves… These are all things that we’d want to understand, and I don’t want to prejudge.”

Agencies contributed to this report.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS
MORE

Israel: Netanyahu’s legal problems mount as AG won’t delay his hearing

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

TV report: Netanyahu’s legal problems mount as AG won’t delay his hearing

Following his resort to new elections, PM may now run out of time to pass legislation aimed at evading prosecution in three graft cases

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem on May 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement to the media at the Orient Hotel in Jerusalem on May 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Taking a stance that could drastically reduce Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of avoiding prosecution in three corruption cases, Israeli state prosecutors will reportedly reject any request by his lawyers to defer his pre-indictment hearing beyond its scheduled date at the start of October.

The reports Thursday night also said that the attorney general is aiming to wrap up the Netanyahu cases before the end of the year. If so, Netanyahu, who on Wednesday night called new elections for September 17 having failed to build a governing majority after the April 9 elections, may not now have time to pass planned legislation aimed at protecting him from prosecution.

Netanyahu is facing indictment on three counts of fraud and breach of trust, and one of bribery, pending the hearing — his final opportunity to persuade the attorney general not to file charges against him. The hearing was originally set for July, but was postponed earlier this month to October 2-3, with the possibility of a final session a week later. The prime minister’s lawyers had sought a full year’s delay — a request that was dismissed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who ruled that a speedy resolution of the matter was in the public interest.

Now that Israel is to hold new general elections in September, with Netanyahu having failed to put together a majority coalition after the April 9 election, his lawyers are widely expected to seek another delay in the hearing process. But senior officials in the state prosecution and law enforcement hierarchies quoted at length in TV news broadcasts Thursday night firmly rejected the idea.

“We will not agree to a further delay in the hearing,” a source quoted by Channel 13 news said. “Netanyahu has enough time to prepare for it. He intends to use the matter of [new] elections to seek another postponement? Let him try. It won’t work for him. He has plenty of time to prepare as necessary.”

In similar vein, Channel 12 quoted sources declaring that the announcement of new elections would “not have slightest impact” on the Netanyahu corruption cases. “The date for the hearing has been fixed, and it won’t move a millimeter,” a source was quoted saying.

The officials also noted that it is Netanyahu’s lawyers, rather than the suspect himself, who will appear at the hearing.

Netanyahu is widely reported to have tried to build a coalition after April 9’s election in which his Likud MKs and their allies would initiate or back legislative efforts to enable him to avoid prosecution — first by easing his path to gaining immunity via the Knesset, and then by canceling the Supreme Court’s authority to overturn such immunity.

This latter change would be achieved as part of a wide-ranging reform of the Supreme Court’s role, under which Israel’s justices would be denied their current quasi-constitutional authority to “override” legislation, and Knesset and government decisions, deemed unconstitutional. Plans for this “override” legislation have been described as marking a potential constitutional revolution in Israel, that would shatter the checks and balances at the heart of Israeli democracy.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit addresses an Israel Bar Association event in Eilat, May 27, 2019 (screen grab via Channel 13)

Mandelblit earlier this week castigated planned changes to the current immunity law as being apparently designed to help Netanyahu rather than being in the genuine interest of constructive reform. As for the so-called override bill, he said that it would cause “direct harm to the country’s citizens, who will be left exposed to the possibility of arbitrary decisions by the government. The individual will not have any protection from actions which… may in an extreme case, ignore the individual’s rights and so harm him illegally.”

Earlier this week, as Netanyahu struggled to muster a majority coalition, his associates were said to have warned him that snap elections would likely deny him the time needed to pass legislation shielding him from prosecution. Nonetheless, on Wednesday night, when he concluded that he could not muster a majority, he pushed through a vote to disperse the 21st Knesset, which was only sworn in a month ago, and set Israel on the path to new elections on September 17. He chose this course rather than allow for a different Knesset member, possibly opposition leader Benny Gantz, to have a turn at trying to build a majority coalition.

Netanyahu is widely expected to now seek a delay in the hearing process, by arguing that the recourse to new elections means he will not have sufficient time to prepare for the October hearing. “He chose to support new elections,” Channel 12 quoted a legal official saying in response. “That’s up to him.”

Mandelblit announced his intention to indict Netanyahu for fraud and breach of trust in the three cases against him, and for bribery in one of them, in February. The prime minister’s attorneys requested, and were granted, that the case files not be handed over prior to the April 9 national election in order to prevent information from leaking to the media and affecting the vote.

But after the election, the lawyers refrained for another month from collecting the material, citing a dispute over their fees. They have been accused of engaging in delay tactics.

Shaul Elovitch arrives at the Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court for extension of his remand in Case 4000, February 22, 2018. (Flash90)

Netanyahu denies all the allegations against him, and has claimed they stem from a witch hunt designed to oust him, which he claims is supported by the left-wing opposition, the media, the police and the state prosecution, headed by a “weak” attorney general.

Case 1000 involves accusations that Netanyahu received gifts and benefits from billionaire benefactors including Israeli-born Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan in exchange for favors; Case 2000 involves accusations that Netanyahu agreed with Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper publisher Arnon Mozes to weaken a rival daily in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth; and Case 4000, widely seen as the most serious against the premier, involves accusations that Netanyahu advanced regulatory decisions that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in the Bezeq telecom giant, to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars, in exchange for positive coverage from its Walla news site.

Raoul Wootliff contributed to this report.

READ MORE:

Israel: The People Have Spoken. They Want To Live In Netanyahu’s Israel

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

The people have spoken. They want to live in Netanyahu’s Israel

Israelis were not under-informed or unfairly swayed. They knew what they’d get with a 5th term of Netanyahu. The result was the highest vote ever for right & ultra-Orthodox parties

David Horovitz
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for general elections closed in Tel Aviv,, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for general elections closed in Tel Aviv,, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

The people have spoken. And a week after the elections, with the president now in the midst of consultations with our newly elected politicians ahead of the formation of our next government, it’s worth taking a closer look at what the people actually said.

They knew that Benjamin Netanyahu was facing criminal charges in three cases, unless he could persuade the attorney general of his innocence. They knew that he had castigated the opposition, the media, the cops and the state prosecutors for purportedly seeking to frame him as part of a political vendetta to oust him. They knew that, if re elected, he might try to use existing or new legislation to avoid being prosecuted, and would likely seek to stay on as prime minister even if he were to be prosecuted. And that, if reelected, he would make the case that the public had given him a mandate to offset the state prosecutors’ recommendations that he be put on trial.

They knew. And 26.45% of the voting Israeli public chose Likud — a vast number, by Israeli standards, 1,139,079 out of the 4,306,520 legitimate ballots cast nationwide.

The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.

They knew that they had a clear alternative to four more years of a Netanyahu-led Israel, embodied in a party led by three former IDF chiefs of staff — an unprecedented assemblage of security expertise, in a country where security concerns always figure at the very top of voting considerations. They saw Netanyahu portray that party, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White, as a group of weak leftists. Even though it included Netanyahu’s own former Likud defense minister Moshe Ya’alon, whose public positions are more hawkish than those of Netanyahu, and even though Netanyahu in 2013 extended Gantz’s term as IDF chief by an additional year in the most overt illustration possible of the confidence he then had in Gantz’s security leadership capabilities.

Members of the Blue White political party Benny Gantz (second left), Moshe Yaalon (right), Gabi Ashkenazi (left) and Yair Lapid hold a press conference at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on April 10, 2019, a day after the elections. (Flash90)

They watched Netanyahu’s Likud depict Gantz as mentally unstable. They watched Netanyahu attempt to make political capital out of a bizarre saga involving the reported Iranian hacking of Gantz’s phone — a saga in which Gantz and his colleagues did not provide a clear-cut explanation of what had gone on. They watched Gantz veer between an attempted statesmanlike, high-ground approach to beating Netanyahu and a lower-ground trading of insults and accusations.

They watched Netanyahu broker a deal that legitimized the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party as part of a new Union of Right-Wing Parties that would partner Netanyahu in any new Likud-led coalition. They watched URWP’s Bezalel Smotrich declare he’d set his heart on becoming minister of education. They watched the New Right’s Ayelet Shaked vow to curb the power of the Supreme Court if she continued as justice minister.

They watched. And they made their choice. Very few voters from the right of the political spectrum threw their support behind Gantz and the other generals. While Blue and White also topped the million-vote count — 1,124,805 — much of its support came from the center and the now decimated Labor, and that wasn’t enough to thwart Netanyahu’s fifth election victory.

The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.

They recognized other likely and possible implications of another Netanyahu victory. He’d vowed in the final days of the campaign to extend Israeli sovereignty to all West Bank settlements — a move that, if realized, would have major consequences for what was once called the peace process. It was clear his most reliable coalition partners would be the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Shas and United Torah Judaism — on whose behalf he reluctantly froze the Western Wall compromise deal, and whose key agenda items include making Israel more Shabbat-observant and minimizing the number of young ultra-Orthodox males required to share the rights and responsibilities of military and national service.

Self-evidently, enough Israeli voters either share this agenda or are not deterred by it. Enough to hand Netanyahu another term.

The people have spoken.

Residents of the Gaza envelope communities of southern Israel have for years complained about Netanyahu’s policies in dealing with Hamas. They have protested that the government has turned them into rocket fodder. Sderot, the most rocket-battered city of all, voted 43.52% for Netanyahu’s Likud. (The next most popular party was Yisrael Beytenu at 10.14%.) To the east of Gaza, Netivot voted 32.46% Likud (second only to 33.35% Shas.) Ashkelon, to the north, voted 42.61% Likud (followed by Blue and White at 15.62%). By contrast, kibbutzim and moshavim in the Gaza periphery area generally voted overwhelmingly for Blue and White.

The people have spoken.

Early on election day, reports started circulating about Likud-paid activists bringing hidden cameras into polling stations in Arab areas. Some of those involved have since acknowledged that they were indeed acting on behalf of Likud; a PR agency has claimed responsibility, saying it was hired by Likud; the Likud party’s lawyer, on the day, claimed the operation was open and legal, and necessary to ensure the “integrity” of the vote in districts ostensibly prone to voter fraud; Netanyahu himself championed the use of public cameras for the same purpose. (Needless to say, the Central Elections Committee has its own, nonpartisan procedures for preventing election fraud.) In fact, ruled the judge overseeing the elections, the deployment of the cameras was illicit; the equipment was ordered removed.

Israel’s voters watched and read about all these developments in real time.

Some analysts have suggested that the camera gambit depressed Arab turnout — it’s not comfortable showing up to do your democratic duty, as members of a minority that was traduced by the prime minister on the previous election day, when you hear on the news that you’re going to be filmed in the process by his supporters. Arab turnout does appear to have been down last week (an estimated 52%) as compared to 2015 (an estimated 63.7%). And while the Joint (Arab) List won 13 seats in the last Knesset, its constituent parties, now running in two separate lists, managed only 10 this time.

But if the camera ploy worked to Netanyahu’s advantage, possibly costing his political rivals a seat or three, and maybe boosting support for a Likud seen to be taking on the Arabs, there was a more dramatic arithmetical factor on the right-hand side of the spectrum that worked against him. Between Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right (138,491 votes, or 3.22% of the national total) and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut (117,670 votes; 2.73% of the national total), a staggering 6% of right-wing votes went down the drain — a potential six or seven more Knesset seats for a Netanyahu-led coalition. And yet Netanyahu still has a clear, if complex, path (involving reconciling the ultra-Orthodox parties with the fiercely secular Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu) to a 65-strong coalition.

Over 57% of counted votes went to right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties (Likud; Shas; UTJ; Yisrael Beytenu; United Right-Wing Parties; Kulanu; The New Right; Zehut, and Gesher). This is the highest proportion in Israeli history. Only 34% went to centrist and left of center Zionist parties (Blue and White, Labor and Meretz).

The two ultra-Orthodox parties, it is worth noting, had repeatedly stressed in the run-up to polling day that they would only consider joining a Netanyahu-led coalition. Even when the polls closed and for a brief moment Gantz was claiming victory on the basis of a predictably inaccurate exit poll, UTJ rushed to say that it would go into the opposition with Netanyahu rather than partner with Gantz.

Menachem Begin, center, speaks to supporters at his party headquarters in Tel Aviv, on May 18, 1977, as they celebrate the Likud Bloc’s election to government after 29 years of Israeli Labor Party rule. (AP Photo)

By way of comparison, the 2015 elections saw over 56% voting for right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties (Likud, Kulanu, Jewish Home, Shas, Yisrael Beytenu and Yachad). In 2013, the comparable figure was 48% (Likud, Jewish Home, Shas, UTJ, Otzma LeYisrael). In 2009, it was 54% (Likud, Yisrael Beytenu, Shas, UTJ, National Union and Jewish Home).

Going way back to 1977, when Menachem Begin’s Likud first won power, the comparable proportion was about 53% — and that’s including the then-relatively centrist National Religious Party, which had partnered with Labor-led governments for the past three decades.

The people have spoken.

Were some worried by Gantz’s warnings that Netanyahu is turning Israel into Turkey — becoming our un-oustable leader, gradually marginalizing opposition, taking control of ever more of the media, bending the cops and the prosecutors and the courts to his will? Doubtless, many were. But not enough to unseat him.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds a voting slip for his Likud party in a video filmed at a beach in Netanya on election day, April 9, 2019. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The people saw Gantz caught by a camera in his car, toward the end of election day, looking exhausted. They saw Netanyahu, sweating in his suit on the beach at Netanya, imploring potential supporters to get out of the sea and vote Likud.

The people saw everything, internalized what they chose to internalize, and made their decision. No nefarious forces, as far as we know, skewed these elections. The public was not under-informed; nor was it disaffected. The turnout was a healthy 67.9% (compared to 61.4% in the 2016 US presidential elections, or 66.1% in 2015’s British parliamentary elections).

The people want to live in Benjamin Netanyahu’s Israel.

The people have spoken. Not all the people. But more than enough of them.

Israelis’ choice. Israelis’ consequences.

Note: Figures cited in this piece for the 2019 elections are from the completed-count totals announced by the Central Elections Committee at midnight on April 11; the totals have fluctuated slightly since then, and are to be made official on April 16.

Woman was removed from ultra-Orthodox polling station so top rabbi could vote

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Woman was removed from ultra-Orthodox polling station so top rabbi could vote

Followers of Ger Hassidic dynasty’s leader reportedly called Likud lawmakers to intervene after female polling officer refused to leave her post in Bnei Brak

A polling station in the city of Bnei Brak, Israel on April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

A polling station in the city of Bnei Brak, Israel on April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

A female Likud election worker was forced out of a polling station in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak during Tuesday’s election at the request of the leader of the Ger Hassidic sect, Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter, according to a Friday report in Haaretz.

The woman initially refused to leave the polling station, so the rabbi’s followers contacted Likud Knesset members who arranged to have the woman removed, the report said.

The Likud lawmakers sent a male party official to the polling station to replace the woman “while she took a lunch break,” during which time the rabbi cast his ballot.

Sources told Haaretz that when followers of the rabbi noticed the female Likud member at the polling station, they knew it was “going to be an issue right from the beginning.”

Rabbi Yaakov Aryeh Alter of the Gur Hasidic Dynasty attends a rally of United Torah Judaism party, ahead of the upcoming elections, in Jerusalem, April 8, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

“They did almost everything to try to convince her to leave, including offering her money,” the source said.

One of Alter’s followers told Haaretz on Friday that the rabbi did not intend to insult the woman, but saw her presence at the polling station as a “matter of respectability.”

“The Rabbi does not receive women or look at them,” he said.” It’s just the same as honoring a special request for a prime minister or president.”

Alter is the Admor, or head, of the Ger Hasidic movement and the powerful patron of Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman from the United Torah Judaism party.

The head of the Likud polling committee Yaakov Vidar downplayed the report, saying the party made “manpower changes as needed” during the busy election day.

Ultra-Orthodox communities frequently try and impose a separation between men and women. The two genders sit separately at synagogues and weddings, and women and men who are not relatives refrain from physical contact.

There have also been attempts to enforce gender segregation on public buses, but the Israeli Supreme Court has ruled it illegal, and also frequent instances where ultra-Orthodox men have refused to sit next to women on planes.

It’s not just in person, most of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox media — which includes four daily newspapers, two main weeklies and two main websites — refuse to show images of women, claiming it would be a violation of modesty.

READ MORE:

Netanyahu’s election win confirmed; New Right misses out

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

JUDGE IN CHARGE: TALLY NOT OFFICIAL UNTIL GIVEN TO PRESIDENT

With all votes counted, Netanyahu’s election win confirmed; New Right misses out

After full day of rechecking, Likud gains a seat to outscore Gantz’s Blue and White 36-35, United Torah Judaism loses a seat; Netanyahu’s path to majority coalition clear

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for Israel's general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu waves to supporters at a victory event after polls for Israel’s general elections closed in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, April 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was confirmed as the big winner of Israel’s general elections on Thursday night, when the Central Elections Committee published the completed tallies of Tuesday’s election, a full 60 hours after the polling stations closed.

The delay was caused by extra time spent Thursday checking and rechecking the “extra” votes cast by soldiers, diplomats and other absentees, which led to adjustments to the tentative results that had been issued early Wednesday. Even when releasing these ostensibly final tallies, however, the Supreme Court justice overseeing the elections said they were not official, and reserved the right to amend them before they are formally handed to the president on April 17.

With all of the votes counted, checked and rechecked, Netanyahu’s Likud party edged past its rival Blue and White party with 26.45 percent of the vote to win 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, gaining one more seat in the adjusted final tally. The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party dropped a seat, from Wednesday’s tentative eight to seven. Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White faction was confirmed at 35 seats, 26.11% of ballots.

Blue and White had formally conceded the election on Wednesday.

Final results in 2019 elections36363535887766665555444444000000LikudBlue and WhiteShasUTJHadash-Ta’alLaborYisrael BeytenuURWPMeretzKulanuRa’am-BaladNew RightZehutGesher0510152025303540

The bloc of Likud and its ultra-Orthodox and right-wing allies finished with 65 seats, compared to 55 for the center, left and Arab parties, giving Netanyahu a clear path for building a majority coalition.

Final blocs after 2019 elections65655555RightCenter-left + Arab

The results also confirmed that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked’s New Right party narrowly failed to garner enough support to win any seats, ending up with 3.22% of the votes cast nationwide; the minimum threshold for Knesset representation is 3.25%. New Right had pinned its hopes on the soldiers’ votes elevating it into the Knesset for the minimum four seats, and sources in the party challenged the count during Thursday when it emerged that it had fallen short.

New Right said after the completed tallies were released at midnight that it was “not giving up” and was not convinced that the published totals were accurate. UTJ said it would appeal against the results.

On the right, Aryeh Deri’s ultra-Orthodox Shas party wound up as the third-largest Knesset faction with eight seats, followed by UTJ with its seven, the Union of Right-Wing parties won five, Yisrael Beytenu won five, and Kulanu won four.

On the other side of the spectrum, Arab party Hadash-Ta’al won six seats, the Labor party crashed to a record low of six, Meretz won four seats, and the second Arab party, Ra’am-Balad, also won four.

Likud’s 36 seats was the party’s best result since the 2003 election (when it won 38 seats under Ariel Sharon), and its best under Netanyahu.

Final results of the 2019 national election on the Central Elections Committee website show the New Right, circled in yellow, falling short of the 3.25% threshold to enter the Knesset, April 11, 2019. (Screenshot/Central Elections Committee)

The vote count was plagued by controversy.

The Central Elections Committee’s website on Thursday morning erroneously stated that New Right had crossed the electoral threshold, before officials clarified that the website was inaccurate. The inaccurate figure remained on the site all day, however, until it was finally amended shortly before the completed figures were released at midnight.

Screenshot from the Central Elections Committee website showing the New Right party with 3.26% of the vote on Thursday late morning, April 11, 2019. The Committee said this information was erroneous and that the New Right had actually won only 3.22% of the vote. It said the site was not showing the correct number of total votes counted, and was thus displaying inaccurate figures for all parties.

United Torah Judaism and the New Right late Thursday had called for a delay in the publication of the election results. The New Right said the party had received over 1,000 complaints about ballot irregularities, while UTJ said mistakes had been recorded at five polling stations in ultra-Orthodox areas.

Additionally, Meretz accused United Torah Judaism of interfering in the count on Thursday to try to steal a seat. Meretz, according to Thursday night’s tally, ended up only a few hundred votes short of winning a fifth seat.

Snafus on the official website also included displayed turnout rates of over 100 percent in some areas.

Justice Hanan Melcer, head of the Central Elections Committee, acknowledged that erroneous data had been registered on the committee’s computers, leading to a discrepancy between official results and those posted to the official website, but said all such issues had now been resolved.

Nonetheless, when announcing the completed results, Melcer said they were still subject to possible change before they are submitted to President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday, April 17.

“We retain the right,” he said in a letter to the representatives of the Knesset slates that ran in the elections, “to examine the results using additional means at the committee’s disposal… so that they are still subject to changes and adjustments.”

Melcer said he rejected the last-minute appeal by the New Right and United Torah Judaism parties to hold off on publishing the results, in part because they are not fully official until they are presented to the president and thus in principle subject to change.

Justice Hanan Melcer, chairman of the Central Elections Committee for the 21st Knesset, attends a committee meeting at the Knesset, April 3, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He noted that 4,335,320 Israelis voted, from among 6,335,387 who were eligible (68.4 percent), and that 30,756 votes were disqualified.

Speaking to journalists at the Knesset earlier, Melcer stressed there was “no fault or issue” in tallying the votes.

Melcer downplayed the computer glitches at a press conference. He said the errors on the site were the result of a software problem that prevented the site from displaying the vote tallies in real time, and stressed the erroneous data displayed on the website was not the result of a cyberattack. (Ahead of the elections, the Shin Bet security agency had warned that a foreign power would seek to meddle in the elections.)

In a statement, the committee said: “Three glitches were found in the data transfer. The problem is not with the count but with entering figures into the system. Some of the figures were recorded by the system and some were not.”

On Thursday night, New Right party put out a statement quoting Justice Melcer and stating that “the results as they were published are not final.”

“We would expect the media to show a bit more gravitas in its reports,” the party said. “As we have said, we are not giving up… We will accept the voter’s decision, but will not rest until we find out what that decision truly is.”

United Torah Judaism said it would appeal the results.

READ MORE:
COMMENTS

Updated exit polls show Netanyahu headed for election victory

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE TIMES OF ISRAEL)

 

Updated exit polls show Netanyahu headed for election victory

Channel 12 and Channel 13 update their exit polls as the official ballots are counted.

Both networks’ revised samples now indicate Netanyahu’s Likud will win 35 seats, compared to Blue and White’s 34, and can muster a coalition majority with ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties.

The Channel 12 survey previously predicted 37 seats for Blue and White and 33 for Likud; Channel 13 had the two parties tied at 36.

Both exit polls now indicate that Shas would be the third-largest party with eight seats, followed by United Torah Judaism with 7. According to the TV stations, the New Right, Zehut and Gesher will fall under the electoral threshold.

In its breakdown of the political blocs, Channel 12 gives 63 of the 120 Knesset seats to the right, compared to 57 for the center-left, giving Netanyahu a clear path to forming a government. According to Channel 13, the right-wing bloc would receive 65 seats, compared to 55 for the center-left.