The results of the Israeli elections returned Netanyahu’s right-wing coalition to power
It is headed by Bezalel Smotrich, a self-proclaimed “proud homophobe” who has announced plans to disrupt Israel’s justice system, and Itamar Ben Gvirwho advocated the expulsion of “disloyal” citizens of Israel, both Jews and Arabs.
“We demand change,” Ben Gvir said late Tuesday night, after preliminary results showed the list his party shares with Smotrich, known as Religious Zionism, secured about 15 seats, making it the third-largest party in Israel’s parliament , Knesset.
“We demand to make an absolute distinction between those who are loyal to Israel, with whom we have no problem, and those who are undermining our precious country,” he said, addressing a packed crowd of mostly young, religious men, dancing to raucous house music as they took turns singing along. : “Ooh-ah! Who is that? The next prime minister!” and “death to terrorists!”
As the breadth of his victory became clear on Tuesday night, Netanyahu told his cheering supporters: “our path has been shown and we are on the threshold of a great victory,” adding that “the country wants to restore the national pride that was taken from us.”
With 84 percent of ballots counted by Wednesday afternoon local time, Netanyahu’s return to power seems almost certain. Projections by all three of Israel’s largest television channels give the Netanyahu-led bloc between 62 and 65 seats, more than the parliamentary majority needed in the 120-seat Knesset.
Centrist interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, whose bloc was originally projected to win 54 or 55 seats, is now down to around 50 seats and is preparing for a transfer of power on Wednesday, Israeli media reported.
A government led by Netanyahu, which combines far-right religious Zionism and the ultra-Orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism, would be the most religious and right-wing government in Israel’s history.
“The extreme right is here to stay, and I think the fact that it has become the third largest party in the Israeli parliament is a sign of concern for all those who advocate democracy,” Gayil Talshir, a political scientist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, said.
The new government is likely to implement legislative reforms that could destroy Israeli democracy, critics say. Last month, Religious Zionism announced the judicial reform plancalled the “Law and Justice Plan,” which could overturn Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
Netanyahu has falsely claimed for years that the proceedings were a “witch hunt” orchestrated by the Israeli left. Ben Gvir, according to the video leaked The Israeli news site Ynet said on Sunday that once in government, it will champion efforts to abolish it.
But more broadly, such changes could entrench corruption in the state, give politicians more power over judicial appointments and complicate efforts by the Supreme Court, one of Israel’s last remaining bastions of liberal democracy, to overturn laws it deems to violate human rights.
The election reflects a strong rightward push by most of Israeli society and a hardening view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as violence ebbs and flows with no solution in sight. Spike in Palestinian attacks since last spring has intensified calls for a reckoning with the Palestinians and a freer hand towards Israeli settlers in the West Bank. Escalating Israeli attacks in the West Bank led to 2022 the deadliest year for Palestinians there since the United Nations began keeping records in 2005.
Ben Gvir has its roots in the openly racist Kach party founded by the radical American Rabbi Meir Kahane, which Israel has banned. He built his career defending Jewish settlers accused of violence and advocated for the expulsion of “disloyal” citizens, including leftists and Palestinians, from Israel. A photo of Baruch Goldstein, who killed 29 Muslim worshipers in the 1994 Hebron mosque massacre, hung in his living room, and Ben Gvir himself was repeatedly prosecuted for inciting violence.
Supporters told The Washington Post on Tuesday that they voted for Ben Gwir because he supports the formal annexation of the occupied Palestinian territories and advocates killing, not imprisoning, alleged Palestinian militants.
The turnout in the elections shows that the Religious Zionist Coalition did well in the periphery and among voters in the lower socio-economic echelons.
“Demographics play a role here, as 200,000 new voters voted in this election, and as we know, the ultra-Orthodox and religious Zionist communities have many more children per family,” said Talshir of the Hebrew University.
Ben Gvir asked to be appointed Minister of Public Security, which oversees the police. Opponents, including some members of the Israeli security establishment, have warned that such a move would be dangerous for Israel, raising the prospect of a major escalation in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The National Unity Party, led by Defense Minister Benny Gantz, said ahead of the election that as head of public security, Ben Gvir would “set the country on fire from within”.
Total turnout in elections, Israel is fifth in less than four years, was 71.3 percent, according to data from Israel’s Central Election Commission. Despite widespread fatigue, Israelis voted in droves by about 4 percentage points more than last year’s turnout.
Exit polls on Tuesday night initially suggested a narrow victory for Netanyahu, between 61 and 62 seats. The final count, which could push Israel’s smaller but influential party over the electoral threshold, is not expected until Thursday afternoon or Friday morning.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid has won about 18 percent of the vote so far, and exit polls predicted the party would end up with between 22 and 24 seats. His campaign relied on securing the support of smaller parties. The results showed that the left-wing Labor Party barely passed the threshold of four mandates, and that the other left, Meretz, as well as the Arab party Balad, remained below that number.
Turnout among Palestinian citizens of Israel, who typically vote at lower rates than Jewish Israelis, was carefully watched as a potentially decisive factor in the elections. The election was the first since an Arab party – the Islamist Ra’am party – served in Israel’s ruling coalition. Ahead of the election, Palestinian voters expressed disillusionment with Arab politicians and the Jewish-dominated political system, which they say is marginalizing their communities.
Last-minute efforts by politicians and Palestinian Arab organizations to get out to the polls appear to have paid off – the voter turnout among Arab citizens is estimated to be around 54 percent, according to analysis aChord center at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
That figure would represent an increase of 10 percent compared to the last election. But with only two of the three parties – Ra’am and the leftist coalition Hadash-Ta’al – currently crossing the threshold, Arab parties may end up with one less seat than before.
That decline is a consequence of the fragmentation of the Arab political scene. Another party, the nationalist Balad, broke away from the joint list and attracted voters who were unwilling to cooperate with Jewish parties.
Balad recorded four times the number of votes it received in the last election, Talshir said, a sign of its growing support among younger Arab voters. However, that support has not yet translated into enough votes to cross the threshold.
But a larger-than-expected response in Palestinian-Israeli communities drew Netanyahu’s baseless accusations of fraud. His party claimed shortly after exit polls were released that there were incidents of violence and voting irregularities at polling stations in predominantly Arab areas.
A spokesman for the Central Election Commission was quick to deny any irregularities to Israeli media overnight.
“We thoroughly checked them with our inspectors and the police and found that all of them have no basis in fact,” Dean Livne Entzvaig, the Central Election Commission’s chief legal adviser, told The Post later Wednesday.
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