Photo: Flash90

Israel holds national elections for 23rd Knesset

Israelis flooded to polling stations nationwide between 7 AM to 10 PM today to cast ballots for their preferred candidates in parliamentary elections. Official exit polls will be made public shortly after the closing of the last booth.

Final pre-election opinion surveys projected this round will be similar in outcome to both the April 9 and 17 September elections, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz once again running neck-and-neck.

The unprecedented third attempt to break Jerusalem’s deadlock in less than one year is being held under the shadow of widespread concern over the spread of the potentially-deadly coronavirus. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu visited a COVID-19 call center last night, where he issued a message urging the nation’s constituents to vote without fear. “The democracy and the vote of every citizen in Israel is a basic democratic right, it’s also a duty,” he stated, continuing “I ask you to fulfill this duty of yours, do it safely, knowing that we take care of everything that needs to be taken care of and that this virus will be really controlled. And it is controlled today.”

Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman underscored the country’s preparedness to protect the general public, saying he hoped the virus would not affect turnout “because we did all the things which we should have done, and we have opened special places where people can vote.”

Additional efforts to stem contagion of the virus included the erection of fifteen separate voting stations for the 5,630 Israelis who are currently being quarantined. According to Shafir Botner, who is the Paramedic School Manager of the National Ambulance Service, the quarantined-voters will be met by an individual in protective gear, who will certify identification and registration. The voter will then be escorted into a tent that is separated by a transparent wall from electoral monitors, who can safely observe the casting of ballots without coming into contact with the constituent. Israeli citizen Rene Oseashon voiced the opinion that “the corona is a troubling feature but I don’t think there is much we can do about it. We just keep, try to keep distance from other people, not to stay put in one place and hope for the best.”

Voter Roman Krasnovsky discounted reports that 7% of Israelis said they were considering bypassing the polls. He told Reuters that “of course I will go to vote,” and said he believed fear over coronavirus was being inflated by the media. He did, however, express hope there will soon be a vaccine for the disease. Danny Cohen also told the news service that he intended to vote “without any connection to disease, viruses – I’m not afraid, it’s all hysteria, I’m going to vote.”

After casting their own ballots this morning, both rival candidates for the premiership joined efforts to reassure public doubt.  Standing alongside his wife Sara, Prime Minister and Likud Head Netanyahu once again urged, ““Go vote, go vote. It is a proud day; this is a democracy. You have a great right, that you should exercise with confidence. The corona thing is completely under control. Today, we have taken all the precautions that are necessary. People can go and vote with complete confidence. Thank you.”

Blue and White Chairperson Benny Gantz also declared today “a celebration day for the Israeli society, ”adding “I hope that everyone will go and vote.” In apparent reference to deceptive rhetoric and mudslinging among the competing parties over the past few days, Gantz said “It’s about time that we be much more united, much more with one another and less against one other.” “Let us hope that this day will go well, I expect no one to practice any kind of violence – whether it’s by words or whether it’s by deeds, and let us all respect the democracy aspect of this day,” said the Blue and White leader.

Avigdor Liberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party are projected to maintain their status as the so-called ‘Kingmaker’ with the power to sway who will ultimately hold Jerusalem’s seat of power. After voting in his home community at the West Bank settlement of Nokdim, the former Defense Minister called on “the silent majority” of secular Israelis to support his faction and its platform against the hold of the rabbinical orthodoxy over the country.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin reflected the dismay felt by much of the population over the deep political divide that forced voters back to the polls amid unwillingness by their elected officials to find common ground to leave behind infighting to contend with major domestic, regional and global challenges.

“I’ve been part of the elections in Israel since the day the state was founded. I participated in almost all the elections. And election day has always been seen as a day of celebration, a day of celebration for Israeli democracy,” said the 80-year-old, Jerusalem-born leader.

“But I have to say that today I have no sense of celebration. The feeling I have is not simple, it’s even one of shame, when I face you, the dear citizens of the state of Israel,” said the Israeli President, adding, “We just don’t deserve this.”