Voter Turnout in Israeli Election at 36%; Netanyahu Defends Body Cameras in Arab Polling Stations

Polls opened nation-wide Tuesday morning as Israel’s 2019 Knesset election is underway in what is widely seen as a race between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz. 

>> Israel election 2019: Full coverage

As the parties scramble to rally last-minute voters, the final poll before the election, published Friday, gave the right-wing bloc a solid lead over the center left, headed by Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan party.

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 21

Haaretz Weekly Ep. 21Haaretz

– Haaretz writers

A Twitter List by haaretzcom

10,000 polling stations are open nation-wide with some 6.3 million eligible voters. Hundreds of thousands are expected to swarm the beaches, malls and amusement parks on Election Day, a national holiday in Israel.

3:52 P.M. Likud claims Kahol Lavan is calling on Palestinians living in Israel to urge relatives to vote for Gantz-Lapid

Likud is claiming that Kahol Lavan is distributing Arabic-language calling on Palestinians living in Israel to encourage their relatives with voting rights to vote for it.

3:40 P.M. Temporary injunction issued against Hayamin Hehadash at Bennett’s request

Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer has issued a temporary injunction at the request of Naftali Bennett the co-leader of Hayamin Hehadash party, who claims the Union of Right-Wing Parties is distributing a video on social media from his days as the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi taken during the 2015 election, in which he is seen calling on the public to vote for Habayit Hayehudi. The Union of Right-Wing Parties was ordered to respond on Bennet’s claims by 3:30 P.M.

3:35 P.M. Levi-Abekasis submits complaint over posts claiming she dropped out of race

Gesher Chairwoman Orly Levi-Abekasis has submitted a petition to the Central Elections Committee following posts on social media falsely claiming that her party had dropped out of the race. Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer has instructed social media networks to remove every post suggesting Abekasis has pulled out of the race.

3:32 P.M. Smotrich confirms receiving extra security after Knesset receives threats against him

MK Bezalel Smotrich, running on the far-right Union of Right-Wing Parties slate, confirms that he was told by the Knesset’s security chief that threatening letters targeting him had been received, prompting extra security for him and his family. A police car arrived at Smotrich’s home this morning and accompanied him to his polling station.

3:25 P.M. Yisrael Beitenu submits complaint alleging Bennett and Shaked are spreading false claims to voters

The Yisrael Beitenu party is submitting a complaint to the Central Elections Committee against Hayamin Hehadash leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, alleging that they are deliberately misleading the public. The complaint involves text messages and robocalls targeting Russian speakers. The text messages claim that Yisrael Beitenu will fail to cross the electoral threshold and that Hayamin Hehadash  is thus the correct choice. Meanwhile, voters have also received robocalls with someone impersonating Yisrael Beitenu candidate Evgeny Sova voicing a similar claim.  

3:13 P.M. Netanyahu enlists John McLaughlin to help get right-wingers to vote

Netanyahu has released a video with U.S. President Donald Trump’s pollster John McLaughlin, together sounding the alarm that if Likud and the right-wing base do not turn out in full on Election Day, a “leftist’ government will take over Israel. Full story here…

– The Great Israel Election quiz

3:12 P.M. People with disablities reporting problems in reaching polling stations

Yuval Wagner, president of the Access Israel non-profit organization dedicated to rights for people with disabilities, says that many disabled people have reported obstacles making it difficult to reach their polling stations, despite the requirement that every polling station have at least one accessible ballot box. Wagner added that campaign booths have been placed near schools used as polling stations in several locations, which can block disabled people from making their way inside, and that there have been complaints that signs pointing to accessible booths are not sufficiently visible.

3:07 P.M. Turnout at 35.8% as of 2 P.M.

Voter turnout stood at 35.8 percent as of 2 P.M. slightly lower than 2015, when it was 36.6 percent. This equals about 2 million votes. 

2:14 P.M. Feiglin is messianic but still a possible partner, Gantz tells Haaretz

Kahol Lavan chair says the Zehut leader is not as bad as other right-wing extremists, notes that Labor’s Gabbay is indeed a senior partner, calls Meretz politically naive and criticizes Arab parties. Read full story…

>> Read MoreIsraeli election’s dangerous surprise: Pro-pot Jewish evangelist who wants a holy war >> Sex parties, drugs and gay escorts at the pope’s residence: Undercover in the Vatican >> How the election will end: Six scenarios for tonight at 10PM when polls close

2 P.M. Hadash busses East Jerusalem residents to polling stations

Dozens of residents of the Arab neighborhood of Beit Safafa in East Jerusalem reported that they were assigned to polling stations as far as a 30 minutes drive away from their homes. In response, the Hadash Party has been operating shuttle services transporting residents to polling stations.

Beit Safafa is the only neighborhood in East Jerusalem whose residents are eligible to vote since half of the neighborhood lies within the Green Line.  

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu casts his vote with his wife Sara in Jerusalem.Ariel Schalit/AP

Cameras installed by activists near Arab polling stations. Hadash Spokesperson’s Office

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz casts vote in Rosh Ha’ayin.Moti Milrod

1:55 P.M. Election committee chairman instructs police to investigate disappearance of ballots 

– A vandalized Hadash-Ta’al sign outside of Nazareth with Hebrew graffiti saying “death to the Arabs”

A vandalized Hadash-Ta’al sign outside of Nazareth with Hebrew graffiti saying “death to the Arabs” Facebook

Israel’s Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer instructed the police to investigate the disappearance of certain ballots for particular parties and the vandalizing and marking of other ballots. The Central Elections Committee said that if this turns out to be a recurring phenomenon, in order not to punish voters not responsible for the marking, the committee will consider determining these ballots as valid.  

12:26 P.M. Election Committeee chairman files complaint after 1,200 body cameras found at polling sites

Israel’s Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer files complaint to the Israel Police after Likud provides right-wing activists with 1,200 body cameras to monitor Arab polling sites. 

The police confiscated dozens of these cameras, while Netanyahu said there should be cameras everywhere in order to ensure a "kosher" voting process.

Kahol Lavan co-chairman Yair Lapid casts vote. Tomer Appelbaum

Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg votes in Tel Aviv. Tomer Appelbaum

A senior police official said that at this point, there is no suspicion that a criminal offense was committed, adding that the activists caught with body cameras were outside the polling stations not inside them. The police are currently waiting for the Central Elections Committee’s decision to determine whether the installment of the camera is an obstruction of the voting process.   

The Central Elections Committee’s legal counsel said, however, that polling officials could not film voters arriving at the polling stations nor during the voting process.

12 P.M. Voter turnout at 24.8 percent

Reports put voter turnout at 24.8 percent as of 12 P.M., slightly lower than turnout at this time in 2015. Voter turnout in the Arab town of Baqa al Gharbiyye was reported at 9 percent as of 12 P.M. 

– Rivlin tweet

My fellow citizens, today is the day. Go to your polling place and vote for the party that you believe will do the right thing for the State of Israel. The results are decided at the polls by our votes. Go and vote! #IsraelElections2019

— Reuven Rivlin (@PresidentRuvi) April 9, 2019

11:48 A.M. Netanyahu casts vote

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu votes at local polling station in Jerusalem alongside his wife Sara. 

11:20 A.M. Yair Lapid casts vote: A vote for any part other than Kahol Lavan is a vote for Netanyahu

Kahol Lavan co-chairman Yair Lapid casts vote, saying “we’re a step away from victory, we need two more seats to win these historic elections in Israel. A vote for any party except Blue and White [Kahol Lavan] is a vote for Netanyahu. What we need now is to go and work hard across the country to bring the votes we need for victory.”

Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh votes in Haifa. Rami Chelouche

>> Likud provides activists 1,200 body cameras to monitor Arab polling sites

11:10 A.M. Arab party demands cameras illegally installed by right-wing activists be removed immediately 

The Hadash-Ta’al slate files an urgent complaint to the Central Elections Committee, demanding that immediate removal of the cameras illegally installed by right-wing activists in polling stations in Arab communities. In the meantime, the police have begun removing the cameras in some polling stations.

Hadash-Ta’al says in statement: "The radical right fully understands the power we have to overthrow those in power, and [they] cross every red line through illegal measures in an attempt to intervene [in the election] and prevent the Arab citizens from voting. But we also understand the power we have, and today we are going out to vote and nothing will stop us."   

11 A.M. Police deploy reinforcement to polling stations 

The Israel Police spokesperson’s office says additional forces were sent to local polling stations. In an official statement, the police say, "since the early hours of this morning, reinforced police forces have been deployed in polling stations throughout the country in order to maintain order and ensure that the democratic process is being implemented in accordance with the law."

11 A.M. Police find body cameras in Arab communities installed by right-wing activists 

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay brings his mother to the polling station in Jerusalem. Olivier Fitoussi

Israel Police find dozens of cameras installed by right-wing activists in polling stations in Arab communities, in cities including Nazareth, Reineh and Tamra. A police source, however, says filming at the entrance to polling stations does not constitute a felony unless cameras are installed behind the privacy divider.

The source added that to their knowledge, the cameras were not hidden behind the divider. It is still unclear which party initiated the installment of the cameras. A right-wing source told Haaretz that "the move was aimed to preserve the purity of the election and to assure that Ra’am-Balad won’t pass the threshold through falsifications.

A video shows the activists saying they were sent by the Likud.

>> Israel’s Arabs could kick Netanyahu out of office. There’s only one problem

10:45 A.M. Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg votes in Tel Aviv

MK Tamar Zandberg, Meretz chair, casts her vote at a local Tel Aviv polling site. "I admit I’m worried today. Meretz is in danger [not to pass the electoral threshold], and Meretz is the key for a [strong] left-center bloc. If Meretz goes down, the bloc goes down. Without Meretz there is no chance for a change," she says.

10:36 A.M. Hayamin Hehadash MK files complaint against Union of Right-Wing Parties

Arye Dery votes in Jerusalem. Yakov Cohen

MK Moti Yogev from the Hayamin Hehadash party headed by Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked, files a complaint against the Union of Right-Wing Parties for distributing false propaganda. According to the complaint, a video of Naftali Bennett from his days as the chairman of Habayit Hayehudi has been broadcasted since this morning. In the video Bennett is seen calling on Israel’s citizens to vote for Habayit Hayehudi, alongside an audio recording of Shaked backing him. 

10:15 A.M. The Union of Right-Wing Parties leader says party will lead entire state 

MK Bezalel Smotrich votes in the Jewish settlement of Kdumim in the West Bank. "The Union of Right-Wing Parties has already chosen to lead a long time ago, and continues, as the pioneer of Jewish settlement in Samaria, to lead the entire Jewish state," Smotrich says. 

10:10 A.M. Arab slate Hadah-Ta’al banners defaced: ‘Death to the Arabs’

Hadash-Ta’al banners hanging near Nazareth were vandalized with Hebrew graffiti saying “death to the Arabs" on it.

Meanwhile, Hadash-Ta’al leader Ayman Odeh casts his vote in Haifa.

"I’m happy and excited to vote today. I call on all of Israel’s citizens to exercise their democratic right, especially the Arab citizens. Netanyahu doesn’t want to see you casting your votes. Today we vote for a better future, for an alternative to the racist and extremist regime that has ruled here in the past decade. We must believe change is possible, that achieving equality is possible, that achieving peace is possible. Today we choose- apartheid or democracy," Odeh says. 

Voter turnout in the Arab community for the election will be one of the factors affecting the representation of the Arab parties and the map of the blocs. United Arab List-Balad and the Hadash-Ta’al slate have been encouraging voters all night and morning to go out and vote.

Ayelet Shaked casts her vote in Tel Aviv. Nir Keidar

In Sakhnin, one of the main Arab cities in the north, 30 polling stations are spread out over eight locations. Former mayor Mazen Ghanaim is running on the United Arab List-Balad slate for the Knesset and is in the sixth spot. Outgoing MK Masud Ganaim of the United Arab List also lives in Sakhnin.

A disturbance breaks out at a polling station in the Algadir School in the eastern neighborhood of the city after right-wing activists were caught with body cameras outside the polling stations. Only a few people have voted there thus far but party activists said the pace will pick up toward mid-day and in the afternoon.

10 A.M. Voter turnout at 12.9 percent 

Polling sites are reporting a 12.9 voter turnout as of 10 A.M.. In 2015 turnout was at 13.7 percent and 2013 turnout was 11.4 percent at the same time. The overall turnout in 2015 was 71.8 percent. 

9:55 A.M. Meretz files petition against Shas

Meretz filed a petition against the religious party Shas claiming its activists were distributing gifts outside polling sites in contravention of the law.

>> Netanyahu vs. Gantz: Six scenarios for how the Israeli election will play out | Analysis 

9:50 A.M. Right-wing extremists disturb Arab community polling sites

After polling sites opened in Arab communities, several towns complain of right-wing activists arriving at their voting sites with recording devices and body cameras. In Sakhnin, Arab party activists demanded that the right-wing extremists be removed from the site and filed a complaint with the police and the election committee.

9:40 A.M. Netanyahu invites voters to chat with him through Facebook

Israeli poll workers prepare a polling site on Election Day, April 9, 2019.Tomer Appelbaum

Netanyahu posts a video calling on voters to chat with him personally on Facebook messenger by clicking on a link. “This morning I want to talk to you personally through messenger. All you have to do is click the link. I am waiting.” Voters have also reported receiving SMS messages inviting them to personally chat through messages with the prime minister.

This is not the first time Netanyahu is using this tactic. In January Haaretz reported that tens of thousands of people have been getting personal Facebook messages from Netanyahu’s page, worded like a private message to the user: “Hello, this is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. I wanted to personally ask you for your support in the upcoming election. What do you think?” The conversation is sent and managed by an automatic bot that responds to the user’s answers.

9:39 A.M. Bennett casts vote in Ra’anana

Hayamin Hehadash leader Naftali Bennett casts vote in Ra’anana, north of Tel Aviv. 

9:30 A.M. Netanyahu says Zehut will join largest coalition 

Netanyahu tells Likud ministers that Zehut leader Moshe Feiglin said his first call will be to the largest party. 

>> Israeli election’s dangerous surprise: Pro-pot Jewish evangelist who wants a holy war | Analysis 

9:30 A.M. President Reuven Rivlin casts vote in Jerusalem

President Reuven Rivlin goes to local polls in Jerusalem to cast vote. "The citizens of Israel, not party heads, will be the only ones to decide who will be the next prime minister and what the next government will look like. In order to make a difference you must go out and vote," Rivlin says. 

9:25 A.M. Polling stations in prisons and hospitals open 

Polling stations in prisons and hospitals throughout Israel open. 

9:20 A.M. Litzman and Knesset speaker Edelstein vote

Deputy Health Minister and United Torah Judaism chair Yaakov Litzman votes in Jerusalem and Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein votes in Herzliya. 

9:05 A.M. Ashkenazi and Feiglin vote 

Former military chief Gabi Ashkenazi votes in Kfar Saba and Zehut party leader Moshe Feiglin votes in Karnei Shomron. 

9 A.M. Avi Gabbay votes in Jerusalem

Labor party leader Avi Gabbay casts vote in Jerusalem with his mother. "Today my mother voted Labor for the first time in my life. Just as my mother, we see many people who read our plan and see our team who are going to vote Labor for the first time today. You’ll be surprised."

>> How Gantz could erase the Israeli left | Analysis 

8:56 A.M. Benny Gantz votes in Rosh Ha’ayin

Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz casts vote in central city of Rosh Ha’ayin, saying "We’re going to change the state of Israel." After casting his vote Gantz’s party issued a statement saying he will now go to Kfar Achim to visit his parents’ gravesite. 

Former military chief-of staff and Kahol Lavan candidate Moshe Ya’alon voted in Kibbutz Grofit. 

8:55 A.M. Meretz asks local election committees to examine ballots

After multiple reports about left-wing party Meretz’s election ballots being corrupted, Meretz saysit had asked all local election committees to enter the ballots periodically and examine the state of the ballots

8:45 A.M. Election committee prohibits interviews 

Chair of Israel’s Central Elections Committee chairman Judge Hanan Melcer prohibits the media from interviewing politicians as electioneering is illegal on election day. Media outlets cancel planned interviews.

8.30 A.M. Ultra-Orthodox to protest election in Jerusalem

After plastering walls with anti-election posters in the religious Jerusalem neighborhood of Mea She’arim warning "We are against the Zionist state, don’t vote in their elections," ultra-Orthodox residents plan a protest at 1 P.M.

Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community does not support the election or Zionism as they believe the Messiah must come before the State of Israel is established. 

>> Top six op-eds on Israel’s elections ■ Netanyahu? Gantz? Who Would American Jews Vote for in Israel’s Elections? | Jonathan S. Tobin ■ Annexing the West Bank: Why We Must Take Netanyahu’s Pre-election Stunt Seriously | Victor Kattan ■ Non-Jews Are About to Lose the Right to Vote in Israel | Samuel Heilman

8:04 A.M. Moshe Kahlon and Arye Dery cast votes

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu) casts his vote in Haifa and Shas party chairman Arye Dery votes in Jerusalem. 

"If Kulanu gets another seat it will change the lives of millions of citizens, of the elderly, of the disabled, of the middle class, of young couples waiting for housing," Kahlon says. 

8 A.M. Ayelet Shaked votes in Tel Aviv 

Far-right Hayamin Hehadash party co-chair and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked heads to local polling station in Tel Aviv. 

8 A.M. Lieberman casts vote

Avigdor Lieberman, head of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, votes in settlement of Nokdim. "Churchill said bad governments are the result of good people not voting. I hope the public knows these sleazy tricks [Netanyahu is pulling] and will vote for real right-wing parties," Lieberman says. 

7 A.M. Polls open

More than 10,000 polling stations open throughout the country. Some 6.3 million eligible voters will cast their vote as hundreds of thousands of Israelis are expected to enjoy the day off. 

6 A.M. Election Committee rejects Likud petition to transport Bedouins to polling stations 

The Central Elections Committee denies a petition by Netanyahu’s Likud against a left-wing group that’s trying to help Bedouins get out to vote. 

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