Israelis head to polls as Netanyahu seeks re-election with far-right allies


Israelis are returning to the voting booths for the fifth time in under four years as the former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks a return to power alongside far-right allies.

Polls opened at 8am (6am GMT) on Tuesday. All 11 competing slates, worried about turnout in an exhausted electorate, have begun an energetic last campaigning push to encourage voters to leave the house.

As with the four previous elections since 2019, Tuesday’s poll is largely a single-issue vote on whether the scandal-plagued Netanyahu is fit for office. Final polls published on Friday suggested that the Israeli public is once again split, with neither the pro- nor anti-Netanyahu camps predicted to win a majority in the 120-seat Knesset.

The Religious Zionists top candidate, Itamar Ben-Gvir – a former follower of the banned Kach terrorist group – has promised to support legislation that would alter the legal code, helping Netanyahu evade a conviction in his corruption trial. As a senior member of a rightwing coalition government, he would also lobby for the deportation of “disloyal” Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of the country’s population.

Ben-Gvir’s rise as a major political player has horrified the Israeli mainstream as well as international allies: both the US and UAE have reportedly warned the Likud that giving the Religious Zionists cabinet minister roles would damage bilateral relations. Netanyahu, however, has said that such a choice cannot be made by outsiders.

Writing in the Yediot Ahronot daily on Tuesday, the columnist Nahum Barnea warned that a narrow rightwing coalition would threaten Israel’s future.

“Netanyahu nurtured [Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, the slate’s leader] and persuaded them to run together because he thought of them as the messiah’s donkey: he’s the messiah, and they will do his bidding. He may soon come to discover that they are the messiah, and he is their donkey … That same combination produced fascist movements in Europe,” he wrote.

“These elections are [a choice]between the future and the past. So go out and vote today for our children’s future, for our country’s future,” he told reporters after voting in his upmarket Tel Aviv neighbourhood.

Lapid was the architect of the “government of change”, a broad coalition of eight parties that banded together to remove Netanyahu from power in June 2021 but collapsed a year later because of infighting.

In Israel’s fragmented politics, no single party has won a parliamentary majority, and coalition-building is necessary to govern. Israelis have until 10pm (8pm GMT) to cast their ballots, after which complex horse-trading will get underway that could last for days.

After the votes are tallied, the parties have nearly three months to form a government. If they cannot, Israel will head to yet another election.

Source: The Guardian