Israel Goes to the Polls

YERUSHALAYIM -
Jewish United Torah Judaism staffers at election campaign headquarters in Yerushalayim. (Flash90)
Jewish United Torah Judaism staffers at election campaign headquarters in Yerushalayim. (Flash90)

Chareidi Parties Geared Up for Massive Election Effort

As the election campaign for the 19th Knesset swung into its final hours, it appeared that Binyamin Netanyahu would be re-elected on Tuesday as Israel’s prime minister, leading a right-wing coalition to victory over a fragmented center-left.

It was the margin of victory and the makeup of the next government coalition that remained the main questions, though most commentators and pollsters were predicting a shift to the right, with a government more likely to build up the Jewish presence in Yehudah and Shomron and eastern Yerushalayim, and less likely to concede to the Palestinians on issues of territory or security.

Political observers were hedging their bets, though, aware that polls have been notoriously inaccurate in the past — Netanyahu himself beat Labor candidate Shimon Peres by an eyelash in 1996 after Israeli media declared he had lost, based on exit polls. Given the fluidity of the current campaign and the official blackout on polls during the last week, there could be some surprises.

In particular, people will be watching the outcome for the performance of Naftali Bennett’s Jewish Home party, which has been mounting an aggressive challenge for voters who otherwise might vote for Likud and other parties. Polls published several days ago showed Jewish Home taking 15 seats in the Knesset or more, as opposed to as few as 32 for Likud-Beiteinu. If the polls prove accurate, Bennett could be a major player in the coming months.

At a final campaign appearance in Yerushalayim, however, Netanyahu voiced confidence that his traditional supporters would not abandon him.

“I have no doubt that many, many people will decide at the last minute to come home to Likud-Yisrael Beitenu,” he said.

“I have a good feeling. And at the last minute, I appeal to each and every citizen going to the ballot box: Decide for whom you are going to vote — for a divided and weak Israel or for a united and strong Israel and a large governing party.”

While the secular parties were getting most of the media attention, chareidi parties were preparing intensively for Election Day. Thousands of chareidi activists were participating in a massive final push all over Israel on Monday and Tuesday as the historic election approached.

The campaign effort was two-pronged: to persuade as many voters as possible to support the chareidi parties, and to make sure that everyone who is eligible and willing has transportation to the polls. UTJ Campaign workers were instructed to attend vasikin minyanim in order to be available for polling activities from 7:00 a.m. when the polls open until 10:00 p.m. when they close.

Many Gedolei Yisrael and leading Rabbanim, shlita, urged their communities at huge rallies and in written proclamations to turn out on Election Day for United Torah Judaism, stressing that voting is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of emunas chachamim and that the very survival of the Torah way of life in Eretz Yisrael is at stake.

On the eve of the election, Hagaon Harav Ovadia Yosef, shlita, spiritual leader of the Sephardic Shas party, made a unique personal appeal to potential voters:

“When a person establishes a home, he puts up a mezuzah. That is the holiness of the home. So too when they build a government. What does there have to be? A mezuzah. What’s their mezuzah? Shas!”

In chareidi schools, the rebbes will lead the children in reciting Tehillim for the success of the election campaign, at the behest of Gedolei Yisrael.

Meanwhile, a number of incidents of vandalism and hooliganism against party offices and activists during the campaign prompted the announcment of a large police turnout to ensure orderly polling. More than 20,000 officers will be deployed to make sure there are no problems at the 10,132 polling stations across the country, said police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld on Monday.

Recent incidents in which campaign workers have been attacked while handing out flyers and other incidents made clear the need for such security, Rosenfeld added.

“Recently there have been incidents of people burning books, and tearing down signs due to internal rivalries and other matters … this is something we’re keeping in mind as we prepare for tomorrow’s elections,” Rosenfeld said.

In all, some 36 parties were registered with the Central Election Committee, vying for the votes of over half a million eligible voters. In order to take a seat in the Knesset, a party must clear the threshhold percentage of 2% of the total vote. Apportionment of the 120 Knesset seats is based on the percentage of the vote received by each party. The leading party will then be asked by President of Israel Shimon Peres to form a government. Since no single party is expected to win a majority on its own, it will have to seek a coalition with other parties.

The media will report results of exit polls after the polls close at 10:00 p.m. on Election Day. Actual tallies will be made known during the night. Final official results will be publicized on January 29, one week after the election, which will include the votes of soldiers and other late tallies.