Editor in Chief: Moh. Reza Huwaida Sunday, April 18th, 2021

Israel Votes: Netanyahu’s Fate Hangs on Tuesday’s Elections

Israel Votes:  Netanyahu’s Fate Hangs  on Tuesday’s Elections

JERUSALEM- Israelis began voting on Tuesday in the country’s fourth parliamentary election in two years — a highly charged referendum on the divisive rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Opinion polls forecast a tight race between those who support Israel’s longest-serving premier and those who want “anyone but Bibi,” as he is widely known.
“Vote, vote, vote, vote, vote,” Netanyahu said after casting his ballot in Jerusalem, his wife, Sara, at his side. He called the occasion a “festival of democracy.”
“This the moment of truth for the State of Israel,” said his rival Yair Lapid as he voted in Tel Aviv.
One truth: Israelis are weary of the do-overs. The balloting, like Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign, got good reviews for organization — if only because everyone involved has had lots of practice, with the potential of even more if the results don’t produce a governing majority. That answer might not be clear for weeks.
“It would be better if we didn’t have to vote, you know, four times in two years,” said Jerusalem resident Bruse Rosen after casting his ballot. “It’s a little bit tiring.”
Candidates made their final push in recent days with a series of TV interviews and public appearances at shopping malls and outdoor marketplaces. The campaigns increasingly reached into people’s personal space with a constant barrage of get-out-and-vote texts that made cell phones ding and buzz at all hours.
At issue more than ideology is Netanyahu. He’s portrayed himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead the country through its many security and diplomatic challenges. He has made Israel’s successful coronavirus-vaccination campaign the centerpiece of his reelection bid, and pointed to last year’s diplomatic agreements with four Arab states.
The reality is more nuanced. Some 80% of the nation’s 9.3 million people are vaccinated and Israel is reopening, but more than 6,000 have died of COVID-19. Israel came under international criticism for failing to quickly send significant quantities of vaccines to Palestinians to fight the virus’ surge in the West Bank and Gaza. And one of the four Arab nations, the United Arab Emirates, recently poured cold water on the relationship with Israel because its leaders did not want Netanyahu to draw them into electioneering. The new administration of President Joe Biden, too, has given Netanyahu a cool reception.
Opponents accuse Netanyahu of bungling the management of the coronavirus pandemic for most of the past year. They say he failed to enforce lockdown restrictions on his ultra-Orthodox political allies, allowing the virus to spread, and point to the still-dire state of the economy and its double-digit unemployment rate. They also say Netanyahu is unfit to rule at a time when he is on trial for multiple corruption charges, a case he dismisses as a witch hunt.
Up to 15% of the electorate is expected to vote outside their home districts, a batch of absentee balloting that’s larger than usual to accommodate those with coronavirus or in quarantine. The government is dispatching special polling stations, including bringing voting boxes to patients’ bedsides, to provide ways for them to cast ballots safely.
Those votes are tallied separately in Jerusalem, meaning final results may not be known for days. Given the tight race, the large number of undecided voters and a number of small parties struggling to cross the 3.25% threshold for entry into parliament, it could be difficult to predict the outcome before the final count is complete. (AP)