Israel awash with excitement on election day


Israel is a land of a thousand opinions and high emotions, and the explosive brew comes to the boil on election day.

At the Love Israel School in Talpiot, a Jerusalem suburb, a group of 20-something supporters of Yisrael Beiteinu bedecked in party colours dance to the thud of a car stereo.

Young women at a Likud stall hand out baguettes to voters heading into the school, which today is doubling up as a polling station.

Jerusalem appears to be in the grip of election fever. Across town at the Meitarim bridge, singing, flag-waving Likud supporters prompt a flurry of car horns as they meander in front of the traffic.

A young Meretz volunteer who did not want to be named has taken up a position at the entrance of the school to persuade people to vote “anywhere on the left”.

People want to bring some new faces in, some new blood

He explained: “I have been walking around both left-wing and right-wing neighbourhoods, and people are saying, we can’t tolerate this anymore. People want to bring some new faces in, some new blood. I am not sure this can be achieved with coalitions.

“We need to bring down Netanyahu. Lots of left-wing voters are not sure which part of the left wing spectrum to go for. We are here just to say, vote anywhere left. We are bringing hope into this country.”

He added enthusiastically: “They say that 20 per cent of voters decide at the last minute. This time people feel that change needs to come.”

At 5pm, voter turnout was at around 45 per cent. The expected final turnout, based on previous elections, is expected to be between 63-67 per cent. The figure roughly matches turnout in the UK, although it is down from the 1950s and 1960s when around 80 per cent of the Israeli population voted.

At a polling booth for IDF soldiers at the Military Advocate General’s office in Tel Aviv, the excitement is palpable if more subdued.

Army votes, which number at around 150,000 to 200,000, will not be announced until Thursday. The votes, which are worth around four seats, could yet add another twist to a very closely-fought contest.

Since the last poll on Friday, which put the Zionist Union four seats ahead of Likud, campaigning by the Prime Minister’s party has taken on an increasingly shrill tone.

Earlier in the day, Likud released an official statement expressing its “concern” over the high voter turnout in the Arab sector.

Benjamin Netanyahu followed up by posting a clip on Facebook in which he said: “The rule of the right is in danger. Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes. Left wing NGOs bring them in buses.”

Zionist Union campaign strategist Dahlia Scheindlien said in response: “This is not reality. Arab voter turnout has been trending slowly upwards for a long time but the idea that there is a huge spike is just not true.

“This sort of scare tactic has angered even centrists. Some are angry with this manipulation; others just don’t buy it.”

In the Zionist Union campaign headquarters, where Ms Scheindlien was speaking, the sense of hope was clear. One of her colleagues said he was “cautiously optimistic” about the result.

The contrast with the atmosphere in the Likud campaign office was striking. Strategist Aaron Shaviv admitted that the prime minister could have spent more time meeting people face to face, in meetings and rallies.

“But first, it’s not simple for the PM to go to a public place. He needs 200 security guards. Also, he has to run the country. Going to Washington took up three weeks of his time,” Mr Shaviv said.

Back at the polling station in Jerusalem, the Meretz volunteer speculated: “The reason why people are so interested in this election is not to do with the peace process.

“Most people feel that Netanyahu doesn’t care about them. He looks down from above, he’s in a very far-away place as the economy is not doing well and people are finding life hard.”

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