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Exit Polls: Israeli Election Too Close to Call

By VOA News, IsraelNationalNews.com & DEBKAfile Israel's parliamentary election is too close to call, exit polls say, as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and challenger Benny Gantz both claim wins. One Israeli TV exit poll puts Netanyahu's conservative Likud Party slightly ahead. Another TV station gives former military chief Gantz and his centrist Blue and White Party the edge. But if neither party wins a majority in the 120-member parliament, they may have to rely on allied parties to form a ruling coalition. Netanyahu is hoping to win a fifth term as prime minister even as he faces corruption charges. He spent days leading up to Tuesday's election solidifying his conservative base, vowing to annex settlements in the occupied West Bank. Such a move could end any chance of creating an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel. "Who else can do this? Who can do this? Come on. Honestly," Netanyahu said, portraying himself as the face of Israel. "Who can stand in front of the world?" he asked. "Who can stand in front of the American Congress? Who can move public opinion in that direction?" The 59-year-old Gantz called Netanyahu's pledge "irresponsible." Gantz said he favors a "globally backed peace agreement" that envisions Israel maintaining its hold on the large settlement blocs in the West Bank and security control over the territory. Gantz has portrayed himself as a unifying force in Israel and said it is time to oust Netanyahu from power. Netanyahu faces an ongoing criminal investigation. Pending an upcoming hearing, the Israeli attorney general says he plans to indict Netanyahu on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges. Netanyahu has called the Israeli probes a "witch hunt," echoing his good friend, President Donald Trump, who used the same words to describe the investigation of his 2016 election campaign. Channel 13 News updated its exit poll on Tuesday night, with the update now showing that the Likud party leads with 35 seats, followed by Blue and White with 34, Shas with eight seats, and United Torah Judaism with seven. The Labor Party wins six seats, the Hadash-Ta'al party has six, and Yisrael Beytenu has six as well. The Union of Right-Wing parties has five seats, Meretz has four, and Ra'am-Balad has four seats as well. The New Right, Zehut, and Gesher do not pass the electoral threshold. The Channel 12 News exit poll found that the Blue and White party is the largest party in Israel with 37 seats. Likud follows 33 seats, Ra'am-Balad with six seats, Hadash-Ta'al with six seats, the Labor Party with six seats and Shas with six as well. Meretz has five seats, United Torah Judaism with seven seats, the Union of Right-Wing Parties - 5, Moshe Kahlon's Kulanu with four seats, Yisrael Beytenu with five seats. Gesher, the New Right and Zehut did not pass the threshold. An exit poll by Kan 11 News gives the Likud 36 seats, Blue and White 37, and Labor 8. Hadash-Ta'al - 6 seats, United Torah Judaism - 7 seats, the Union of Right-Wing Parties - 5 seats, Shas - 7, Meretz - 5, Kulanu - 5 seats, Yisrael Beytenu - 4. The New Right, Ra'am-Balad, Zehut and Gesher did not pass the threshold. "I will be everyone's prime minister," Blue-White leader Benny Gantz promised in his victory speech after bypassing Binyamin Netanyahu's Likud with 37 seats to 36 or 33, variously predicted by two TV channels' exit polls. Gantz and his cheering followers were premature. A 20% count of votes just after midnight (Israel time, 5 p.m. Eastern) gives Likud 34 seats to Blue-White's 30. Although Likud and Blue-White could if they joined forces command a comfortable majority in the 120-member Knesset – this would be a landmark event in Israel's political history – the reality, for now, is that the right-of-center bloc controlled by Netanyahu can muster 8-10 seats more than the left-of-center parties willing and able to support Gantz's bid for the premiership. Blue-White's four-man leadership, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya'alon and Gaby Ashkenazi, pulled off an amazing feat by creating a brand-new political party in three months and campaigning successfully enough to win more than a million votes. At the same time, the opponent they swore to destroy came to the campaign limping badly under the burden of three threatened corruption indictments hanging over his head. Still, Binyamin Netanyahu, in an exceptional display of political flair, actually enhanced Likud's rating. Benny Gantz, to beat Netanyahu for the premiership, would have to poach heavily in the right-of-center camp to eke out a majority coalition. He would need to steal such Netanyahu loyalists as former Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman and at least one ultra-religious party. However, Blue-White failed in its campaign effort to win over the "soft right" which stuck with Likud in the end and drew most of its support by virtually cannibalizing the veteran Labor party, which came out of the election reduced by half. Netanyahu, for his part, has no time to lose before building a stable coalition government out of right-wing and religious parties – no easy task, while preparing to defend himself in a hearing before the attorney general set for July, in the hope of extricating himself from the cases pending against him. Three religious parties announced on Tuesday night that they were wholeheartedly behind him; Kahlon and Lieberman, who hopes to recover the defense portfolio will also stand by Netanyahu when he establishes his fifth coalition government.

An Anti-Zionist Orthodox Group is Paying People in Israel Not to Vote

By JTA

A Hasidic group in the United States is cutting personal checks to religious Israelis who committed not to vote in Tuesday's election. The campaign led by a group of Satmar Hasidim, an anti-Zionist movement with followers in New York and Israel, is aiming to essentially crowdfund a total of $12 million. Satmar sees the modern State of Israel as fundamentally illegitimate and boycotts any recognition of it — including participation in the elections. Satmar opposes the state because it is against the establishment of a sovereign Jewish country in the Land of Israel before the coming of the Messiah. Yoel Fried, one of the campaign organizers, said that every day legislators sits in Knesset, Israel's parliament, they are breaking 100 Jewish laws. "Everyone who votes has a part in forming the government of the State of Israel, that doesn't believe in God, that doesn't believe in the Torah," Fried said. "We feel that we're holding them back from breaking the commandments." In the campaign total of $12 million, approximately $4 million will go to haredi individuals who abstain from voting on Tuesday. To get the money, the individuals had to drop off their ID cards with representatives of the campaign earlier this week: It's impossible to vote in Israel without presenting an ID card. Fried estimates that 35,000 people will receive money, an average of more than $100 per person, though he says the amount of each check will differ based on the size of the individual's family. "Anyone that doesn't want to go to the election, we are like paying them off," he said. "Someone who has only one child will get less. Someone who has 10 children will get more. It's based on the need."

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