(April 9, 2019 / JNS) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his election rival Blue and White Party leader Benny Gantz cast their ballots on Tuesday as Israelis across the country headed to the polls.
Netanyahu, who earlier appealed to voters on social media, cast his ballot near the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem.
“Voting is a holy act, the very essence of democracy,” said Netanyahu at the Jerusalem polling station, where he voted with his wife, Sara.
Despite an expected close race, voter turnout as of Tuesday afternoon was at 35.8 percent, which is slightly lower than the last national election in 2015 at the same time at 36.6 percent.
Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff who voted in his hometown of Rosh HaAyin in central Israel with his wife, Revital, called for a “new dawn, a new history” for Israel, and that all Israelis should vote, saying they should “take responsibility” for their democracy.
Gantz’s running mate, former Finance Minister Yair Lapid, said that his party is “just a step away from victory” and that “We need two more seats to win these historic elections in Israel. A vote for any party except Blue and White is a vote for Netanyahu.”
Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, who voted at the Yefe Nof school in Jerusalem, said that Israelis need to exercise their rights.
“Neither the president, the party leaders or the prime minister will decide the next government,” he said. “The only people who decide who will be the next government and prime minister are you.”
Meanwhile, the leaders of smaller political parties that will likely play the role of kingmakers for either Netanyahu or Gantz for their governing coalitions also cast their ballots.
New Right Party leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked both voted early on Tuesday.
“These elections are about one thing: Will Israel go back to winning ways? Will Israel support its soldiers, even if they make mistakes sometimes?” posed Bennet as his voted in Ra’anana. “Will we defeat the enemy, and become united—everyone, religious and secular. Our nation is wonderful and today, with the New Right, we’ll go back to winning ways.”
Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay was joined by his mother at the polling station, who said she is voting for Labor for the first time in her life.
“There are many others like her, who read our platform and will, for the first time, vote Labor today,” he said. “You’ll be surprised by how many people will vote for us.”