JERUSALEM, Israel – Israelis are heading to the polling booths on Tuesday for the second time this year to decide the fate of Israel's longest serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu.
Many see this election as a referendum on Netanyahu's leadership. He faces a stiff challenge from retired military chief Benny Gantz whose Blue and White Party is running even with Netanyahu's Likud Party in the polls. The opposition slogan is "Anyone but Bibi" while his Likud Party says "Only Bibi."
Here are seven key issues to keep in mind on this unprecedented election day.
1. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has tapped into a biblical plumb line with his decision to annex strategic parts of Judea and Samaria. Jeremiah 30, verse 3, says: “For behold, the days are coming,” declares Adonai, “when I will return my people Israel and Judah from exile,” declares Adonai. “I will bring them back to the land that I gave to their fathers, and they will possess it.” On Monday, the prime minister said he would also annex Hebron and Kiryat Arba, home of the biblical patriarchs. Will the Zionists of Israel reward him? If they do, the Middle East could be in for dramatic changes, and soon.
2. Forecasters say this could be the lowest turnout in Israel’s history. So, who shows up? Rabbis for the religious parties admonish their followers that voting is a sacred duty, and they’re saying secular Israel has declared war on them. They’re almost guaranteed a high turnout. But what about secular voters who want to see Netanyahu removed? Will they go on vacation (election day is a holiday) or will they vote?
3. The Labor Party ran Israel uninterrupted from 1948-1977. This election they could fail to reach the Knesset threshold for the first time ever. Their disappearance would probably hurt Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party and help Netanyahu.
4. Will Avigdor Lieberman be kingmaker or goat? Lieberman forced new elections this summer when he refused to compromise on a bill that would compel ultra-religious Jewish men to enter the draft. His popularity surged in the polls and he bolted from a Netanyahu-led coalition to one headed by Blue and White leader Benny Gantz. If Israel Beiteinu doubles its seats, Netanyahu could be in trouble. If he fades, Gantz is in trouble.
5. The Arab parties (called the “joint list”) usually boycott elections. They reached a high of 13 seats in the 2015 Knesset, but turnout dropped for the April 2019 election. Some believe it will rise again, as there are prospects the Arabs could join a Benny Gantz-led government. Netanyahu has accused Arab polling places of carrying out voter fraud, another important element to watch.
6. The new Yemina party (“right”), headed by former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, will almost certainly join a Netanyahu coalition. But will its voters, many of whom are religious Zionists who live in Judea and Samaria, stick with Shaked or defect to Netanyahu to ensure he gets to form the next government?
7. Likud is concerned about the Netanyahu supporters in the suburbs of Tel Aviv. The city itself is a stronghold of the left, but the suburbs tend to vote Likud. They didn’t make a good showing in April, and the party has intensified its efforts to get those voters to turn out on Tuesday.