High voter turnout in close Israeli election

Millions of Israelis voted Tuesday in elections to determine the makeup of their country’s next government. The two major lists are the center-left Zionist Union, a merger of Labor and Hatnua, whose candidate is Isaac Herzog, and the center-right Likud, whose chairman is current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Exit polls indicate that both parties will attain roughly 27 seats (with Channel 2 showing Likud at 28 seats). It was reported that 71.8% of eligible Israeli voters had cast their ballots, the largest turnout for an Israeli election since 1999. It appears that Netanyahu is better positioned to form a governing coalition, although the final outcome will be determined by coalition negotiations.

In order to form a government, the leaders of the various parties will recommend their preference for the premiership to Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who will then decide who, mathematically, has the better chance to gather the 61 seats necessary to build a coalition government. Moshe Kahlon, the chairman of the recently-formed Kulanu party and former member of Likud, is expected to be the kingmaker in determining whether Netanyahu or Herzog will be the next Prime Minister of Israel. In January, Arab Israeli politicians formed the Joint List, unifying four Arab political parties. This party is expected to get 13 seats in the 20th Knesset, making it the third largest party. According to Channel 2, as of this writing, the further break down is: Yesh Atid – 11, Kulanu – 10, Jewish Home – 8, Shas – 7, United Torah Judaism – 6, Meretz – 5, and Yisrael Beiteinu – 5. Channel 1 reports that Yachad, a party on the far right, has four seats, which would strengthen Netanyahu's chances of building a coalition.

While Netanyahu and Herzog differ on socioeconomic issues, their views are close when it comes to the Iranian threat. Netanyahu has come out strongly against the expected nuclear agreement with Iran, stating in his address before Congress that the “deal will not prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. It would all but guarantee that Iran gets those weapons, lots of them.” While supportive of diplomacy with Iran, the Zionist Union’s candidate, Isaac Herzog, has also expressed serious concerns the Iranian nuclear program. In a February op-ed in The New York Times, Herzog wrote, “When reasonable Israelis, Saudis, Egyptians, Jordanians and others sound the same alarm bells about Iran, everyone should pause and beware of accepting an irreversible deal we might live to regret…”


In one of the most hotly-contested elections in recent memory, with possibly the highest voter turnout in nearly two decades, Israelis appear to have surprised previous polls by streaming away from smaller parties to strengthen both Likud and the Zionist Union.

Yet despite the apparent shift from the last set of polls released late last week, what still remained clear is that of the 10 parties that cleared the threshold for representation in the Knesset, only Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party emerged as a genuine kingmaker in the intensive coalition-building process that is to follow.

From early on, Kahlon has aimed his platform at what he perceives as the precise center of the Israeli political spectrum—hawkish on Iran, tough on terror, and an economic policy that could be called “social capitalism,” appealing to voters concerned about the standard of living but building on a pro-market record to achieve it.

Read the whole post at The Tower.


Hilton and Sheraton are not likely to build hotels in Jisr az-Zarqa, the only Arab village on the Israeli coast of the Mediterranean Sea. But a pair of Israeli visionaries – one Jewish, one Arab – saw tourism potential in the modest fishing village. In January last year, they opened a backpackers hostel, Juha’s Guesthouse,  which was chosen as the best social business in a competition sponsored by Bank Hapoalim and the newspaper Yediot Aharonot last December. For vacationers and hikers from across the world, the hostel provides a thrifty base from which one can reach the beach in five minutes, the Crocodile Stream Nature Reserve in 10 minutes and upscale Caesarea in 45 minutes along the Israel Trail. Guided tours and activities such as a surfing lessons  and crafts are available. In an area where the two main forms of employment are fishing and housekeeping, Juha’s Guesthouse has injected a jolt of hope for the local economy. Some residents are now giving workshops in traditional handicrafts such as embroidery; some are hosting traditional meals for a fee; and others are establishing new shops. “In the year since we opened, we can honestly say things in Jisr have changed a lot,” co-owner Neta Hanien tells ISRAEL21c. “The media liked our story and it brought a lot of Israeli visitors on weekends, not to stay at the guesthouse but to explore the village. More small businesses are opening and more people are starting to believe they can do something in their own village to make a living. They turn to us and ask our advice.” And so the guesthouse, which raised its initial NIS 92,000 in capital through a Headstart crowdfunding campaign, began another Headstart campaign to support a Made in Jisr startup hub. “We give entrepreneurs access to the Internet and computers, which many of them don’t have at home, and teach them how to use social media to promote their businesses,” says Hanien. “We arranged to bring in the Ministry of Tourism to run a course for local new entrepreneurs.” (via Israel21c)

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