Netanyahu and Gantz in tight race as nation votes

Likudniks plan to oust PM if he loses • Panel nixes Blue and White leader’s hometown rally

Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu rally their voters a day before elections 2019.  (photo credit: SRAYA DIAMANT / MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu rally their voters a day before elections 2019.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his challenger in Tuesday’s election, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, both spent Monday urging their supporters to cast ballots in the race that is expected to be one of the closest in the country’s history.
Exit polls will be broadcast when polls close at 10 p.m., which will give an indication of the results. But unofficial results will only be available on Wednesday, and official results only a week later on September 25.
Unlike in the April election, President Reuven Rivlin is expected to begin consultations with the factions that cross the threshold only when the results are official. He is expected to limit whoever he tasks with forming a government to four weeks, without the 14-day extension traditionally granted.
Sources in Likud said Monday that if the Likud and its political allies in Yamina, Shas and United Torah Judaism fail to obtain a 61-seat majority on Tuesday, efforts would begin immediately to unseat the prime minister as head of the party. The sources said that those efforts would intensify if Rivlin tasks Gantz with forming a coalition government.
Netanyahu said in interviews on Monday that Likud and its allies did not have 61 seats in the latest private polls taken for his party. He said that majority would not be obtained unless turnout was higher than in April in traditional Likud strongholds.
Both Netanyahu and Gantz visited the Western Wall and reached out to voters on social media on Monday. Likud petitioned the Central Elections Committee and succeeded in blocking Gantz from holding a rally with media at his childhood home of Kfar Ahim in the northern Negev. The rally, however, took place on Monday evening.
Gantz warned against the potential for violence in polling stations, and called on Netanyahu to accept the results if he is defeated. In an interview with the Knesset Channel, Gantz promised to learn from what he admitted was a mistake in the April election and not declare victory after the exit polls, even if they are positive.
Gantz announced on Monday that if he forms the government, former IDF chief of staff MK Gabi Ashkenazi will be defense minister.
“There are two domains which are of significant importance in the State or Israel: security and education,” Gantz said. “With that, I have decided to appoint Gabi Ashkenazi – a former IDF Chief of Staff and Golani soldier who rehabilitated the IDF following the Lebanon War – for the position of defense minister. Gabi knows how to restore deterrence and a sense of security to Israeli citizens in the South, in the Gaza envelope, in the North and throughout the country.”
Gantz said another former IDF chief of staff, MK Moshe Ya’alon, who served as defense minister under prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, would become education minister.
“Former chief of staff and defense minister Moshe Ya’alon – a man of unimpeachable moral character and someone who knows how to bring together the factions of Israeli society – I appoint to the position of education minister to repair the rifts in Israeli society,” Gantz said. “Now you just have to decide – an extreme, immunity government or a secular, unity government.”
The foreign minister post has been reserved for Blue and White co-leader Yair Lapid, while the most senior woman in the party, MK Miki Haimovich, would be environmental protection minister. MK Meir Cohen would be Knesset Speaker.
“Who would you prefer to face Hamas, former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi or the man who gives [Hamas] suitcases full of dollars?” Lapid tweeted, in a reference to Netanyahu. “Who would you prefer as education minister: [Yamina candidate Bezalel] Smotrich and his racism, or an honest man of values like Bogie Ya’alon?”
Netanyahu mocked the announcement, saying that if Gantz has already started allocating portfolios, “What positions did he promise [Joint List leaders] Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi?”