Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu faces a tight fight as he seeks a return to office. Tuesday’s election could hinge on support from a far-right party whose leaders call for the expulsion of people perceived to be unloyal to Israel.
Voter annoyance may reduce turnout as the nation holds its fifth election in less than four years, but rising support for the ultranationalist Religious Zionism faction and its fiery co-leader Itamar Ben-Gvir has energized the contest.
Netanyahu, who has been prime minister of Israel for the longest time, is currently facing corruption charges, which he denies, but his right-wing Likud party is still anticipated to end up with the most seats in parliament.
However, according to final polls released last week, he is still short of the 61 seats required for a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. This raises the possibility of more elections as well as weeks of coalition negotiations.
In a campaign started by outgoing centrist Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s decision to call an early election due to defections from his ruling coalition, security and rising prices have emerged as voters’ top worries.
Months of unrest in the occupied West Bank have served as a backdrop to the campaign as well.
Policy disagreements, however, have been eclipsed by Netanyahu’s oversized personality, whose legal fights have fueled the impasse preventing Israel’s political system since since he was charged with bribery, fraud, and breach of trust in 2019.
Ben-Gvir and fellow far-right leader Bezalel Smotrich have eaten into Likud’s traditional hawkish base as Netanyahu’s legal issues have persisted, and Religious Zionism, long a tiny party, is now expected to be the third-largest party in parliament.
Ben-Gvir, a former member of Kach, an organization on the terrorist watchlists of both Israel and the US, has softened some of his earlier stances, but the possibility of him joining a coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu should worry Washington.
Lapid has focused his campaign on the economic performance of the improbable coalition that was created during the previous election and included right-wing, centrist, and, for the first time, an Arab party, as well as diplomatic advancements.