This story appeared in The Jewish Star's print edition on election night. Click here for a later report.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared an “incredible victory” as emerging results for Israel’s general election on Tuesday showed Likud with a clear lead.
“This is an unimaginable achievement,” Netanyahu told jubilant supporters — who sang “Bibi, melech Yisrael” — at Likud Party headquarters in Tel Aviv in the early hours of Wednesday morning. “I believe that G-d and history gave the Jewish people another opportunity to turn their country into a strong nation and that’s what I’m working for,” he said.
Despite an emerging lead in the ballot results, Netanyahu recommended patience until the final results are in.
However, Netanyahu said that he has spoken to a number of right-wing party heads and that “nearly all of them” have declared they will support him to form the next government.
An emotional Netanyahu said that he intends to be a leader of all Israelis.
“The next government will be a right-wing government,” he said. “Yet I intend to be the prime minister of all Israelis, right and left, Jews and non-Jews alike.”
Early exit poll results put the Blue and White candidate, Benny Gantz, ahead and the former IDF chief of staff declared himself the victor before Netanyahu spoke.
“Yes, friends, I will be the prime minister of everyone and not just those who voted for me. No one from a party that is not ours should worry. We all need to think about how we can work together, how we can bring everyone into the discussion,” Gantz said.
Paper ballots, each sealed in an envelope, were being counted throughout Tuesday night and into Wednesday. The votes of soldiers, prisoners, hospital patients, poll workers, on-duty police officers, and Israeli diplomats and officials working overseas are not counted until the day after the election, which in past elections has led to some shifts in the number of seats for parties. In the last election, those special ballots added up to over 280,000 votes, according to Haaretz.
Israel does not have absentee ballots for citizens who live abroad or who are out of the country on Election Day.
The upstart Zehut, a quasi-libertarian and nationalist party headed by former Likud lawmaker Moshe Feiglin, did not appear to pass the electoral threshold, despite predictions that it would be an important piece of a coalition. The party supports completely legalizing marijuana.