Israeli voters in quarantine due to possible exposure to coronavirus vote at a special polling station in Jerusalem during national elections, March 2, 2020. (JTA/Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Israeli voters in quarantine due to possible exposure to coronavirus vote at a special polling station in Jerusalem during national elections, March 2, 2020. (JTA/Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel votes: Bibi and Gantz neck and neck again, special polling places for quarantined voters

The final Israeli television news polls offered no surprises as the country gets set to hold its unprecedented third election in a year on Monday: The Likud party and Blue and White are running neck and neck.

The two parties finished atop the voting in the two elections held last year, in April and September.

Likud, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is polling at 33-35 seats in surveys conducted Thursday and Friday by the Kan public broadcaster, Channel 12 News and Channel 13 News. Blue and White, headed by former military chief of staff Benny Gantz, had 33-34.

In September, Blue and White won 33 seats to Likud’s 32. In April, Likud took 38 seats to Blue and White’s 35.

The Joint List of mostly Arab parties polled at 14-15 seats, up from 13 in September and 10 in April. Avigdor Liberman’s pro-settler Yisrael Beiteinu party had six to seven seats, down from eight in September and 13 in April.

Neither the right-wing nor left-wing blocs have been able to form a coalition government of more than 60 seats without either Yisrael Beiteinu or the Joint List, which has never been part of an Israeli government.

Thousands of Israelis quarantined due to possible exposure to the coronavirus are voting in special polling places set up to allow them to safely cast their ballots.

RELATED: A guide to Israel’s unprecedented third election in less than a year

Sixteen special polling places opened in outdoor tents across the country on Monday. As of 4:30 p.m., more than half of the some 5,600 quarantined voters had voted. Due to the large demand, the special voting places were kept open an extra two hours until 7 p.m.

Israelis in quarantine to prevent the spread of the virus were asked to arrive at the special polling places unaccompanied by private vehicle.  They were asked to not stop on the way to the polling place and to return straight home.

Trained paramedics dressed in full head-to-toe protective gear, including gloves and masks, staffed the polling locations. Votes were collected in a specially lined ballot box and were to be counted by election officials also dressed in protective gear.

“It feels hysterical. It feels over the top. But we will respect it,” Yishai Akker told The Times of Israel.

Akker has been in quarantine since Friday, when he returned from a ski trip to Italy.

Israel’s Channel 12 reported that one Jerusalem resident screamed through a megaphone at a police officer, “Don’t treat us like lepers.”

Israelis who have returned from trips to China, Hong Kong, Macau, Thailand, Singapore, South Korea, Japan and Italy are being required to self-quarantine in their homes for 14 days. So far, 10 Israelis have tested positive for the coronavirus.

Government officials assured voters that they did not need to fear heading to the polls because of the virus.

The quarantined voters have been instructed to drive directly to the special polls, cast their ballots and return home without making any stops.

“I want to reassure the public and call again to the citizens of Israel: Vote without fear of the coronavirus,” Health Minister Yaacov Litzman said Monday morning. “The coronavirus is under control and the Health Ministry is the only one authorized to update the country on the issue.”

Marcy Oster
Marcy Oster

Israel-based JTA correspondent


Content distributed by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency news service.