Israeli election: Both sides declare victory as exit polls show a dead heat

Polls are now closed in Israel which means networks can now release their exit polls. The NY Times is reporting the race between Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz is a dead heat. In fact, the exit polls were so close that both sides have declared victory:

The exit polls of the three main television channels were sufficiently disparate that both sides claimed victory.

In a head-to-head match-up, two of the polls showed Mr. Gantz’s Blue and White party ahead and a third showed him in a draw with Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud party. But including the broader blocs supporting each party, two polls showed the Likud bloc ahead and the third was a draw.

“We won!” Mr. Gantz’s party announced just after 10 p.m. “The Israeli public has had their say! These elections have a clear winner and a clear loser.”

Mr. Netanyahu, for his part, claimed a “definite victory” for the right-wing bloc in Parliament. “I thank the citizens of Israel for their trust,” he wrote on Twitter. “I will start by assembling a right-wing government with our natural partners tonight.”

So who is right? Well, they both have a point. It appears the Likud Party won 33 seats in Parliament while the Blue and White Party won 37 seats. That’s why Gantz is proclaiming victory. But what really matters is which bloc of parties gets more than 60 seats and it appears the right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu has done that. So Haaretz, an Israeli paper with a reliable left-wing slant, is reporting that, of the two competing statements, Netanyahu’s was more accurate:

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid were quick to pounce on the fact that three out of four exit polls gave their Kahol Lavan party more seats than Likud and claimed victory, bidding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu farewell.

They conveniently ignored the fact that three out of the four same exit polls have the right-wing/religious bloc with a majority and only one (Channel 12) has the two blocs the same size (60 seats each). Netanyahu was actually more accurate in his statement when he said that “the right-wing bloc has won.”

The results so far aren’t great for him, but they are not a disaster either. He still has a good chance of forming his fifth government.

However, the results are so tight and the exit polls so unreliable that it may take several days to determine who the winner is. Despite that, the Washington Post is reporting that people at Likud headquarters are upbeat:

The atmosphere at the Likud party headquarters is one of victory. Cheering supporters wearing t-shirts claiming “I am not a bot” – referring to allegations late in the campaign that social networks had been manipulated by Likud supporters — filed in to what is usually a basketball arena. Loudspeakers filled the hall with fast dance music, and a video of adoring Bibi fans played in the background.

Likud Knesset Member (MK) Sharren Haskel said it was still too early to tell who had won the election, but she was sure that the right wing had come out stronger and that it would be Netanyahu who would succeed in forming a government.

It’s close and we may not have official word today but it’s looking like this is going to go Netanyahu’s way.