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Israelis vote for dramatic change as they elect a new prime minister

JERUSALEM, May 17 (JTA) — Israelis voted for dramatic change this week, electing a new prime minister and a very different Knesset. Ehud Barak, a former army chief of staff, was overwhelmingly elected the new prime minister of Israel, according to early exit polls. Barak received 58.5 percent of the vote to 41.5 percent for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, according to a poll cited by the Israel Broadcasting Authority. “I’m happy,” Barak, known as a man of few words, said in Beersheba shortly after the polls closed. In separate elections for the Knesset, Israelis also sent a strong message that they wanted change. Israel’s Likud Party will have 18 seats in the new Knesset, a drop of 14 seats from the outgoing Knesset, according to exit polls. The Labor Party coalition known as One Israel will have 33 seats in the new legislature, as compared with 34 in the outgoing Knesset. The fervently Orthodox Shas Party is poised to increase its Knesset representation from 10 seats to 15, the exit polls indicated. Shinui, a new party that says all fervently Orthodox parties should be kept out of the next government, will have six seats in the new Knesset. In his concession speech 30 minutes after the polls closed, Netanyahu resigned as the leader of the Likud Party. “I have a great deal still to contribute to our state,” he said. “But the time has come for me to be with my family and to take some time to decide my future.” He also adopted a conciliatory note in his speech, saying that the “tempest of the elections is passing. We have to quiet down. We have to unify.”