Live blogging Israeli Election Day

Left to right, Hanin Zouabi, Zehava Gal-on, Shelly Yachimovich, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Aryeh Deri.  (Graphics by Uri Fintzy)

Left to right, Hanin Zouabi, Zehava Gal-on, Shelly Yachimovich, Tzipi Livni, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman, Benjamin Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett and Aryeh Deri. (Graphics by Uri Fintzy)

JTA is live blogging Election Day in Israel. 

9:56 p.m. — Exit polls in a few minutes. As of 8:30, 63.7 percent of Israelis had voted. 

9:43 p.m. – Exit polls come out in about 20 minutes. Hang on, folks. In the meantime, check out our story on undecided voters facing their moment of truth today.

8:50 p.m. — On that note, check out Linda Gradstein’s 2012 profile of Yair Lapid.

8:34 p.m. — Haaretz, JPost, Walla report that Yesh Atid is doing well and may be the second-largest party in the next Knesset. On his Facebook page, Netanyahu wrote that "Likud’s rule is in danger."

8:26 p.m. — No wonder turnout is so high this year…

8:18 p.m. — PSA from Shas, via the party Facebook page: Rabbi Ovadia Yosef says voting for Shas is now equal to saving the entirety of Judaism. 

7:29 p.m. — Via Times of Israel, Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid tells Israeli Channel 10 that his party "wiped the floor with Likud" in Netanya, traditionally a Likud city. 

7:16 p.m. — Haim Amsalem, the rabbi who heads the moderate Sephardic Orthodox party Am Shalem, is claiming on Facebook that Shas activists are destroying stacks of Am Shalem ballots. He urges Am Shalem voters to write in the party’s electoral symbol on a blank ballot, which he calls a "strictly kosher vote."

7:10 p.m. – On Facebook, Naftali Bennett notes that turnout among soldiers so far is 57 percent, equaling total soldier turnout in 2009. Bennett, himself a former IDF commander and head of a Jewish Home list that includes lots of combat experience, is counting on strong support from the IDF’s ranks. 

6:58 p.m. — Looks like Labor’s campaign has also picked up on 77 percent being their potential magic number. Check out this photo mashup from the Labor Facebook page.  

6:42 p.m. — It looks like voter turnout so far has tracked most closely with voter turnout in 1992, which saw a final turnout of 77.4 percent and a major Labor victory. The former would be a huge increase of 12 percent over 2009′s elections, and the latter is unlikely, judging from polls. 

6:32 p.m. — Voter turnout at 6 p.m. is 55.5 percent. Hasn’t been that high since 1999. 

6:28 p.m. — A good point by Herb Keinon of JPost: high turnout could mean fewer two-seat parties.

6:11 p.m. – In an attempt to boost supposedly flagging Likud-Beiteinu voter turnout, Likud MK Ofir Akunis writes on his Facebook page that the race between the left- and right-wing Knesset blocs is "a lot closer than you think!"

6:07 p.m. — If current rates hold, Israel is heading for an above-average electoral turnout. But the region’s other elections, Jordan’s parliamentary elections taking place tomorrow, could draw as few as 25 percent of voters. The Times reports that anger at King Abdullah II, and mistrust of the system, is widespread in Israel’s neighbor to the east. 

6:03 p.m. — According to Ynet, Israel’s clear, hot weather  plus the day off equaled traffic jams across the country. Mt. Hermon in the Golan Heights, a popular tourist destination, has been closed due to overcrowding. 

5:54 p.m. – Israeli Bernard Avishai and Palestinian Sam Bahour have co-written an op-ed in the New York Times calling for a larger American effort to restart the peace process after Israeli elections.

5:39 p.m. — While Tel Aviv is traditionally a leftist stronghold, Jerusalem usually goes to the right. Here, outside the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, two young volunteers man a booth for Jewish Home.

5:32 p.m. — From earlier today, Labor volunteers in Tel Aviv hand out copies of Tomorrow Morning, a one-issue "newspaper" from a future in which Labor Chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich is prime minister. 

5:26 p.m. — We’re back! At 4 p.m., more than 46 percent of Israelis had voted. 

3:28 p.m. — Education Minister Gideon Saar, of the right-wing Likud-Beiteinu list, laments high voter turnout in left-wing areas, according to multiple reports. Likud-Beiteinu is trying to get out the vote in its traditional strongholds as well.

3:22 p.m. — The haredi Orthodox news website Kikar HaShabbat reports that Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of the Sephardic Orthodox Shas Party, is very upset that another party, Power to Influence, is taking votes away from Shas. Power to Influence is led by haredi Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak. "I am in great pain," Yosef reportedly said. "I am crying because of this. God have mercy on us."

Walla reports that the Central Elections Committee asked Kikar HaShabbat to remove a video of Yosef saying that whoever votes for Yitzchak "will not be forgiven in this world or the world to come."

3:09 p.m. – According to the Labor Party, 38 percent of voters had cast ballots by 3 p.m. This is the highest percentage since 1992, when Labor won the election — a result that polls have shown is unlikely this time around. 

1:58 p.m. — A setback for Eretz Chadasha: Walla reports that ballots for the anti-corruption party were mistakenly removed from tens of polling stations. Similar ballots for Atid Ehad, a party that withdrew from the elections, were the ones that were supposed to be removed.

1:47 p.m. — According to reports, as of noon 26.7 percent of eligible voters — well more than 1 million people — have voted. This is the highest voter turnout by noon since 1999. 

1:23 p.m. — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu showed up on Facebook with a handwritten note to supporters saying: "My Facebook friends, I ask you: Vote Machal! [Likud-Beiteinu's name on the ballot] Only a big Machal will safeguard a strong Israel." The note comes along with a doodle of a Machal ballot. 

Discerning readers wiill note that this is not Bibi’s first doodle. He presented one to Israel’s Olympic delegation before it flew to London — though it didn’t help: For the first time in decades, Israel won no medals at the Games. 

12:23 p.m. — An photo mashup of Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett with Bert from Sesame Street, who’s called "Bentz" in Hebrew. The caption says "Bentz is a brother," a play on "Bennett is a brother," one of Jewish Home’s central slogans. 

12:08 p.m. — A controversial Facebook post by Otzma L’Yisrael Co-Chairman Michael Ben-Ari, defending Shalom Eisner, the IDF officer who hit a Danish activist in the face with a rifle in April:

Brothers and friends,

When the media lynched Col. Shalom Eisner, I was the only one who defended him and said he deserved a commendation, not a reprimand. So that there will be someone to defend IDF soldiers and the people of Israel. Help me strengthen the people of Israel’s deterrent power against the self-righteous. We’ll enter as a proud Jewish delegation to the next Knesset. It depends on your activism today. 

11:50 a.m. – An insight by Jerusalem Post reporter Gil Hoffman about Yediot Aharonot and Israel Hayom, Israel’s leading daily newspapers:

11:40 a.m. — Election Day is a national holiday here, and contrary to earlier weather reports, it’s a clear, beautiful day. Some Israelis are working, but most get to spend the morning and afternoon lounging at cafes. 

11:26 a.m. – Elections in Israel are technically a secret ballot, but Israelis tend to be open about their vote, and several even take photos of their ballot while they’re in the voting booth. Labor has begun a campaign this morning urging supporters to upload pictures of their Labor ballots to Facebook "so everyone will know." 

11:15 a.m. — A couple of disputes reportedly have broken out between activists from different parties. Walla reports that a Likud volunteer allegedly threatened a Labor volunteer vith scissors as they hung posters outside a voting location in the central city of Kfar Saba. Near the coastal city of Gedera, meanwhile, Walla reports that an activist from the Jewish Home Party allegedly removed ballots from the Otzma L’Yisrael Party from the ballot box. 

11:10 a.m. — The Central Elections Committee has reported that, so far, 11.4 percent of eligible voters have voted, a record for the past five elections. 

9:10 a.m. – Many government officials and party leaders, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres, have voted. Netanyahu also paid a visit to the Western Wall today, where, according to Walla, he read a psalm and put a note in the Kotel. 

9:05 a.m.According to Haaretz, in the last elections in 2009, 27,246 votes equaled one Knesset seat. Thirty-two parties are competing in today’s elections, with about a dozen expected to enter the next Knesset. Parties must get more than 2 percent of votes to enter the Knesset. 

8:51 a.m. — Google has a special doodle for Israeli Election Day.

8:35 a.m. – Meirav Cohen, a candidate for the Hatnua party, reportedly gave birth to a baby girl, her first, last night. Ynet reports that Hatnua Chairwoman Tzipi Livni accompanied Cohen to the hospital and waited with her until her husband arrived. 

8:00 a.m. – To vote in Israel, voters enter the booth and choose a slip of paper with the acronym for their party. They put the slip in an envelope and drop it in a box, in view of volunteer monitors. 

7:45 a.m. – Campaigning isn’t allowed within voting locations, but adjacent to one voting booth in Tel Aviv, a Meretz volunteer greets voters. 

7:00 a.m. – Polls open! About 3.5 million Israelis are expected to vote today, two-thirds of the total number of eligible voters.

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