The Israeli electorate may be experienced after repeated elections and resolutely split between the camps supporting and opposed to Benjamin Netanyahu, the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, who was ousted last year. Yet by Election Day, many Israelis still appeared unsure about which of the array of 40 registered parties to vote for.
“I actually felt very, very confused this morning,” said Michal Kushar, 38, a youth counselor voting in Tzur Hadassah, a suburban community near Jerusalem. In the end, she said, she had voted for Ayelet Shaked, the leader of the right-wing Jewish Home party, even though the latest opinion polls suggested that it was unlikely to pass the threshold of 3.25 percent of the total vote that is required for any party to enter Parliament.
“I didn’t do it wholeheartedly, and I am not sure that is really what I wanted,” Ms. Kushar said. “I would love a woman to be prime minister, and I believe in Ayelet Shaked, but I do know it’s not going to happen.”
In such a closely fought election, where the gain or loss of one parliamentary seat can fundamentally sway the outcome, campaign strategists in both camps are concerned about votes being given to small parties that will not pass the threshold, as well as the uncertainties posed by undecided voters.
Some voters cast what they considered to be a “tactical” ballot to boost the bloc they support, going with their heads rather than their hearts.
Dr. Idan Yaron, 67, a sociologist and anthropologist who specializes in right-wing ideology and extremism in Israel, said he had voted for Meretz, a left-wing party hovering just above the electoral threshold, “to strengthen the smaller parties and the left bloc.”
Tomer Cohen, 46, a bus driver who supports the far-right, ultranationalist politician Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Jewish Power party, listed the country’s security and Jewish identity as his main considerations.
“I want a Jewish state and not a state of all its citizens,” he said, using a phrase that is a common refrain among many of Israel’s Arab politicians.
Hadeel Zatmi, 25, a voter in Nazareth, in the north, who is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, said she was so frustrated with the infighting among the Arab parties, among other things, that she had seriously considered boycotting the election. But in the end she said she had cast a ballot for the predominantly Arab, leftist Hadash-Ta’al slate, because “our existence in the Knesset is important,” referring to the Israeli Parliament.
Avi Algrabli, 37, a Netanyahu supporter in Jerusalem who runs a construction equipment company, said he still preferred the former prime minister to all of the others. Mr. Netanyahu’s right-wing base has largely remained loyal, despite — or even because of — his corruption trial, which many of them view as a conspiracy cooked up by a liberal deep state.
Illustrating the deep polarization afflicting Israeli society, Mr. Algrabli said that Yair Lapid, the current prime minister and leader of the anti-Netanyahu bloc, “went with supporters of terrorism,” referring to the small Islamist party, Raam, that broke a historical taboo by joining the last governing coalition.
The voters turned out despite their election fatigue, mostly out of a sense of fulfilling their democratic right and duty.
“I’m very tired of elections,” said one centrist voter, Tehilah Puterman, 40. Pointing to her daughter, who was with her at the polling station, Ms. Puterman added, “This is her fourth election, and she is only 5.”
More than anything, some voters were hoping for an end to the political morass.
“I always hope that the person I vote for wins,” said Hanna Solodoch, 67, from Rehovot in central Israel. “But this does not always happen, and now it is also not my main concern.”
“The atmosphere in the country is full of incitement and instability, and this needs to end,” she said, adding, “We need a conclusive result.”
Reporting was contributed by Myra Noveck, Irit Pazner Garshowitz, Gabby Sobelman and Hiba Yazbek.