As the dust settles and exit polls are scrutinized, it is clear that there are two big winners in Israel's 2022 parliamentary election. We might not know yet the exact nature of the Knesset but it is clear that Itamar Ben-Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich will be two of its loudest voices - likely backed by 15 seats.
This places their party - the Religious Zionist alliance - as the third largest in the Israeli parliament, a fact that is leaving many left-wing and liberal Israelis fearing for the future of their country.
The party, led by Religious Zionist Party's Smotrich, but propelled to its current position by Ben-Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit faction, represents the far right of Israeli politics. It supports strengthening Jewish identity, a hard interpretation of nationalism, and promoting Orthodox Judaism.
Policies advocated by its leaders include annexation of the West Bank, alterations to the role of the judicial system and strict opposition to any territorial concessions with the Palestinians. Its leaders have also made comments that were seen as homophobic or threatening to left-wing Israelis and Arabs.
The combination of electoral reform in 2014 and the political talents of former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu launched Smotrich and Ben-Gvir into their new position. A change to the country's voting system which forces parties to gain 3.25 percent of the vote in order to enter parliament caused concern to Netanyahu.
Worried that right-wing votes would be wasted going to Otzma Yehudit without it ever entering the parliament, the Likud leader wrangled Ben-Gvir and Smotrich into working together. Even for a seasoned politician like Netanyahu, it took a great deal of effort at times.
But ultimately the two men did run together, and scenes of celebration at their party HQ after initial exit polls were announced seemed to show that their supporters thought the decision had paid off.
Once Ben Gvir made it into the Knesset in 2021, the increased visibility that the role granted him allowed him to grow his support almost exponentially. Liberal and left-wing Israelis have expressed concern at what this means for the direction of the nation of Israel. As have important Israeli allies, such as the U.S.
Ironically, however, Israel's Arab citizens are perhaps less concerned by the prospect of Ben-Gvir as a minister than many left-wing Jewish Israelis, Ali Waked, director of i24NEWS' Arabic Channel, noted.
Religious Zionist Party leaders were used as bogeymen by Israel's Arab parties to turn out their voters but exit polls showed no major increase in Arab voter turnout. These voters are often conservative, unconcerned by notions of separating state and religion, or of protecting LGBT rights, Waked said.
Israeli Arab voters might view Religious Zionist Party leaders as fascists, Waked said, but they also think that "Ben-Gvir and Smotrich are no different to Lapid and Gantz."
"They did not promote any different solution to the Palestinian issue, to the situation of the Arabs in Israel."
Reprinted with permission from i24NEWS.