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Learn about the factions vying for seats in the next Knesset.

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Left/Center Left

 

 

Labor

Founded: 1968
April 2019 Results: 6 seats (loss of 13 seats)
Leader: Avi Gabbay (likely to be replaced before September 17)
Other Notable Members: Shelly Yachimovich, Itzik Shmuli, Stav Shaffir, Tal Russo
Date of Primary Election: February 12

Background

Founded in 1968, the Labor party was descended from the historic “Mapai,” a social democratic workers’ party. Mapai and then Labor dominated Israeli politics for most of its early history until the late 1970s, with prominent leaders like David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. Since the Rabin’s prime ministership from 1992-1995, the party has been considered generally supportive of the two-state solution and pursuing a diplomatic solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In recent years, the party has struggled to remain competitive and has lost much of its historic base among secular Israelis. In the April 2019 election, leader Avi Gabbay led the party to its worst ever result, winning just 6 seats in the Knesset (down from 19 seats in the previous Knesset). Since Labor last held the prime ministership in 2001, the party has cycled between eight different party leaders. In the 2015 election, Isaac Herzog, then Chairman of the Labor party, announced a joint slate called “The Zionist Union,” which he formed with the Hatnuah party’s Tzipi Livni. The Zionist Union garnered 24 combined seats in 2015, making it the main party of the opposition following Netanyahu’s victory, and Herzog the official Leader of the Opposition.

Views on Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Historically the party which negotiated the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians, Labor has for the past 30 years supported a two-state solution. Some analysts believe the party’s lack of success in recent elections is at least partly due to its close identification with the Oslo framework. As chairman, Avi Gabbay has tried to mitigate Labor’s identification with Oslo by suggesting that any agreement with the Palestinians would not imply the evacuation of settlements located in a future Palestinian state. Gabbay has also spoken of a future Palestinian state being demilitarized and a future peace deal with the Palestinians being part of a regional agreement. He has also said he would freeze settlement construction outside of the blocs. Like most Israeli politicians, he supported President Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem and he has said Jerusalem must remain united in a peace deal with the Palestinians. Gabbay has called the settlement enterprise “the beautiful and devoted face of Zionism.”

Views of Democracy

Gabbay has been very critical of moves by Netanyahu to politicize the judicial system and expand his own powers, accusing the prime minister of trying to turn Israel into Turkey. He vociferously opposed a proposal that would give the prime minister the authority to declare war in conjunction only with the minister of defense, instead of the entire security cabinet. Gabbay also slammed a proposed new law that would limit the power of the Supreme Court to strike down Knesset legislation on constitutional grounds. The Labor party is also on record opposing the Nation-State Law, and says it will push to have it annulled. The party voted against a law enacted by the Knesset to bar supporters of boycotts, sanctions and divestment from entering the country.

Meretz (“Energy”)

Founded: 1992
April 2019 Result: 4 seats (loss of 1 seat)
Date of Primary Election: February 14
Leader: Tamar Zandberg
Notable Members: Ilan Gilon, Michal Rozin

Background

The progressive Meretz party was founded in 1992 and was considered a key player in the Labor coalitions of the 1990s. The party has recently seen a relative rise in its popularity after struggling over the first decade of the 21st century. Meretz is one of the last Israeli parties to identify as explicitly leftist, campaigning on issues of social justice, equality and peace with the Palestinians. Meretz was the only Zionist party to oppose the summer 2014 escalation in Gaza and has been highly critical of the Netanyahu government for expanding settlements, obstructing diplomacy and undermining democracy.

Meretz is currently led by rising star Tamar Zandberg, an outspoken progressive.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Meretz supports a two-state solution and a freeze of Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. The parrty is a strong advocate for the human and civil rights of Palestinians living in the occupied territory. Zandberg has frequently called the continuation of the occupation an existential threat to Israel. In the past, Meretz has proposed that Israel unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state and undertake other confidence-building measures such as a release of prisoners, end of incitement and the dismantling of Israeli checkpoints in the territories.

Views on Democracy

Meretz vehemently oppose the Nation-State Law and has initiated legal action against it. The party opposes the anti-BDS law and has provided legal support for individuals stopped from entering the country. It has also denounced attempts to politicize the judiciary and undermine its independence. Meretz traditionally supports social equality with an emphasis on the rights of women, the LGBT+ community and Israeli Arabs. The party opposes any form of religious coercion and has advocated for the separation of synagogue and state in Israeli law and public life.

Center

 

Blue and White

Founded: 2019
April 2019 Result: 35 seats (up from 11 held by Yesh Atid)
Date of Primary Election
: None
Leader: Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid
Notable Members: Moshe Ya’alon, Gabi Ashkenazi, Yael German

Background

Blue and White’s rise has been meteoric. Founded only in February 2019, the combined slate went on to win 35 Knesset seats, a tie for first with Netanyahu’s Likud party. Blue and White was formed in February 2019 following a coalition agreement between Benny Gantz’s new Hosen L’Yisrael Party (‘Israel Resilience Party’), and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party (‘There is a Future’) and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem Party (‘National Statesman Movement’). The coalition agreement aimed to consolidate the votes of secular centrists and moderates to give the new party the best chance at winning a plurality of seats and the chance to form a government.

Gantz, who founded Hosen L’Yisrael in early 2019, is a broadly popular former IDF chief of staff. His campaign is focused on positioning him as a moderate alternative to Benjamin Netanyahu and has placed strong emphasis on his security expertise. Despite relatively few policy details being released, Blue and White went on to win 35 seats in the Knesset, matching Netanyahu’s Likud.

Popular former television anchor Yair Lapid founded his secular centrist party, Yesh Atid, in 2012 to appeal to middle-class voters focused on economic issues. Strong performance in 2013 allowed Lapid to serve as finance minister in Netanyahu’s government. When Lapid and Netanyahu failed to agree on a budget in 2014, Yesh Atid was ejected from the governing coalition, triggering the 2015 election. The party suffered weaker election results and was not included in the subsequent coalition government, though Yesh Atid remains the fourth largest party in the Knesset. 

Ya’alon is a former IDF Chief of Staff and Defense Minister, known as a hawk in the Likud party. He resigned as defense minister and left the party in 2016, warning that “extreme and dangerous elements have taken over Israel and the Likud party.”

Gantz and Lapid have agreed to share the prime ministership in the event that they form a government. Gantz will serve in the top job for two and a half years, with Lapid serving as foreign minister.

Listed third on the Blue and White slate is former Likud member Moshe Ya’alon, who joined Gantz prior to the Yesh Atid merger. Ya’alon had earlier formed his own party, Telem, and previously served as IDF chief of staff and defense minister under Netanyahu. Fourth on the list is popular former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who reportedly pushed both leaders to strike an agreement, making his involvement conditional on the two uniting against Netanyahu.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

With a diverse slate and two leaders who have been vague in recent statements, it’s difficult to predict how strongly a Gantz-led government would pursue a peace deal with the Palestinians.

Gantz has said that resolving the conflict should be a top priority, and that Palestinians and Israelis have to find a way to work together, though he has not specifically endorsed a two-state solution. Lapid once said “there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution,” though in recent years has deemphasized the Palestinian issue. He has said that the status of Jerusalem is not up for negotiation.

The views of others on the Blue and White list are mixed. When recently asked whether he would support a peace deal based on a two-state solution, Moshe Ya’alon replied “of course not.” Gabi Ashkenazi, however, has spoken of the need to separate from the Palestinians in order to retain Israel’s Jewish, democratic character. Avi Nissenkorn and Meir Cohen – who occupy the fifth and sixth slots on the slate – have also spoken of the need to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians. Ofer Shelach, occupying the eighth slot, has spoken of the “corrupting” influence of the occupation and has criticized Netanyahu for paying lip service to a two-state solution while undermining such a possibility with settlement expansions.

While Gantz has spoken in favor of restraint in military engagements, his willingness to use force during 2014’s Operation Protective Edge was a key focus of his campaign ads. One ad boasted of sending areas of Gaza “to the stone ages,” while another displayed a rising counter of “terrorists killed” overlaid with footage from Palestinian funerals. A Haaretz fact check challenged the campaign for inflating the number of militants killed and ignoring the very high rate civilian casualties.

Views on Democracy

While Gantz’s public record on many issues is thin, he has intensified his criticism of Netanyahu to include accusations of corruption, incitement, deception and fear-mongering. He recently slammed Netanyahu for his attacks on the press, the attorney general and law enforcement officials.

Lapid has said he favors a two term limit for prime ministers and has vowed to reestablish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. He describes himself as a strong opponent of the BDS movement, but has said the law passed by the Knesset to ban supporters of BDS from entering Israel is “idiotic” in its attempt to fight one boycott with another. He has said he would repeal a law that bars the police from recommending indictments to the state prosecutor, another that prevents the police from announcing why an investigation was closed and a third that offers the prime minister a tax write-off for official expenses.

Since his ouster from the government, Ya’alon has criticized Likud for trying to control the media and the judicial system. In a November 2017 interview, he lamented the fact that leaders are focused on politics rather than leadership, accusing Netanyahu of mounting “an attack on everything that is supposed to constitute the checks and balances in a democracy.”

Gantz, Lapid and Ya’alon have spoken of the need to amend the Nation-State Law to restore a level of equality to Israeli citizens.

Center-Right/Right

 

Likud and Kulanu

Founded: 1973
Likud April 2019 Result: 35 seats (up from 30)
Kulanu April 2019 Result: 4 (down from 10)
Date of Primary Election: February 5
Leader: Benjamin Netanyahu
Notable Members: Gilad Erdan, Miri Regev, Yisrael Katz

Background

Founded in 1973 and first elected to form a government in 1977, the ruling conservative party is headed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has served as prime minister from 1996-1999 and from 2008-present. The party has traditionally drawn its strength from the political right and from the tradition of Revisionist Zionism, which takes a more hawkish and combative stand toward the Palestinians and Israel’s Arab neighbors. Throughout most of the 80s, 90s and early 2000s, it competed with Labor as one of Israel’s two preeminent parties.

Once it became clear the prime minister was not going to be able to form a coalition after the April 2019 elections, Netanyahu orchestrated a merger with Kulanu in an attempt to get their support for fresh elections. The merger all but guarantees the minor party will be returned to the post-September Knesset, though it is now essentially a junior subsidiary of Likud.

Over the past decade, Likud has been dominated by Prime Minister Netanyahu and has become closely entwined with his personal political fortunes. It has also moved increasingly to the right with policies designed to entrench the settlement movement, delegitimize the Left and limit dissent. In 2015, Likud secured 30 seats, making it the largest party and helping to counter the rise of parties to its right. Its 2019 campaigns have primarily been seen as referenda on the leadership of Netanyahu, shaped in significant part by the voters’ reactions to the corruption investigations against him.

Moshe Kahlon, a popular Likud minister, resigned from the Knesset three months before the 2013 elections, and announced in 2014 that he would form a new political party of “clean” lawmakers to focus on reducing the cost of living in Israel. Kulanu (‘All of us’) was the result.

Positioning itself as a more moderate, center-right alternative to Likud, Kulanu won ten seats in the 2015 election and joined Netanyahu’s new coalition, in which Kahlon served as Minister of Finance. The party’s list included some other well-known figures like former Israeli Ambassador to the United States Michael Oren and a former senior IDF officer, Yoav Gallant. While the party generally tacked closely to Likud, some of its members were seen as more liberal and independent.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Netanyahu has been quoted saying different things at different times about two-state solution. He said just before the previous election it would never happen on his watch. He has also hedged his position on any possible future Palestinian state with so many conditions and qualification as to make it almost impossible to implement. He now insists on the Palestinians recognizing Israel as a Jewish state as a basic condition for negotiations and also accepting that any future Palestinians state be demilitarized.

The two-state solution however is a useful fig leaf for Netanyahu in the international arena so he has not come out unequivocally against the idea as such. His governments have continued to pursue settlements vigorously and have sought to settle in areas previously untouched by settlements in order to make a contiguous Palestinian state much more difficult to establish. In the closing days of the April 2019 campaign, Netanyahu pledged to extend Israeli sovereignty over settlements in the West Bank.

He has also tried to rid Area C of the West Bank of Palestinian settlements and villages. The rest of the Likud is primarily to the right of Netanyahu and has no belief in a two-state solution. Most appear to favor the continuation of the occupation, the stepping up of settlements and the eventual annexation of most of the West Bank.

Views on Democracy

Netanyahu’s government has presided over a serious erosion of Israeli democracy. It pushed through the Nation-State Law and a law banning BDS supporters from entering Israel. It has stepped up efforts to influence and control the news media and, indeed, Netanyahu could face trial for trying to buy favorable coverage from one network. It has also tried to curtail the independence of the judiciary and even bring the military under tighter political control. He has tried to limit the activities of numerous civil and human rights NGOs and subjected their supporters and funders to demonization and intimidation. Facing numerous corruption investigations, Likud and Netanyahu have worked hard to subvert the independence of the attorney general. He has promoted legislation to prevent the indictment of the prime minister. If he is indicted, Netanyahu seems certain to defy long-standing tradition in Israel by refusing to resign while legal proceedings against him move forward.

All Kulanu MKs voted for the Nation-State Law except for one, the Druze MK Akram Hasoon. When the bill’s passage sparked outrage and led to widespread protests from the Druze community, Kahlon called for the law to be amended and said that its final wording had been “hasty and mistaken.” While in government, Kulanu has only rarely weighed in on diplomatic questions. In January of 2018, Kahlon told his fellow cabinet members that Israel should annex the major West Bank settlement blocs.

Union of Right-Wing Parties

Founded: 2019
April 2019 Result: 5 seats
Leader: Rafi Peretz
Notable Members: Bezalel Smotrich, Uri Ariel, Michael Ben-Ari

Background

The Union of Right-Wing Parties was created during the 2019 election as a joint slate of three far-right parties associated with the national religious movement, the settlements and hardline anti-Palestinian ideology: Habayit Hayehudi (“Jewish Home”), Tkuma (“Resurrection”) and Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”).

Habayit HaYehudi has formed a part of Netanyahu governments since 2013 ,when they reached a high water mark of 12 seats. Since 2019, the party has been led by Bezazel Smotrich, described by Haaretz as a “radical settler” and “proud homophobe”. He has become well known in the Knesset for his anti-Arab racism and provocative far-right rhetoric. In partnership with Tkuma, the party has have consistently fought to pull the Netanyahu government farther to the right, pushing extreme hardline positions on settlement expansion, creeping annexation and the situation in Gaza.

In 2019, Prime Minister Netanyahu orchestrated a joint slate which would bring Otzma Yehudit, the most extreme far-right party, into the union.

Considered the most racist and dangerous party in Israeli politics, Otzma Yehudit’s platform is directly inspired by the legacy and views of extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane and his Kach party. In the 1980s, Israel’s Central Elections Committee identified Kahane and Kach as “manifestly racist” and disqualified them from running for office. In the 1990s, the Israeli government made Kach officially illegal under Israeli anti-terrorism laws for inciting violence against Arabs and praising Baruch Goldstein’s horrific murder of 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron. The US State Department has listed Kach as a foreign terror organization since 1997.

Today, Otzma Yehudit upholds the Kahanist agenda. In addition to supporting full annexation of the West Bank, the party calls for Israel to seize control of the Temple Mount and to promote the mass “emigration” of Palestinians from Israel and the Palestinian territory. It is an explicitly racist and homophobic party of Jewish supremacists, which some in the Israeli media have compared to the Klu Klux Klan. One of Otzma Yehudit’s leaders and likely future MKs, Michael Ben-Ari, was banned from entering the US in 2012 because of his ties to Kahane and Kach.

Netanyahu has been widely denounced in Israel and in the American Jewish community for pushing to include Otzma in the slate – a move which makes it likely that the Kahanists will receive at least one seat in the next Knesset and a potential voice in the next government.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Adamantly opposed to a two-state solution, HaBayit, HaYehudi and Tkuma are likely to become even more extreme and openly racist now that they are partnered with the Kahanists in Otzma. The “Union of Right-Wing Parties” is attacking Netanyahu for being soft on Hamas in the Gaza Strip and pushing Likud to further expand settlements and commit to the full or partial annexation of the West Bank. The union will continue to promote violent and aggressive tactics against Palestinians in the West Bank and inside Israel, with Otzma even calling on the Israeli government to establish a new “authority” to focus on pressuring Palestinians to emigrate from Israel and the occupied territory.

Views on Democracy

These parties regard democracy as falling a distant second to imposing Orthodox Judaism and “Judaizing” Israel. They reject the idea of Israel as a liberal democracy and a “state for all its citizens,” advocating for policies that elevate the status of Jews and discriminate against Palestinians and other minorities. Some of their most prominent personalities have opposed equal rights for the LGBT+ community and even defended violence against the LGBT+ community. Smotrich has proposed that courts should take the Torah into consideration in their rulings and has advocated that the police should shoot to kill when faced with children throwing stones. HaBayit HaYehudi supported all the legislation enacted by the previous Knesset that constrained or eroded democratic rights. Otzma in particular seeks to turn Israel into a theocratic ethnostate. Overall, the slate should be regarded as hostile to the values and institutions of liberal democracy.

Yisrael Beiteinu (“Our Israel”)

Founded: 1999
April 2019 Result: 5 seats (loss of 1 seat)
Date of Primary Election: None
Leader: Avigdor Lieberman

Background

Founded in 1999 by Moldovan emigre Avigdor Lieberman, the secular, nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu was established as a home for Soviet-born Israelis. The party’s secular platform is a key point of differentiation with other right-wing parties, ostensibly leading to the collapse of Netanyahu’s 2019 coalition negotiations after Lieberman’s insistence that Orthodox exemptions to the national draft be lifted — a non-starter with religious coalition partners. Lieberman’s opening attacks ahead of the second 2019 election have been focussed on Netanyahu’s accommodation of the far-right religious parties.

The bitter acrimony between Lieberman and Netanyahu following this year’s collapse in coalition negotiations was only the latest dramatic episode in a long and contentious history between the pair. Lieberman became foreign minister in the 2013 Netanyahu coalition after running on a joint slate with Likud. He split from Likud in the summer of 2014, citing “differences of opinion,” which were reportedly resulting from what he viewed as the prime minister’s problematic ‘restraint’ in handling the Gaza escalation. In the 2015 election, Lieberman lost nine Knesset seats and initially refused to join the Netanyahu government. The party brokered an agreement to join the coalition in 2016 and for Lieberman to become minister of defense.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Lieberman has amended the Yisrael Beiteinu party platform to include a call for a regional peace agreement based on the establishment of a Palestinian state, though he has virtually never made an explicit call for a two-state solution or promoted serious diplomacy with the Palestinians. But he did accuse fellow rightist Naftali Bennett of paving the way for an “apartheid Israel” by advocating the annexation of the West Bank.

During Israel’s most recent clash with Hamas in Gaza in November 2018, Lieberman disagreed with Netanyahu’s decision to agree to a ceasefire, preparing to wage a aggressive and extended military campaign. He resigned in protest, helping to precipitate the collapse of the coalition and the announcement of new elections.

Views on Democracy

Lieberman was critical of the Nation-State Law and has resisted efforts to advance the interests of Orthodox Jews over the secular. But he has also stated that Arab citizens of Israel should be made to feel unwanted and should be compelled to swear a loyalty oath to the “Jewish state” and to commit to serve in its armed forces. He has also advocated trading predominantly Arab parts of Israel for land on the West Bank where major settlement blocs are located. He has advocated the death penalty for Arab members of Knesset who have met Hamas or Hezbollah representatives.

Zehut (“Identity”)

Founded: 2015
April 2019 Result: 0 (failed to meet entry threshold)
Date of Primary Election: January 2019
Leader: Moshe Feiglin

Background

The Zehut (“Identity”) Party is an ultra-nationalist political party which calls for Israel to annex the Palestinian territory and construct a synagogue on the Temple Mount. The party’s fundamentalist rhetoric is mixed with a libertarian approach to policy and a platform which includes the legalization of marijuana.

Zehut leader, former Likud MK Moshe Feiglin, has for years been on the fringes of Israeli politics as a far-right firebrand and a champion for religious settlers. Feiglin organized traffic-jams to protest against the Oslo Accords in 1995 and later went on to serve in the Knesset from 2013 to 2015. His provocative and racist rhetoric earned him a ban from entering the United Kingdom in 2008 under anti-extremism legislation. In a letter explaining the ban, the British government noted Feiglin’s calls for a holy war against Muslims, insults towards the Prophet Muhammad and racist rhetoric toward Arabs.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Zehut’s platform states that “the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel alone by Divine choice” and calls for the complete annexation of the Palestinian territory. The party proposes a four step plan to cancel the Oslo Accords, claim sovereignty over the territory and remove Palestinians who do not pledge allegiance to Israel.

Views on Democracy

Zehut opposes voting rights for non-Jews. The party proposes a separate “civil status” for Israeli residents who were not Jewish.

Ultra-Orthodox

 

Shas (Acronym for “Torah-Observant Sephardim”)

Founded: 1984
April 2019 Result: 8 seats (up one)
Date of Primary Election: None
Leader: Aryeh Deri

Background

Founded as a political party for ultra-Orthodox Sephardim (Jews primarily from the Middle East and North Africa) in 1984, Shas has played “kingmaker” in right, center and left coalitions over the past two decades. The party, led by Aryeh Deri, refused to accede to Avigdor Lieberman’s 2019 coalition demand that the blanket exemption from military service for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students be reformed, a breakdown in negotiations which ultimately led Netanyahu to push for new elections.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Deri has endorsed an interim peace agreement with the Palestinians and said, “Time isn’t on our side. We need to push the Palestinian issue hard and bring everyone into it.” He has also said that “there’s no chance of reaching an agreement with the Palestinians at this point in time without first solving the problem of Hamas.” Rabbi Yosef’s son, Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef has reaffirmed the views of his late father, saying that Jewish law permits a process of trading land in return for “real peace.”

Views on Democracy

Over the years of its existence, Shas has taken many extreme positions affecting the rights of Israeli citizens. It has opposed equality or acceptance for the LGBT+ community, worked to limit abortions and also advocated for the pardon of Jews convicted of murdering Arabs. Moreover, the party’s language, especially when its moral leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef was alive, was designed to incite hate and violence and was used against anyone taking positions he objected to. Shas supported the Nation-State Law and the Anti-BDS law. The party has also strenuously opposed any effort to grant status to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

United Torah Judaism

Founded: 1992
April 2019 Result: 8 (up two)
Date of Primary Election: None
Notable Members: Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni | See full party List

Background

United Torah Judaism (UTJ) is a loose alliance of Hasidic rabbis and interest groups. It works primarily to win funding for Haredi institutions and maintain Israel’s status quo regarding the relationship between state and religion. The party is non-Zionist and does not accept cabinet positions in the government.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict

Party Leader Yaacov Litzman proposed a bill in 2013 that would require approval from a supermajority of the Knesset before Israel could hold any negotiations on the status of Jerusalem. UTJ draws much of its support from Israelis in West Bank settlements, particularly the Haredi settlements of Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit.

Views on Democracy

UTJ opposes the separation of religion and the state or any laws compelling ultra-orthodox men to do military service. It opposes changing the law to allow business to open on the Sabbath. Its main focus is securing financial aid and stipends for its supporters. It favors the inclusion of more Torah provisions in the law. Its main concern is preserving and enhancing what it sees as the religious character of Israel.

Arab-Israeli

 

Hadash and Ta’al

Founded: Hadash (1977) Ta’al (1996)
April 2019 Result: 6 (Up one from the joint list)
Leaders: Ayman Odeh (Hadash) Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al)

Background

At the 2015 election the Joint List, comprised of four Arab-Israeli parties, netted 13 seats in the Knesset, becoming the third-largest party overall. In 2019, the Joint List’s landmark unity agreement collapsed, splintering the four parties into two separate groups ahead of the April elections. Their combined haul was 11 seats in 2019, down two from the 2015 joint slate. Hadash and Ta’al bested their former coalition partners in 2019, however, picking up one of their three lost seats.

Hadash leader Ayman Odeh, the popular and charismatic leader of the Joint List in the last Knesset, occupies the top spot of the Hadash and Ta’al list. Odeh has positioned Hadash as a champion for cooperation between Arabs and Jews, and has put particular focus on aligning the interests of Arab and Bedouin Israelis with the interests of Mizrahi Jews (Jews whose families emigrated from the Middle East and North Africa). The party is unique in listing both Arab and Jewish candidates.

Ta’al (Acronym for “Arab Movement for Renewal”) was founded in the lead-up to the 1996 election by Ahmad Tibi and won just 2,000 votes and no seats in its first election campaign. Since then, it has run in alliances with various Arab parties including Hadash, Balad and the Ra’am. Tibi has built up his own personal popularity as a firebrand speaker who is intensely critical of the occupation and Israeli government policy, and has begun to attract more voter support in recent years.

Under the agreement reached between the two parties ahead of the April 2019 elections, Odeh and Tibi agreed to rotate in the chairmanship of the combined list.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Democracy:

Since its inception, Hadash has demanded an end to the occupation beyond the Green Line and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The party espouses non-violence in the fight for Palestinian self-determination and advocates for full equality and inclusion for all Israelis.

Ta’al focuses on Israeli-Palestinian peace and equal rights for Palestinian-Israeli citizens. Tibi is a fierce critic of Israeli policy towards Palestinians and supports a two-state solution along the Green Line. He has frequently argued that Israel should be a state without a unique “Jewish character” or Jewish symbols. Tibi has often drawn the ire of Israeli politicians on the right, who accuse him of being “anti-Israel” and sympathizing with Palestinian terrorists.

Both Hadash and Ta’al have been particularly critical of the Nation-State Law, which downgraded Arabic from an official language and effectively relegated Arab citizens to a second-class status. They have also opposed all other pieces of legislation advanced by the government which have been characterised as undermining democracy, politicizing the judiciary, intimidating the media and restricting the activities of NGOs.

Ra’am and Balad

Founded: Ra’am (1996) Balad (1995)
April 2019 Result: 5 (Down three from the Joint List)
Leaders: Masud Ghnaim (Ra’am) Mtanes Shehadeh (Balad)

Background

Ra’am and Balad ran with Hadash and Ta’al as part of a the Joint List at the 2015 election, but the union has since splintered. Ra’am and Balad proved to be the major losers from the breakup, losing three seats after their historic gains in 2015.

Balad (“Homeland”) is secular and anti-Zionist. It supports Arab nationalism and advocates for Israel to recast itself as a binational country with full separation between religion and state. In recent years, Balad MKs have been accused of undermining the Joint List’s calls for peaceful coexistence.

Ra’am (Acronym for “The United Arab List”) pursues a similar platform, with a heavy emphasis on Islamic religious issues.The party was formed as a coalition of the Bedouin-based Arab National Democratic Party and the Islamic Movement and is particularly dominant among Israel’s substantial Bedouin population.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Democracy:

Balad and Ra’am call for the evacuation of all settlements, a two-state solution on the 1967 lines and the removal of the separation wall. In their version of the two-state solution, Israel would become a binational state alongside a Palestinian state and would recognize the right of return for Palestinians.

Outgoing Balad MK Hanin Zoabi has been widely condemned by mainstream Jewish Israeli politicians for expressing empathy for Hamas, calling Israeli soldiers ‘murders’ and using other similar rhetoric. There are undoubtedly some elements within the Balad/Ra’am bloc who would prefer to replace the state of Israel with a unitary, secular state incorporating the West Bank and Gaza, which would have a Palestinian majority.

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