Lists

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

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Left/Center Left

 

 

Labor

Founded: 1968
Current Seats: 19
Leader: Avi Gabbay
Other Notable Members: Shelly Yachimovich, Stav Shaffir, Eitan Cabel
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 prime ministership of Rabin 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, it has struggled to remain competitive and has lost much of its historic base of support among secular Israelis. 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 Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni. The Zionist Union garnered 24 combined seats, making it the main party of the opposition following Netanyahu’s victory, and Herzog the official Leader of the Opposition. In July 2017, the Labor party held leadership elections and Avi Gabbay was elected the Chairman of the Labor party.

Gabbay, a political newcomer who until recently was relatively unknown, comes from the business world, where he ran a huge Israeli telecommunications corporation. His sudden rise may be a reflection of the new age in politics, the age of social media, which offers a shortcut to the top. On January 1, 2019, Gabbay announced that he would dissolve Labor’s “Zionist Union” partnership with Tzipi Livni, with whom he had fallen out.

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 to resolve the conflict. Some analysts believe that 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 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. He 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 giving 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.

Yesh Atid (“There is A Future”)

Founded: 2012
Current Seats: 11
Date of Primary Election: None
Leader: Yair Lapid
Notable Members: Yael German

Background

The party was founded in 2012 by popular television anchor Yair Lapid to appeal to middle class voters who were frustrated with Israel’s political system. Although his party performed very well in 2013, allowing Lapid to serve as Finance Minister in the Netanyahu government from 2013-2014, Yesh Atid lost seven seats in the 2015 election and entered the opposition. This was partly due to perception by voters that Lapid did not deliver on his economic promises. The 2015 elections were triggered after Netanyahu and Lapid were unable to agree on a budget and the Prime Minister pushed Lapid out of his coalition. With 11 seats, Yesh Atid is now the 4th largest party overall and a key component of the opposition.

Lapid has focused on seeming as centrist as possible, seeking to appeal to secular voters on both the center-left and center-right who have tired of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s leadership.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

In the past, Lapid has stressed that “there’s no other game in town but the two-state solution,” though in recent years he has mostly deemphasized the Palestinian issue, preferring to attack Netanyahu as generally corrupt and damaging to Israel’s security.

Lapid has at times been critical of settlement expansion and the prime minister’s resistance to negotiate with the Palestinians. At the same time, he announced his initial 2013 candidacy in the settlement of Ariel. He has said, “I don’t think that the Arabs want peace,” and that the status of Jerusalem is not up for negotiation. Heading into the 2019 election, he continues to position himself and his party as a centrist, sensible alternative to Netanyahu, Likud and the extreme right.

Views on Democracy

Lapid has said that his party would amend the Nation-State Law — stating that he would add a clause clarifying the equality of all Israeli citizens under the law. He favors a term limit of two terms for the prime minister and has has vowed to reinstate an agreement to establish an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall. 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. Lapid describes himself as a strong opponent of BDS 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.

Meretz (“Energy”)

Founded: 1992
Current Seats: 5
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. It 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.

In the 2015 election, Meretz received five seats. It 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. It 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 LGBTQ community and Israeli Arabs. It 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
Current Seats: 0 (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 was formed in February 2019 following a coalition agreement between Benny Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael (‘Israel Resilience Party’) and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (‘There is a Future’). The coalition agreement aims 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 is placing strong emphasis on his security expertise. Despite relatively few policy details being released, early polls showed him within striking distance of Netanyahu as preferred Prime Minister.

Popular 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 2013 allowed Lapid to serve as finance minister from 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. 

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 MK 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 mnister 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.

Views from 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 eight slot, has spoken of the “corrupting” influence of the 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.

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

Gesher (“Bridge”)

Founded: 2019
Current Seats: 1 (Levy-Abekasis was elected as a member of Yisrael Beiteinu)
Leader: Orly Levy-Abekasis

Background

Orly Levy-Abekasis is the daughter of former Israeli Foreign Minister David Levy, who was a central figure in Likud and a political leader representing Sephardic Jews who immigrated from North Africa and who subsequently faced discrimination in Israel. She entered the Knesset in 2009 as a member of the right-wing Yisrael Beitenu party, but she has been an independent in parliament for the past two years, having resigned because of that party’s inattention to social issues. She has focused mostly on social issues, including poverty, children at risk, the elderly and public housing. Early polling suggested her party could garner anywhere from five to eight seats in the Knesset. Levy-Abekasis has said she is not interested in the left-right divide and will focus almost entirely on socio-economic issues and oppose “crony capitalism.”

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Orly Levy-Abekasis has no discernible public record on this issue. In terms of her family background and personal history, she definitely comes out of the Nationalist Right. The fact that she was a member of Yisrael Beitenu also suggests she is a right-winger. However, Prime Minister Netanyahu has been quoted as saying she belongs more to the left. Foreign and security affairs are not her main interest. She told the Israeli newspaper Maariv in an interview: “I grew up in a right-wing home, but the Likud has gone too far to the right.”

Views on Democracy

Orly Levy-Abekasis was one of only two coalition members to abstain in the Knesset vote on the Nation-State Law. She has not emerged as an important figure on other issues touching on Israeli democracy, although she has spoken strongly about giving a voice to those left behind in Israeli society.

Telem (“National Statesman-like Movement”)

Founded: 2019
Current Seats: (N/A)
Leader: Moshe Ya’alon (Running with Benny Gantz – details to come)

Background

Telem is a Hebrew acronym meaning “National Statesman-like Movement.” Moshe Ya’alon, its founder and leader, announced the formation of the party to run in the April 2019 elections. It is not yet clear who its other members will be. In announcing the party, Ya’alon said: “I was raised and educated to take responsibility in humility and to lead, to set a personal example and to do everything in order to ensure the peace and existence of Israel. The moment has come when I once again stand as a soldier of the state under the leadership of an independent political force, in order to gain the trust of the citizens of Israel, with the goal of putting Israel back on the right track.”

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.”

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Ya’alon backed the Oslo Accords but later said he had been mistaken. Despite his low-key military style of speech and lack of charisma, he has repeatedly been quoted as voicing provocative and extreme viewpoints. He called Peace Now “a virus,” and in 2104 called then Secretary of State John Kerry “obsessive and messianic” for pursuing his peace initiative. He also backed a plan to segregate Israeli settlers from Palestinians on buses. At the same time, he has opposed annexation of any part of the West Bank by Israel. He said in 2017 that there would be no peace with the Palestinians any time soon, but that Israel should not seek to rule them. He has upheld a “right” for Jews to settle anywhere in the West Bank, but said settlement policy should be determined by the government in accord with national interests.

Views on Democracy

Ya’alon joined other former generals in signing a letter standing up for the rights of minorities who served in the IDF who had been hurt by the Nation-State Law. He has also spoken out against serving officers expressing political views. 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.”

Center-Right/Right

 

Likud

Founded: 1973
Current Seats: 30
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.

Over the past decade, the party has been dominated by the figure of 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 campaign will primarily be a referendum on the leadership of Netanyahu, shaped in significant part by the voters’ reactions to the corruption investigations against him.

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 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. 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 the 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, the 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.

Kulanu (“All Of Us”)

Founded: 2014
Current Seats: 10
Date of Primary Election: None
Leader: Moshe Kahlon

Background

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. As communications minister during his time in Likud, Kahlon gained notoriety for helping to reform the Israeli communications market, which led to a decrease in the price of cell service packages.

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. Heading into the 2019 election, Kulanu’s popularity and prospects are unclear. Four of its MKs, including Oren and Gallant, have already announced that they will leave the party.

Reports have indicated that Netanyahu and the Likud are seeking to form a joint slate with Kulanu, promising Kahlon the finance minister position in the next government.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

During the 2015 campaign, Kahlon said that “the real Likud knows how to make peace, to give up territory, and on the other hand is conservative and responsible… My world view is that of the real Likud that truly came and safeguarded the Land of Israel. When it needed to make peace with the greatest Arab nation (Egypt) it did so, and when it needed to compromise, it compromised.” 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.

Views on Democracy

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.” Kahlon personally supported a controversial bill led by Culture Minister Miri Regev which would allow her to withhold arts funding on the basis of political criteria. However, he allowed members of his party to vote against it, which effectively blocked passage of the bill.

HaYemin HaHadash (“The New Right”)

Founded: 2019
Current Seats: N/A
Dates of Primary Election: TBD
Leader: Naftali Bennett
Notable Members: Ayelet Shaked, Caroline Glick

Background

This new party, formed for the 2019 elections, broke away from the national-religious HaBayit HaYehudi in an apparent effort to better compete with Likud by attracting both secular and religious voters. It is led by two far-right champions of the settlement movement — Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. The two blamed rabbinic leaders for giving in to Netanyahu and forcing the party to remain inside the coalition in November 2018.

While portraying themselves as youthful, modernizers, both Bennett and Shaked have pushed for more extreme policies towards the Palestinians and for full the annexation of the occupied territory by Israel. They have sought to undermine and weaken the independence of the judiciary and the power of the Israeli Super Court to override governmental decisions related to the Palestinians and the West Bank.

Bennett sees himself as a future leader of the right-wing camp in a post-Netanyahu era, and has sought to build his political brand and expand his base. While HaBayit HaYehudi is seen as a party largely of religious Zionist voters, HaYemin HaHadash aims to appeal to secular voters as well. One of the first new candidates announced by the party is Caroline Glick, a long-time Israeli columnist who is also a frequent contributor to the far-right news site Breitbart.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

This party will oppose any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank. Bennett presented a platform in previous elections that called for Israel to immediately annex Area C of the West Bank, comprising almost two-thirds of the territory. He is open to granting Palestinians living there Israeli citizenship. He believes that Palestinian national aspirations can be nullified if their economic conditions improve and he has therefore suggested setting up industrial zones where Palestinians would find work in enterprises controlled by Israel. Bennett has also said the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is insoluble and Israelis don’t care about it any more. Caroline Glick has published an entire book arguing that the two-state solution was always flawed and is now totally dead. She proposes applying Israeli law to the West Bank (ie annexing it) and offering “permanent residency” to Palestinians.

Views on Democracy

Having supported the Nation-State Law, Bennett suddenly expressed second thoughts once it had passed because of its effect on Israeli Druze, some of whom had supported his party. He has called for the law to be amended. Bennett and his followers have supported all the other laws enacted by the Netanyahu government to curtail or erode democratic freedoms, including the anti-BDS law. Bennett initiated proposed legislation, which was not passed, to allow the Knesset to reinstate laws struck down by the Supreme Court on constitutional grounds. He also proposed deporting terrorists or suspected terrorists. At the education ministry, Bennett backed a decision to ban from Israeli schools a book depicting a love affair between an Israeli and a Palestinian. Bennett has said that as a reserve officer he would refuse orders to evacuate settlements. He defended soldiers who cheered when a sniper shot a Palestinian near the Gaza fence last year.

Union of Right-Wing Parties

Founded: 2019
Current Seats: 5 (from Habayit Hayehudi and Tkuma)
Leader: Rafi Peretz
Notable Members: Bezalel Smotrich, Uri Ariel, Michael Ben-Ari

Background

The Union of Right-Wing Parties has been 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 was formed in 2008 from a merger of smaller national religious parties. It saw its popularity rise on the right after former Special Forces officer, tech millionaire and Netanyahu’s chief of staff, Naftali Bennett swept its online primary and took over the party in 2012. The party reached its high-water mark in the Knesset in 2013 with 12 seats, joining Netanyahu’s coalition as an important partner and winning Bennett the economics ministry. They lost several seats to Likud in 2015 but again rejoined the coalition, with Bennett as education minister and rising star Ayelet Shaked as justice minister. In both the 2013 and 2015 elections, Habayit Hayehudi ran on a joint list with Tkuma, an even farther right faction. Tkuma’s leader, Bezalel Smotrich, became well-known in the last Knesset for his anti-Arab racism and provocative far-right rhetoric.

Habayit Hayehudi and Tkuma 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. After the 2019 elections were announced, Bennett and Shaked announced that they would leave the party to form a new party called Hayemin HaHadash (“The New Right”) — in an apparent effort to build a right-wing party that can better compete with Likud by attracting secular as well as religious voters. HaBayit HaYehudi subsequently chose Rafi Peretz, former Chief Military Rabbi of the IDF, as its new chair. Peretz is perhaps best-known for claiming that the Temple Mount has no religious significance to Islam.

Otzma Yehudit is considered the most extreme-right, racist and dangerous party in Israeli politics. Its leaders and platform are 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.

The creation of the “Union of Right-Wing Parties” joint slate was directly orchestrated by Prime Minister Netanyahu, who feared that several of the far-right parties running alone would risk missing out on entry into the Knesset, thereby “wasting” right-wing votes and making it harder for Netanyahu to form a coalition. 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 the Likud to further expand settlements and commit to the full or partial annexation of the West Bank. It 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
Current Seats: 5
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. Lieberman became foreign minister in the 2013 Netanyahu coalition after running on a joint slate with Likud. Lieberman split from Likud in the summer of 2014, citing “differences of opinion,” which were reportedly focused on his criticism of the prime minister’s restraint in handling the Gaza escalation. In the 2015 election, the party 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. While Lieberman was once seen as a popular right-wing figure who could potentially succeed Netanyahu, Naftali Bennett has risen to fill that role in recent years. Yisrael Beiteinu’s future is now precarious.

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
Current Seats: 0
Date of Primary Election: January 2019
Leader: Moshe Feiglin

Background

The Zehut (“Identity”) Party is an ultra-nationalist libertarian 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 legislating and a platform which includes the legalization of marijuana. This unusual combination may lead to the fringe party reaching the 3.25 percent threshold to gain seats in the Knesset this year, especially given the demise of the “Green Leaf” pro-marijuana party which will not be contesting the 2019 elections.

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 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
Current Seats: 7
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. However, it has struggled in the wake of the death of its founder and spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef. Shas now faces a significant political challenge from former faction leader Eli Yishai, who announced the formation of a new party, “Yachad” (“Together”) after clashing with current leader Aryeh Deri. Yishai’s party however, did not meet the threshold for entering the Knesset. Shas joined the new Netanyahu government, with Deri serving as minister of the interior. Some fear that the party will not be able to meet the 3.25 percent threshold to enter the Knesset in 2019.

Views on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Unlike Yishai, 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. It has also strenuously opposed any effort to grant status to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

United Torah Judaism

Founded: 1992
Current Seats: 6
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)
Current Seats: 5 (As part of the Joint List)
Leaders: Ayman Odeh (Hadash) Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al)

Background

At the last election the Joint List, comprised of four Arab-Israeli parties, netted 13 seats in the Knesset, becoming the third-largest party overall. However, the Joint List’s landmark unity agreement has collapsed in 2019, with the parties failing to agree on where each would be placed on a new list. The result is two seperate Arab-Israeli lists, with Hadash running with Ta’al and Ra’am running Balad.

Hadash leader Ayman Odeh, the popular and charismatic leader of the Joint List in the last Knesset, now occupies the top spot of the Hadash and Ta’al list. Hadash (Acronym for the “Democratic Front for Peace and Equality,” spells “New”) evolved from the old Israeli Communist Party during a wave of activism of the late 70s, focusing on peace, equality, democracy, socialism and workers’ rights. 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, Odeh and Tibi will 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 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)
Current Seats: 8 (As part of 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 last election, but the union has since splintered.

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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