J Street Israeli Election Guide

January 10, 2013

The Netanyahu- Lieberman Alliance is Struggling and Veering Right

At a Glance

Likud MKs in current Knesset: 27
Yisrael Beiteinu MKs in current Knesset: 15
Polling: 32-35
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: Yes
Likud Slogan: A strong prime minister; a strong Israel.
Top Likud Candidates: Benjamin Netanyahu, Gideon Sa’ar, Gilad Ardan, Ze’ev Elkin
Top Yisrael Beiteinu Candidates: Avigdor Lieberman, Yair Shamir, Uzi Landau, Sofia Landver


Likud-Beiteinu is a joint slate of two parties: Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu introduced for the 2013 election. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was provided the number-one spot on the list, followed by Yisrael Beiteinu leader and former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. The remaining spots were allocated in the proportion of nine Likud candidates for every five Yisrael Beiteinu candidates.

The two parties are not uniting and hold different positions on key policies including the two-state solution, which both Netanyahu and Lieberman have formally endorsed, but disagree on how it should be translated into government policy.

Founded as an amalgamation of three right-wing parties in 1973, Likud (Unity) first came to power under Menachem Begin in 1977, marking the first time the left had lost power since Israel’s founding. Likud has been included in government for 26 of the past 35 years.

Internal Likud primaries ahead of the January 2013 election handed victories to the far-right wing of the party, while veteran moderates like ministers Benny Begin and Dan Meridor did not secure safe spots on Likud’s parliamentary slate. Moshe Feiglin, the leader of a far-right Likud faction of West Bank settlers, won the 14th spot on the party list.

Avigdor Lieberman founded Yisrael Beiteinu in 1999 as a home for Russian immigrants. Although two-thirds of the party’s voters in the last election were immigrants from the former Soviet Union, today the party focuses on nationalistic rather than traditional immigrant issues.

The party did not hold primary elections in 2012, and its list was determined by a committee. Lieberman chose to drop his deputy, MK Danny Ayalon, and added Yair Shamir, son of the late Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, as number-two on the list. Following his indictment on charges of breach of trust, Lieberman announced his resignation from the government, but is still running in the elections. He may not be able to take ministerial office until his legal status is clarified.


Netanyahu and Lieberman hoped their merger would consolidate their right-wing support and provide for a stable coalition, which would not have to rely on smaller parties. In the government, Netanyahu has sought to win over voters on the right by announcing new plans to develop and expand settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. This has not succeeded, and the joint list has lost significant ground to other even more nationalistic parties. However, no other party has achieved enough support to threaten Netanyahu’s position as prime minister.

On Peace

Netanyahu has stood behind his 2009 statement of support for the two-state solution, although he has said that recognition of a Palestinian state depends on Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state. In December, Sa’ar said “two states for two peoples was never part of [Likud’s] election platform.” Several Likud politicians have called for the annexation of the West Bank, and Feiglin has suggested that Israel pay Palestinians to immigrate to Western countries. A recent poll found that 58 percent of Likud-Beiteinu voters would support a two-state solution.

Returning to the Opposition by Championing Social Justice and Staying Silent on Peace

Shelly Yachimovich (Times of Israel)

At a Glance

MKs in current Knesset: 8
Polling: 16-21
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Slogan: Bibi is good for the rich; Shelly is good for you.
Top candidates: Shelly Yachimovich, Isaac Herzog, Eitan Cabel


The Labor Party dominated Israel for the first 29 years of its existence and has led the government three times since then. The last election, in 2009, was the worst in its history. Labor is now reemerging as Netanyahu’s main opposition by capturing the energy and rhetoric of the 2011 social justice protests.

Under the leadership of ex-journalist Shelly Yachimovich, the party elected a number of young leaders of the social protest movement to its list, along with former Welfare Minister Isaac Herzog as its number-two.


Yachimovich has stressed throughout her campaign that “society and economics come first.” She has focused primarily on socioeconomic issues, and criticized Netanyahu for not laying out a detailed budget plan.

Labor officials recently declared, “In light of the radicalization of Likud-Beiteinu, there are only two possible paths to take after the elections…Either forming a coalition led by Yachimovich, or, if the public chooses otherwise, leading the opposition.”

On Peace

Despite having largely avoided discussion of peace and security issues in her campaign, Yachimovich announced at a December press conference that Labor supports “two states for two nations according to the Clinton parameters, while safekeeping the settlement bloc’s future.” She said that “ending Palestinian demands, ensuring security arrangements, relinquishing the [Palestinian] right of return, and recognizing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state must be an inevitable result of these talks.” She has also supported the dividing of Jerusalem in a peace agreement. Yachimovich has said that she does not support settlement activity, but that until peace is achieved, budgets must be maintained so that settlement residents do not suffer. A recent poll found that 89 percent of Labor supporters would support a two-state solution.

HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home):
The Surging Far-Right Settler Movement

At a Glance

MKs in current Knesset: 3
Polling: 13-16
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: Yes
Slogan: Something new is beginning
Top candidates: Naftali Bennett, Uri Ariel, Uri Orbach


Renamed in 2008 from the National Religious Party, the traditional party of Orthodox Israelis of European origin, HaBayit HaYehudi is a far-right party most often associated with the settler movement. The party has taken on new life since former Special Forces officer, tech millionaire and Netanyahu chief of staff Naftali Bennett swept its online primary. The party’s number-two, Uri Ariel, is one of only two of its Knesset members running in 2013, and many on the party’s list are relatively unknown, including settler activists and educators.


HaBayit HaYehudi’s surge in the polls is some of the biggest news of the 2013 elections. Now polling as the third largest party with nearly 13-16 seats, Bennett may have the power to make or break Netanyahu’s coalition.

HaBayit HaYehudi recently unveiled its election platform, which promises to “make the Israeli media more balanced” and end judicial activism by changing the way Israeli justices are selected.

The party is considered to be especially attractive to young Israelis, and Bennett’s technology background and experience in the private sector have made him trendy. According to a recent poll, two-thirds of the party’s supporters are under 40.

On Peace

Bennett has called for the annexation of Area C of the West Bank, and said “I will do everything in my ability, forever, to prevent a Palestinian state from being founded within the land of Israel.” Although he indicated that his conscience would not allow him to evict a Jew from his home, the new party’s platform says “IDF soldiers and commanders must follow all orders fully, even if they do not like them.” One poll found that only 47 percent of HaBayit HaYehudi voters would support a two-state solution.

The Haredi Coalition-Makers

Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef

At a Glance

MKs in current Knesset: 10
Polling: 10-12
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: Yes
Slogan: Only a strong Shas will stop Jewish assimilation.
Top Shas candidates: Eli Yishai, Aryeh Deri, Ariel Atias


Shas was founded in 1984 by Rabbi Ovadia Yosef as a political party for ultra-Orthodox Sephardim. The party leans right but has shown pragmatism in the past and is most concerned about retaining its control of state patronage that enables it to steer government money to its constituency. It has joined right, center and left coalitions over the past 20 years.

Shas’s Knesset list is determined by Yosef and other rabbis on the Council of Torah Sages, which he chairs. Candidates are measured by their ability to secure funding for institutions important to the party.

The party is co-chaired by Interior Minister Eli Yishai, and the more-charismatic Aryeh Deri, who has rejoined Shas after resigning government in 2000 due to a bribery conviction for which he served a 22-month prison term. The two leaders exist in an uneasy alliance.


Shas leaders see HaBayit HaYehudi as its primary competition when forming a coalition the day after the election, and Yosef has warned that the party could take away Shas’ “prized possession,” the Housing Ministry. Yosef called on all Yeshiva students to take a break from Torah study and canvass for Shas ahead of elections.

Indicating his coalition preference, Deri said in November, “We know Bibi Netanyahu will be the next prime minister.’ We want to go with Bibi Netanyahu.”

On Peace

Deri said in January that if Netanyahu decides to make territorial concessions to Palestinians that he believes will bring greater security to Israel, “then we will support him.” He indicated that Yosef has opposed a final status agreement with Palestinians, but Shas would support a long-term interim agreement with the Palestinian Authority rather than have Israel be forced to annex the West Bank.

In the past, Yosef has said he is not hopeful for a two-state resolution with the Palestinians, because he does not believe a Palestinian government would ever make peace with Israel. In 2010, Yosef wished death on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and his people, whom he called “evil enemies of Israel.”

A recent poll found that 58 percent of Shas voters would support a two-state solution.

Yesh Atid (There is a Future):
TV Anchor Lapid’s New Centrist Party

Yair Lapid (Times of Israel)

At a Glance

MKs in current Knesset: 0
Polling 9-11
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Top candidates: Yair Lapid, Shai Peron, Yael German, Yaacov Peri


Popular television broadcaster Yair Lapid founded Yesh Atid in 2012 to appeal to voters who were frustrated with Israel’s current political system. Lapid has aimed his campaign at a wide audience, selecting a diverse list that does not include current Knesset MKs.

Shai Peron, Yesh Atid’s number-two, is a progressive Orthodox rabbi who runs Petah Tikva’s network of yeshivas, and Herzilya Mayor and former Meretz member Yael German is the party’s number-three. The list also includes Dimona Mayor Meir Cohen and former Shin Bet head Yaacov Peri.


Lapid has drawn much of his support from former Kadima voters in search of a new political party, although many of his supporters have oscillated between Yesh Atid, HaTnuah and other parties.

Lapid has appealed directly to Israel’s middle class, opposing draft exemptions for yeshiva students and tax cuts for “the ultra-Orthodox, the settlers, or the large unions.” Spoofing Netanyahu’s Iran rhetoric, Lapid declared, “the next tax hike [on the middle class] will be our red line.”

Lapid reportedly negotiated with Yachimovich and Livni to merge their parties into a united center-left front, but the talks proved unsuccessful. Lapid has not ruled out joining a Netanyahu coalition unless it contains Shas or HaBayit HaYehudi.

On Peace

Lapid announced his candidacy at Ariel University Center, and has advocated for a two-state solution that allows many of the large settlement blocks, including Ariel, to remain within Israel. He has also claimed that if Israel does not compromise on Jerusalem, Palestinians will give up on their demand for East Jerusalem. One poll found that 84 percent of Yesh Atid voters would support a two-state solution.

HaTnuah (The Movement):
Livni Returns by Placing Israeli-Palestinian Peace First

Tzipi Livni (Guardian)

At a Glance

MKs in current Knesset: 0 (7 Kadima MKs have defected to HaTnuah)
Polling: 7-11
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Slogan: Hope will overcome fear
Top candidates: Tzipi Livni, Amram Mitzna, Amir Peretz


Former foreign minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni founded HaTnuah in 2012 after losing Kadima’s primary to Shaul Mofaz in March. HaTnuah’s list includes seven former Kadima members, as well as former general and Labor leader Amram Mitzna as its number-two. Former Labor leader Amir Peretz joined as number-three, splitting with Labor over a rift with Yachimovich.


Livni has not ruled out joining a Netanyahu coalition, although she has called for the center-left to unite “against the extremist front, and try to prevent them from forming a government.” This effort has not yet yielded fruit.

On Peace

Livni has said that she returned to politics to forge a peace agreement with the Palestinians, and that has remained the primary focus of her campaign. Although she admits that an agreement may not be “around the corner,” she has argued forcefully that “the two-state solution is the only way to keep Israel Jewish and democratic.” Livni has warned that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated, but has also lashed out at international partners for criticizing Israeli settlement activity and military operations. A recent poll found that 86 percent of her supporters would support a two-state solution.

The Remains of the Israeli Left

At a Glance

MKs in current Knesset: 3
Polling: 4-6
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Slogan: [With Meretz] your vote is safe against Bibi
Top candidates: Zahava Gal-On, Ilan Gilon, Nitzan Horowitz


Meretz was founded in 1992 and, after gaining 12 seats in elections, served as a major coalition partner in Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s government. The party has lost support over the past two decades. Zahava Gal-On, previously the party’s number-four, was elected leader in 2012 after former leader Haim Oron resigned in 2011.


Meretz was the only Zionist party to oppose Israel’s recent operation in Gaza, and support the Palestinian UN bid. Gal-On has criticized the Netanyahu government for withholding funds to the Palestinian Authority, and declared that there is “no partner for peace in Israel.” Meretz has promised not to join Netanyahu’s coalition under any circumstances.

On Peace

Meretz recently unveiled a four-point diplomatic plan that calls on Israel to immediately recognize a Palestinian state and work to find a new alternative to the Oslo Accords. It proposes that Israel freeze settlement construction, release Palestinian prisoners, and remove checkpoints, while conducting negotiations over security and other issues. The negotiations would be overseen by a “regional Quartet” of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Jordan, with the aim of achieving a final agreement within four years.

Other Parties


MKs in current Knesset: 28
Polling: 0-2
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Top candidates: Shaul Mofaz, Israel Hasson
Israel’s largest party failed to form a coalition under Livni, and may now disappear entirely as its supporters flee to Likud-Beiteinu, Yesh Atid, HaTnuah and Labor.

United Torah Judaism

MKs in current Knesset: 5
Polling: 6
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: Yes
Top candidates: Yaacov Litzman, Moshe Gafni
United Torah Judaism, one of Netanyahu’s smallest coalition partners, 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.

Otzma LeYisrael

MKs in current Knesset: 2
Polling: 0-3
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Top candidates: Arieh Eldad, Michael Ben Ari
Netanyahu’s far-right opposition, Otzma, believes in the annexation of all of “Greater Israel” and opposes any concessions to Palestinians.


MKs in current Knesset: 4
Polling: 3-4
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Top candidates: Muhammad Baracha, Dov Hanin
Hadash comprises the remains of the Israeli Communist Party, and as Israel’s only Jewish-Arab party, advocates for a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders and for Israel to no longer define itself as a Jewish state.


MKs in current Knesset: 4
Polling: 4-5
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Top candidates: Ibrahim Tzartzur, Ahmad Tibi
As Israel’s Islamic party, Ra’am supports a Palestinian state based on pre-1967 borders and has endorsed the use of Sharia courts, the unification of state and religion, and an Islamic caliphate in Arab countries. It has joined forces with the smaller Arab party Ta’al, which focuses on Israeli-Palestinian peace and equal rights for Israeli Arab citizens.


MKs in current Knesset: 3
Polling: 2-4
Currently in Netanyahu government coalition: No
Top candidates: Jamal Zahalka, Hanin Zoabi
Israel’s secular pan-Arab nationalist party, Balad supports abolishing Israel’s Jewish character and ceding all territory captured in 1967.