J Street Israeli Election Update | July 2022

July 28, 2022

Last month, divisions within the Israeli governing coalition — exacerbated by an ongoing pressure campaign from Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-wing opposition — pushed two right-wing MKs to defect, splintering the unity coalition between the camps of Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, and triggering the government’s collapse. While Lapid has taken over as caretaker prime minister, the stage is now set for new Israeli elections on November 1, 2022.

As Israelis prepare for yet another protracted election campaign, J Street’s Election Updates will help keep you up to date on everything you need to know about the state of the race.

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Gantz and Sa’ar, A Center/Right Merger

Gantz and Sa'ar, A Center/Right Merger

While Israel has a highly diverse political landscape, with 13 parties in the current Knesset, modern Israeli politics has often been primarily a battle over the perceived median voter — or what commentators call the “soft right.”

This cycle looks to be no different, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Chairman of the centrist ‘Blue and White’ Party, and Minister of Justice and Chairman of the soft right ‘New Hope’ Party Gideon Sa’ar recently announcing that their parties would run together in the upcoming elections. Together, they hope to capture support from both the political center and what Gantz defined as “the statesmanlike right” — a term that refers to right-wingers who don’t support Netanyahu. As a former senior Likud official himself, Sa’ar continues to hope to peel current and former Likud members away from Netanyahu’s camp. According to polls, the decision to merge puts them in a strong position as the third most popular political party after Likud and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

The merger was the first unification of parties so far this election cycle — but could set the stage for more to come. Religious Zionism party chair Bezalel Smotrich and Otzma Yehudit chair MK Itamar Ben-Gvir — two Jewish supremacists and some of the most extreme and dangerous figures in Israeli politics — are reportedly likely to run on a joint slate, though the decision is not yet final.

Galon or Golan? Meretz Picks A New Leader

Galon or Golan Meretz Picks A New Leader

Nitzan Horowitz, Minister of Health and current leader of Meretz, recently announced that he would not seek another term as leader of the progressive party — though he still plans to run for the party’s slate for the Knesset. Following his announcement, two potential candidates emerged to replace him — Former Meretz Chair Zehava Galon will face off against Deputy Minister and former IDF Deputy Chief of Staff Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yair Golan in the August 23 primary elections.

The leadership race comes at a time when many fear Meretz could fall short of the electoral threshold needed to enter the next Knesset — a development that would be deeply harmful to the left, as well as to the prospects for keeping Netanyahu out of the prime minister’s office.

Zehava Galon has stated that she intends to bring back the Meretz base that had previously abandoned the party and prevent the re-emergence of Netanyahu. MK Maj. Gen. (ret.) Yair Golan’s says his vision for Meretz is a future within a strong Zionist left that fights for Israel’s moral character and future.

Galon has said that if elected leader, she’ll seek an electoral merger for Meretz with the more ascendant Labor Party, in a bid to ensure that the party makes it into the Knesset and that none of its votes are wasted. Labor recently held its own leadership elections — with the current leader, Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli, emerging as the clear winner and securing a second term. Michaeli defeated the party’s secretary general Eran Hermoni by an overwhelming majority, winning over eighty percent of the vote. Michaeli said her goal for the party is “to bring as many seats to Labor as I possibly can”, and she is expected to compete for some of the center-left voters that may have flocked in recent years to Lapid’s Yesh Atid.

Pledging Loyalty to Netanyahu

Pledging Loyalty to Netanyahu

Last week, a gold medallion necklace with an etching of right-wing Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s face next to a Star of David was offered to attendees of a private political event in Givat Ze’ev — an Israeli settlement outside of Jerusalem in the West Bank. A video circulated on social media showed Likud primary candidate Heidi Mozes putting the necklace around another MK’s neck, saying: “This is a declaration of loyalty.”

While Netanyahu responded by stating that no medallion of loyalty is necessary, the necklace is gaining widespread popularity among the Israeli right. The website where they are being sold reads, “The more people who wear the necklace, the more the left will understand that we are still here and do not intend to give up.”

Critics of the Israeli right have pointed out how this hero-worship and idolization of Netanyahu reflects a trend toward more authoritarian practices. Whatever the significance of the necklaces, there’s no doubt that a potential return to power by Netanyahu would spell further danger for Israeli democratic institutions and values.

Further reading