Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Israel Elections Parties Submit Election Lists

As Israelis are gearing up for the January 22nd general election, politicians are scrambling to become legitimate candidates. As of 10 o'clock last Thursday night, which was the deadline for Israel's political parties to submit election lists to the Knesset's Central Elections Committee, 34 parties entered the race. As usual, the days prior to the deadline were tense as new parties lined up candidacies and old parties made last second adjustments in leadership. Of the 34 parties ten are veteran parties while 24 are new ones. Only a handful of them have a reasonable chance of actually seating any members in the new Knesset.

The old parties include the Likud Beitenu list (Likud/Yisroel Beitenu) which is expected to get more seats than any other party, while some of the new parties included in the list are Hatnuah (The Movement) led by Tzipi Livni, and Yesh Atid led by Yair Lapid. There parties that are fast fading such as the Atzmaut Party, considered comatose since its leader Ehud Barak defected two weeks ago. Another party at its last gasp is the left-wing Meretz Party, the sworn enemy of the religious world since 1992 when it started out with 12 seats.
Once the Thursday deadline passed, the internal battles in each party were over as no changes were permitted in the order of the submitted lists. Now it was time for the real battle, as the parties fight each other to the bitter end.




A number of parties left the formation of their electoral lists to the last moment.


Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisroel Beitenu, did not bother with the niceties of a primary election but handpicked his party’s list himself, upsetting many of his followers by removing three very prominent party members from the list. The father of one of ousted member referred to Lieberman as a “little Stalin.”


There was also an issue in the Labor party when Amir Peretz, number three on its list, demanded a commitment from party leader Shelly Yachimovich that under no circumstances would she join a Netanyahu led coalition. Peretz considered it essential that Labor’s traditional goal of fighting for social issues not distract it from its even more vital present goal of furthering the peace process. Yachimovich countered that although joining Netanyahu was unlikely, it was not impossible.


“A scenario in which we join Netanyahu is fictional,” she conceded. “… But to say unilaterally that it won’t happen is politically stupid, and I do not mean to make such a foolish move.”


 Peretz wouldn’t budge. For him, ideology came first — Labor must continue pursuing its vision of peace or he was leaving.


“With all due respect to the issue of social justice, which is very important … I will not in any case give up on the Labor party’s position as a leader in the peace camp,” he said. “… We must not obscure Labor’s position just so people on the right might come out and vote for us.


“With that, he left Labor to join Tzipi Livni’s new Hatnuah party, and she promptly praised him as “a man who decided to translate his concern for Israel into courageous action.”


Although his political opponents derided Peretz for changing parties at the last moment, it should be noted that Peretz was acting ideologically and gained little by moving from the third position in Labor to third position in a new, smaller party.


United Torah Judaism (UTJ) also only finalized its list last week. As usual, UTJ is comprised of the combined Degel Hatorah and Agudas Yisroel parties representing the Litvish and Chassidic communities. The UTJ list comprises: Yaakov Litzman (Agudah), Moshe Gafni (Degel), Meir Porush (Agudah), Uri Maklev (Degel), Menachem Leizer Moses (Aguda), Yisroel Eichler (Agudah), Yaakov Asher (Degel). UTJ generally gets no more than five seats.


Besides UTJ, a new Yerushalayim based Torah party, Netzach, founded under the auspices of Rav Shmuel Auerbach, registered four candidates with the electoral board. The movement’s spokesman, Yaakov Friedman, spoke of his party possibly winning five seats in the 20th Knesset. Others are less confident and believe that the new party will have a difficult time just passing the electoral threshold.


Shas was another party that waited for the final moment before submitting its list. Last Thursday, the Shas Council of Torah Sages installed Aryeh Deri as its leader, giving him everything but the title. To achieve this, Eli Yishai signed over all his authority as previous head of Shas to Deri. This made Shas voters happy as a recent poll indicated that of the triumvirate leading Shas until now, 55% of the voters wanted Deri as leader, 35% wanted Eli Yishai, and 21% wanted the third member of the triumvirate, Ariel Atias.


Deri’s not receiving any title was at least partially due to an unusual letter he handed Rav Ovadiah Yosef before the meeting in which he declared that he was not interested in any official position.


“Two months ago your honor asked me to return to Shas. I immediately consented asking for no personal request, title or position,” the letter stated. “That day your honor and the Council of Torah Sages assigned me to manage the electoral campaign headquarters, and from then, I, along with many activists have worked with all our strength for this lofty goal. Today, I again inform Maran that I have no demands, requests or conditions. Whatever Maran and the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah decide is sacrosanct and imperative for me.”


Eli Yishai retains the number one spot on the Knesset list. Indeed, all the first 11 members of the Shas list remained the same due to the influence of Ariel Atias. Three added names created a list of fourteen potential seats. Deri is so confident in Shas’s future that he asked for15th place.


“I asked the Moetzet Chachmei Hatorah to give me the 15th place,” he said. “I think this is a realistic place. But Maran and the Moetzet categorically refused. I tried to talk to them but did not succeed. Now you’ve heard it straight from me!”


 Deri has informed his family that they should not expect to be seeing much of him until the elections are over. Until then, he said, he will be traveling the length and breadth of Israel in a campaign bus striving to ensure Shas gets at least 14 or 15 seats.


It seems likely that some of Shas’s votes will be siphoned off by MK Rav Chaim Amselam who defected from Shas in 2010 after complaining about its discouragement of military service and claiming that it doesn’t do enough to integrate chareidim into the workforce. He has remained an independent MK ever since, in addition to creating the Am Shalem party which, according to a recent poll, is poised to get three seats.


A number of registered parties are deemed unlikely to achieve the threshold of 2% of election required to be eligible for a Knesset seat. Achieving two percent will probably need 100,000 votes and these small parties generally only garner up to a few thousand. Of course anything can happen. In 2006, people were shocked when the Gil Pensioners Party, considered one of the mini parties, ended up with seven seats.


Compared to their staid counterparts many of the mini-parties are a colorful bunch. Best known is the Pirate Party that has branches worldwide. Its agenda in Israel is unclear, although it speaks of promoting freedom of expression, science, the individual, the right to pirate copyrighted material, and an ambition to forward the “development and promotion of the pirate sector.”


The Pirate leader, Ohad Shem Tov, showed up at the electoral committee last Wednesday replete with skull and bones tie and a hook on his right hand which he undoubtedly removed to sign his name. During the last elections, Yom Tov ran the now defunct Green Leaf party. Other mini- parties this time round are a Breslov party dubbed Achim Anachnu, and Ko’ach Lehashpiah, the latest brainchild of Rav Amnon Yitzchak.




Israel’s three Arab parties advocate withdrawal to the 1949 armistice line and two of them support the concept of Israel accepting back the millions of descendants of the Arabs who fled Palestine in 1948. Many of the Knesset Arab MKs are pro Hamas. Because they take a stand which is contrary to Israeli policy, there are ongoing attempts to invalidate at least some of them from belonging to the Knesset.


According to the latest polls, the new, extreme right wing party, Strong Israel, is at this point below the Knesset threshold. Yet despite its feebleness or perhaps because of it, Strong Israel submitted a request to annul two Arab parties on the basis of their past record based on clause 7A of Basic Knesset Law, which states: “A candidate’s list shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include one of the following: (1) Negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people; (2) negation of the democratic character of the State; (3) incitement to racism.


“In tandem with Strong Israel’s efforts, the Central Election Committee of the Knesset submitted a request to disqualify Israel Arab MK Hanin Zoabi (of the National Democratic Assembly party) from running in the coming elections under the same Knesset law cited above. The petition mentions Zoabi sailing the Mavi Marmara, the ship packed with violent terrorists who attacked Israeli troops trying to prevent it from reaching Israel.


“I have no doubt that the Central Elections Committee will approve my request, as will the Supreme Court, which will certainly deliberate the appeal,” said MK Akunis of Likud who submitted the appeal. “The High Court will have difficulty countering the argument that Zoabi transgressed clause 7a of Basic Law: The Knesset. She has ceaselessly sabotaged the state of Israel and openly incited against its government, institutions, IDF soldiers and commanders. She also took part in the Mavi Marmara flotilla.”


Zoabi responded with threats, accusing the right of fascism.


“The right, headed by Likud-Beitenu, is the embodiment of a dangerous form of fascism that seeks to destroy anyone looking to undermine its power, he said. “I am not afraid to shake the fascist right’s hold on power, not just on behalf of the Arab population, but also on behalf of Jews who are afraid to go up against the brazen fascists who have marked the National Democratic Assembly and myself as targets for elimination. We will not give them the satisfaction.”


It is highly unlikely that she will lose her seat. Even if the Central Elections Committee disqualifies her, all she has to do is appeal to the Supreme Court, which has consistently quashed every attempt to get rid of extremist Arabs. The only disqualification from the Knesset ever agreed to by the Supreme Court was that of Meir Kahane in the 1980s.




The strength of the right is unity. Likud Beitenu, the combination of Likud and Yisroel Beitenu, is expected, according to the latest polls, to get 38 seats. The weakness of the left is disunity. The Labor party founded by Ben Gurion in 1948 is now led by former radio commentator Shelly Yachimovich. The three center-left parties, Labor, Yesh Atid of Yair Lapid, along with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party, failed to unite into one left bloc by Thursday’s deadline, although Labor and Yesh Atid have more or less agreed to leave each other alone and attack Netanyahu instead.


Originally, there were high hopes that Tzipi Livni, leader of Kadima, the Knesset’s largest party between 2008 and earlier this year, would return to politics in a blaze of glory and unite the Left. That never happened. Instead of uniting the left, she promptly founded her new Hatnuah party, which will merely siphon votes from other leftist parties who had offered her their number 2 spots. Now the left is furious with her.


As the Haaretz newspaper wrote, “The main accomplishment so far of Hatnuah chairwoman Tzipi Livni is enfeebling two of her sister parties on the center left to the point of oblivion. A good job by all accounts, but Livni has not managed to attract even a single Knesset seat’s worth of votes from the rival camp. MK Amir Peretz’s last-minute enlistment to Hatnuah hasn’t changed the party’s standing in the polls.”


Since returning to politics, Livni has worked hard trying to add big names to her party list, simultaneously creating the nucleus of her party by taking aboard seven political refugees fleeing from the sinking Kadima ship. She and the seven Kadima refugees have left Kadimah swimming in debt prompting angry Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz to call the group “Tzipi Livni and the seven thieves.” Livni’s move was highly profitable for her for although the seven MKs were unknowns, under election rules, each new party Knesset member brings in 1.3 million shekels ($340,000) into the party coffers. In addition to Amir Peretz, she also persuaded former Labor leader Amram Mitzna to become second on her list.


In reflection of the imbalance between united right and fragmented left, a recent poll shows 81% of the public saying Netanyahu will be next prime minister, and only 17% saying that Shelly Yachimovich is even appropriate to be prime minister. The same poll showed the leftist bloc falling to 49 seats if it takes Arab parties on board, and only 37 seats without Arab parties. Labor is projected as the largest leftist party with 17 seats, Tzipi Livni may win 9 seats, and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party 6. The three Arab parties will have eight seats altogether.


The real question is who Netanyahu will take into his coalition if he wins. Will he create a Netanyahu-Lapid-Yachimovich-Livni coalition or a nationalist coalition together with rightist and religious parties?


The second option appears more likely. According to a poll released last Friday, Netanyahu’s Likud Beitenu merger is expected to be far in the lead with 38 seats. By joining with Shas (13), Habayit Hayehudi/Tekuma (the further right parties with 12 seats), UTJ (5), and Am Shalem (3), Netanayhu can forge a comfortable 71 seat coalition and retain his rightist principles.


However, it is not certain he will want the Torah parties to join. Last week, head of the present governing coalition MK Ze’ev Alkin stated that, “The chances of creating a Zionist government without chareidi parties are not all that weak.” He complained that the chareidi parties join right-led coalition of this government not because of rightist ideology but in order to solve their own problems including the conscription threat to yeshiva students.  




One thing is certain. Until the January elections, the main battle will center round the struggle between Israel’s two main parties – Likud and Labor. The first represents not only a less generous attitude towards Palestinians, but also a more capitalist stance towards the economy that is similar to American Liberalism. Labor is similar to the Democratic Party whose approach is to spread the wealth round. 


The campaign is already in full swing. Ads for Labor, Yesh Atid, and Tzipi Livni’s party shriek from billboards and busses throughout the country. Yachimovich is presenting plans for a fair economy that include raising expenditure on public services, ensuring fair pay, reducing living costs, fighting monopolies and cartels, and raising taxes of the wealthiest. In line with this, her slogans include, “Bibi is good for the wealthy, Shelly is good for you.” Tzipi Livni’s slogans express determination to solve the Palestinian problem, “Livni – national peace, Bibi – international bans,” “Netanyahu and Lieberman danger, Livni hope.”


Netanyahu will focus more on security issues. There are even accusations that he staged Operation Shield of Defense to gear people’s minds towards the issue of security. He is so far taking his time getting into the campaign, confident that the fighting among leftist parties is as good for Likud as an investment of precious campaign money. Indeed, Likud intends to publicize slogans that stress the Right’s unity versus the strife, in addition to slogans declaring, “Netanyahu, the strength to lead,” hinting at his bold approach to the Iranian threat and the Palestinian crises.  




This Sunday, the various parties got a chance to put their enmities into action after Netanyahu’s cabinet decided to allow 1,300 chareidi men to begin national service (community service programs) in order to exempt them from military service. Since the beginning of this year, 2,000 chareidim have participated in this program. However, the program is problematic because the Tal Law that okayed it was scrapped four months ago.


Yair Lapid attacked immediately; filing an appeal with the High Court of Justice that Netanyahu’s move would “perpetuate the prejudice against the army-serving public which has been going on for many years.”


Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah and MK Nitan Horowitz of Meretz complained that the government was circumventing the rule of the law, and the Camp Sucker movement that favors draft reform announced it would once again be setting up its famous tent outside Tel Aviv’s main railway station.


The leaders of the Camp Suckers encampment, Boaz Nol and Idan Miller said that, “This is another populist tactic of Netanyahu who wants to appease Shas at public expense. Today, the Netanyahu government lost the little shame it still possessed by skirting the Supreme Court and selling Shas the public interest for the sake of political survival. Bibi continues to mock us all, the hundreds of thousands who signed a petition today calling for equality in the burden [of army service] and the tens of thousands who came to a demonstration about it.”


In reply to the complaints, Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya’alon pointed out the government was only being pragmatic.


“What’s so wrong with the fact that we are succeeding in removing the chareidim from the circle they were in and bringing them to serve in the police, in Magen David Adom – what’s so wrong with that?” he said. “Granting these exemptions does not stop us from legislating a replacement to the Tal Law after the elections, as we were not able to legislate it due to political considerations now.”


But now is not the time to appeal to reason. For the next five weeks, posters, slogans, and media spots will be the driving force in Israel’s mad race to the finishing line at the Knesset door.



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