A Freeman Center Special Release
The current election situation in Israel is still very fluid,
and will remain so for at least another 46 weeks. What follows
is a brief picture of the legalities and political maneuvering
that are taking place in the Israeli political scene.
Any party can run for the Knesset (the Israeli parliament). In
order to receive official standing, and a portion of election
budgets, any party wishing to run for the Knesset must be registered
with the Central Elections Commission. In order to register, a
party must have the signatures of 50,000 citizens on its application,
or of 10 Members of Knesset.
Elections in Israel are by party list and not by district representation.
Each party must submit to the Central Elections Committee a list
of 120 names. When seats are apportioned after the election, the
top names on the list get seats. If one member of Knesset resigns
or dies in office, the next name on the list of that party takes
the seat, with no byelection.
In order to receive seats in the Knesset, a party must gain 1.5%
of the national vote. There is a bill pending before the Knesset
to raise this to a 5% minimum. Seats are apportioned according
to the percentage of the vote. Each seat is worth 50,000 votes.
If the number of votes does not equal a multiple of 50,000, all
votes over the nearest multiple are wasted. Thus, if a party gets
463, 297 votes, it will get 9 seats, and 13,297 votes will be
wasted. Thus, in the last election, in an effort to avoid vote
wasting, the Likud, Tsomet and Gesher united and ran as one list
for the Knesset. The same will likely happen with other parties
in this election, as described below.
There are 120 seats in the Knesset.
Registration of parties can take place up until a defined time
prior to the elections.
In Israel, the Prime Minister is elected on a separate ballot
from the party, and need not lead the largest party in the Knesset.
Thus, in the current Knesset, the leader of the largest party,
Ehud Barak of Labor, is not the Prime Minister. Not every party
leader must run for Prime Minister, but in order to run for PM,
a person must lead a party. There are currently 6 declared candidates
for Prime Minister. In the likely event that none receive 50%
on the first ballot on May 17, a second round will be held between
the top two candidates on June 1. The elections for Knesset will
be held on May 17.
The normal term of the Knesset is 4 years, though the government
can fall earlier.
New parties are announcing their formation or official registration
daily. What follows is a listing of the parties officially registered
as of January 17, 1999, or expected to officially register this
week. This list is not complete due to the constant fluidity of
Current declared candidates for Prime Minister:
ˇ Binaymin Netanyahu,
current Prime Minister. Leads the Likud party. Has served as Israel's
Ambassador to the United Nations, and as Deputy Foreign Minister.
Was part of Israel's delegation to the Madrid Peace Conference.
ˇ Ehud Barak, leader
of the opposition. Leads the Labor party. Former Chief of Staff,
Israel Defense Forces. Served in previous government as Minister
of Interior and as Foreign Minister.
ˇ Yitzchak Mordechai, leads the asyetunnamed "Centrist" party. Former Defense Minister in the current government, and former BrigGen in IDF. Former Commander of the Northern Front and of the Southern Front.
ˇ Rafael Eitan, Minister
of Environment and Agriculture. Leads Tsomet party. Former Chief
of Staff, Israel Defense Forces.
ˇ Benny Begin,
former minister of Science. Leads Herut party. Son of former Prime
Minister Menachem Begin. Professor of Geology, founding Director
of the College of Judea and Samaria, in Ariel.
Parties running for seats in Knesset:
ˇ Likud: Party leader,
Binyamin Netanyahu. Current seats in Knesset: 23 (three members
have resigned from the party and now sit as independents) This
party was born through the efforts of Menachem Begin and Ariel
Sharon in 1973, as the union of the older Herut and Liberal parties
in Israel. Likud has traditionally held the following policies:
antiPalestinian state, supports settlement of Judea and Samaria.
Against negotiation with Palestinians, whom the Likud viewed as
terrorists. The Likud has traditionally enjoyed the support of
immigrants from north Africa and the Middle East, who were impeded
from joining the European elite in Israel. Likud support has also
traditionally come from economically disadvantaged communities.
During the current term, the Likud has suffered from inept management
and internal strife. Several large political scandals have rocked
the party and many members are unhappy with the current situation.
Netanyahu maintained a strong, nononsense posture with the Palestinians,
refusing to negotiate while terrorist acts were still being carried
out against Israelis. In January 1997, Netanyahu gave control
over 80% of the city of Hevron to the Palestinians. Israelis on
the right felt betrayed over this, viewing Hevron as the cradle
of Jewish civilization. Benny Begin resigned from the government
and the party over this agreement. In Octber 1998, at the Wye
Plantation, Netanyahu agreed to a further withdrawal from Judea
and Samaria, despite continuing terrorism. This agreement lead
to the early fall of his government and new elections. Likud's
economic policies have been tightfisted in an effort to soften
the blow of economic recession. Interest rates have remained high
and government spending has been held down. This has provided
little extra money to solve the problems of unemployment, but
it has succeeded in keeping prices down. privatization has added
to the efficiency of the economy, which is now leading to lower
unemployment. But many people are unhappy with the economic situation
Other leaders in the party: Foreign Minister Ariel Sharon, former
Commanding Officer Northern Command and Southern Command; Justice
Minister Tzachi Hanegbi; Chairman of Knesset Foreign Affairs and
Defense Committee, Uzi Landau; Moshe Arens, former Foreign and
Defense Minister (also newly appointed Defense Minister to replace
Mordechai); Communications Minister Limor Livnat.
ˇ Labor: party leader,
Ehud Barak. Current Knesset seats, 32. Labor was founded as the
amalgamation of several parties who have traditionally held power
in Israel. David BenGurion, Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, and Shimon
Peres are some of the people who have lead the party in the past.
Labor represents the European male elite in Israel. Most of its
members of Knesset have attained high rank in the army. Labor
traditionally represents unions in Israel, which have been extremely
strong. Over the years, as Israel modernized, Labor has come to
represent the wealthy elite in Israel, including big business
and the Israeli jet set. Labor's economic policies are in need
of modernization, eschewing privatization, and preferring to maintain
control over the economy while doing little to spur economic growth.
Labor supports the collective kibbutzim, and has in the past spent
billions of dollars to bail out these financially nonviable ventures.
Other leaders in the party: Former Health Minister Haim Ramon,
Former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, Ophir
Paz, Shlomo BenAmi, Yossi Beilin (former Deputy Foreign Minister).
New members of the party include Matan Vilna'i, former deputy
Chief of Staff of the IDF and former commander of the Northern
ˇ Shas: Party
leader Aryeh Deri. Current Knesset seats: 10. This party is made
up of religious members of North African and Middle Eastern ("Sfardic")
descent. The party represents chiefly these communities. Policies
of the party include economic improvement for the disadvantaged
communities in Israel, many of which are Sfardic communities,
more classroom hours in schools, and fighting unemployment. The
party also maintains a strong voice in religious issues. The party
follows the leadership advice of Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, former Sfardic
Chief Rabbi of Israel.
Other leaders of the party: Interior Minister Eli Suissa, Religious
Affairs Minister Eli Yishai, Knesset House Committee Chairman
ˇ National Religious
Party: Party leader Education Minister Yitzchak Levy. Current
Knesset Seats: 9.The NRP represents the interest of the modern
religious population. The party is actively involved in settling
Judea and Samaria and other areas of low population, and enjoys
wide support in these areas. The party is ideologically allied
with a network of yeshivot, Hesder, which combine army service
and Torah study, and which contribute many of the combat leaders
in the army's elite units. The NRP is against the Oslo process,
but historically prefers to fight for its policies within the
government framework rather than from the opposition. They did
not vote to bring down the government after the Wye agreement.
Other leaders of the party: Transportation Minister Shaul Yahalom,
Knesset Law Committee Chairman Hanan Porat, Tzvi Hendel, Nisan
Slomiansky, Rabbi Avraham Shapira (former Ashkenazic (European
descent) Chief Rabbi, Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu (former sfardic
Chief Rabbi), former MK Rabbi Chaim Druckman.
party leader Yossi Sarid (former Environment Minister). Number
of Knesset seats: 9 Meretz was created before the 1992 elections
through the unification of three parties, two of which were on
the extreme left, and one of which was relatively centrist but
was opposed to all religion in Israel. Meretz is situated at the
left extreme of the Knesset. They support a Palestinian State
and a shrinking of Jewish boundaries. They are against settlement
activity in, and any retention of, Judea and Samaria. They support
dividing Jerusalem and creating a Palestinian capital in that
city. They support transfering all Jewish residents of Judea and
Samaria out of these areas and into what is left of Israel. They
are against any manifestation of religion in Israel.
Other party leaders: Dedi Zucker, Haim Oron, Amnon Rubinstein
(former Education Minister).
ˇ Yisrael Ba'aliya:
party leader Industry and Trade Minister Natan Sharansky. Number
of Knesset seats: 7. (two members have resigned from the party
and now sit as independents.) Natan Sharansky was previously known
as Anatoly Shcharansky, the leading Prisoner of Zion in Communist
Russia. The party was set up to represent the 750,000 Russian
Immigrants who have come to Israel since 1990. Their platform
consists of economic programs for immigrants and other disadvantaged
communities, and protecting the rights and benefits accorded to
immigrants in Israel. They are also striving to protect the Russian
culture that has come with these immigrants. They have no specific
policy regarding the peace process.
Other party leaders: Immigration Minister Yuli Edelshtein, Roman
Bronfman, Tzvi Weinberg.
party leader David Levy, number of Knesset seats: 5. (one member
has resigned from the party and now sits independently.) Gesher
ran for the current Knesset on a joint list under the umbrella
of the Likud. David Levy was originally the Foreign Minister in
this government, but resigned on January 4, 1998 due to his dissatisfaction
with the budget. Levy is now leading Gesher independently in the
current election campaign. Gesher's policy supports economic packages
for the disadvantaged, particularly among the sfardic community.
But the party is run more as a vehicle for satisfying Levy's ego
than for any real benefit.
party leader Environment Minister Raphael Eitan, number of Knesset
seats 4. Tsomet also ran under the Likud umbrella. The party was
founded in 1988 as a breakaway from the Likud. The party is made
up largely of people who do not live in Judea and Samaria but
support Israel's retention of those areas. The party supports
liberal economic policies and does not support religion. The anachronistic
nature of their policy platform has lead to a consistent decline
in their public support.
Other party leaders: deputy minister of education Moshe Peled.
ˇ Third Way: Party leader Internal Security Minister Avigdor Kahalani, number of Knesset Seats: 4.
The party was founded in 1996 as a single issue party supporting
Israeli retention of the Golan Heights. Kahalani, a former General,
was a decorated war hero in the Yom Kippur war as he lead the
valiant fight to defend the Golan from Syrian invasion. He left
Labor when they began negotiations with Syria over the Golan.
Since the 1996 election, the party's policy platform has grown
to include national unity and reconciliation between left and
right, and between secular and religious.
Other party leaders: Emmanuel Zissman, Alex Lubotsky, Yisrael
ˇ United Torah Judaism: party leader Rabbi Meir Porush. Number of Knesset Seats: 4 This party represents the "Haredi" or ultraOrthodox communities in Israel. It is answerable to the Council of Torah sages, which is made up of representatives of the major Haredi communities in Israel. Their platform centers around defending the rights of the religious communities in Israel, and of the network of yeshivas in the haredi communities.
Other party leaders: Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Avraham
Ravitz, businessman Chaim Sheinfeld, Shmuel Laizerson, Rabbi Uri
party leader Rehavam Ze'evi, Number of Knesset seats: 2 This party
represents the right extreme in the Knesset. They support retention
of all of Judea and Samaria and the transfer by agreement of all
Arab communities out of these areas and into Jordan or Syria.
They support integrating the IsraeliArab communities into national
life in Israel, including service in the army. The party supports
increased Jewish construction in the eastern portion of Jerusalem,
specifically in the Old City's Arab quarter, the City of David
neighbourhood, and the Mt. of Olives.
Other party leaders: Rabbi Benny Elon
Party leader, MK Avraham Poraz. Shinui is the centrist party that
joined with Meretz in 1992, and has now decided to run independently.
They oppose religion in Israel, and are in favour of territorial
withdrawal from areas of Judea and Samaria. They are against futher
Jewish settlement in these areas, and favour a Palestinian State.
Their major emphasis appears to be on national unity, emphasizing
secular values, and improving education.
ˇ Arab Democratic
Party: leader AbdulWahab Darawshe Communist Party / Hadash:
AbdulMalik Dehamshe Total Knesset Seats: 9
These parties represent Israeli Arabs in the Knesset. They support
a Palestinian State, and Arab land claims in the Galilee. They
oppose further Jewish development in Israel.
Other parties that will compete for elections:
ˇ Centrist Party
(no official name yet): Party Leader: Former Defense Minister
Yitzchak Mordechai. Policy is not clear yet, but they support
the creation of Palestinian State, and greater economic relaxation.
They oppose religion in Israel, and support territorial compromise
on the Golan Heights. They are jockeying for position in the center
of the political spectrum with Labor and Likud, and several smaller
parties (Third Way, Yisrael Ba'aliya).
Other senior party members include former Chief of Staff Amnon
LipkinShahak, former Likud finance and justice minister Dan Meridor,
former Tel Aviv Mayor Roni Milo, former Labor MK Haggai Merom,
and former Labor Party Secretary General Nissim Zvilli.
ˇ Yisrael Beiteinu:
party leader Avigdor Leiberman, former Director General of the
Prime Minister's office. This party is formed as an alternative
to Yisrael Ba'aliya for the Russian immigrant vote. They support
changing the electoral system in Israel to allow for a Republicstyled
government including district elections of all members. They will
support Binyamin Netanyahu for Prime Minister.
ˇ Herut: New
party formed by Benny Begin. He is using the old name used by
his father, Menachem, in the 1950's and 60's for his party. This
party supports retention of Judea and Samaria, and is opposed
to a Palestinian State. They support greater settlement in these
areas. They have no stated economic or social policies yet. Other
leading supporters include MK Michael Kleiner.
The left wing of the National Religious Party which has broken
away to run independently. The party is made up of religious members
who support the peace process and compromise on religious issues.
The party has attracted former Labor MK and current Jewish Agency
Head Avraham Burg, and Third Way MK Alex Lubotsky. NRP MK Eli
Gabbai and Transportation Minister Shaul Yahalom may also join.
ˇ Tekumah: This
party supports settlement activity in Judea and Samaria and the
Hesder Yeshivot. The main difference between Tekumah and Herut
is that Tekumah is largely religious, while Herut is largely secular.
Party leaders include Yaakov Katz (Katzele), director general
of Arutz7 radio, Bet El Mayor Uri Ariel, Kiryat Arba Mayor Benny
Katzover. Rabbi Avraham Shapira and Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu will
likely support this party in the election. This will end up being
the right wing of the National Religious Party, and attempts will
be made to attract NRP MK's Hanan Porat, Tzvi Hendel and Nisan
ˇ Worker's Party:
Formed by Labor MK and Histadrut National Labor Union leader Amir
Peretz. The party is founded on the basis that the Labor party
has abandoned the blue collar workers and the disadvantaged communities
of Israel in favour of the old ruling elites. Chief issues are
labour relations, higher wages, better working conditions, and
more jobs to solve unemployment.
ˇ Voice of the
Environment: Nechama Ronen, Director General of the Ministry
of the Environment, has formed this party whose platform is environmental
ˇ YESH: This
party has no named leader yet, but represents women's rights,
and is in favour of a Palestinian State. The party name is made
up of the initials of the Hebrew words Yitzug Shaveh, meaning
ˇ Penina Rosenblum
Party: founded by Israeli cosmetics magnate Penina Rosenblum
(Israel's Mary Kay) and with no apparent policy platform.
There will likely be far too many parties competing for limited
votes. Most of the smaller ones will not place in the Knesset.
But some new ones will. The greatest political activity in the
next few weeks will come from these areas:
The new centrist party will decide upon its policy and its name.
It will also continue to attempt to attract leading names in public
Tekumah and Herut will likely join forces in an attempt to unify
the right wing and avoid wasting votes. They may be joined by
the Moledet Party, and by a collection of Members of Knesset,
belonging to different parties, who all support increased settlement
in Judea and Samaria and strengthening of Jewish presence in Jerusalem.
These MK's, called the Land of Israel Front, numbered 17 in the
current Knesset, and formed a strong lobby group for the Israeli
right. The Land of Israel Front is coordinated by MK Michael Kleiner,
who has joined Herut.
Labor and the new centrist party have both made overtures to Meimad
to join them. Meimad is negotiating with Labor and is asking to
be guaranteed the Education ministry in any Laborled government.
Yehuda Poch is a political analyst and writer living in
Israel. He holds a degree in Political Science and International
Relations from the University of Toronto, and has served as political
analyst for the Freeman Center for Strategic Studies since 1993.
He has also done research on Zionist history. Currently, Poch
is a leading member of the Israel Action Alliance, a grassroots
group in Israel working for rightwing unity and a greater understanding
of religion and religioussecular issues. He comments widely on
Israeli political issues, and has been featured on Arutz7 National
Radio, and in print media in North America. Poch and his wife,
Rebecca, have two children, and live in Rehovot, Israel.