Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.

Inside the 2013 Israeli Election: the System and the Players

January 16, 2013 1:09 am 0 comments

An Israeli family casts a ballot at a polling station in Tel Aviv on Feb. 10, 2009. Photo: Flash90.

“Bibi,” “Bennett,” “Tzipi,” “Shelly.” The way names of major candidates in the Israeli elections have been bandied about by international observers and media analysts, you would think Israeli voters are only electing the prime minister.

Not so. When they enter the “Kalfi” (Hebrew for ballot box) Jan. 22, Israelis will decide the composition of the 19th Knesset (Israel’s parliament) by casting votes for whole parties—not specific candidates.

Each party, which presents candidates for membership in the Knesset, must win at least 2 percent of the total vote to get two members in. The government will be established based on how many seats each party wins, and the president will appoint the prime minister, usually the leader of the party that won the most votes. That candidate must then form a coalition with other Knesset-elected parties, and those parties that are not included become the opposition.

Thirty-four parties are competing in this election, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s newly formed Likud-Beiteinu party favored to win the most Knesset seats, which would mean the re-election of the prime minister.

Despite a radically different elections system from the U.S.—at least technically speaking—over the past decade Israeli elections “became personalized,” Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) researcher Dr. Ofer Kenig told JNS.org. “Some even call this phenomenon ‘the Americanization of elections/politics,'” he wrote in an email.

Israeli election results, however, still only “determine the balance of power between parties in the Knesset,” according to Kenig, who explained that the elections “never produce a party with an overall majority.”

In the last election, Kadima beat current Netanyahu’s Likud, but Netanyahu still formed the government. This time, the right-religious bloc of parties could gain the most seats, but Netanyahu may still leave parties from that bloc out of his future coalition.

“When Israelis go to the polls they don’t really know what kind of government/coalition they are going to end up with. And so, a considerable part of the campaign revolves around questions such as ‘which party will consider cooperating with other parties following the elections,'” Kenig wrote.

Below, JNS.org highlights the key players in this year’s race.

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, together with his children, waves to young supporters from behind the DJ's station in a Tel Aviv nightclub on Jan. 6, 2013, calling for the public to support the Likud Beiteinu party. Photo: Yossi Zamir/Flash 90.

Likud-Beitenu

An alliance formed between the center-right Likud (Hebrew for “unification”) party led by Netanyahu and the right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu (Hebrew for “Israel our home”) party. Likud is a conservative party that seeks a capitalist free-market, supports Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria and affirms Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. It places a priority on Israeli security against attacks when it comes to negotiating with the Palestinians. But previously, Likud politicians have gone against their own party’s traditional views on the Middle East conflict through offering concessions to the Arab side. In 1977, Prime Minister Menachem Begin led Israel to a peace treaty with Egypt, and in 2005 Prime Minister Ariel Sharon (before leaving the Likud party) led the disengagement from Gaza. Netanyahu himself recently announced support for a demilitarized and peaceful Palestinian state.

Yisrael Beitenu is a nationalist party founded by recently resigned Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman. It initially tended to represent Russian-Jewish immigrants, but has expanded to other Israelis. The party is focused on security and stipulates that the core goal of the Palestinians is not the achievement of peace through negotiation but to completely destroy the Jewish state. “We extend our hand in peace to our enemies, but as long as they choose the path of war, we must be diligent and fight back,” states the party’s official online description.

Naftali Bennett. Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Habayit Hayehudi

Habayit Hayehudi (Hebrew for “The Jewish Home”) is a national religious party currently led by 40-year-old software tycoon and veteran of an elite IDF unit, Naftali Bennett.

Bennett, whose family is American, has become a phenomenon in Israel. The party seeks to strengthen the identity of Israel as a Jewish, Zionist state while upholding “the rights of Israel’s minorities, among them the Arab minority,” according to its official website.

“My positions are very clear: I never hide the fact that I categorically oppose a Palestinian state inside our country,” Bennett said in a recent TV interview. The party proposes the full Israeli annexation of Area C in Judea and Samaria, granting full citizenship to Arabs who currently reside there. The party also wants to invest in the building of infrastructure that will improve the daily lives of both Arabs and Jews in the entire region, and it wants to integrate ultra-orthodox citizens into the Israeli workforce and military service.

Habayit Hayehudi is “probably the only party in this race that will not agree with any further [Palestinian] land deal,” and it does not agree with a two-state solution, said Uri Bank, the party’s Knesset candidate and U.S. native in a teleconference hosted by the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) Jan. 10.

Shas

Shas (a Hebrew acronym that roughly translates to the Sephardic Torah Guardians Movement) is an Orthodox religious political party that primarily caters to Sephardic religious Jews in Israel. Israeli Interior Minister Eli Yishai is the current chair. On domestic issues, the party supports the current exemption of military service for ultra-orthodox Jews and promotes various social welfare projects. On the conflict with the Palestinians, Shas has tended to have centrist views, which has allowed it to form a coalition with nearly any ruling party. Recently, though, it has begun to lean more to the right on the Palestinian issue, opposing any Likud freezing of construction in Judea and Samaria.

Shelly Yachimovich. Photo: Wikimedia commons.

Avoda (Labor)

Avoda (Hebrew for “Labor”) is a social-liberal political party led by former Israeli journalist and writer Shelly Yachimovich. The party follows the social democratic principle by calling for a free-market economy and minimal government interference as long as the government protects the basic social needs of its citizens such as the needs for housing, health and education.

The party wants to negotiate a political solution with the Palestinians and opposes Israeli construction in Judea and Samaria. Several well-known Israeli politicians came from this party, such as Israel’s only female prime minister, Golda Meir, and former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated in 1995.

According to MK Nachman Shai, a member of Labor who spoke on the Jan. 10 JFNA teleconference, said the party’s aim is “to preserve the Jewish and democratic character” of Israel.

Tzipi Livni. Photo: Antje Wildgrube/Wikimedia Commons.

Hatnua

Kadima leader Tzipi Livni, who was defeated by Shaul Mofaz for that party’s chairmanship in May 2012, founded a new centrist party, Hatnua (Hebrew for “The Movement”). In a November 2012 press conference announcing the new party, Livni vowed to fight for a “democratic Israel.”

“The government enters dialogue with those who support terror and avoids the camp that has prevented terror, that fights for two states,” she said. In terms of domestic issues, Livni wants “young people to have homes, earn a living, and live with dignity without always fearing for the future.” Hatnua is also committed to pass a law that would require the ultra-orthodox to serve in the IDF, from which they are currently exempt. “I’m in favor of a Zionist party — a liberal, secular, and democratic party,” Livni said.

Yesh Atid

Yesh Atid (Hebrew for “There is a Future”) was founded in 2012 by Israeli journalist Yair Lapid, who left that career to enter politics. This party is primarily focused on domestic issues. One of its major platforms is reforming the Israeli government by reducing the number of political parties that can form a coalition and the number of ministers that can serve in the Knesset, so that the overall system is more like the governments of European nations such as Germany or the United Kingdom. The party believes that many issues on its agenda, such as the reform of education and the need for equality in military service, could in this manner be dealt with more efficiently. The party also proposes an economic program to help small businesses and the middle class.

Kadima

A poll commissioned by Yedioth Ahronoth from the Mina Tzemach polling company in November showed that Kadima (Hebrew for “Forward”), a major party in past elections, wouldn’t likely make the 2 percent threshold required to get Knesset seats in the upcoming election.

The Pirate Party

Although it has little realistic expectation of winning any Knesset seats, the Israeli Pirate Party may garner some votes from Israelis disillusioned with larger and more conventional parties.

The party was founded by ponytailed 33-year-old Ohad Shem-Tov, who showed up at the Knesset to register the party wearing a scarf on his head and a hook on his hand. But the party isn’t all about fun and games. As part of a larger movement of international pirate parties that began in Sweden in 2006, the party is connected to concerns over the freedom of information, including reforming international copyright and patent law related to the controversial yet popular Bit Torrent file-sharing platform.

“Dressing up is a gimmick, it’s a way to draw attention,” Shem-Tov told the Associated Press. “But this party is serious, even if we use a little humor and do it with a smile.”

Additional material for this article was collected from Mako.co.il, The Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Haaretz, Knesset.gov.il, Electionguide.org, MyJewishLearning.com, Israel Hayom, Judaism.about.com, Maariv, Baityehudi.org.il, Myisrael.org.il, Yeshatid.org.il, The Forward, Time, and Front Page Magazine.

Leave a Reply

Please note: comments may be published in the Algemeiner print edition. Comments written in all caps will be deleted.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Arts and Culture Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Author of New Book on Connection Between Jews, Punk Rock Describes Bands Flinging Gefilte Fish, Bagels at Audience (INTERVIEW)

    Some punk rockers integrate their Jewish identity into their music through food, the author of a new book on the topic told The Algemeiner on Wednesday. Michael Croland, author of Oy Oy Oy Gevalt! Jews and Punk, described the way different musicians express this connection. “One band is known for throwing gefilte fish in the mosh pit, and people at its concert slide around on it while dancing,” he recounted. “Another used to drink Manischewitz [sweet kosher] wine out of a shofar [the ram […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    Scottish Soccer Club Manager Hails ‘Fantastic’ Jewish-State Visit After Victory Over Israeli Team (VIDEO)

    The manager of Scotland’s Celtic soccer club lauded Israel, after his team won a match against the Jewish state’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night. Brendan Rodgers said at a post-match press conference: On behalf of the players, the people of Celtic and Scotland, Israel’s been fantastic for us. We came out here on Sunday, [and from] the hotel, the staff, we’ve been very, very warmly received. The atmosphere at the game was amazing and, obviously, one team has to lose, but you have a wonderful team here, […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    Second Jaffa Jazz Festival to Reunite International, Israeli Musicians

    For the second time, Israel will host the Jaffa Jazz Festival, according to Broadwayworld.com. The festival will unite 43 Israeli musicians and eight international artists for a three-day event. The program will include a special performance by an ensemble of top jazz students studying at Belgium’s Royal Conservatoire of Antwerp, the Belgrade Music Academy in Serbia, Israel’s Rimon School of Music and the jazz program of the Israel Conservatory of Music in Tel Aviv. There will also be a jazz show for children led by Israeli saxophonist […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    Israel’s First NASCAR Driver Revved Up to Win

    JNS.org – As a young boy growing up in Ashdod, Israel, Alon Day got his first go-kart at age 9. By 15, he was racing them. Less than a decade later, Day has become the first Israeli professional race car driver on the NASCAR circuit. He made history by competing in NASCAR’s Xfinity Series race at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course on August 13. “Driving a race car is not like any other sport,” Day told JNS.org. “You are actually almost flying […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    Writer of Popular Kids Series to Premiere Autobiographical Solo Show ‘Not That Jewish’

    The writer of a popular children’s television series will premiere an off-Broadway solo show called “Not That Jewish,” according to The Hollywood Reporter. Written and performed by Monica Piper — the Emmy Award-winning showrunner of Nickelodeon’s “Rugrats” — the show is described as “the autobiographical telling of a Jew…’ish’ girl’s life.” “Not That Jewish” explores Piper’s Bronx upbringing in a show-business family, her comedy-club debut and her “almost” night with former Yankees legend Mickey Mantle. “Audiences can expect to leave laughed-out, a little teary-eyed and […]

    Read more →
  • Sports Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scottish Soccer Team Will Fly to Israel on Private Jet Used by Madonna

    Scotland’s Celtic soccer club will fly to Israel with the same private jet Madonna used while on tour, The Scotsman reported on Monday. According to the report, the team is heading for the Jewish state to compete against Israel’s Hapoel Be’er Sheva on Tuesday night, and will be transported in the customized, luxurious Boeing 757-200 that the pop icon used in New Zealand for her six-month Rebel Heart tour, which wrapped up in March. The plane is on loan from Greece-based GainJet Aviation and can accommodate 62 passengers. The […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Revealed: Actor Jonah Hill Officiated at Wedding of Fellow Jewish Star, Singer Adam Levine

    Jewish actor Jonah Hill revealed on Wednesday morning that he had officiated the wedding of good friend and Maroon 5 frontman Adam Levine. The “War Dogs” actor, 32, was a guest on Sirius XM’s The Howard Stern Show when the conversation turned to Levine’s July 2014 wedding to Victoria’s Secret model Behati Prinsloo. Hill said that after he was asked to officiate the nuptials, he started getting worried about the type of speech he was going to deliver. “I’m writing all these things, and then I […]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Music Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish Indie Rocker Dedicates New ‘Refugee’ Track to Grandfather Who Fled Nazi Persecution

    Jewish indie singer Ezra Furman released a song on Wednesday that he said was dedicated to his grandfather, who escaped Nazi persecution. Furman told the website Consequence of Sound that the new track, called “The Refugee,” is his “first song entirely concerned with my Jewish background and present, a song dedicated to my grandfather who fled the Nazis, as well as to all of the refugees desperate for a home today.” He added, “May all the wanderers find the homes they seek, and […]

    Read more →