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.


Current day month ye@r *

More...

  • Book Reviews Commentary In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    In ‘America in Retreat,’ a Real-Life Risk Board

    JNS.org – “Risk: The Game of Strategic Conquest,” the classic Parker Brothers board game, requires imperial ambitions. Players imagine empires and are pitted against each other, vying for world domination. Amid this fictional world war, beginners learn fast that no matter the superiority of their army, every advance is a gamble determined by a roll of the dice. After a defeat, a player must retreat. Weighted reinforcement cards provide the only opportunity to reverse a player’s fortunes and resume the [...]

    Read more →
  • Beliefs and concepts Sports Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    Does Working Out With Other Jews Keep You Jewish?

    JNS.org – For Daphna Krupp, her daily workout (excluding Shabbat) at the Jewish Community Center (JCC or “J”) of Greater Baltimore has become somewhat of a ritual. She not only attends fitness classes but also engages with the instructors and plugs the J’s social programs on her personal Facebook page. “It’s the gym and the environment,” says Krupp. “It’s a great social network.” Krupp, who lives in Pikesville, Md., is one of an estimated 1 million American Jewish members of more [...]

    Read more →
  • Sports US & Canada Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated Profiles Orthodox NCAA Basketball Player Aaron Liberman

    Sports Illustrated magazine featured an extensive profile on Orthodox-Jewish college basketball player Aaron Liberman on Wednesday.  The article details Liberman’s efforts to balance faith, academics and basketball at Tulane University, a challenge the young athlete calls “a triple major.” Sports Illustrated pointed out that Liberman is the second Orthodox student to play Division I college basketball. The other was Tamir Goodman, the so-called “Jewish Jordan.” As reported in The Algemeiner, Liberman started his NCAA career at Northwestern University. According to [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Sports Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    Cycling the Desert: New Israel Bike Trail Connects Mitzpe Ramon to Eilat

    As the popularity of cycling continues to increase across the world, Israel is working to develop cycling trails that make the country’s spectacular desert accessible to cyclists. The southern segment of the Israel Bike Trail was inaugurated on Feb. 24 and offers for the first time a unique, uninterrupted 8-day cycling experience after six years of planning and development. The southern section of the Israel Bike Trail stretches over 300 kilometers in length and is divided into eight segments for mountain biking, [...]

    Read more →
  • Jewish Identity Theater Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    Forthcoming Major Action Movies Inspired by Jewish Comic Artist Jack Kirby

    JNS.org – With the recent Oscars in the rearview mirror, Hollywood’s attention now shifts to the rest of this year’s big-screen lineup. Two of the major action films coming up in 2015—Avengers: Age of Ultron, which hits theaters in May, and the third film in the Fantastic Four series, slated for an August release—have Jewish roots that the average moviegoer might be unaware of. As it turns out, it took a tough Jewish kid from New York City’s Lower East [...]

    Read more →
  • Book Reviews Jewish Identity When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    When Torah Teaches Life and Life Teaches Torah (REVIEW)

    JNS.org – Rabbi Gordon Tucker spent the first 20 years of his career teaching at the Conservative movement’s Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) and the next 20 years as the rabbi of Temple Israel Center in White Plains, N.Y. I confess that when I heard about the order of those events, I thought that Tucker’s move from academia to the pulpit was strange. Firstly, I could not imagine anyone filling the place of my friend, Arnold Turetsky, who was such a talented [...]

    Read more →
  • Arts and Culture Blogs Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    Oscars 2015: Reflecting on Love at First Sight

    JNS.org – I’m in love, and have been for a long time. It’s a relationship filled with laughter, tears, intrigue, and surprise. It was love at first sight, back when I was a little girl—with an extra-terrestrial that longed to go home. From then on, that love has never wavered, and isn’t reserved for one, but for oh so many—Ferris Bueller, Annie Hall, Tootsie, Harry and Sally, Marty McFly, Atticus Finch, Danny Zuko, Yentl, that little dog Toto, Mrs. Doubtfire, [...]

    Read more →
  • Blogs Book Reviews Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    Examining America’s First Foray into the Middle East (REVIEW)

    At the turn of the 21st century through today, American involvement in Middle Eastern politics runs through the Central Intelligence Agency. In America’s Great Game: The CIA’s Secret Arabists and the Shaping of the Modern Middle East, historian Hugh Wilford shows this has always been the case. Wilford methodically traces the lives and work of the agency’s three most prominent officers in the Middle East: Kermit “Kim” Roosevelt was the grandson of president Theodore Roosevelt, and the first head of [...]

    Read more →



Sign up now to receive our regular news briefs.