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A Guide to the Top 13 Israeli Political Parties Running in the 2022 Knesset Elections

avatar by Chaim Lax

Opinion

A general view shows the plenum at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem, May 29, 2019. Photo: Reuters / Ronen Zvulun.

In June 2022, following a number of legislative defeats for the “change government” headed by Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid, Israel’s parliament was dissolved, with national elections scheduled for November 1, 2022.

These will be the fifth Knesset elections to take place in the last three and a half years, as no party has been able to effectively construct a stable coalition.

For this round of elections, there are 40 political parties registered to run. Some of these are single-issue parties, while others concern themselves with a wide variety of issues.

The following is a guide to the top 13 parties that will battle for the Knesset’s 120 seats.

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1)  Likud

Year founded: 1973

Current leader: Benjamin Netanyahu

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 28

History: Likud was founded in 1973, as a joint list of liberal and right-wing parties headed by Menachem Begin’s Herut party. In 1977, Begin became prime minister, ending 29 years of left-leaning governments, headed by the Mapai/Labor party.

Since 1977, there have been four Likud prime ministers: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ariel Sharon (who later left Likud to found the Kadima party).

Benjamin Netanyahu was prime minister between 1996 and 1999, and again from 2009 to 2021.

Platform: With regards to the two-state solution, Netanyahu has vacillated over the years between supporting and not supporting the creation of a Palestinian state. Currently, Netanyahu and Likud are opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state.

Along similar lines, Likud supports the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, a territory also known as the West Bank.

An economically liberal party in principle, Likud’s economic platform advocates for a reduction in prices — including housing costs — as well as freezing municipal tax rates, increasing imports, and cutting income tax rates.

Although it is a secular party, Likud’s past inclusion of ultra-Orthodox parties in coalitions has caused it to adopt policies that are amenable to this sector, including the refusal to draft yeshiva students, and reneging on a plan to expand the egalitarian section of the Western Wall.

For this election cycle, Benjamin Netanyahu promised that he would grant state funding to ultra-Orthodox schools — even if they did not include core secular subjects in their curricula.

2) Yesh Atid (“There is a Future”)

Year founded: 2012

Current leader: Yair Lapid

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 17

History: Yesh Atid was founded by former media personality Yair Lapid as a centrist party that would appeal to members of Israel’s secular middle class.

After contesting its first election in 2013, Yesh Atid gained 19 seats and became the second largest party in the Knesset. In 2013, Yesh Atid joined Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud-led government until elections were called in 2015.

In advance of the April 2019 elections, Yesh Atid joined forces with former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s Israeli Resilience party, to form Blue and White.

Prior to the March 2021 elections, Yesh Atid left Blue and White and contested the election alone.

Following the election, Yair Lapid became the alternate prime minister after Yesh Atid entered into a coalition government with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party and a number of smaller parties. With the collapse of that government, Lapid became the prime minister until the current election.

Platform: Yesh Atid’s platform includes maintaining Israeli settlement blocs in the West Bank, while simultaneously halting construction, lowering housing prices, ending draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox, increasing funding for education, and reforming the political system.

3) The National Unity Party

Year founded: 2022

Current leader: Benny Gantz

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 0 (Blue and White has 8 seats, New Hope has 5 seats)

History: The National Unity Party was formed in 2022 as an association between former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party and Gidon Sa’ar’s right-wing New Hope party. Both parties were part of the last government coalition.

The party also contains former members of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party as well as former IDF Chief of Staff, Gadi Eizenkot.

Platform: Both Blue and White and New Hope advocate term limits for the prime minister, and rooting out government corruption. In addition, both parties are focused on protecting Israel’s Jewish identity.

While Gidon Sa’ar is opposed to a Palestinian state and Gadi Eizenkot advocates a two-state solution, Sa’ar claims that this will not lead to friction within the party, as it will be focused on reducing the conflict.

4) Shas

Year founded: 1984

Current leader: Aryeh Deri

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 9

History: Shas was founded by ultra-Orthodox Israelis of Sephardi descent, who felt that they were under-represented in Israeli politics and were not being fairly treated by the ultra-Orthodox Ashkenazi establishment.

At the time of its founding, Shas came under the spiritual leadership of the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi, Ovadia Yosef. Since 1984, Shas has sat in government coalitions headed by both right-wing and left-wing parties.

Platform: As a religious party, Shas possesses a culturally conservative worldview, but has exhibited some flexibility when it comes to security, economic, and social policies. While initially willing to exchange territories for peace with the Palestinians, the past few years have seen Shas move further to the right and become more hawkish on security matters.

For this year’s election, Shas is focused on reducing the high cost of living and strengthening the Jewish character of the state.

5) Labor

Year founded: 1968

Current leader: Merav Michaeli

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 7

History: Labor was founded as a merger of the Mapai party, Ahdut HaAvoda, and Rafi. Until 1988, Labor ran as the dominant faction in the Alignment party. In 1999, it ran as part of the One Israel list and ran as part of the Zionist Union in 2015. In March 2020, Labor ran alongside Gesher and Meretz.

In 2021, Labor was part of the coalition government that replaced Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud-led government.

Labor prime ministers have included Levi Eshkol, Golda Meir, Yitzhak Rabin, Shimon Peres, and Ehud Barak.

Platform: Labor’s platform advocates for a two-state solution, cessation of construction outside of settlement blocs, civil marriage, limited public transportation on Shabbat, maintenance of the welfare state, and free public education from birth.

6) Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel Our Home”)

Year founded: 1999

Current leader: Avigdor Lieberman

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 7

History: Yisrael Beiteinu was founded prior to the 1999 Israeli elections, as a break-off from the governing Likud party — due to Likud’s participation in negotiations with Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority.

Yisrael Beiteinu has historically represented Israel’s Russian-speaking minority and secular right-wing Israelis. In 2012, Yisrael Beiteinu entered into an alliance with Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, becoming Likud Beiteinu. This political union broke apart in 2014.

Following the March 2020 elections, Yisrael Beiteinu joined the coalition government that ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year tenure as prime minister.

Platform: As a secular right-wing party, Yisrael Beiteinu is hawkish on security and diplomatic matters, while also supporting liberal policies regarding the religious nature of the state.

Yisrael Beiteinu supports a negotiated agreement with the Palestinians that would see land swaps in exchange for peace, supports civil marriage, the drafting of Haredi youth to the IDF, and the opening of businesses on Shabbat.

Economically, Yisrael Beiteinu believes in private enterprise, advocates the break-up of monopolies, and supports the construction of more housing in order to reduce the cost of buying or renting a home.

7) Religious Zionist Party

Year founded: 2021

Current leader: Bezalel Smotrich

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 7

History: In January 2021, Bezalel Smotrich removed his Tkuma faction from Naftali Bennett’s Yamina Party and renamed it the Religious Zionist Party. For the March 2021 election, Religious Zionist ran alongside the  Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Strength”) party and the Noam party.

Otzma Yehudit is led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a far-right activist who has ties to the extremist Kach party of Rabbi Meir Kahane, although Ben-Gvir asserts that his party is not a continuation of Kahane’s movement.

Noam was established in 2019 by followers of Rabbi Zvi Tau, the head of a Jerusalem-based yeshiva, and claims to want to make Israel a “normal nation” by fighting the influences of the LGBTQ community and Reform Judaism.

While there were rumors that each of the parties would run separately in this election, last-minute negotiations led to the solidification of the political alliance for this election as well.

Platform: The Religious Zionist party is opposed to any territorial concessions as part of an Israeli-Palestinian peace process, supports the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, opposes same-sex marriage, and supports increased funding for religious education.

8) United Torah Judaism (UTJ)

Year founded: 1992

Current leader: Moshe Gafni

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 6

History: United Torah Judaism was founded as an alliance between two of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox parties: the predominantly Hasidic Agudat Yisrael party and the Haredi Degel HaTorah party.

In 2004, the party split over a disagreement regarding how to enter the government of Ariel Sharon, but reunited in time for the 2006 national elections. Since its founding, UTJ has served in both left-wing and right-wing coalition governments but has, as of late, firmly entrenched itself in Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc.

Before the current elections, there was a concern that UTJ would split again over a disagreement regarding the introduction of secular studies into ultra-Orthodox schools, but a last-minute agreement was reached that cemented the alliance for this election cycle.

Platform: As the representative of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, United Torah Judaism is focused on increasing financial support for its communities, strengthening Israel’s religious character, opposition to the drafting of yeshiva students to the IDF, and opposition to any religious reforms.

On security and diplomatic matters, UTJ is considered to be a centrist party and has historically been open to negotiations with the Palestinians and relinquishing territories for peace.

9) Meretz

Year founded: 1992

Current leader: Zehava Galon

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 6

History: Meretz was founded as a union of several left-wing Zionist parties prior to the 1992 Israeli elections. In its first election, Meretz won 12 seats and became the third largest party in the Knesset.

Following a number of dismal election results, Meretz disbanded in 2003 and became the Yachad (“Together”) party, together with Yossi Beilin’s Shachar movement. In 2006, the party reverted back to Meretz.

In March 2020, Meretz ran alongside the Labor party and Gesher.

Following the March 2021 elections, Meretz joined the coalition government that ended Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year reign as prime minister, the first time that the party was in a coalition government since 2000.

Platform: As a secular and social-democratic party, Meretz believes in a two-state solution, is opposed to the settlement enterprise in the West Bank, supports LGBTQ rights, supports the expansion of the welfare state, supports the separation of religion and state (which includes support for civil marriage and public transportation on Shabbat), supports environmental justice, and supports “full equality for all of Israel’s citizens.”

10) Hadash-Ta’al

Year founded: Hadash was founded in 1977, Ta’al was founded in 1996

Current leader: Ayman Odeh

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 5

History: Hadash is a far-left Jewish-Arab party that was founded as an alliance between several small left-wing parties and the Israeli Communist Party.

Ta’al is a secular Arab party that advocates for a Palestinian state and the improvement of the position of Arabs within Israeli society.

Prior to the 2015 elections, they joined together with two other Arab parties, Ra’am and Balad, to form the Joint List. Following the 2015 elections, it became the third largest party in the Knesset.

Prior to the 2021 elections, Ra’am left the Joint List to run by itself. In a last-minute decision following a dispute over the make-up of the party, Balad also left the Joint List, leaving Hadash and Ta’al to run together.

Platform: Hadash-Ta’al supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, along with the removal of all Jewish communities in the West Bank. Economically, Hadash supports a socialist economy.

11) Ra’am (The United Arab List)

Year founded: 1996

Current leader: Mansour Abbas

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 4

History: Ra’am was founded in 1996 as a partnership between the Arab National Democratic Party and the southern branch of Israel’s Islamist movement, which was seemingly more open to the Oslo peace process and participating in Israeli politics than the movement’s northern branch.

In its 25-year history, Ra’am has run both by itself and in electoral alliances with other Arab parties.

After the March 2021 elections, Ra’am joined the governing coalition, becoming the first independent Arab party in Israeli history to do so.

Platform: Ra’am supports the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, the dismantlement of all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, the right of return for Palestinian refugees, increased government spending in Israel’s Arab communities (particularly in its southern Bedouin communities), and a crackdown on crime within the country’s Arab towns.

In line with its cultural conservatism, Ra’am is opposed to pro-LGBTQ legislation.

Although Ra’am’s platform is highly critical of Zionism, Mansour Abbas has said that he accepts the legitimacy of Israel’s right to exist, and that his goal is to help best integrate the Arab minority into the Jewish state.

12) Balad (National Democratic Assembly)

Year founded: 1996

Current leader: Sami Abou Shahadeh

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 1

History: A far-left Arab party, Balad has contested Knesset elections both by itself and as part of mergers with other Arab parties.

The party was founded by Azmi Bishara and led by him until 2007, when he fled the country following reports that he had aided Hezbollah during the 2006 Second Lebanon War.

In 2015, Balad joined with other Arab parties (Hadash, Ta’al and Ra’am) to form the Joint List. Although it was slated to run again together with Hadash and Ta’al (Ra’am left the Joint List in 2021), a last-minute dispute over the make-up of the party list caused Balad to register separately for the upcoming elections.

Platform: Balad advocates for a one-state solution that would see Israel cease to be characterized as a Jewish state, supports the right of return for Palestinian “refugees,” supports the establishment of a Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital, and believes in the separation of religion and state.

Economically, Balad supports left-wing policies that include the equitable distribution of resources, a capital gains tax, and tax cuts for low-wage workers.

13) Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) / Yamina

Year founded: Bayit Yehudi was founded in 2008; Yamina was founded in 2018

Current leader: Ayelet Shaked

Current number of seats in the Knesset: 1 (Yamina MK Yomtob Kalfon joined Bayit Yehudi)

History: Following former prime minister Naftali Bennett’s withdrawal from politics and the departure of a number of Knesset members from the party, Ayelet Shaked took over the reins of the Yamina party.

Initially, Shaked teamed up with Yoaz Hendel to form The Zionist Spirit party — but, after a dispute over whether the party would enter into a Likud-led coalition, the party split up and Shaked entered into an agreement with the HaBayit Hayehudi party.

Under this agreement, Shaked’s Yamina faction will take the first, third, fifth, sixth, and eighth spots on the slate, while the Jewish Home will take the second, fourth, and seventh spots.

Bayit Yehudi was founded in 2008 as an association of a variety of religious parties — including the mainstay of Religious Zionism, the National Religious Party. The party was led by Naftali Bennett between 2012 and 2018, when Bennett and Ayelet Shaked left to form the New Right party.

Platform: Yamina’s platform includes support for Israeli communities in Judea and Samaria, the extension of Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank, judicial reform, and market liberalization.

The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias — where a version of this article first appeared.

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