The Israeli General Election is three weeks away on March 17. We had the opportunity of an educational non-partisan presentation at Netanya AACI by Jeremy Maissel of Israel Seminars (www.israelseminars.org) on the process, the parties and the personalities of the Israeli electoral system.
For someone coming from Britain, the USA or other English-speaking countries the Israeli electoral process is foreign. It corresponds most closely to the French political system of proportional representation. You don’t vote for individual candidates in a constituency or Congressional District or State, you vote only for a party list. So in order to be an informed voter you have to know what each party stands for, and this involves knowing about the personalities of the leading members of each party.
In fact, in this election for the 20th Knesset there are no less than 26 parties. However, the number expected to be elected will be less than before because the threshold for being represented was raised to 3.25%, which means that the smallest party may have no less than 4 seats, and this was done to prevent parties of 1-3 members only. Among the smaller parties are the “Green Leaf Party” that stands for the legalization of marijuana, the “Pirates Party” that wants to do away with elected representatives altogether and use direct electronic voting for all issues, and so on. But there are ten more or less major parties that are expected to obtain the majority of the votes. Here is a list:
Likud: The right-wing party led by PM Benjamin Netanyahu that puts security first, supports a free market economy and is less concerned with social issues.
The Zionist Camp: A left-wing joint list consisting of Labor and Hatnua Parties, led by Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, respectively. If elected they plan to share power. They emphasize social issues and are in favor of a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
Yesh Atid: A relatively new centrist party organized by TV personality Yair Lapid, that claims to represent the middle class, emphasizes social issues, such as an equal draft and cheaper housing, and is less concerned about security issues.
Yisrael Beitanu: The right-wing nationalist party of FM Avigdor Lieberman, that emphasizes the Jewish connection to the Land, favors an allegiance test and separation of State and religion.
Habayit Hayehudi: The old National Religious Party revitalized by Naftali Bennett, that is both nationalistic and religious, supports social justice and is right-wing on security, supporting the settlements.
Kulanu: A new party organized by former Likud member Moshe Kahlon, that is focussed on social issues, but is not socialist. Favors competition and growth and jobs for all.
The Joint Arab List: Because of the higher threshold the three small Arab parties, nationalist, communist and Islamist, were forced to combine into one list and managed to do so. They support the formation of a Palestinian State and the return of the Arab refugees.
Meretz: An extreme left-wing party led by Zahava Galon, that favors a welfare state and extensive territorial concessions by Israel.
Shas: A religious Sefardi party under Arie Deri that supports social welfare, no draft for Yeshiva students and is flexible on security except for no compromise on Jerusalem. The Shas party split and in fact there is a second Shas Party called Yachad run by Deri’s former rival, Eli Yishai.
United Torah Judaism: Under Yaakov Litzman, is an Ashkenazi ultra-orthodox religious party.
These parties give the Israeli voter plenty of freedom of choice from the far right to the far left. Note that the Arab Party is expected to get ca. 12 seats (so much for an apartheid state). The largest party is not expected to win more than 25 seats, so any possible PM will have to form a coalition government, as all Israeli governments in the past. In order to get to 61 seats, a majority in the 120-member Knesset, the PM will have to make deals and compromises. He has 45 days after the election to form this Coalition. Many people think that the results will be much as before and that Bibi Netanyahu will be PM again and will form a similar coalition to the one that finally collapsed in the last government.
At present no-one knows what the impact of Bibi’s speech before the joint houses of Congress next week will be, but Isaac Herzog, the leader of the Labor opposition, has declined either to support Bibi or to go himself even to speak at the AIPAC conference to show leadership in the US. This will probably enhance Bibi’s position of being the only contender for the PM position.