Australia/Israel Review

Who’s Who in the Israeli election

Feb 26, 2015 | 

American Jewish Committee


Though Israeli voters will be casting their ballots on March 17 for party lists, they’ll doubtless have the men and women at the top of those parties’ lists in mind. So here’s an opportunity to get to know the party leaders a little better! One caveat: Israeli polls are notoriously unreliable, and the projections – reflecting a poll taken on Feb. 16 – should be treated merely as a ballpark. Read on (in alphabetical order, by party):


OdehAyman Odeh – Joint List

Born and raised in Haifa, Ayman Odeh has never served in the Knesset, but is poised to enter for the first time at the head of a sizeable faction. All of the Arab parties are running together, which means that Odeh will have a diverse and multifaceted party to keep in line behind him, including Jewish communist Dov Khenin, Palestinian nationalist Israeli-Arab physician Ahmed Tibi, and the highly controversial firebrand Haneen Zoabi, who has previously been suspended from the Knesset for her fiercely anti-Zionist views. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 11, made up of Hadash: 4, UAL-Ta’al: 4, and Balad: 3. Latest Projection: 12). [Note: Zoabi was briefly disqualified from running for the Knesset by a majority vote of the Central Elections Committee – along with far right-wing former MK Baruch Marzel of the Yachad party – because of alleged support for terrorism. However, the Central Elections Committee ban on both candidates was overturned by Israel’s High Court.]

kahalonMoshe Kahlon – Kulanu

A popular former Minister of Communications as a member of Likud, Kahlon is credited with privatising the cell phone industry in Israel, leading to greater competition in the market and lower bills for customers. Needless to say, this has made him quite popular. He formed his new centre-right party in late 2014 to champion socio-economic issues, and is expected to draw votes away from Likud and Yesh Atid. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: N/A, Latest Projection: 7)

NetanyahuBinyamin Netanyahu – Likud

Prime Minister Netanyahu is running for re-election at the head of Likud. The second-longest serving Prime Minister in Israel’s history (after only David Ben-Gurion), Netanyahu was Prime Minister for three years in the late 1990s and again since 2009. Netanyahu’s image as a former commando and the primary crusader against a nuclear Iran bolster his credentials as the national-security candidate. He is on record accepting the idea of a two-state solution, but has continued with construction in settlements in the West Bank. Having spent his formative years in the United States – in high school in Philadelphia, in college at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and as a management consultant with the Boston Consulting Group – Netanyahu speaks perfect, nearly-unaccented English. This has not helped his relationship with US President Barack Obama, however, which has become increasingly contentious. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 18 for the Likud but 32 for the joint list Likud ran with Israel Beitenu. There is no joint list this time. Latest Projection: 24)

Zahava Gal-On – Meretz

An early immigrant from the Soviet Union, Gal-On spent her pre-political career as a civil rights activist. Meretz is the most left-wing primarily-Jewish party, and Gal-On is known for her secular, leftist views. She champions feminism, opposes occupation of the West Bank, and voices strong objection to excessive budget allocations to the ultra-Orthodox. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 6, Latest Projection: 5)

DeriAryeh Deri – Shas

Born in Morocco and raised in poverty in Israel, Aryeh Deri has devoted his political life to providing a voice to Jews from Arab countries and the ultra-Orthodox. Mobilising well over one hundred thousand people, Deri turned Shas into a political powerhouse, peaking at 17 seats in 1999 – even as Deri was being investigated and convicted on corruption charges. Deri returned to politics in 2012, and once again leads the – now greatly diminished – Shas party. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 11, Latest Projection: 6)

BennettNaftali Bennett – The Jewish Home

Born in Israel to immigrants from the United States, Bennett made millions as a software entrepreneur. After successfully exiting from two start-ups, Bennett served as the Chief-of-Staff to Binyamin Netanyahu, who was then leader of the opposition. Bennett assumed control of the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party prior to the 2013 elections. He is the primary advocate in the Knesset for further expansion of the settlements, arguing that Israel should annex much of the West Bank and should never agree to Palestinian statehood. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 12, Latest Projection: 11)

LitzmanYaakov Litzman – United Torah Judaism (UTJ)

Born to Holocaust survivors in a Displaced Persons camp in Germany after World War II, Litzman was educated in the US before moving to Israel at age 17 to study for the rabbinate. While he officially leads the party, it, like all other Haredi parties, answers to an outside rabbinic authority. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 7, Latest Projection: 7)

YishaiEli Yishai – Yachad-Ha’am Itanu

A highly controversial figure who steered Shas rightward while Aryeh Deri was sidelined from politics, Eli Yishai left the party at the end of 2014 to form his own list. Yishai has made controversial statements against secular Jews, African asylum-seekers, Muslims in general, and Palestinians specifically. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: N/A, Latest Projection: 5)

LapidYair Lapid – Yesh Atid

Formerly a highly popular journalist, Yair Lapid entered politics prior to the 2013 elections, just before the Knesset could vote on a law – widely presumed to be directed at him – that would have mandated a year-long “cooling-off” period for journalists seeking to enter politics. In his first election, his party exceeded expectations, winning 19 seats – more than his father, respected politician Tommy Lapid, was ever able to win – and securing him the role of Finance Minister. Lapid and his party claim to represent the socio-economic interests of typical Israelis, whose well-being often gets overlooked due to the security problems Israel regularly faces. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 19, Latest Projection: 11)

LibermanAvigdor Liberman – Yisrael Beitenu

A Moldovan immigrant at the head of a party made up of mainly Jews from the former Soviet Union, Liberman crafted a powerful strategic alliance with Binyamin Netanyahu prior to the 2013 elections, landing him the position of Foreign Minister in the last government. Since then, though, he has been squeezed out by other, more charismatic politicians, and has suffered from charges of scandal, causing his party’s numbers to decline. He has worked to reposition his party in recent years from a right-wing, Russian-interests party, to a more pragmatic, centre-right group, capable of sitting with a wide variety of parties in the next government. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 13 as part of the joint list with Likud which received 32 seats, Latest Projection: 7)

Herzog and LivniIsaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni – Zionist Camp (Labor + Hatnuah)

The son of a President, and grandson of a Chief Rabbi, Herzog is the closest thing Israel has to a Kennedy. While his father served as Israel’s Ambassador to the UN, Herzog attended high school in the US and then studied at Cornell and New York University. He did his IDF service in an elite intelligence unit. Herzog is a lawyer by training and was first elected to the Knesset in 2003. Herzog is well respected across the political spectrum, though he is a relative novice in the leadership, having only assumed the role of opposition leader in late 2013. He quickly announced his intention to unseat Netanyahu in the upcoming elections and swiftly brought Tzipi Livni and her party, Hatnuah, into a joint list.

Livni, the former leader of the Kadima party (and a Likud member before that, having been raised in a right-wing revisionist Zionist family), served as a lieutenant in the IDF, and later in the Mossad, before becoming a lawyer. She was previously Foreign Minister and opposition leader. Livni is a strong proponent of a two-state solution and is well-respected by the American administration. As Justice Minister in the last government, she served as the chief Israeli negotiator in the peace process with the Palestinians. (Seats in the 19th Knesset: 15 for Labor + 6 for Hatnuah, Latest Projection: 25)

© American Jewish Committee, reprinted by permission, all rights reserved.




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