Israel's Political System
- Although Israel is nominally a parliamentary democracy, over the course of the country's nearly 67-year history there has been a period of only about one year (1966-67) that Israel did not rule over large numbers of Palestinians by military decree, granting them no civil or political rights simply because they are not Jewish.
- Israel has no constitution, only a set of basic laws that refer to equality while setting up a system that explicitly preferences Jews. According to one of those laws, it is prohibited for any political party or candidate to question Israel’s status as a Jewish state.
- During the first 18 years of the state’s existence (1948-1966), Palestinian citizens of Israel were ruled by military decree, not unlike Palestinians in the occupied territories have been since 1967. Although they have the right to vote, Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up about 20% of the population (approximately 1.7 million people) are discriminated against in almost every aspect of public and private life, ranging from land ownership and family reunification rights, to employment and access to higher education.
- As a state that systematically privileges Jewish citizens over non-Jewish ones, that is engineered to maintain a Jewish majority, and that rules over millions of people to whom it grants no political rights because they are not the right religion, Israel would more accurately be described as an ethnocracy, or an apartheid state.
2015 Election Quick Facts
- Election date : Tuesday, March 17, 2015
- Number of parties/electoral lists: There are 12 main political parties or combined electoral lists running in the current election.
- Total number of seats in the Israeli Knesset (parliament) : 120
- According to new rules , in order to qualify for a seat in the Knesset, a party or electoral list must win at least 3.25% of the popular vote, rather than the 2% required in previous elections.
- Polls have shown a tight race between the ruling Likud party and the Zionist Union for first place, with the latter taking a lead late in the campaign, with each projected to win about 23 seats. Given the predicted makeup of the remainder of the next Knesset, it’s unlikely that the Zionist Union would be able to form a successful coalition, meaning Netanyahu is likely to lead another right-wing coalition, perhaps including the Zionist Union.
Noteworthy Stories of the Election
- So far, the most noteworthy stories of the campaign have been the rise of the Joint List, a coalition of non-Zionist (mostly Palestinian) parties, and a drop in support for Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party, likely related to a major corruption scandal.
- Ironically, the law raising the Knesset threshold to 3.25% from 2%, which many believe was intended as an attack on the Arab/Palestinian/non-Zionist parties, resulted in them unifying on a joint list that has vaulted up the polls. It’s possible that for the first time in Israel’s history, the official opposition in the next Knesset may be comprised of non-Zionist parties.
- Prime Minister Netanyahu’s much publicized and controversial speech to a joint session of Congress on March 3 doesn’t appear to have had a significant impact on his or his party’s standing in the polls.
The Parties/Electoral Lists & Notable Candidates
Broadly speaking, the parties and electoral lists can be divided into two categories: Zionist and non-Zionist, the latter comprised mainly of Palestinian citizens of Israel. The following guide offers a brief description of the parties, their policies towards the Palestinians, and some notable candidates.
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 18
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 21
Formed in the early 1970s as a coalition of right-wing parties led by Menachem Begin and his Herut party, Likud has been the most powerful force in right-wing Israeli politics ever since.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- Historically, Likud has strongly opposed the creation of a Palestinian state and has played a leading role in the Greater Israel movement, which holds that all of historic Palestine as well as parts of neighboring countries such as Egypt, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan belong to Israel. Former Likud leaders, Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon, were at the forefront of Israel's settlement enterprise in the occupied territories.
- In 2009, under enormous pressure from the US and international community, Netanyahu gave a speech in which he declared for the first time that he supported a Palestinian state, however he attached so many conditions as to render it devoid of any real sovereignty or independence. More recently, Netanyahu walked back even that dubious support, declaring that his 2009 speech “is no longer relevant” given current realities in the region, according to a Likud party pamphlet distributed to supporters. Although Netanyahu’s office subsequently denied he had reversed his 2009 speech, last summer he told Israeli journalists that he would never relinquish control of the Jordan Valley, which is the only entry or exit point for the West Bank that doesn’t cross through Israel, declaring:
I think the Israeli people understand now what I always say: that there cannot be a situation, under any agreement, in which we relinquish security control of the territory west of the River Jordan.
(See here for fact sheet on Netanyahu and the two-state solution.)
Benjamin Netanyahu (1st on Likud list)
- The longtime leader of Likud, Netanyahu is seeking his third consecutive term as prime minister, and fourth overall.
- During his first term (1996-99), Netanyahu sabotaged the Oslo Accords and the US-sponsored peace process, which he was caught on video bragging about in 2001.
- During his last two terms, Netanyahu greatly increased settlement construction and sabotaged the efforts of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to broker a peace treaty with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas, repeatedly snubbing and insulting President Obama in the process. Following the breakdown of negotiations with the Palestinians in the spring of 2014, senior US officials blamed Netanyahu and his government for the failure.
- Although Netanyahu announced tentative (and heavily conditioned) support for a Palestinian state during a speech in 2009, he has since withdrawn even that questionable endorsement, stating recently in a Likud party pamphlet that the speech at Bar-Ilan University and the two-state solution itself is no longer relevant. And last summer he declared that he will never relinquish control of the Jordan Valley in the West Bank, meaning that Israel would control all entry and exit to the West Bank portion of the Palestinian “state.”
Miri Regev (5th on Likud list)
- A rising star in the Likud, the controversial Regev’s strong showing in the party primary means she will likely become a minister in the next government if it is led by Likud.
- In November 2012, Regev told a television interviewer, "I'm happy to be a fascist." A few months earlier, Regev and other members of the Likud party, including Netanyahu, helped incite a wave of anti-African violence, including assaults and arson attacks, targeting African immigrants and asylum seekers from countries such as Sudan and Eritrea. At an anti-immigrant rally in Tel Aviv that erupted into a race riot involving attacks on African passers-by, Regev told an angry mob that Sudanese asylum seekers "are a cancer in our body. We will do everything to send them back where they came from." She later apologized for the remark – to cancer survivors.
- Regev has also been leading Israeli provocations around the Noble Sanctuary Mosque complex (known to Jews as the Temple Mount) in occupied East Jerusalem. In March 2014, Regev formed a Knesset subcommittee to discuss the implementation of a government decision to increase visiting hours for the growing number of mostly messianic Jews who want to visit the Noble Sanctuary, one of the most sensitive holy sites in the world.
Moshe Yaalon (7th on Likud list)
- During the last government, hardline Defense Minister Yaalon repeatedly antagonized senior US officials, notoriously accusing Secretary of State John Kerry of having a “misplaced obsession and messianic fervor” for making peace in the Middle East, while overseeing the rapid growth of settlement construction in the occupied territories and Israel’s devastating attack on Gaza in the summer of 2014, which killed more than 2,100 people, most of them civilians.
- Yaalon has also repeatedly stated that there is no Palestinian partner for negotiations and that there will be no peace agreement in the foreseeable future.
- In October 2014, Yaalon issued orders that effectively segregate Israeli buses traveling in the occupied West Bank, so that Jewish settlers won’t have to travel with Palestinians going to work inside Israel.
Zeev Elkin (8th on Likud list)
- A settler and Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs in the last government, Elkin is considered one of the most right-wing members of the Knesset.
- In January 2013, Elkin was one of two leading Likud politicians (the other being then-Public Diplomacy Minister Yuli Edelstein) who called on the government to annex so-called "Area C" of the occupied West Bank (about 60% of the total area), which according to the supposedly temporary Oslo Accords falls under full Israeli security control.
- In January 2012, it was revealed that Elkin had leaked information about Israeli army movements to extremist settlers, which they planned to use to disrupt attempts by the army to dismantle so-called settlement "outposts" (nascent settlements built without official approval).
- In 2010, along with Danny Danon and others, Elkin was one of the sponsors of the controversial " boycott law," which allows for penalties to be imposed against individuals who organize or publicly call for boycotts against the state, Israeli educational institutions, or goods produced in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Danny Danon (9th on Likud list)
- Deputy Minister of Defense in the previous government, Danon was removed from his post due to insubordination over Netanyahu’s conduct of last summer’s attack on Gaza, which he believed wasn’t harsh enough. Despite his falling out with Netanyahu, Danon, a political hardliner staunchly opposed to Palestinian independence or self-determination with close connections to the Republican Party and Christian Zionists, remains a force within the party.
Yariv Levin (10th on Likud list)
- Chairman of the last coalition government, Levin is a strong advocate of the settlement enterprise and opponent of Palestinian self-determination.
- In February 2014, during a meeting between the U.S. ambassador to Israel, Daniel Shapiro, and a group of right-wing parliamentarians from Israel’s coalition government intended to improve relations with the Obama administration, Levin demanded that the US support Israel without question, stating: "We see our alliance with you as unconditional. When there is a true alliance, it is proved by you standing behind us, even when you think we're wrong."
Tzipi Hotovely (20th on Likud list)
- Hotovely, Deputy Minister of Transportation in the last government, is a vocal opponent of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution, as well as the mixing of Arabs and Jews.
- In February 2014, following warnings from Secretary of State Kerry that Israel is becoming isolated internationally and vulnerable to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, Hotovely attacked Kerry, claiming his “unprecedented threats of a boycott are an attempt to terrorize Israel.”
- In December 2012, Hotovely explained in a panel discussion that Netanyahu's 2009 Bar-Ilan address announcing his (qualified) support for a Palestinian state was just "a tactical speech for the rest of the world," adding, "We are opposed to a Palestinian state."
- In 2011, Hotovely organized a hearing by the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women to examine "the problem" of Jewish-Arab interracial relationships. Among those invited to speak was the head of a group called Lehava, which is composed of followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose racist Kach party was deemed a terrorist organization by Israel and the United States.
- In December 2010, Hotovely voiced her support for a letter signed by dozens of wives of prominent rabbis calling on Jewish women not to fraternize with Arab and other non-Jewish men, stating, "the intermarriage phenomenon among Jewish girls and Arab men is dangerous for women, who suffer abuse and disconnection from their families after the marriage."
Rabbi Yehuda Glick (33rd on Likud list)
- While not likely to win a Knesset seat, Glick’s candidacy for Netanyahu’s Likud party is notable due to Glick’s role as a high-profile leader of the extremist Temple Mount movement, which advocates the removal of the Noble Sanctuary Mosque complex in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem and the construction of a Jewish temple in its place. (See here for fact sheet with more information on the Temple Mount movement.)
Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 15 Labor / 6 Hatnuah
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 24-26
The Zionist Union (or Camp) is a coalition of the Labor party, led by Isaac Herzog, and the Hatnuah party, led by Tzipi Livni.
The center left Zionist leaning Labor is one of the oldest political parties in Israel and dominated Israeli politics until the 1970s. Founded in November 2012 by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, Hatnuah ("The Movement") is a small center right party that was part of the previous coalition government.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- The Zionist Union supports a two-state solution and advocates a return to negotiations with the Palestinians.
- Although dovish in some ways compared to the Likud and other hardline right-wing parties, the Zionist Union’s notion of a Palestinian “state” differs little in substance from Netanyahu’s. According to their platform, large so-called settlement “blocs” that were strategically located to cement Israeli control over occupied East Jerusalem and dissect the West Bank will remain in place; Israel will retain sovereignty over the Old City of East Jerusalem and its holy sites; Palestinian refugees won’t be allowed to return to lands they were expelled from during Israel’s creation and subsequently; and the Palestinian “state” will be demilitarized.
Isaac Herzog (1st on Zionist Union list)
- Labor leader Herzog, who assumed control of the party in November 2013, forged an electoral pact with Hatnuah that calls for Herzog to serve as prime minister for the first two years of a four-year term, followed by two years with Livni as prime minister, in the event of Zionist Union government.
Tzipi Livni (2nd on Zionist Union list)
- A longtime member of the Likud, Livni left the party in 2005 along with Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to create the Kadima party, in order to execute the so-called “disengagement” from Gaza. She stayed with Kadima serving in several ministerial positions, including foreign minister, until 2009, when she left to form Hatnuah. During the last Israeli government Livni served as justice minister under Netanyahu and was one of Israel’s chief negotiators in ill-fated negotiations with the Palestinians. She was also involved in negotiations during her time as foreign minister (2006-09) in Ehud Olmert’s government.
- Although considered a moderate by many Western politicians, many Palestinians remember Livni for the role she played during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's brutal assault on Gaza in 2008-09, which killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, over a 22-day period. As foreign minister, she acted as Israel's face to the world, defending the attack while claiming to reporters that there was no humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The United Nations and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch subsequently documented evidence of widespread war crimes and crimes against humanity carried out by Israeli forces during Operation Cast Lead.
- The so-called, Palestine Papers, confidential internal documents written by Palestinian negotiators that were leaked to the press in 2010, revealed that during negotiations under Ehud Olmert’s government (2006-09), then-Foreign Minister Livni wanted some areas populated by Palestinian citizens of Israel transferred to a new Palestinian state, effectively stripping their residents of their Israeli citizenship. They also quoted Livni telling Palestinian negotiators that she doesn't believe in international law, stating: "I was the minister of justice. I am a lawyer... But I am against law - international law in particular. Law in general."
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 12
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 11-13
The Jewish Home is an extreme right wing, staunchly pro-settlement party formed prior to the last election as a result of a merger of several smaller parties. Although its leader, Naftali Bennett, is not a settler himself, many Jewish Home members and supporters are, including Uri Ariel, the housing minister in the outgoing government. Jewish Home also comprises a mix of more secular right-wing Israelis and extremist religious Zionists. The party played a key role as part of Netanyahu's outgoing coalition.
In December 2012, the Jewish Home merged with the right-wing National Union party to form a single electoral list. During the last election the new party advertised an endorsement from the notoriously racist Dov Lior, chief rabbi of extremist settlements in Kiryat Arba and Hebron, until he withdrew his support after a disagreement over Bennett's treatment of far-right Knesset member Michael Ben-Ari of the Strong Israel party.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- Party leader Naftali Bennett has repeatedly stated his staunch opposition to any Palestinian state being created in the occupied territories. Instead, he proposes that Israel unilaterally annex the approximately 60% of the occupied West Bank that fell under full Israeli control under the supposedly temporary Oslo Accords, where most Israeli settlements are located.
Naftali Bennett (1st on Jewish Home list)
- After serving as Benjamin Netanyahu’s chief of staff (2006-08), Bennett left the Likud after a falling out with Netanyahu and joined the newly formed Jewish Home party prior to the last election, becoming its leader.
- Bennett was a key partner in Netanyahu’s outgoing coalition, in which he held the posts of Minister of the Economy, Minister of Religious Services, and Minister of Jerusalem and Diaspora Affairs, and will likely be part of the next government if it is formed by Netanyahu.
- Although not a settler himself, Bennett is a former head (2010-12) of the main political body that represents settlers, the Yesha Council.
- In January 2013, Bennett told New Yorker magazine: "I will do everything in my power, forever, to fight against a Palestinian state being founded in the Land of Israel." In November 2014, Bennett penned an op-ed for The New York Times titled, “For Israel, Two-State Is No Solution,” repeating once again his opposition to Palestinian self-determination within historic Palestine and his plan to annex 60% of the West Bank.
- In a 2010 television debate with Palestinian Knesset member Ahmad Tibi, Bennett said: "When Palestinians were climbing trees, we already had a Jewish state."
Uri Ariel (2nd on Jewish Home list)
- A settler and leader of the far-right religious nationalist National Union party, which merged with Jewish Home for the last election, Ariel is known for his hardline, rejectionist views about the conflict with the Palestinians. He opposes Palestinian statehood and self-determination in any part of historic Palestine.
- As minister of housing in the outgoing government, Ariel oversaw the rapid growth of settlements on occupied Palestinian land and was accused of preferencing religious settlers over others for hiring in the housing ministry.
Ayelet Shaked (3rd on Jewish Home list)
- A rising star in the Jewish Home party and hardline right-wing ideologue, Shaked worked for Benjamin Netanyahu (2006-08) before leaving to eventually form the My Israel party with Naftali Bennett, which became Jewish Home. She staunchly opposes Palestinian statehood and self-determination in any part of historic Palestine and is a strong supporter of the settlement movement.
- In the Knesset, Shaked has also led legislative efforts to formalize Israel’s status as a “Jewish state” at the expense of its non-Jewish citizens, and to cut off foreign funding for Israeli NGOs that document Israeli human rights abuses.
- In July 2014, following the discovery of the bodies of three murdered Israeli teens who went missing in the occupied West Bank a month earlier, Shaked posted an article written by a former Netanyahu speechwriter and confidant on her Facebook page, calling for the killing of Palestinian civilians. It read in part:
Words have meanings. This is a war. It is not a war against terror, and not a war against extremists, and not even a war against the Palestinian Authority. These too are forms of avoiding reality. This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people. Why? Ask them, they started… What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy?
Behind every terrorist stand dozens of men and women, without whom he could not engage in terrorism. Actors in the war are those who incite in mosques, who write the murderous curricula for schools, who give shelter, who provide vehicles, and all those who honor and give them their moral support. They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons, nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.
Rabbi Eli Ben-Dahan (4th on Jewish Home list)
- While serving as deputy minister of religious services in the outgoing government, Ben-Dahan told an interviewer: “Even gay Jews have a higher soul than gentiles.”
- Ben-Dahan opposes Palestinian statehood and self-determination in any part of historic Palestine and has called on the government to annex the occupied West Bank.
- In November 2013, Ben-Dahan, attacked US Secretary of State John Kerry, accusing him of encouraging “terrorism” for pressuring Israel in negotiations with the Palestinians. During the consecration of a synagogue built on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank, he declared:
John Kerry, who warns us of an intifada does not understand the Middle East and he is not worthy to be a mediator when he goes back to his country. His words give legitimacy to this terrorism… [The construction of this synagogue] strengthens our hold on the country, and from here we reiterate: There will not be a Palestinian state.
Avichai Rontzki (12th on Jewish Home list)
- A former chief rabbi of the Israeli military (2006-2010), in the 1980s Rontzki helped found the West Bank settlement of Itamar, which is home to some of the most extreme and violent settlers in the occupied territories. Today he still lives in Itamar, where he runs a yeshiva (religious school) that combines religious and military training.
- In October 2011, Rontzki said that Palestinians suspected of carrying out acts of violence against Israelis should be “exterminated” and killed "in their beds" instead of being arrested, stating: "they should just be shot, exterminated. They were terrorists that murdered people and should be killed in their beds."
- In January 2009, Israeli and international media reported that the Israeli army rabbinate under Rontzki's direction had been distributing leaflets to soldiers containing extremely inflammatory and racist content. One pamphlet stated: "When you show mercy to a cruel enemy, you are being cruel to pure and honest soldiers. This is terribly immoral. These are not games at the amusement park where sportsmanship teaches one to make concessions. This is a war on murderers.” Another leaflet informed soldiers that cruelty is sometimes a "good attribute" and that all Palestinians were their enemy. Another pamphlet compared Palestinians to the Biblical Philistines and asked if it “possible to apply lessons today from the military tactics of Samson and David?"
The soldiers in question were preparing to take part in Operation Cast Lead, Israel's three-week assault on Gaza in the winter of 2008-2009, which killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians. A UN fact-finding mission subsequently found that Israeli forces had committed serious war crimes and crimes against humanity during Cast Lead, as did human rights groups like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch and others.
Orit Strock (13th on Jewish Home list)
- Strock is a hardline religious Zionist who lives in a radical settlement in Hebron in the occupied West Bank.
- Strock is active in the Temple Mount movement, which advocates the removal of the Noble Sanctuary Mosque complex from the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem and its replacement with a Jewish Temple. In November 2013, during a parliamentary debate on a bill that would allow Jews to pray in the Noble Sanctuary, something that is currently banned under Israeli law, Strock called Palestinians “savages,” stating: “When King David bought the Temple Mount you were savages in the desert. You have no rights on the Temple Mount, that’s a historical fact. Nothing will help you. Even now you are savages.”
- In November 2014, during ongoing US-brokered negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Strock, wrote an open letter to US Secretary of State John Kerry asking whether he was on the side of Israel, or of the “terrorists.”
Ronen Shoval (15th on Jewish Home list)
- In 2006, Shoval founded Im Tirtzu, a hardline right-wing organization, with the stated aim of promoting “Zionist values.”
- Im Tirtzu has attacked what supporters claim is anti-Zionist bias in Israeli universities, as well as Israeli NGOs that are involved in documenting Israeli human rights abuses, and anyone who seeks to commemorate the Nakba, or expulsion of the majority of the Arab population from historic Palestine during Israel’s creation in 1948.
- In 2013, following a failed libel suit against left-wing Israeli activists who had created a Facebook page entitled “Im Tirtzu – A Fascist Movement,” an Israeli judge ruled that there were “similarities” between Im Tirtzu and fascist movements.
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 19
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 12-14
Yesh Atid ("There is a Future") is a center right party formed by leader Yair Lapid prior to the 2103 election. It was a key part of Netanyahu’s outgoing coalition government, with Lapid serving as minister of finance.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- Although Yesh Atid supports negotiations with the Palestinians and the creation of a Palestinian state in theory, the party’s platform sets out hardline positions that fall far short of minimum Palestinian requirements for a just and lasting peace, not to mention international law and the consensus of the international community.
- Warning of the “demographic threat” allegedly posed by Palestinians, and against a growing drive for equal rights by Israel’s Palestinian and other non-Jewish citizens, Yesh Atid’s platform declares that Israelis and Palestinians must be separated so that Israel does not become “a state for all its citizens” or a “bi-national state,” ideas which are being pushed by “extremists from the right and left.”
- Regarding the details of a Palestinian state, Yesh Atid’s platform states that large so-called settlement “blocs” will become part of Israel under any peace agreement, thereby destroying the territorial continuity of the West Bank part of the Palestinian state; Israel will not relinquish control of occupied East Jerusalem, including the Old City and its holy sites, meaning there will be no Palestinian capital there; Palestinian refugees will be denied their internationally-recognized legal right of return to the lands they were expelled from during Israel’s creation and subsequently; the Palestinian state will be demilitarized and Israel will reserve the right to act as it sees fit militarily within it.
Yair Lapid (1st on Yesh Atid list)
- Party leader Lapid is a former journalist who entered politics in 2012 with the creation of Yesh Atid. During the outgoing government he played a key part in Netanyahu’s coalition, holding the post of minister of finance.
- While he supports a two-state solution, his stated concept of a Palestinian state would be devoid of any true sovereignty and would continue to be dominated by Israel militarily and economically.
- In January 2013, two days before the previous election, Lapid wrote on his Facebook page that he wanted to be "rid of" Arabs, stating: "I do not think that the Arabs want peace... What I want is not a new Middle East, but to be rid of them and put a tall fence between us and them." He added that his most important priority is "to maintain a Jewish majority in the Land of Israel." The same month, Time magazine published an interview in which he stated: “You know my father didn’t come here from the ghetto in order to live in a country that is half Arab, half Jewish. He came here to live in a Jewish state.”
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 4 Hadash / 3 Balad / 1 Ta’al
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 12-13
The Joint List is a coalition of political parties comprised mainly of Palestinian citizens of Israel, including Balad, Ta’al ("Arab Movement for Renewal”), the Islamic movement, and the mixed Arab-Jewish Hadash party. The List was formed during the current campaign following the raising of the electoral threshold from 2% to 3.25%. It has been polling strongly and could possibly form the official opposition in the next Knesset, which would be a major development in Israeli politics because of its non-Zionist identity and policies. The List’s domestic platform is focused on fighting against racism in Israel, and for equality and social justice for all of Israel’s citizens.
Policies Towards the Palestinians in the Occupied Territories
- The Joint List’s platform states that it supports: “A just peace in the region based on the United Nations’ decisions: to end the occupation of all territories conquered in 1967, to dismantle all settlements and the racist separation fence, to release the political prisoners, to establish a sovereign, independent Palestinian state within the June 4, 1967, borders, with its capital in East Jerusalem, and to find a just solution for the problem of the Palestinian refugees which assures the right of return under UN Resolution 194.”
Ayman Odeh (1st on Joint List)
- A lawyer born in Haifa, the 39-year-old Odeh joined the Hadash party at the age of 13 and has been active in politics for more than a decade, first serving on the Haifa Municipal Council as an elected member of Hadash and later as the secretary-general of the party. In 2015, he was voted the head of the Joint List.
Ahmad Tibi (4th on Joint List)
- Veteran leader of the Ta’al party, a physician, and a deputy speaker of the Israeli Knesset, Tibi has served in the Knesset since 1999.
Haneen Zoabi (7th on Joint List)
- Zoabi is the first Palestinian woman to be elected to the Knesset with a non-Zionist party. A controversial figure within Israel for her support of Palestinians living under Israeli military rule in the occupied territories, she has been the target of frequent threats and repeated attempts to have her disqualified from running for the Knesset.
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 13
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 4-6
Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel Our Home”) is a secular, ultranationalist right wing party founded in 1999 by Lieberman, an immigrant and former nightclub bouncer from Moldova in the former Soviet Union. In 2009, the party joined Netanyahu’s second-term government, and in 2013 Yisrael Beiteinu and Netanyahu’s Likud ran for office on a joint electoral list. That partnership was dissolved prior to the current election campaign. Rooted mainly in Israel’s Russian immigrant community, in recent months the party’s support has dropped dramatically as a result of a major corruption scandal involving senior party officials.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- In theory, party leader Lieberman supports the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. However, he has not provided any details about what that state would look like, except to argue that some towns within Israel that are heavily populated with Palestinian citizens of Israel should be transferred to the new Palestinian state. Such a move would strip them of their Israeli citizenship and effectively force them to become citizens of what many fear would be a weak, physically fractured Palestinian “state” that remains under Israeli economic and military domination.
Avigdor Lieberman (1st on Yisrael Beiteinu list)
- A former aide to Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister (1996-99), Lieberman emigrated from Moldova and now lives in a settlement near Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank. He has a reputation for abrasive, thuggish behavior, and once pled guilty to assaulting and threatening two minors following an altercation between them and his son.
- Lieberman is notorious for his anti-Arab stances, frequently threatening and raising suspicions about Israel’s Palestinian citizens. In past elections, he has run on slogans such as “Only Lieberman understands Arabic” and “No loyalty, no citizenship.” In 2012, Lieberman declared that some Palestinian citizens of Israel should have their citizenship stripped and borders should be drawn to put them in a future Palestinian state as part of any peace agreement. He has also campaigned for a law that would force Palestinian citizens to swear allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish state," thereby formally acquiescing in their own subjugation.
- In March 2015, Lieberman called for Palestinian citizens of Israel who do not support the Jewish character of the state and its policies to have “their heads chopped off with an axe,” declaring: "Those who are with us deserve everything, but those who are against us deserve to have their heads chopped off with an axe.”
- Until fairly recently, Lieberman has opposed all peace negotiations with the Palestinians. He left the Likud party in 1997 to protest Netanyahu's signing of the US-brokered Wye River Memorandum with the PLO, forming Yisrael Beiteinu two years later, and was kicked out of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's cabinet due to his opposition to Israel’s withdrawal of 8000 settlers from Gaza in 2004. In 2008, Lieberman took Yisrael Beiteinu out of Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition government due to Lieberman’s opposition to the restarting of peace talks with the Palestinians. In recent years Lieberman has voiced support for a Palestinian “state” but has yet to articulate any further details.
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 0
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 8-11
Kulanu (“All of Us”) is a new party formed by leader Kahlon ahead of the current election campaign and focused largely on domestic economic issues. Kahlon is a former member of the Likud party and could play an important role in deciding who will form the next government if Kulanu manages to win enough seats.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- While party leader Kahlon says he supports the two-state solution in principle, he has also stated that he believes there is no point in negotiating right now because there is no Palestinian “partner” for peace.
Yoav Galant (2nd on Kulanu list)
- A retired general, Galant was in charge of the Israeli army’s southern command during Israel’s brutal attack on Gaza in the winter of 2008-09, Operation Cast Lead. As head of southern command, Galant directed the assault, which killed approximately 1,400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, in the space of three weeks. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, subsequently documented evidence of serious war crimes committed by Israeli forces during the offensive.
Michael Oren (4th on Kulanu list)
- A former Israeli ambassador to the United States (2009-13) and confidant of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Oren joined Kulanu after leaving his post in Washington. Since joining Kulanu, he has criticized his former boss over settlement construction, Netanyahu’s controversial speech to Congress on March 3, and other matters.
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 11
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 7
Shas is a small, right-wing ultra-orthodox religious party. It was part of Netanyahu’s second coalition government (2009-2013) and could join the next one if he leads it again.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- Although its late spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, was a notorious anti-Arab racist, at least in theory Shas is willing to accept the creation of a Palestinian state.
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 0
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 4-5
Yachad (or Yahad) is also a small, right-wing ultra-orthodox religious party, which was formed prior to the current campaign by leader Yishai after his departure from the Shas party. Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Strength”) is an extreme right-wing party comprised of followers of the late notorious Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose racist Kach party and its offshoots were classified as terrorist organizations by the United States and Israel. The two parties joined together to run on a single electoral list for the current election.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- As a Kahanist party, Otzma Yehudit favors the expulsion of Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories and is diametrically opposed to Palestinian self-determination in any part of historic Palestine.
Eli Yishai (1st on Yachad list)
- As a member of the Shas party, including a stint as its leader and minister of the interior in Netanyahu’s second government (2009-2013), Yishai had a long history of making racist and inflammatory comments about Palestinians, African migrants, and others. During Israel's attack on Gaza in November 2012, Yishai told an interviewer that Gaza's entire civilian infrastructure should be destroyed, saying, "The goal of the operation is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages, only then shall the land be quiet for forty years."
- In June 2012, Yishai told an interviewer that Israel "belongs to us, to the white man." The previous month, he helped incite a wave of anti-African racism and violence, complaining that allowing African asylum seekers to remain in Israel would "bury the Zionist dream." In August 2012, Yishai said that migrants from Africa were a "threat" to Israel as severe as Iran's nuclear program and that he would "lock them up to make their lives miserable."
Baruch Marzel (4th on Yachad list)
- Born in Boston and currently living in the extremist settlement of Tel Rumeida, which he helped to establish, in occupied Hebron, Marzel is an infamous right-wing activist and former aide to Meir Kahane, the Brooklyn-born rabbi whose racist Jewish Defense League, Kach party, and their offshoots have been outlawed as terrorist organizations by Israel and the United States. Following Kahane’s assassination in New York in 1990, Marzel assumed leadership of Kach for a time. According to the most recent polls, he stands a significant chance of winning a seat in the next Knesset.
- Notorious for his anti-Arab racism, Marzel advocates the ethnic cleansing (“transfer”) of any Palestinian or Arab who doesn’t fully accept being relegated to second-class status in a Jewish state. In March 2015, he told an interviewer: “I will encourage their emigration… I am sure that it’s possible to arrange that a great part of our enemies will not be here. There are ways.”
- Marzel has a long history of violence against Palestinians and Israeli security officials, and has been arrested dozens of times by Israeli police. On March 11, 2015, just days before the election, Marzel was indicted for assault by Israeli police for trespassing and attacking a Palestinian resident of Hebron in 2013.
- Marzel is a leader in Israel’s so-called "anti-miscegenation" movement, working with a racist organization called Lehava to prevent Jews, particularly Jewish women, from mixing and intermarrying with Palestinians and other non-Jews. In 2010, Marzel made international news after writing a letter on behalf of Lehava urging Israeli model Bar Refaeli to break up with her then-boyfriend, actor Leonardo DiCaprio, because he isn't Jewish. At the time, Marzel told an interviewer:
There is an increasing problem with intermarriage all over Israel. We’re fighting to prevent this problem, and when [the rate of intermarriage] increases, it legitimizes it… Someone like Bar Refaeli, who is famous, should be ashamed to betray her Judaism in this way.
- Marzel is also notorious for his homophobic views. Before a gay pride parade in Jerusalem in 2010 he declared that homosexuality “is a disease of choice, and a man can change his taste and his ways… when someone has AIDS they tell them not to infect others, so why are these people allowed to march here in Jerusalem and infect us with their disease?"
Yaakov Litzman, Moshe Gafni
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 7
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 6-7
United Torah Judaism is a coalition of two small, right-wing ultra-orthodox religious parties. It was part of Netanyahu's second government (2009-2013) and could join the next government if he leads it.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- United Torah Judaism is focused almost exclusively on domestic social issues and does not have a clear position regarding the Palestinians.
Number of Seats in the Last Knesset: 6
Projected Seats in the Next Knesset: 5-6
Formed in 1992, Meretz is small, left-wing Zionist party that has declined in support over the past decade.
Policies Towards the Palestinians
- Meretz supports a two-state solution and the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.