Quick Facts: Israeli Democracy
- Although Israel is nominally a democratic state, it may be more accurate to call it an "ethnocracy," as its foundational laws were designed to create and maintain a state with a Jewish majority at the expense of its non-Jewish population.
- Article 7a of Israel's Basic Law states that a political list "shall not participate in elections to the Knesset if its objects or actions, expressly or by implication, include...negation of the existence of the State of Israel as the state of the Jewish people." This article has been used repeatedly to threaten the electoral participation of Palestinian citizens of Israel.
- There are about 1.6 million non-Jewish Palestinian citizens of Israel, about 20% of the population, sometimes referred to as "Israeli Arabs." They are the survivors and their descendants of the expulsion of some 750,000 Palestinian Arabs during Israel's creation (1947-9). From 1948 until 1966 they were denied the right to vote, ruled instead by repressive martial law. Today they continue to face widespread official and unofficial discrimination in a political system designed to privilege Jewish citizens.
- Israel's "Law of Return" states: "Every Jew has the right to come to this country as an oleh [immigrant]." Meanwhile, millions of Palestinians live as refugees a short distance from the ancestral homes and lands they were expelled from during Israel's creation, denied their internationally recognized legal right of return simply because they are not Jewish.
- In addition to the discriminatory laws that underpin Israel's foundation as a "Jewish state," in recent years more than 30 new laws have been passed or are pending that discriminate against Palestinian citizens of Israel solely based on their ethnicity, further entrenching their status as second- or third-class citizens in their own homeland.
- Since 1967, Israel has ruled over millions of Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza Strip, without granting them the right to vote for the government that ultimately controls their lives.
Quick Facts: Election 2013
- Election date: Tuesday, January 22, 2013
- Number of parties running: 34
- To qualify for one of the 120 seats in the Israeli Knesset (parliament), a party must win at least 2% of the popular vote.
- Most public opinion polls have predicted the election will result in another coalition government led by Benjamin Netanyahu and the joint Likud-Beiteinu list, but one even farther to the right politically than the current one. However, a few late polls showed a possible centrist bloc led by the Labor party gaining ground on and even tying a Netanyahu-led right-wing bloc. If more centrist parties do better than expected, it's conceivable Netanyahu could try to form a coalition with them instead of the hard right-wing parties he relied on in his previous coalition. This scenario seems unlikely though, given the union between Likud and the hardline Yisrael Beiteinu party of former foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman, and the rise of Naftali Bennett's far-right Jewish Home party. It's also conceivable the more centrist parties could gain enough support to form a coalition of their own in place of a Netanyahu-led government.
- So far, the major stories of the campaign have been the strong showing of Naftali Bennett and his hard right-wing Jewish Home party, which has taken votes from the Likud-Beiteinu list, and the resignation of Foreign Minister and Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman after an indictment for fraud and breach of trust. Although he stepped down from his cabinet post, the powerful former minister is still running for the Knesset and may still play a prominent role in the next government.
The Parties & the Candidates
- In October 2012, Prime Minister Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Lieberman announced that their respective parties, Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu, would join forces to run on a merged parliamentary list in the upcoming election. According to the agreement, a decision as to whether to continue the union is to be made a month after the election.
- The combined list has no official platform, which caused some controversy when questions were raised about whether the two hardline parties actually supported the creation of even the truncated Palestinian mini-state shorn of any real sovereignty that Netanyahu described in his 2009 Bar-Ilan University speech, which has been hailed by some of his supporters as a historic shift in Netanyahu and Likud's views on peace with the Palestinians.
- In January 2013, Israel's Haaretz newspaper quoted senior officials in Netanyahu's Likud party saying that the new far-right, pro-settlement Jewish Home party, led by his former aide Naftali Bennett, would play an important role in any new government formed by Netanyahu. With Jewish Home pushing the already hawkish Netanyahu farther to the right from the outside, and extreme right-wing Likud activists like Moshe Feiglin and Danny Danon doing likewise from inside his own party, the chances of Netanyahu softening his stance towards the Palestinians or of halting settlement construction are negligible. As a result, Palestinians and others have warned that another right-wing Netanyahu government will destroy any remaining chance of realizing the two-state solution, which for decades has been the foundation of international efforts to make peace between Israelis and Palestinians.
- During the campaign, the Likud-Beiteinu list was one of several parties that refused to sign a pledge advanced by an Israeli NGO to work toward civil equality between Jews and Arabs.
- The final Jerusalem Post poll released before the election predicted the joint Likud-Beiteinu list winning 34 seats in the next Knesset, while Haaretz newspaper's final poll predicted 32.
- 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 for decades.
- Historically, Likud has strongly opposed the creation of a Palestinian state and has played a prominent 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 previous years, Likud's platform explicitly prohibited the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories. The campaign to include that clause against Palestinian statehood in the platform was led by Netanyahu himself. Although Netanyahu publicly said that he accepted the necessity of a Palestinian state in a speech at Bar-Ilan University in June 2009, he attached so many caveats (including that it be demilitarized, that Israel maintain control over its borders and airspace, a continued Israeli military presence in the Jordan valley, and refusal to cede occupied East Jerusalem) as to render his statement meaningless.
- Late in the 2013 campaign, Netanyahu reiterated his support for the terms laid out in his Bar-Ilan speech, however in December 2012 Israel's Haaretz newspaper reported that senior Likud officials were opposed to any mention of a Palestinian state in the party's platform. One senior Likud official told the paper: "Likud's platform to date has not recognized the establishment of a Palestinian state," and pointed out that Yisrael Beiteinu "rejects outright the possibility that a Palestinian state could be established alongside Israel."
- Further highlighting doubts as to whether Netanyahu and Likud support the two-state solution, in December 2012 Likud Knesset member (MK) Tzipi Hotovely told a panel discussion that Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan address was a "tactical speech for the rest of the world," declaring: "We are opposed to a Palestinian state."
Leader of the Likud party, Prime Minister in outgoing government
- Netanyahu first served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999. In July 2010, a video surfaced showing Netanyahu speaking to a group of settlers in 2001, when he was in the opposition, bragging that he had sabotaged the Oslo process during his first term, stating: "I de facto put an end to the Oslo Accords," and adding that "America is a thing you can move very easily." In the video he also tells the settlers that the way to deal with Palestinians is to "beat them up, not once but repeatedly, beat them up so it hurts so badly, until it's unbearable."
- Netanyahu's second term in office was marked by difficult relations with US President Barack Obama and the international community, a lack of negotiations with the Palestinians, and a rapid rise in the approval of settlement construction and of violent attacks carried out by Israeli extremists against Palestinians in Israel and the occupied territories.
- In January 2013, Bloomberg news reported that US President Barack Obama was fed up with Netanyahu and his right-wing coalition partners, and that he believes "Israel doesn't know what its own best interests are."
- On January 16, 2013, Israel's Peace Now, a settlement watchdog group, released a report condemning Netanyahu's policies on settlement construction, alleging they "disclose a clear intention to use settlements to systematically undermine and render impossible a realistic, viable two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
- Between the time that Netanyahu returned to power in March 2009 and July 2012, the number of Jewish settlers living illegally on occupied Palestinian land in the West Bank grew by 18% according to the Israeli Interior Ministry. In December 2012, after announcing a surge in settlement construction in and around occupied East Jerusalem unprecedented in recent memory, Netanyahu declared at a campaign launch event: "With God's help we will continue to live and build in Jerusalem, which will remain unified under Israeli sovereignty. In recent years we have done much to strengthen the settlements and we will continue to strengthen the settlements."
- Although Netanyahu publicly proclaims support for peace talks with the Palestinians, in April 2012, the former head of Israel's internal security agency (Shin Bet), Yuval Diskin, made a speech blaming Netanyahu, not the Palestinians, for the freeze in the peace process. According to Haaretz newspaper:
Forget the stories they tell you about how [Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Mahmoud] Abbas is not interested in negotiation," said Diskin, adding, "We are not talking to the Palestinians because this government has no interest in negotiations."
The former Shin Bet chief added, "I was there up to a year ago and I know from up-close what is happening. This government is not interested in solving anything with the Palestinians, and I say this [with] certainty," he added. Diskin pointed the finger at Netanyahu. "This prime minister knows that if he makes the slightest move forward, then his well- established rule and his coalition will fall apart."
- In May 2012, a leaked report revealed that officials in the British Foreign Office also blamed Netanyahu for the lack of peace negotiations. The report stated: "Netanyahu has a history of using the incitement issue as a delaying tactic in peace talks." Regarding Israeli claims the Palestinian Authority (PA) school system incites hatred and violence, the Foreign Office report added: "Authoritative studies agree that PA textbooks are not inciting hatred of Israel."
- In November 2011, former French President Nicholas Sarkozy was caught on a microphone complaining to President Obama that Netanyahu was a "liar," stating: "I cannot stand him. He's a liar." Seeming to agree, Obama replied, "You're fed up with him? I have to deal with him every day."
- In September 2011, former US President Bill Clinton blamed Netanyahu for the failure of peace negotiations, adding, "The real cynics believe that the Netanyahu government's continued call for negotiations over borders and such means that he's just not going to give up the West Bank."
- In February 2011, a senior German official told Haaretz newspaper that Chancellor Angela Merkel, a strong supporter of Israel, had expressed her frustration with Netanyahu during a phone conversation, complaining, "You haven't made a single step to advance peace."
Knesset candidate, Likud-Beiteinu list
- Ya'alon is considered a hawk on Iran, a strong supporter of the settlement movement, and an outspoken opponent of Palestinian statehood. As Defense Minister, he will have direct oversight of approval for settlement construction. During the last government he criticized his predecessor, Ehud Barak, for not approving settlement construction quickly enough and for not legalizing so-called settlement "outposts" (nascent settlements built without official Israeli government approval).
- Ya'alon, a hardline right-winger, has flirted with the extreme right of the Likud party, the Jewish Leadership faction, lead by the ultra-right racist Moshe Feiglin. In 2009, he spoke at a Jewish Leadership conference, calling the Israeli peace organization Peace Now a "virus." He also warned against giving in to pressure from the United States regarding settlements, stating:
There are certain things we need to say - up to here. When you do things you don't believe in, you enter a slippery slope because they put pressure on you, and you keep rolling downwards." To applause, he declared: "I'm not afraid of the Americans.
- In January 2013 Ya'alon gave a speech claiming there was no difference between Mahmoud Abbas, chairman of the PLO and president of the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, and ruling out the creation of a Palestinian state. In 2011, then-Deputy Prime Minister Ya'alon said there was no chance for peace with the Palestinians and that "A society that produces Qassam [rockets] instead of strawberries has no future." In 2005, he lost his post as chief of staff of the Israeli military due to his opposition to Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's plan to withdraw settlers and soldiers from Gaza.
- In June 2010, Ya'alon, then Israel's Vice Premier and Strategic Affairs Minister, praised the founder of the Stern Gang, Avraham Stern, declaring: "Israeli students must draw courage and strength from the Lehi founder's ideas so one day they could use them to lead the nation." The Stern Gang was a Zionist terrorist organization that operated in British Mandate Palestine. Its members carried out a wave of terrorist violence aimed at Palestinian and British targets in the 1940s, including the notorious massacre of some 100 Palestinian civilians in the village of Deir Yassin on April 9, 1947, and the assassination of UN peace mediator Count Folke Bernadotte in September 1948.
- In 2009, Ya'alon canceled a visit to the United Kingdom over concerns he could be arrested and charged with war crimes for the actions of the Israeli military when he was its chief of staff (2002-2005) during the Second Intifada. In particular, human rights activists wanted Ya'alon tried for the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehadeh in Gaza in July 2002. To kill him, an Israeli warplane dropped a one-ton bomb on an apartment block in the middle of the night in one of the most densely populated places on earth, killing 13 civilians along with Shehadeh, including eight children. In 2002, then-General Ya'alon, who was tasked with suppressing the Second Intifada, stated: "The Palestinian threat harbours cancer-like attributes that have to be severed. There are all kinds of solutions to cancer. Some say it's necessary to amputate organs but at the moment I am applying chemotherapy."
Deputy Speaker of the outgoing Knesset, Chair of the Knesset Committee for Aliyah, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs, and Chairman of World Likud
- Danon is an influential young Likud leader and outspoken opponent of Palestinian rights. He has close ties to US fundamentalist Christian groups and individuals, including Texas Governor Rick Perry, Sarah Palin, and controversial radio host Glenn Beck, who Danon invited to address a Knesset committee in 2011. He has said that his "long-term vision" is "to apply Jewish sovereignty over the Jewish communities of Judea and Samaria [the West Bank], and I am proud of it."
- During his time in the Knesset, Danon has supported bills calling for citizenship "loyalty oaths" aimed at Palestinian citizens and limiting the rights of human rights groups to petition the Israeli Supreme Court. Danon was also one of the sponsors of the controversial "boycott law," which penalizes individuals who organize or publicly call for boycotts against the state, Israeli educational institutions, or goods produced in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories. Human rights and civil liberties groups condemned the law, with one, B'Tselem, warning that it "tramples on fundamental rights, primarily the right to freedom of speech, the right to protest, and the right to organize."
- During the current election campaign, Danon led an attempt to ban Haneen Zoabi, a Palestinian citizen and Knesset member from the Balad party, from running. Although the Israeli Central Elections Committee agreed to the ban, the Supreme Court subsequently overturned it. Danon also started a petition calling for the disqualification of Balad, which represents Palestinian citizens of Israel.
- In May 2012, Danon was one of several Knesset members, including fellow Likud member Miri Regev, who spoke at an anti-African immigrant rally in Tel Aviv that erupted into a violent race riot.
Knesset candidate, 23rd on the Likud-Beiteinu list
- Until recently, many considered the far right-wing settler Feiglin to be on the fringes of Netanyahu's Likud party. However the extremist Jewish Leadership faction he leads gained power in party primaries in November, and during the campaign the party establishment promoted his image in advertising to lure religious nationalist votes away from the surging Jewish Home party.
- Feiglin, who is 23rd on the joint Likud-Beiteinu list, appears certain to win a seat in the Knesset, where he may be a thorn in the side of Netanyahu, pushing him and Likud farther to the right and complicating efforts to portray a moderate image of the country internationally. Feiglin in government could also cause trouble for Netanyahu's already strained relations with the Obama administration, which Feiglin has harshly criticized. In an April 2010 op-ed in Maariv newspaper, Feiglin called US Vice President Joe Biden a "diseased leper" for criticizing Israeli settlement construction.
- On January 1, 2013, Feiglin offered details of a plan that would use some of Israel's budget for defense and security to pay Palestinians to leave the occupied West Bank, stating: "With this budget we can give every Arab family in Judea and Samaria $500,000 to encourage it to immigrate to a place with a better future."
- In 2008, Feiglin was banned from entering the United Kingdom after the British Home Secretary deemed his entry "would not be conducive to the public good." A letter to Feiglin from the Home Office said that the Secretary based her decision on an assessment that his activities "foment or justify terrorist violence in furtherance of particular beliefs; seek to provoke others to terrorist acts; foment other serious criminal activity or seek to provoke others to serious criminal acts and foster hatred which might lead to inter-community violence in the UK."
- Accused of being a racist and a fascist by critics, the extreme right-wing Feiglin denies there is such a thing as a Palestinian people and believes that Palestinian citizens of Israel and those in the occupied territories should be transferred to neighboring Arab countries. In the mid-2000s, he wrote a tract setting out his political program. In the manifesto, which was mysteriously removed from his website in 2009 after the last Likud primaries, he said that if he became prime minister he would withdraw Israel from the United Nations and cut off water and electricity to Palestinians in the occupied territories. In response to attacks from Palestinian militants, he called for "the conquest of the area whose residents instigated the violence, their deportation and destruction of the area's infrastructure."
- In 2004, Feiglin summed up his views on Arabs and democracy, telling an interviewer from The New Yorker:
Why should non-Jews have a say in the policy of a Jewish state?
For two thousand years, Jews dreamed of a Jewish state, not a democratic state. Democracy should serve the values of the state, not destroy them.
You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic. You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. Muhammad, their prophet, was a robber and a killer and a liar. The Arab destroys everything he touches.
- In another 2004 interview, with the newspaper Yedioth Ahronot, Feiglin spoke of his plan to transfer Palestinians, stating: "Arabs don't live in the desert, they create it."
- In 1997, Feiglin was sentenced to six months in prison (later commuted to community service) after being convicted of sedition for his efforts to stop the Oslo accords, which included blocking traffic at intersections.
Education Minister of the outgoing government
- In December 2012, Sa'ar repeated his and his party's opposition to a Palestinian state, saying: "There is currently no Palestinian partner to end the conflict because they wish to prolong it, and at a time when they want to continue the conflict there is no room to establish a state for them, because then they will be able to continue the conflict from a better position."
- Under Sa'ar, Israel's Education Ministry caused controversy with a program that takes Israeli students on nationalistic tours of historical sites in the occupied Palestinian territories, by forbidding the teaching of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and by banning a high school textbook that included both Israeli and Palestinian historical narratives. Sa'ar has also publicly called for professors who support the Palestinian civil society call for an academic boycott of Israel to be "punished."
Chairwoman of the outgoing Knesset Committee on the Status of Women
- Hotovely is a vocal opponent of Palestinian statehood and the two-state solution. In December 2012 she said in a panel discussion that Netanyahu's 2009 Bar-Ilan address calling 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."
Head of the outgoing Knesset Lobby for Higher Education and member of the Knesset Internal Affairs Committee
- In February 2012, pro-settler group Matot Arim ranked Elkin, who lives in the settlement of Alon Shvut in the occupied West Bank, the most right-wing member of the Knesset in what many considered to be the most right-wing Knesset in Israel's history.
- In January 2013, Elkin was one of two leading Likud politicians (the other being 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 terms of the interim Oslo accords falls under full Israeli security control. (See here for a UN map of Area C.)
- In January 2012, it was revealed that Elkin had leaked information about Israeli army movements to radical right-wing settlers, which the settlers planned to use to disrupt attempts by military to close down so-called "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 penalizes individuals who organize or publicly call for boycotts against the state, Israeli educational institutions, or goods produced in Jewish settlements in the occupied territories.
Knesset member and former spokeswoman for the Israeli army
- In November 2012, the rising hardline nationalist star Likud MK Regev told a television interviewer "I'm happy to be a fascist."
- In May 2012, Regev and other members of the Likud party, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, helped incite a wave of anti-African violence, including assaults and arson attacks, targeting 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."
- Along with fellow Likud MK Danny Danon and other right-wing politicians, Regev attempted unsuccessfully to have Palestinian citizen of Israel and Knesset member Haneen Zoabi banned from running in the current election.
Transportation Minister in outgoing government
- In November 2012, as Israel was bombing Gaza, Katz called for the government to expel the 1.7 million people of Gaza into the Egyptian desert, stating: "the tear of one Jewish child is too much, even if it means that all Gazans must be evacuated to the Sinai desert."
YISRAEL BEITEINU (ISRAEL IS OUR HOME)
- Yisrael Beiteinu is a secular ultranationalist party founded in 1999 by immigrants from the former Soviet Union, including leader Avigdor Lieberman.
- Yisrael Beiteinu's platform rejects the creation of a Palestinian state, declaring: "The demand to establish a Palestinian state and the 'right of return' are designed to camouflage the real intention, which is to erase the State of Israel as a Jewish and Zionist state."
- A video on the Yisrael Beiteinu website lists one of their achievements over the past four years in government as having "thwarted a Palestinian declaration of statehood."
- In June 2012, the Yisrael Beiteinu party chairman for Upper Nazareth began a campaign urging Palestinian citizens of Israel to sell their homes to Jews and leave in exchange for $10,000.
- One of Yisrael Beiteinu's main legislative efforts has been pushing for a law that would force citizens, including Arabs and other non-Jews, to take an oath of loyalty to Israel as a Zionist and Jewish state, with those who refuse stripped of their voting rights.
- During the last election, in 2009, Yisrael Beiteinu ran under the slogans "No loyalty, no citizenship" and "Only Lieberman understands Arabic."
Avigdor Lieberman (or Liberman)
Leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party, former Foreign Minister in outgoing government
- 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 is often described as an "ultranationalist" and over the years has vigorously opposed peace negotiations and Palestinian statehood.
- Lieberman resigned his post and left the Likud party in 1997 in protest over Netanyahu's signing of the US-brokered Wye River Memorandum with the Palestine Liberation Organization.
- In 2004, Lieberman was kicked out of Prime Minister Sharon's cabinet over his opposition to Sharon's plan to withdraw 8000 settlers from Gaza.
- In 2008, Lieberman and Yisrael Beiteinu left Prime Minister Ehud Olmert's coalition government in opposition to the restarting of peace talks with the Palestinians. Explaining the decision, Lieberman declared: "Negotiations on the basis of land for peace are a critical mistake...and will destroy us."
- In 2012 Lieberman said that some Palestinian citizens of Israel should have their citizenship stripped as part of any peace agreement. Lieberman has campaigned for a law that would force Palestinian citizens of Israel to swear allegiance to Israel as a "Jewish state," thereby formally acquiescing to their own second- and third-class status.
- In September 2010, Lieberman said that peace with Palestinians was not possible, "not next year and not for the next generation."
- In December 2012, Lieberman was indicted for fraud and breach of trust, prompting his resignation as foreign minister, however he remains Yisrael Beiteinu leader and is still running for a Knesset seat. Although Lieberman has suggested he would quit politics if convicted of the corruption charges he's facing, he may still play a major role in a new Netanyahu-led government.
Deputy leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party
- Shamir, son of the late hardline Likud Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir, is number two on the Yisrael Beiteinu list, appointed to that position by party boss Lieberman. With Lieberman suggesting he'll quit politics if convicted of the corruption charges he's facing, Shamir could become new leader of the party, which will be an important partner in a new Netanyahu government.
- In December 2012, Shamir spelled out his views on the Palestinians and the two-state solution in an op-ed entitled "Why I oppose a Palestinian state." In it, he declared:
A Palestinian state would not only fail to bring peace and stability to the region, but would increase the tension and usher in permanent instability... We must remove the idea of a Palestinian state in our area from the Israeli agenda immediately if not sooner.
- Regarding settlement construction on occupied Palestinian land, in January 2013 Shamir told an interviewer: "The Arabs there who call themselves Palestinian, they'll stay or go, but we'll definitely stay. We need to keep building in the land."
BAYIT HAYEHUDI (JEWISH HOME)
- Jewish Home is a far right-wing party founded by Naftali Bennett, a wealthy former high-tech entrepreneur and former aide to Netanyahu. It strongly supports Israel's settlement enterprise and opposes the creation of a Palestinian state in the occupied territories.
- With press reports indicating Jewish Home, which has taken support from the Likud-Beiteinu list, will be invited to join any new coalition led by Netanyahu, Bennett will likely play an important role in the next government. A government that includes Jewish Home would probably be even more pro-settlement and opposed to Palestinian statehood than Netanyahu's previous coalition, which human rights groups criticized as the most right-wing and racist in Israel's history.
- The final poll of the campaign published by Haaretz predicted 14 seats for Jewish Home in the next Knesset, while the Jerusalem Post's final poll predicted 13.
- Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has called for Israel to annex the 60% of the occupied West Bank known as Area C, where Israeli settlers live, and where Israel has full control according to the interim Oslo Accords. (See here for a UN map of Area C.) This would in effect make permanent the Bantustan system that Israel has implemented in the West Bank, which an increasing number of observers, including Israelis, consider a form of apartheid.
- In December 2012, Jewish Home merged with the right-wing National Union party to form a single electoral list. The new party advertised an endorsement from the extremist Rabbi Dov Lior, chief rabbi of the ultra-right wing settlement of 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. Lior is known for his racist and extremist views of Palestinians and others. He infamously praised mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein, the American-born settler who massacred 29 Palestinians while they prayed in Hebron in 1993, saying he was "holier than all the martyrs of the Holocaust." Jewish Home was also endorsed by Yigal Amir, the right-wing extremist who assassinated Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, however his support was rejected by Bennett.
Leader of the Jewish Home party
- The story of the election campaign has been the 40-year-old Bennett, the son of American immigrants and former Netanyahu aide, and the rise of his new far right-wing Jewish Home party.
- Although Bennett is not a settler himself, he is strongly supportive of Israel's settlement enterprise and is a former head of the Judea and Samaria Settlement Council, the main political body representing Jewish settlers living in the occupied Palestinian territories.
- 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 December 2012, he told another interviewer: "My positions are very clear: I never hide the fact that I categorically oppose a Palestinian state inside our country."
- In regards to the Palestinian people, in the aforementioned New Yorker interview he said "If [Palestinians] could press a button and we'd evaporate, they would, and vice versa."
- In December 2012, Bennett, a former soldier, caused controversy when he said he would refuse orders to remove Jewish settlers if he were serving in the army today. He quickly backtracked following criticism from opponents.
- In a 2010 television debate with Palestinian MK Ahmad Tibi, Bennett said: "When Palestinians were climbing trees, we already had a Jewish state."
Knesset member, 2nd on the Jewish Home list
- Leader of the right-wing religious nationalist National Union party which merged with Jewish Home for the election, Ariel is known for his extreme right-wing opinions about the conflict with the Palestinians and also for his anti-gay views.
- In March 2012, Ariel called for Israel to annex the occupied Palestinian West Bank, part of a "one-state solution" that would see Palestinians living there granted a sort of second- or third class residency right similar to how Israel treats Palestinians in occupied East Jerusalem, with the possibility of eventually gaining Israeli citizenship after meeting certain requirements, including taking a loyalty oath.
Rabbi Hillel Horowitz
Knesset candidate, 13th on the Jewish Home list
- Horowitz is a far-right extremist and political activist who lives in a radical settlement in Hebron in the occupied West Bank. In January 2013, he promised potential voters that Jewish Home would work to annex the occupied West Bank and to build new Jewish settlements in Gaza, stating:
We will do everything we can to work to return the people of Israel to Homesh in the northern Samaria [West Bank] and to Gush Katif [in Gaza]. We will take action to bring about Israel's annexation on the Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria. It is simple: We will act with all our strength on behalf of the land of Israel, the Torah of Israel, and the people of Israel.
- Horowitz has dismissed Palestinian citizens of Israel as "guests in our land," and is reportedly close friends with controversial far-right activist Baruch Marzel (see below for more on Marzel and the Strong Israel party).
Knesset candidate, 14th on the Jewish Home list
- The 33-year-old Atlanta-born Gimpel was a political unknown until the waning days of the campaign when he became the subject of controversy after Israeli media reported on his close ties to right-wing Christian fundamentalists in the United States and drew attention to comments he made about blowing up the Dome of the Rock mosque in occupied East Jerusalem, one of the holiest sites in Islam. Although he claimed that he was only joking, Gimpel, an ordained rabbi, is one of a growing number of Jewish extremists, including current members of the Knesset such as Aryeh Eldad and fellow Jewish Home candidate Uri Ariel, who would like to see a third Jewish temple built where the Dome of the Rock mosque stands.
- Shas is an ultra-orthodox religious political party founded in 1984 and a key player in the outgoing coalition government.
- The Shas party chairmanship was recently abolished by spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and it is now run by Yosef, Eli Yishai, the Interior Minister in the outgoing government, and Aryeh Deri, a former Shas leader who was convicted and sentenced to jail time in 2000 for taking bribes when he was Interior Minister.
- On January 12, 2013, the powerful spiritual leader Yosef, known for a history of racist and incendiary statements about Palestinians and others, was hospitalized and diagnosed with a minor stroke. He was released after only a day, but at 92-years-old his age and health problems have raised questions about the future of Shas, which was an important part of Netanyahu's outgoing coalition.
- The final Haaretz poll showed Shas winning 12 seats in the new Knesset, while the final Jerusalem Post poll predicted 11.
Rabbi Ovadia Yosef
Spiritual leader of the Shas party
- The influential former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel has a long history of racist and incendiary comments about Palestinians and other non-Jews.
- In August 2012, Yosef criticized Israel's legal system, calling it a "court of gentiles, "stating: "Whoever presides over a court of gentiles, and judges using the laws of gentiles, gives up the Torah of Moses, and is called wicked."
- In May 2012, Yosef said that doctors who were religious Jews shouldn't treat non-Jews on Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath, even if the patient's life was in danger, stating: "If a gentile were to get injured in a car accident during Sabbath, and he is brought to the hospital - Israel must not treat him." He concluded "the Torah forbids to violate the Sabbath for gentiles."
- In September 2010, Yosef declared that non-Jews were created to "serve" Jews, stating that: "Goyim [non-Jews] were born only to serve us. Without that, they have no place in the world - only to serve the People of Israel...Why are gentiles needed? They will work, they will plow, they will reap. We will sit like an effendi and eat."
- In August 2010, on the eve of peace talks in Washington, Yosef delivered a sermon describing Palestinians as "evil, bitter enemies" and calling on god to make them "perish from this world" by striking them with a "plague."
- In 2005, Yosef said that New Orleans was devastated by Hurricane Katrina because US President George W. Bush had supported Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's withdrawal of settlers from the Gaza Strip, stating, "He [Bush] perpetrated the expulsion. Now everyone is mad at him... this is his punishment for what he did to Gush Katif." He added:
There was a tsunami and there are terrible natural disasters, because there isn't enough Torah study... black people reside there [in New Orleans]. Blacks will study the Torah? (God said) let's bring a tsunami and drown them... Hundreds of thousands remained homeless. Tens of thousands have been killed. All of this because they have no God.
- In 2001, Yosef called for the annihilation of Arabs, stating: "It is forbidden to be merciful to them. You must send missiles to them and annihilate them. They are evil and damnable."
Co-leader of the Shas party, Interior Minister in outgoing government
- Like Shas spiritual leader Yosef, Yishai has 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 a television interviewer that Gaza's civilian infrastructure should be destroyed as part of the assault, 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."
- In October 2009, Yishai called for non-Jewish children of foreign workers to be deported, warning that allowing them to stay in Israel "is liable to damage the state's Jewish identity, constitute a demographic threat and increase the danger of assimilation."
HATNUAH (THE MOVEMENT)
- Founded in November 2012 by former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, Hatnuah is a center-right party.
- In early January 2013, Livni met with Labor party leader Shelly Yachimovich and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to discuss the possibility of forming a coalition to challenge Netanyahu's hardline right-wing coalition bloc. Although most polls have predicted a win for Netanyahu, at least one late poll showed the more centrist bloc gaining ground. If this centrist bloc surprises with a stronger than expected showing, Livni could end up as foreign minister or in a different senior post in a government headed by Yachimovich.
- Livni has also suggested she could join a new coalition led by Netanyahu, even though she has sharply criticized his policies towards the Palestinians and dealings with THE international community. In late December 2012 there were press reports that representatives of Netanyahu and Livni had discussed the possibility of her joining the next government as foreign minister. The reports were denied by both sides, but Livni, who is considered a moderate by many western leaders, might make an appealing coalition partner for Netanyahu, softening his government's image abroad, particularly with the future of current coalition partner and controversial former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, in doubt following an indictment on corruption charges.
- Haaretz's final poll predicted 8 seats for Hatnuah in the next Knesset, while the final Jerusalem Post poll predicted 7 seats.
Leader of the Hatnuah party
- Livni is a former member of the Likud and Kadima parties and was foreign minister from 2006 to 2009 under Kadima Prime Minister Ehud Olmert.
- Although she supports the two-state solution and was involved in peace negotiations with the Palestinians, she spent much of her political career with the Likud party, one of the main political patrons of the settlement movement, and maintains a right-wing ideological outlook.
- Speaking before a group of foreign ambassadors in December 2012, Livni rejected international criticism of Israel's construction of illegal settlements on occupied Palestinian land, stating: "It doesn't matter what you think about settlements...We have settlement blocs close to the Green Line and the only way for the conflict with the Palestinians to end is for Israel to keep them."
- Although considered a moderate by many Western politicians, many Palestinians remember Livni for the role she played during Operation Cast Lead, Israel's deadly assault on Gaza in 2008-9, which killed approximately 1400 Palestinians, most of them civilians, over a three-week period. As foreign minister, she acted as Israel's face to the world, defending the brutal onslaught and 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 Cast Lead.
- The so-called Palestine Papers, confidential documents written by Palestinian negotiators that were leaked to the press in 2010, revealed that Livni wanted some areas populated by Palestinian citizens of Israel "transferred" to a new Palestinian state. They also quoted Livni telling her Palestinian interlocutors that although she's a lawyer, she doesn't believe in the rule of law, stating: "I was the minister of justice. I am a lawyer... But I am against law - international law in particular. Law in general."
- Prior to entering politics, Livni was an agent with Israel's foreign spy service, the Mossad, working undercover in its assassination division in Europe during the 1980s. According to Israeli press reports, Livni "hunted" Palestinians for the Mossad, at least one of whom, senior PLO official, Mamoun Meraish, was murdered by Israeli agents in Athens in August 1983.
OTZMA LEYISRAEL (STRONG ISRAEL)
- Strong Israel is a small, recently formed coalition made up of far-right activists. Strong Israel candidates oppose the creation of a Palestinian state and advocate the ethnic cleansing of Palestinian Arabs from all of historic Palestine.
- The final Jerusalem Post poll of the campaign showed Strong Israel winning two seats in the upcoming Knesset, while Haaretz's final poll predicted none.
Knesset member, leader of the Strong Israel party
- Eldad, who has ties to European and American far-right anti-Muslim extremists such as Dutch politician Geert Wilders and American blogger Pamela Geller, lives in the settlement of Kfar Adumim in the occupied West Bank.
- Eldad has repeatedly called for Palestinians to create a state in neighboring Jordan, prompting numerous complaints from the Jordanian government, which has a peace treaty with Israel. In November 2010, he organized a conference entitled "Jordan is Palestine," explaining that "the purpose of the conference is to present an alternative plan to the two-state solution...We are saying that there already is a Palestinian state, Jordan."
- In late July 2012, Eldad was videotaped telling a group of right-wing political activists in the Old City of occupied East Jerusalem that he wants to dismantle the Al Aqsa mosque, one of the holiest sites in Islam, and replace it with a new Jewish temple, stating:
This will bring us closer to the solution of the heart of the problem, regarding the sovereignty over the state of Israel, sovereignty over the Temple Mount. We must discuss the core issues. Not just talk, but rather also act. When the time comes to build the Holy Temple, and that will be soon. We will then saw [cut] up the structure that is there now. We will saw it up, and they will take it wherever they want and build it. Because that is where the Third Holy Temple should and will stand. Speedily, in our days. Amen.
- Eldad is one of the leaders of the movement to implant right-wing Jewish settlers into Palestinian neighborhoods of occupied East Jerusalem, often evicting Palestinians from their homes in the process. He has also led the political fight against removing so-called settlement "outposts" built in the occupied West Bank without official approval from the Israeli government.
Knesset member, 2nd on the Strong Israel list
- Ben-Ari is a settler and an outspoken follower of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose political party, Kach, has been deemed a terrorist organization by the United States and Israel.
- During the 2013 election campaign, Ben-Ari joined with other right-wing Knesset members in an attempt to block Palestinian citizen of Israel and Knesset member Haneen Zoabi from running for office, at one point starting a shoving match after attempting to physically block Zoabi from leaving the High Court of Justice building during a hearing on her case.
- In December 2012, Ben-Ari called for the creation of a Palestinian state in France, after the French government voted in favor of upgrading Palestine to a non-member observer state at the United Nations.
- In July 2012, Ben-Ari sent a photograph of himself tearing pages out of the New Testament before throwing it in the trash in his Knesset office to an Israeli newspaper after a Christian group mailed copies of the Bible to all Knesset members.
- In January 2011, Ben-Ari referred to left-wing Israelis as "germs," "enemies of Israel," and "traitors who must be persecuted at any cost."
- In May 2010, Ben-Ari accused US President Barack Obama of being "a hostile enemy of Israel and the Jewish people."
- In November 2009 Ben-Ari was denied entry to the US because of his ties to Kach.
Knesset candidate, 3rd on the Strong Israel list
- A well-known far-right activist, the American-born Marzel is a former spokesman for the outlawed Kach movement and a settler who lives in Hebron.
- Marzel has a long and violent history, including assaults on Palestinians for which he received suspended prison sentences, vandalizing Palestinian cars, and provoking disturbances in the occupied West Bank.
- In March 2006, Marzel called for the murder of Israeli peace activist Uri Avnery. He also blamed an outbreak of bird flu in southern Israel on Israel's withdrawal of soldiers and settlers from Gaza in 2005 under the so-called "disengagement" plan.
- Marzel is also notorious for his anti-gay views, stating before a gay pride parade in 2010 that homosexuality "is a disease of choice, and a man can change his taste and his ways...[W]hen 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?"
Knesset candidate for the Strong Israel party
- King is co-founder of the Israel Land Fund, whose stated mission is "Reclaiming the Land of Israel for the People of Israel" by moving Jewish settlers onto occupied Palestinian land, particularly in and around East Jerusalem.
- In May 2012, King told a reporter: "We are locating property in all of East Jerusalem. In Jerusalem, every piece of land is important. All the plots put together can change the reality...The reality we don't want to see happen is one that we think would lead to catastrophe - the division of the city."
Leader of the Labor party
- Polls show the centrist Labor party coming in second overall, with an estimated 17 seats, behind the governing Likud-Beiteinu list. If right-wing parties don't win as many seats as most analysts have predicted, it's possible a more centrist governing coalition could emerge, led by Labor and its leader Shelly Yachimovich.
- Yachimovich's campaign has focused on economic issues while mostly avoiding discussion of the Palestinians. While officially supporting the two-state solution, during the campaign Yachimovich defended Israel's settlement enterprise, which many observers believe has already rendered the creation of a Palestinian state impossible. Although she's called for an immediate resumption of negotiations with the Palestinians, there's little to suggest she would have the political will to take the difficult steps necessary to reach a lasting peace agreement.
- Yachimovich has said she won't join a coalition led by Netanyahu, which means she will likely be opposition leader in the new Knesset. However, if the polls are wrong and she manages to cobble together a larger coalition than Netanyahu's extreme right-wing bloc, she could become the next prime minister.
- The final Jerusalem Post poll had Labor at 17 seats, while Haaretz's final poll gave Labor 16 seats.
YESH ATID (THERE IS A FUTURE)
Leader of the Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party
- Like Labor leader Yachimovich, Lapid is a former journalist and television personality, who entered politics in 2012 with the creation of the centrist Yesh Atid party. And like Yachimovich, Lapid has run a campaign focused mostly on domestic issues, saying little about the Palestinians. While Lapid says he supports the two-state solution, he has also said that large settlement blocs built on Palestinian land in the West Bank must be part of Israel in any peace agreement, and he opposes relinquishing Israeli control over occupied East Jerusalem, a prerequisite for the creation of any state acceptable to the Palestinians.
- In January 2013, two days before the 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." On Jerusalem, Lapid wrote, "The Palestinians must be brought to an understanding that Jerusalem will always remain under Israeli sovereignty and that there is no point for them in opening negotiations about Jerusalem."
- If hardline right-wing parties don't do as well as most pollsters have predicted then a more centrist alternative to Netanyahu's right-wing coalition bloc could be formed that is led by the Labor party. In this scenario, Lapid and Yesh Atid could be important players in the new government. Lapid has also indicated that he might join a coalition led by Netanyahu under certain conditions
- Haaretz's final poll of the campaign predicted 12 seats for Yesh Atid, while the final Jerusalem Post poll gave the party 11 seats.