Countdown to the Israeli elections: Five movers and shakers to watch out for

Countdown to the Israeli elections: Five movers and shakers to watch out for

Little more than two years since the ballot boxes were last counted, there’s an understandable degree of public weariness surrounding the general election on 17 March.

At the same time, though, there is a sense that Israel’s second-longest serving Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, could be unseated. And with the surprise packages of last election, Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett now both seasoned ministers, the stage is set for a fresh crop of politicians to make their mark. Dan Kosky profiles five to watch…

Top: Eli Yishai (Yachad) and Miri Regev (Likud). Bottom: Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu), Stav Shaffir (Labour), Ayman Uda (United Arab List)


Moshe Kahlon (Kulanu):5 Moshe Kahlon

Kahlon is potentially the king of the kingmakers.

The 54-year-old son of Libyan immigrants enjoyed a stunning rise through the ranks of Likud.

As Communications Minister, Kahlon was widely credited with revolutionising Israel’s mobile phone industry, winning admiration well beyond his party.

Following his surprise resignation in 2013, Kahlon now heads his own Kulanu Party.

Regarded as a consumer champion and at the same time a flag-bearer for the working class Mizrahi (non-European) public, of which he is a product, current polls suggest Kahlon’s party could win 10 seats.

Likely to join either a Netanyahu or Herzog-led government, Kahlon is a virtual Minister- in waiting, potentially holding the keys to power.

5 Stav ShaffirStav Shaffir (Labour):

Already the  youngest ever female Knesset member, 29-year-old Shaffir could become one of the country’s youngest ever ministers if the Herzog-Livni ticket triumphs.

Shaffir shot to prominence as a leader of the 2011 social protest movement, during which hundreds of thousands of Israelis took the streets to oppose the cost of living.

Since being elected in 2013, Shaffir has proven herself to be an extremely capable parliamentarian and has doggedly demanded fiscal oversight of government budgets.

Her popularity within Labour saw Shaffir finish second in the pre-election internal primaries, sending her stock rising yet further.

5 Eli YishaiEli Yishai (Yachad):

When Aryeh Deri, the prodigal son of ultra-Orthodox party Shas was imprisoned and banned from politics in 2000, Yishai assumed the party leadership.

For 13 years, Yishai served as a prominent government minister and Shas continued to be an influential force in Israeli politics. When Deri returned in 2013, friction between the two was inevitable.

Since the death last year of Shas’ spiritual leader, Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, the rivalry has become increasingly prominent and bitter.

As a result, Yishai bolted from Shas in December to form his own party, Yachad.

How well it performs will indicate whether the Shas bubble has burst and how divided the ultra-Orthodox vote has become.

5 Miri RegevMiri Regev (Likud):

Regarded by many as the darling of Likud’s right-wing camp.

While many of her ideological bedfellows struggled in the Likud primaries, Regev secured fifth slot on the list of Knesset candidates.

Regev achieved eminence as the IDF spokeswoman until 2007 and was elected to the Knesset in 2009.

Since then, her firebrand rhetoric and forthright stance on incendiary issues, including Jewish prayer rights on the Temple Mount and African migrants in south Tel Aviv, has seen her loathed by opponents and loved by her admirers.

Unashamedly outspoken, Regev is regarded as a thorn in the side of party leader Benjamin Netanyahu. Her profile within Likud, though, means that you will likely hear plenty of Regev in the next Knesset.

5 Ayman UdaAyman Uda (United Arab List):

A lawyerand former Haifa city council member, Uda has no previous Knesset experience.

However, he was recently chosen to lead the Jewish-Arab Socialist party Hadash, one of three parties which traditionally represents the Arab community with a handful of seats each.

With the electoral threshold raised to 3.25 percent for March’s election, the individual parties faced a possible wipe out and consequently formed a united Arab list, which polls suggest could be the fourth largest Knesset faction.

In a meteoric rise, Uda finds himself heading the new bloc and carrying on his shoulders the hopes of the Arab community, a full 24 percent of Israel’s population.


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