#IsraeliElections: To Bibi or not to Bibi? That is the question.
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Analysis

#IsraeliElections: To Bibi or not to Bibi? That is the question.

As the Jewish state prepares to go to the polls in April, we look at all the power-players who are seeking office

Jewish News Reporter
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv

Photo by Tomer Neuberg- JINIPIX
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a Likud party rally in Tel Aviv Photo by Tomer Neuberg- JINIPIX

Israel’s next election is due to be held on 9 April. Analysts think Benjamin Netanyahu will: a) be indicted at some point this year, b) still win the vote, c) be unable to command a majority when the indictment is announced or d) refuse to step down when it is. This could mean another election shortly afterwards. In any case, here’s the who’s who…

Likud (Consolidation) 

The right-wing party may get more than twice as many seats as its nearest rival and continue to control a quarter of the Knesset. But a recent Channel 10 poll showed the public torn on their preferred prime minister – 41 percent said Benjamin Netanyahu, 38 percent said General Benny Gantz. If that translates into votes on party lines, Likud could slip, and if the Attorney General rules on Bibi’s indictment before the polls open, it gets very interesting. Not that it isn’t already: the judge overseeing the election has just told Likud to stop blocking a law extending propaganda restrictions to online content.

Predicted 30-33 seats.

HaYemin HaHadash (New Right)

The new right-wing party formed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, formerly of religious-nationalist party Jewish Home, represents the religious and secular ultra-nationalists. The pair have just brought in some big name American Jews, including journalist Caroline Glick, so will continue to gain more media limelight than their polling justifies.

Predicted 8-10 seats

Expected seats based on aggregated polls in January

Yisrael Beitenu (Our Home) 

Led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, this struggling right-wing party won six seats in 2015, similar to previous years. Its base is Russian-speaking Israelis and its modus operandi is to sound a bit more hawkish than the hawks. The loss of Orly Levy-Abekasis, who left to set up her own party (Gesher), appears to be a deep and self-inflicted wound. Predicted 4-6 seats

Labor

Israel’s leading  centre-left party has lurched to the right and seen its base dwindle. While it had 24 seats in 2015, when it was part of the Zionist Union with Tzipi Livni, most think it will halve in size this spring. Former leader Isaac Herzog never captured voters’ hearts, but new leader Avi Gabbay hasn’t even captured his party’s – three talented Labor MKs left last week (one saying Labor had “stopped talking about peace”) while another heckled him at the party conference, calling him a “liar”. To be fair, the heckler had a point – Gabbay absented himself from Labor’s
Chanukah do, saying he was “sick,” but was later pictured fit and well, holding meetings in the Gulf.

Predicted 8-16 seats.

Yesh Atid (There is a Future)

After its stunning political debut in 2013, winning 19 seats, the centrist party of former TV presenter Yair Lapid dropped to 11 seats last time. Since then, Lapid has been a fierce Netanyahu critic while still sounding hawkish in key areas. His focus remains socio-economic, while his call to end Charedi Jews’ military exemption is still resonant. If Likud finally loses power (unlikely), Yesh Atid will be in the mix. 

Predicted 13-15 seats.

Kulanu (All of Us)

Centrist and focused on economic issues, the party led by Moshe Kahlon won 10 seats at the last election and joined the coalition, but the honeymoon is over, and one of the party’s biggest names – former Israeli Ambassador to the US Michael Oren – is now leaving.

Predicted 4-6 seats.

According to numbers based on aggregated polling 2-8 January

Gesher (Bridge) 

Founded by Orly Levy-Abekasis, the daughter of former Foreign Minister David Levy who became a TV and fashion star before being elected to the Knesset as a member of Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu. She left two years ago, after he snubbed her for a ministerial job. An independent-minded centrist campaigning on a popular social policy platform, she’s one to watch – her father, David Levy, became Israeli Foreign Minister, so it’s in the blood.

Predicted 4-8 seats

Hosen Yisrael (Israel Resilience)

This year’s big news story is the new party of ex-IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, quickly dismissed as a “hologram” by Yair Lapid. Gantz, who has also teamed up with former Chief of Staff and Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon, was also attacked as “a leftie” by right-wingers this month, after saying he’d amend the controversial Nation State Law, which critics say treats non-Jews as second-class citizens. Gantz knows the sacrifices Druze Israeli soldiers make, so he probably takes the law personally. All signs suggest he will be a power-broker, and there’s already talk of backroom deals.

Predicted 14-16 seats.

Bibi vs Gantz

Meretz (Vigour)

Stalwart of old-school left-wing liberal values and champion of green issues, its critics have long predicted the party will fold, saying you cannot be both Zionist and left-wing because the two are “contradictory”. Yet here we are in 2019 and the party is still there, fighting the good fight.

Predicted 4-5 seats.

Israel-Arab Parties
At the last election, Joint List won 13 seats, but Knesset Member Ahmed Tibi is now withdrawing his Ta’al faction (Arab Movement for Change) to run independently.

Both Joint List and Ta’al are predicted 6-7 seats.

Charedi Parties

United Torah Judaism won six seats at the last election, but is expected to grow slightly now that Agudath Yisrael (a Chasidic party) and Degel HaTorah (whose roots are among the more strict Lithuanian orthodox) have said they are on board. Shas, until now the biggest Orthodox party with seven seats at the last election, may slip a little.

The two parties are expected to win 12-13 seats, as their demographic only grows.

No seat wonders?

Magen Yisrael (Shield)

The new party launched by former IDF Brigadier-General Gal Hirsh in January. Most feel he would be best joining Gantz.

HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home)

Formerly led by Naftali Bennett, last time it won eight seats and joined the coalition. But Bennett and his number two, Shaked – both opposed to a Palestinian state – left to set up their own party, followed by most donors. The party will probably crash.

Hatnuah (Movement)

Led by ex-Israeli Foreign Minister and two-state supporter Livni, the party was in the Zionist Union with Israel’s Labor, but in a bizarre conference in December, Labor’s Avi Gabbay ditched her on live TV – sitting next to him, she hadn’t been told. In a put-down, she later told the press: “The days when you proved you were a man by humiliating women are over.” Livni remains a draw for some, so expect her to pop up as someone’s running mate, but for her party to fold.

Zehut (Identity)

Led by veteran right-wing agitator Moshe Feiglin, it favours annexing the West Bank, paying Palestinians to leave and promising citizenship to those who “prove” they want to be Israeli. He also wants to legalise cannabis
and abolish the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly on Jewish life-cycle events and kashrut.

Tkuma (Resurrection)

An extreme right party led by fanatical settler Bezalel Smotrich, who seeks Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank. Once arrested in connection with violent protests, he opposes construction permits for Palestinians, wants to legalise illegal settler outposts, supports segregation in hospital, says Palestinian stone-throwers should be shot, and thinks LGBT Jews control the media.

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