Your Guide to Israel’s General Election

Israel goes to the polls on St Patrick’s Day to elect a new parliament, which in turn will either confirm incumbent Binyamin Netanyahu in office or oust him in favour of the centre-left. The St Patrick’s Day connection? If Netanyahu loses, he will be replaced by a man whose father was born in Belfast’s Clifton Park Avenue and whose grandfather was Chief Rabbi of Ireland.

Polls indicate that it will be a close run thing, with 11 lists, many covering multiple parties, likely to win seats and small shifts in votes making particular coalitions possible or impossible.

Israel is a country that everyone has an opinion on but few have a working knowledge of its politics. So, why not be one of the educated few and show off your expertise the next time you’re involved in an argument in the pub about the Middle East? Crash through the [too long:don’t read] barrier with me as I look at what Israelis are voting on, why they’re voting at all, and take a tour d’horizon of the bewilderingly complex Israeli party system.

Why is Israel voting at all?
Israel last went to the polls in January 2013, producing a centre-right government led by Binyamin Netanyahu. Frankly, all of the major parties did badly as Israeli voting behaviour is increasingly fragmented, but Netanyahu’s Likud ran on a joint ticket with the largely Russian immigrant Yisrael Beiteinu party and was well ahead (by 23% to 14%) of its nearest rival.

The resultant five party coalition had a clear 16 seat majority in the Knesset, but was riven with tensions between right-wing and centrist parties from the start, not aided by Netanyahu’s abrasive style, and eventually collapsed in December when Bibi sacked the country’s two most prominent centrist politicians, Yair Lapid and Tzipi Livni, from his cabinet. The proximate causes of the government’s collapse were disagreements over the budget and a proposal for Israel’s first ever written constitution, which enraged secularists who argued it would privilege Israel’s Jewish character over its democratic character, and doves by ending Arabic’s status as an official language.

Many saw it as a case of Netanyahu taking the opportunity to create a more ideologically comfortable coalition, hoping a fresh vote would deliver the numbers for him to swap the awkward centrists of Lapid’s and Livni’s parties with support from the Ultra-Orthodox parties. This is a high stakes gamble, however, that may yet backfire. Livni surged in support after the government collapsed and her Hatnuah party, largely a personal vehicle, entered an electoral alliance with the Labour Party which sees their joint election list, Zionist Union, consistently outpoll Likud as polling day approaches. No party, however, is close to governing alone and neither are even the broader families of right and centre-left parties.

What are the issues?
The borders of the state and the settlements are the issues that interest outsiders in Israeli politics, and they are obviously critical issues in Israel itself. Opinion among Jewish Israelis has hardened considerably since 2000, at the same time as Arab Israelis have become more vocal in their support for their cousins in the West Bank and Gaza, and even pan-Islamic causes. Chaos is literally on Israel’s doorstep with Syria’s Civil War and Egypt’s failed revolution. The degree to which Iran’s nuclear programme is either an existential threat (Netanyahu) or a red herring invented to keep the populace in a state of fear (bits of the centre and left) is also an issue.

But basic day-to-day security is not much of an issue in 2015; Fortress Israel largely rests safe behind its security walls and manual and low-skilled labour traditionally sourced from the West Bank has now largely been replaced by Thais and Ugandans. The economy is probably a bigger issue than security. Deregulation and a torrent of credit has seen significant growth but also widening inequality and a housing crisis with stratospheric rises in house prices and rents, especially in the Gush Dan Metropolitan area, centred on Tel Aviv and home to 42% of Israel’s population. Young Israelis without the luxury of comfortably off parents are struggling. The housing crisis is the centrepiece of the Zionist Union’s election campaign.

Religious issues are also a hardy perennial in Israeli politics. Civil marriage is still not possible in Israel: only religious marriages, Jewish or otherwise, are recognised, causing problems for atheists who refuse to submit to a Jewish marriage and interfaith couples. Keeping it that way is a red-line in coalition negotiations for the Ultra-Orthodox parties, much to the frustration of the secular majority. Most, but not all of those in favour of the introduction of civil marriage are also in favour of extending the right to same-sex couples.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews are also permitted exemptions from military service and generous subsidies for religious study in yeshivas which means many Ultra-Orthodox men spend a whole lifetime studying without ever entering the labour market. Like with civil marriage, these infuriate most of the secular majority but are an uncrossable red line in coalition negotiations for the Ultra-Orthodox parties. The recently departed centre-right coalition, with no Ultra Orthodox party and several leading ultra-secularists involved, did more to push back religious privileges than any since the foundation of the state.

What electoral system is used?
Israel uses a party list system with no voter choice within the list, and a single national constituency electing all 120 seats of the Knesset. In recent years, a minimum vote threshold for representation has been introduced, and for this election it has been raised to 3.25% – one vote in 32. This change has had significant implications, with a number of smaller parties now running on joint lists with ideologically similar rivals.

As in France and Spain, voters don’t mark a ballot paper, but choose a pre-printed slip with the party label inside the voting booth and seal it in an unmarked envelope which they deposit in the ballot box.

All Israeli citizens aged 18 or over can vote, but there are no overseas voting facilities or overseas postal or proxy ballot options: the only ballot boxes are in Israel itself and the West Bank settlements.

Polls are banned in the last few days of the campaign, so the final polls were released on Saturday. Polling stations close at 8 pm GMT and results will come in during the evening. Early voting for soldiers on the front line started on Sunday.

Netanyahu versus not-Netanyahu
Perhaps more than any specific issue, the election is a referendum on Binyamin Netanyahu’s leadership. He is a deeply polarising figure in Israeli society. He is reviled not just on the left, but among many who would traditionally have been on the moderate right as arrogant, paranoid, heartless towards the poor and inclined to picking unnecessary fights Israel would be better off avoiding. His speech to the United States Congress, and implied snub to Obama, was perhaps more polarising in Israel than it was in America.

His supporters, and they are many, don’t pretend to love him, but they do respect him: every bit as cunning, hostile and hard-nosed as they believe Israel needs to be in dangerous times. The Economist quotes a bus driver, part of Likud’s conservative working-class base, saying, “I don’t like him. But we need a Prime Minister who is a bastard.”

Anti-Netanyahu rallies in liberal strongholds like Tel Aviv attract tens of thousands, vastly more than any rally by the political parties challenging him. Yet, he remains stubbornly if narrowly ahead in polling on preferred Prime Minster.

The opposition isn’t helped by the deal agreed between Labour and Hatnuah to form the Zionist Union. Under its terms, should they form a governing coalition, Labour’s Isaac Herzog will be Prime Minister for the first two years before handing over handing over to Tzipi Livni for the second half of the parliamentary term. Herzog is a solid, but colourless character. Livni, undoubtedly accomplished as former Foreign Minister, Justice Minister and leader of the opposition, has collected her fair share of scars over 14 years at the top of Israeli politics.

Coalitions, coalitions
Israeli elections have always been fragmented affairs, and that fragmentation has increased dramatically in recent decades. As well as a left-right split, Israelis cleave along secular-religious, intra-Jewish sectarian, and ethnic divides: Arabs, Jews of Middle Eastern and European origin and the enormous population of ex-Soviet Jews who have arrived since 1990 all have very distinctive cultural outlooks and economic situations. Israel’s internal ethnic diversity has increased to the point that there are even small neo-Nazi gangs among some youths of Russian immigrant backgrounds and only marginal Jewish heritage.

Surveys in 2013 showed 44% of Israeli voters as secular, 24% were “Traditional Jews”, observant but with few doctrinal requirements needing special treatment, 13% Orthodox, 8% Ultra-Orthodox, and 10% weren’t Jewish.

As in Europe, politics has become even more fragmented and fissiparous than usual of late. Likud sheds a significant number of moderate MPs and voters to a new party seemingly every few years, while Labour has developed a habit of eating its leaders alive. It’s now on its 9th in 22 years. The secular upper middle-class seems to develop a fad for a new political party every other election.

Israel has never had a single party government and the largest single electoral bloc this time is only likely to poll 20% or so of the vote. But broadly, there are four major flavours of Israeli political party: the right; the centre and left; the religious; and the Arab.

Latest polling shows Likud on 20-23 seats, behind the Zionist Union which is looking at 24-26. Both are a long way short of the 61 needed for a coalition to govern. All right-wing parties together are likely to lead the centre-left about 47 to 41 or so, however, so Netanyahu is closer to getting a governing coalition together. But if polls are right, the Zionist Union will outpoll Likud comfortably and should get the first crack at assembling a government.

How does the centre-left get to a majority? The religious parties will net seats in the high teens; their supporters are generally not well off and they are leftwards of Netanyahu on the economy. Historically, they have also more moderate on territory and security, although along with Israeli society more generally, they have drifted in a hawkish direction in recent years. They’ve tended to support governments of the right in recent years, but they can’t be assumed to do so. Their red line issues are more around the religious character of Israeli society and the capacity of their supporters to live according to their understanding of Torah principles.

Two parties conventionally understood as right-wing might also be tempted by the centre-left. Yisrael Beiteinu is a very hawkish and at times frankly racist party, but it supports a two-state solution (with enormous caveats) and it is largely voted for by ex-Soviet immigrants who have not done well under Netanyahu’s economic policies. Kulanu is a new electoral alliance, initiated by defectors from Likud’s moderate wing, and is keeping its options open.

Finally, the Arab Parties and the Communists, running on a joint list, will net somewhere in the region of 12 seats. They have ruled out forming part of a government but will almost certainly give fairly consistent support from the opposition benches for any coalition that keeps Netanyahu out of power. If they end up kingmakers, public opinion may push for a government of national unity instead. That situation might also be a decisive factor pushing religious or smaller right wing parties to support a centre-left government.

The Economist this week claimed Israeli elections involved “Mind-Boggling Maths”. Actually, the maths is pretty simple, just addition, mutliplication and division, but the ideological complexity can be bewildering (although remaining less mind-boggling than that of Iraqi or Lebanese elections!)

With that in mind, let’s take a look at the runners and riders.

THE RIGHT
Likud “Consolidation”. Current polling: 20-23 seats.
National and security issues: Very hawkish. Economics: From centre-right through to radical free-marketeers. Religious issues: Centrist.

Likud is the dominant political party in Israel, supplying the Prime Minister for nearly three-quarters of the period since it first ended left-wing hegemony of the State’s politics in 1977. Nonetheless, the party has been buffeted by the increasing fragmentation of politics, and will probably poll under 20% of the vote on Tuesday, a far cry from its 1980s era of dominance when it won up to 37%.

The party shed a considerable number of politicians and supporters with the creation of Kadima, after then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon lost control of the party as a result of dismantling the Gaza Strip settlements. The creation of Kulanu this year may also threaten some of what had been the party’s traditional core vote. Always hawkish, the party has become moreso in recent years, like Israeli society in general.

Established as the party of the secular but fiscally and militarily conservative middle classes, the party’s voter profile changed substantially in its early decades. It polls particularly well among “Traditional Jews” and secular Israelis of Middle Eastern origin, especially in the working-class development towns.

Economically, the party has long had distinct populist and free-market wings, with the latter currently in the ascendant. Its particular challenge in this election is that the increased inequality and rising cost of living hits its working-class core particularly hard.

On religious issues, Likud tends to favour the status quo and, as its supporters tend not to have strong feelings on issues of religious controversy, it has a lot of latitude to cut deals with others.

Bayit Yehudi “Jewish Home”. Current polling: 11-13 seats.
National and security issues: Ultra hawkish. Economics: Free-market right. Religious issues: Religious.

Jewish Home is an explicitly religious party, but best listed with the mainstream right for two reasons. Firstly, it is a Modern Orthodox party, less segregationist from mainstream society than the Haredi Judaism of the Ultra-Orthodox parties. It actively opposes the Ultra-Orthodox on a number of issues, notably draft exemptions. Secondly, it is the most hawkish party of any size and therefore attracts votes of hardliners on security and territory issues across religious lines, including many secularists.

In particular, Jewish Home has become the largest party in the West Bank settlements; many of its leaders were active in the settler movement and it is increasingly seen as a settlers’ interest party. The party favours the direct annexation of 60% of the West Bank with the remaining 40% to be run by the Palestinian Authority as an Israeli dependency. It opposes the establishment of any independent Palestinian state.

The party is strongly committed to free-market economics and low government spending.

Jewish Home’s emergence as a general party of the hard right rather than a sectional and small Modern Orthodox party was driven by the charisma and money of its leader since 2012, Naftali Bennett. Bennett, the Haifa-born son of American immigrants, moved to the land of his parents’ birth in his late twenties and made an awful lot of money as an IT entrepreneur.

Yisrael Beiteinu “Israel is Our Home”. Current polling: 4-6 seats.
National and security issues: Very hawkish on security. Supports radical territorial swaps leading to a two-state solution. Economics: Centre to centre-left. Religious issues: Very secular.

Yisrael Beiteinu is largely a party of Russian-speaking immigrants who fled the economic chaos and anti-Semitism of the former Soviet countries in the 1990s. It is even more particularly a party of those who have found assimilation into the Israeli mainstream difficult, often living within monoglot Russian-speaking social networks in the working-class “development towns”. Its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, was born in Moldova and immigrated to Israel in 1978 at the start of what would be a torrent of Soviet and ex-Soviet Jewish immigrants who would radically change the character of Israel.

Yisrael Beiteinu is ultra-hawkish on the peace process, robustly supportive of the settlements in the West Bank, and Lieberman and other MPs have been repeatedly caught out in frankly racist comments towards Israeli Arabs. Lieberman himself is a former Likud MP. At the same time, it is difficult to box the party comfortably on the Israeli Right. Its voters tend to be poor and to have done badly from Netanyahu’s economic policies. Even more, many have family histories of intermarrying in Soviet times, so many were Jewish enough to attract anti-Semitism in Russia and Central Asia while still not being Jewish through maternal lineage to be considered Jews at all according to Israel’s religious authorities. That means many young Russophones can’t marry and have to settle for a marginally legally-recognised partnership. Marriage law reform is a major issue for Yisrael Beiteinu,

Lieberman regards Israeli Arabs as disloyal, but favours a two-state solution with a territorial swap, with the heavily Arab “Triangle” and Ara Valley being transferred to a future Palestinian state in return for the big settlement blocs just east of the 1967 Green Line. Lieberman is perhaps the Israeli politician most unpalatable to even Zionist-sympathetic goy, yet his participation in a centre-left government is not entirely unimaginable.

Kulanu “All of us”. Current polling: 8-10 seats.
National and security issues: Centrist to moderately hawkish. Economics: ‘One nation’ centre-right. Religious issues: Secular.

Kulanu was formed as recently as last November by former Likud moderate Moshe Kahlon as the previous governing coalition fell to bits. Kahlon’s reputation largely rests on taking on Israel’s mobile phone cartel and forcing a significant drop in prices. The party focuses on cost of living issues, offering a centre-right alternative to Likud’s increasing neoliberalism, with a nod to feminism, gay rights and cannabis legalisation. Kahlon has personal appeal across the class spectrum, and represents a definite threat to Likud support among hawkish but secular working-class voters.

Kahlon was once a definite hawk but has moderated in recent years, and now favours a settlement freeze outside the major blocks and an easing of conditions in the West Bank. Former Ambassador to Washington Michael Oren and retired IDF General Yoav Galant add foreign policy and security weight, covering what had been a major weakness. The party has kept its options open as to who it would support as Prime Minister.

THE CENTRE AND LEFT
Zionist Union. Current polling: 24-26 seats.
National and security issues: A broad spectrum of dovishness. Economics: From centre-right through to old-school socialist. Religious issues: Secular.

How the mighty can fall! The Labour Party and its predecessors were once absolutely dominant in Israeli politics, leading every government from the State’s formation until 1977. With the decline in the left globally, and the hardening of Israeli attitudes after the Second Intifada, the Labour Party spent most of the 1990s and 2000s in free-fall, sometimes polling less than 10%. It lost much of its working-class base to Likud and other parties of the right, seen as soft on security and a vehicle for élitist Ashkenazis with deep if unvoiced prejudices towards working-class Israelis; and then the liberal Ashkenazi upper middle-classes began flirting with one new party after another.

Labour aren’t the only traditionally big party shedding support, however, as Israeli public policy moved well to the right both economically and on security and territory issues, the moderate wing of Likud moved off into a series of new centrist parties, and the grandchild of one of those splits, Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah, is now in electoral coalition with Labour. Would the tensions of government drive apart an alliance barely three months old? Possibly, but Livni is at least as dovish as the Labour mainstream these days, and whatever direction a Zionist Union government takes will be to the left of the status quo. Nonetheless, that question will doubtless weigh on undecided voters’ minds in the final few days.

Yesh Atid “There is a Future”. Current polling: 11-13 seats.
National and security issues: Moderately dovish. Economics: Just a smidgen left of centre. Religious issues: Ultra-ultra-ultra secular.

The Shinui Party was once the vehicle for ultra-secular, well-heeled, Israelis with dovish views but no taste for socialism. Tommy Lapid, a former journalist and Budapest Ghetto survivor, led it from marginal fringe party to major player and then oversaw its disintegration during the 2000s. His son Yair, also a journalist, now leads a party with no direct link but essentially the same voter base and political outlook.

Yesh Atid’s unique selling point is its implacable opposition to the official position of the Orthodox clergy in the Israeli legal system and the special privileges accorded to the Ultra-Orthodox faithful. The archetypal Yesh Atid voter is a middle-aged doctor opposed to the settlements but otherwise moderately hawkish, bitterly resentful that his 19 year-old son is on foot patrol in the West Bank while the Ultra-Orthodox who live in the settlement he protects are exempt from military service. The cancerous bitterness between Yesh Atid and the religious parties will prove a significant challenge in putting a centre-left governing coalition together.

Yesh Atid was a new creation for the 2013 elections, largely a personal vehicle for Yair Lapid, and did much better than the final opinion polls to come in second with 14% of the vote, topping the poll in many of Israel’s wealthiest towns. Lapid ended up as Finance Minister and then, having campaigned on a centrist economic ticket, had to implement a thoroughly neoliberal economic agenda dictated by Netanyahu. That, along with the Zionist Union’s appeal to the liberal upper-middle classes, has seen their support fall considerably, but they will remain a significant player if the centre-left forms a government.

Meretz “Vigour”. Current polling: 4-5 seats.
National and security issues: Very dovish indeed. Economics: Old-school socialist. Religious issues: Ultra secular.

Meretz is the party that represents what left-wing foreigners with Zionist sympathies like to pretend is the true spirit of Israel. Committed to full-blooded socialism, a two-state solution generous to Palestinians, equality for Arab Israelis and environmentalism, Israel’s only openly gay MP is from Meretz. In reality it is a party that polls in the low single digits and barely registers in large swathes of the country. The party ploughed a lonely furrow in the 2000s when even Labour tacked in a decidedly hawkish direction.

Once the party of kibbutzniks, Meretz now barely registers in what were once communities rooted in utopian socialism, and has become a party of inner urban leftists, particularly in Tel Aviv, its stronghold. It also polls some votes in Arab towns (usually around 2% or so). Arab MP Issawi Frej sits third on the Meretz list and is therefore assured re-election, as long as Meretz passes the 3.25% threshold. They have polled less than that at times, but they seem secure enough at present: the party is benefiting with the global post-2007 disaffection with capitalism.

THE RELIGIOUS PARTIES
Shas. Current polling: 7-9 seats.
National and security issues: Once dovish, more recently very hawkish, could possibly now tack to the centre. Economics: Centre to centre-leftish. Religious issues: Very religious.

Shas was traditionally the party of the Ultra-Orthodox whose heritage was in the Middle East. Over time, it began to appeal to more moderately religious Israelis of Middle Eastern heritage, who tend to be poorer than those of European heritage, as an ethnic interest party; many feel they are still regarded as second-class citizens by the Ashkenazi élite. Shas has been more open to compromise on religious issues than similar parties, tends somewhat leftwards economically and has formed part of both left- and right-wing governments over the years.

Traditionally fairly dovish – its founding leader declared that lives were more important than territories – the party became ultra-hawkish under the leadership of Eli Yishai in the 2000s, and developed a significant electoral following among West Bank settlers. Yishai, however, was putsched as leader in 2013 by Moroccan-born Aryeh Deri, a former party leader who had served two years in prison for taking bribes as Interior Minister in the 1990s, and came back to the leadership after a 13 year gap. Shas has historically had a serious corruption problem.

The party is vitriolic in its objections to gay pride parades but seems to reserve its bitterest contempt for the largely Russophone Yisrael Beiteinu party and its support for civil marriage.

Shas has often played a kingmaker role in coalition negotiations and could do so again this year. It has indicated it is likely to support Netanyahu for Prime Minister but hedged it with conditions. The party is likely to remain hawkish but considerably less so than under Yishai’s leadership. But the most important issue for Shas will remain the capacity of devout Orthodox Jews to live a life centred on religious study and especially without breaking their interpretation of Biblical law.

Yachad-Otzma Yehudit. Joint list between “Together” and “Jewish Strength”. Current polling: 4-5 seats.
National and security issues: Ultra hawkish. Economics: Right. Religious issues: Ultra religious.

Dumped by his own party, former Shas leader Eli Yishai went off to form his own, and Shas now faces serious competition for the Middle Eastern Orthodox vote for the first time. Born in Jerusalem to immigrants from Tunisia, Yishai took Shas in a dramatically hawkish direction. Polls indicate the new party could cost Shas as many as four seats.

With his new party still a work in progress, Yishai formed an electoral alliance with Otzma Yehudit, probably the most extreme political party on the Israeli spectrum, who polled 1.8% last time, more than half of what the joint alliance needs for parliamentary representation. Otzma figures have called for Israel to annex the West Bank, withdraw citizenship from most Israeli Arabs, for violent attacks on the Jerusalem Gay Pride parade and have led provocative processions through Arab towns. For his part, Yishai has called for African refugees not to be given permanent right of residence as they bring “a range of diseases such as hepatitis, measles, tuberculosis and AIDS.”

It is unthinkable that MPs elected on this list would support a government on the left.

United Torah Judaism. Current polling: 6-7 seats.
National and security issues: Takes no position. Economics: Centre-left. Religious issues: Ultra ultra religious.

UTJ is the party of Ashkenazi (i.e. European origin) Ultra-Orthodox. It is the most narrowly focused of the religious blocs, and its name is something of a misnomer as it consists of two parties with a history of falling out while in government.

UTJ officially takes no position on security and settlement issues, and will join coalitions of any ideological flavour that protect their religious red lines: military service exemptions; funding for religious study houses and those who study in them; no civil marriage; no commercial activity on the Sabbath. Its vote is unbelievably concentrated in Jerusalem, some of the settlement blocks immediately around Jerusalem and the predominantly Orthodox city of Bnei Brak in the Gush Dan metro.

UTJ reserves a particular hatred for the ultra-secular Yesh Atid party and its leader Yair Lapid, one so deep that it might make forming a coalition including both difficult.

THE ARAB PARTIES
The United List. Current polling: 11-13 seats.
National and security issues: Very dovish. Economics: Left. Religious issues: The Arab parties run the gamut from Ultra-Secularist to fairly Islamist, and the Communists are in the mix too.

The biggest single impact of the raising of the electoral threshold to 3.25% is that it has pushed the Arab parties into forming a joint list for the elections. This list includes the secular Arab nationalists of Ta’al and Balad, the more religious United Arab List, the moderate faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel (the hardline faction rejects elections entirely), and the leftist Hadash, which includes the Israeli Communist Party and is favoured by Arab Christians and gets five or ten thousand votes from Jewish left-wingers in Tel Aviv and Haifa.

The list will elect one Jewish MP, Communist Dov Khenin, safe at number 8 on their list.

The necessity of the list greatly reduces political choice for Arab Israelis in elections. On the other hand it seems to have galvanised the Arab electorate, whose turnout had been declining precipitously in recent elections: at least 10% below the overall turnout of 68% in 2013. Indications are that there is much greater Arab engagement with the electoral process this time, with polls indicating it will match or possibly exceed the national average.

Ironically, actual Arab representation will likely increase only marginally: currently the predominantly Arab parties have 11 MPs between them. Polls indicate the Joint List will win only another seat or two. However, it is in a tight race for third place with Jewish Home and Yesh Atid, and appearance counts for a lot in politics.

No Arab party has ever been asked to form part of an Israeli government, and this time the Arab parties themselves have indicated they would be unwilling to do so. They will, however, almost certainly vote to block any government headed by Netanyahu if they can and could wield significant influence over a minority government from the opposition benches. Avoiding a situation where the Arab parties have such strong influence may push one or all of Kulanu, Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas or UTJ to support a centre-left government.

If Arab Israelis are 20% of the population, why do their political representatives only get 10% of the vote? Differential turnout and the higher proportion of under 18s only explain part of this, and the small number of Arabs who vote Labour or Meretz even less. Two significant groups of Arab Israelis are excluded from the voter lists. One group consists of over 300,000 holders of “Jerusalem” ID cards who were resident in East Jerusalem in 1967 or are descendants of East Jerusalemites. Another group consists of approximately half of the Bedouin population in the southern deserts, those living in unregistered shanty towns.

Other parties

There are a myriad of microparties contesting the elections none of which will get close to the 3.25% threshold. Among the more interesting is the Green Leaf Party, the local cannabis legalisation outfit, which has polled over 1% before. It took a novel approach to funding its election campaign, promising free weed to any donor if Israel ever frees the weed, and raised over £15,000 as a result.

None of the Ultra-Orthodox parties fields any women candidates, so a group of Orthodox women has formed U’Bizchutan which doesn’t expect to win seats but does hope to put issues of sexism in tightly-knit religious neighbourhoods on the political agenda. Other parties run the political spectrum from ultra-capitalists to Green socialists to small and obscure micro-sects of Ultra-Orthodoxy.

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  • USA

    Very informative Gerry, thank you. I’m hoping to see the back of Netanyahu.

  • tmitch57

    Gerry,
    Very impressive effort. I wasn’t aware that the ultra-Orthodox had settlements on the West Bank outside of Jerusalem. But I haven’t been back to Israel in 35 years.

    In the one standard book on Netanyahu’s early political career it mentions that his father was considered closer to the right-wing Tehiya party than to Begin’s Likud and that Begin despised Benzion Netanyahu as a “draft dodger” because he spent the time of the Hebrew Revolt against the British in the United States running the Revisionist Party rather than returning to serve in the underground. Bibi was very close to his father, especially as an adult, and so in many ways is closer to Moshe Arens–his first political sponsor–and Geula Cohen in his thinking than to Begin. But Shamir despised him because he gave up territory on the West Bank, and Sharon despised him because he never kept his promises but just used people. He is probably best seen as a cross between Shamir and Sharon: with the territorial views of the former and the political opportunism and personal appetites of the latter.

  • Gerry Lynch

    This Ha’aretz piece on possible late vote swing scenarios and coalition permutations with or without them is brilliant and well worth a read. http://www.haaretz.com/news/israel-election-2015/.premium-1.647138

  • Mister_Joe

    I think it would be a step forward for the Middle East were Netanyahu to be denied the ability to form the next Israeli government. He has never believed in the “two state” solution and has gone out of his way to make the concept impossible to implement. He was very lucky(?) to escape prosecution for his alleged corruption.

  • mjh

    Incredibly informative, thank you. The sort of essential background that should be available on all major news stories in the MSM.

  • Gerry,

    The BBC have an interesting article by Kevin Connolly on the exit polls

    The Likud activists were dancing and singing within minutes of the TV
    stations broadcasting their exit polls quite simply because they can see a
    relatively simple pathway towards the formation of another right-wing
    coalition.

    It would involve Mr Netanyahu teaming up with the secularists of Yisraeli
    Beitenu and Kulanu and adding the religious nationalists of Jewish Home and the
    parties that represent ultra-orthodox Jews like Shas.

    There’d be personal ambitions to balance one against the other and each of
    those parties would have a shopping list of demands that might not always be
    compatible with the demands of the others.

    But the outline of a workable coalition can be seen much more easily from
    this vantage point than from the point of view of the leftist Zionist Union led
    by Yitzhak Herzog of the Labour Party.

    He campaigned well and if the exit polls are to be believed he polled pretty
    well too but the coalition arithmetic simply doesn’t look so good for him.

    It is possible, given what seems to be a close result between Likud and the
    Zionist Union, that Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin will seek to form a
    government of national unity.

    That would involve the premiership rotating between Mr Netanyahu and Mr
    Herzog in the coming years on a pattern to be determined by negotiation.

    Mr Netanyahu is not known to be a fan of that possibility but it can’t be ruled
    out yet.

  • Gerry Lynch

    The key point is the President is seeking to form a government of national unity – at this one point in the political cycle he’s powerful, so he’ll get a chance to force Netanyahu and Herzog/Livni into that before anything else happens.

    After that, a huge amount depends on whether the Yachad/Otzma joint list breaks 3.25% or not. If it does then the Likud supporters would probably be right to be quietly optimistic (but not jubilant). If they don’t, then there’s a pretty obvious centre-left coalition as long as Shas can be bought off (and Shas can usually be bought off, especially with Aryeh Deri back in charge).

    Netanyahu will either emerge from the coming days looking like a genius or looking like Comical Ali!

  • Gerry Lynch

    Too long and complex for MSM sources, I’m afraid. Even The Economist wouldn’t give space to something like this.

  • barnshee

    At least thy thug has been forced to come clean
    No Palestinian state more opression of the Arabs
    And the world stands by
    What a shiity state