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Israel - Political Parties

Likud - Ahiconservative729,05427272030353630
Likud + Beytenuconservative---[31] ---..
Centrist Parties
Kahol Lavan
[Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid etc]
Moshe Kahlon
centrist / reform----104-..
Yesh Atid
Yair Lapid
centrist / reform---1911--17
[Ehud Barak]
[Tzipi Livni]
[Sharon / Olmert]
Right Wing Parties
Rightist Union / Yamina
Naftali Bennett
Yisrael Beytenu
Otzma Leyisraelright-wing--2---..
Otzma Yehuditfar right-wing------..
New Hope
Gideon Sa’ar
far right-wing------6
Religious Parties
Shas religious286,300 11101178109
Habayit Hayehudi
(Jewish Home)
Religious Zionist Party / Tkuma
Bezalel Smotrich
United Torah Judaismreligious147,9545576877
Moledet / Ichud Leumireligious112,57042---..
Single MK - Chaim Amsellemreligious--1---..
Gush Emunim (Bloc of the Faithful)religious--- ---..
Zionist Encampment
Labor + Hatnua
Leftist Parties
New Movement - Meretzleftist99,611 3 3644-6
HadashCommunist112,130 444#--..
Arab Parties
Joint ListArab------1510
United Arab List - Ra`am-Ta`alArab113,954435144-4
Balad [Nat'l Democratic Assembly]Arab83,739 333#4-..
Arab Democratic PartyArab--1# --..
# ran under United Arab List

Haviv Rettig Gur observed in December 2014 "Until the beginning of the last decade, Israeli politics divided fairly neatly between right and left, between the center-left Labor and the center-right Likud. Each .. had a clear answer to the fundamental question that defined the left-right axis throughout the 1980s and 1990s — the Palestinian question. That question has now been settled, not because peace has been achieved but because the vast majority of the Israeli public is convinced peace is not possible in the foreseeable future. ... In the 2000s, Israeli politics began to fracture into smaller, more numerous parties. Labor is now only the third-largest party in the Knesset. The ruling Likud is now second. Immense centrist parties — Kadima had 28 seats in the last Knesset, Yesh Atid has 19 in this one — rise and fall in the space of a single election cycle.... the difference between governing and electioneering has collapsed."

Israel is a parliamentary democracy with an excessively active and unstable multiparty system. Relatively small parties, including those primarily supported by Arab Israelis, regularly win Knesset seats. England, Germany, Ireland, and Austria have just two major parties. Norway, Japan, Denmark and the Czech Republic have three significant parties. In New Zealand, Switzerland, and Sweden, that number climbs to four. In Israel, eight parties made up the governing coalition of Benjamin Netanyahu in 2012, resulting in the Prime Minister catering to the demands of each coalition partner, simply remain in power. Instead of facilitating the effective governance of the country, the system gives rise to governments that pursue the interests of minority population sub-groups with representation in the ruling coalition.

This situation is complicated by the amazing proclivity of Israeli politicians to leave the party on whose list they were first elected and either remain a single Member of the Knesset, or to combine with a couple of other MKs to form a new parliamentary group. At times this process of fragmentation is the result of two pre-existing parties running on a common list in order to meet the vote threshold to gain a seat in the Knesset.

In 2019, parties were running under 13 groupings — Likud, Labor, Blue & White, Kulanu, Shas, Ra'am-Balad, United Torah Judaism, Hadash-Ta'al, United Right, Meretz, Yisrael Beiteinu, New Right and Gesher. In 2015, 10 such alliances ran, and of those only four are in the race this time — several of the bodies vying for representation this time round were only recently formed, such as Blue & White and New Right. Party fracture and dissolution is very common in Israeli politics — of the 15 parties that won representation in Israel's 1988 election, only five are represented today — moving back further, none of the 12 parties elected in Israel's first parliamentary elections in 1949 existed in 2019.

This is partially explained by the country's highly proportional voting system — it's much easier for parties to gain Knesset seats than under ‘first-past-the-post', and as coalition governments are a virtual 100 percent certainty after each and every election, even newly-formed parties have good chances of serving in a resultant government. In fact, most long-serving Israeli politicians have defected at least once in their career — Israel's first Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion led two different parties, themselves breakaways from established parties, before his retirement in 1970.

Tzipi Livni, perhaps the country's most influential female politician, has been particularly mobile — she was a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud 1999 — 2005, then defected to form Kadima, a centrist party supporting Israeli withdrawal from Gaza, then in 2012 defected again to form Hatnuah.

Mere weeks after the 2019 election was announced, nine new parties were formed — although overall, due to sheer electoral mathematics, it's a fair bet only around 10 parties or alliances in total will surpass the representation threshold in 2019.

It's not certain how many of those parties will represent Israeli Arabs, although the demographic spoilt for choice. Despite making up just 20 percent of the country's population, they've three parties to choose from — United Arab List, Balad, and the union Hadash-Ta'al, the former a ‘big tent' secular party, the latter a left-wing endeavour. In 2015, all four ran together under the ‘Joint List' grouping, which gained the third largest vote share in the Knesset — although this only amounted to 13 seats.

The law required that a party obtain 2 percent of the vote to win Knesset seats (up from the 1.5 percentage requirement for election to the 16th Knesset, and until the elections to the 13th Knesset the qualifying threshold was only 1%). On 28 July 2013, the Knesset Law Committee approved to raise the electoral threshold from 2 to 4%. The proposal was passed by a vote of 7-6 after a heated debate.

There was no surprise among Hadash and Arab parties at the agreement in late 2013 between Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to raise the Knesset electoral threshold to 3.25 percent of the vote, as part of the so-called “governability” bill. All the opposition factions opposed it, including the Arab parties, which argued that it would make it difficult for them to be elected. The 11 March 2014 vote was 67:0, because of the opposition boycott.

With about 5 million eligible voters and a roughly 60% turnout rate producing about 3 million ballots cast in recent elections, this means that a party would need to gain about 60,000 votes to get a seat in the Knesset. In the 2013 election, the secular centrist Yesh Atid party, founded by former journalist Yair Lapid in 2012, placed second. This party calls for rasing the threshold from 2% to 6%, or nearly 200,000 votes. If enacted, this proposal would exclude both Arab parties, the Communist party, and two of the four relibious parties, among others.

Political power in Israel has been contested within the framework of multiparty competition. Power has revolved around the system of government by coalition led by one of the two major parties, or in partnership among them. From the establishment of Mapai in 1930 until the 1977 Knesset elections, Labor (and its predecessor, Mapai) was the dominant party. Labor's defeat in the 1977 Knesset election, however, transformed the dominant party system into a multiparty system dominated by two major parties, Labor and Likud, in which neither was capable of governing except in alliance with smaller parties or, as in 1984 and 1988, in alliance with each other.

Political fragmentation, as marked by the proliferation of parties, is a long-standing feature of Israeli society. For example, in the prestate period, between 1920 and 1944, from twelve to twenty-six party lists were represented in the Elected Assembly. In the first Knesset election in 1949, twenty-four political parties and groups competed. Since then the number has fluctuated as a result of occasional splits, realignments, and mergers. However, dominance by two major parties and a multiplicity of smaller parties remained deeply embedded in Israeli political culture.

The early, formative experiences in political activity produced three major alignments. All were Zionist, but they had varying shades of secularism and religious orthodoxy. Two of the alignments were secular but ideologically opposed. The first consisted of leftist or socialist labor parties of which Mapai, founded in 1930, was the dominant party. The second consisted of centrist-rightist parties; Herut (Freedom Movement), founded in 1949, the Revisionist Party's successor and the Likud's mainstay, dominated that alignment. Herut, which had become part of Likud, eventually won a mandate to govern in 1977 under Begin. The third major political alignment consisted of Orthodox religious Zionists. A fourth category of minor Zionist parties also emerged, traditionally allied with one of the two major alignments; non-Zionist communist Arab or nationalist Arab parties constituted the fifth grouping.

Knesset elections are general, national, direct, equal, secret and proportional, with the entire country constituting a single electoral constituency. On election day, voters cast one ballot for a political party to represent them in the Knesset. Because of the importance attributed to the democratic process, election day is a holiday. Free transportation is available to voters who happen to be outside their polling districts on this day, and special arrangements are made to enable military personnel and Israelis on assignments abroad, to vote.

A central elections committee, headed by a justice of the supreme court and including representatives of the parties holding seats in the Knesset, is responsible for conducting the elections. Regional election committees oversee the functioning of local polling committees, which include representatives of at least three parties in the outgoing Knesset.

Israelis take a great interest in the political scene, both in internal affairs and security as well as in foreign relations. In all elections to the Knesset so far, some 77-87 per cent of eligible voters cast their ballots for one of the many political parties running for the Knesset. To every Knesset 10-15 parties have been elected, and in the course of every Knesset, factions have both split and united.

Knesset elections are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals, and the many political parties which compete for election to the Knesset reflect a wide range of outlooks and beliefs. The two main political parties - Likud, essentially national-liberal and Labor, essentially social-democratic - have historical roots and traditions pre-dating the establishment of the State in 1948. In recent years they have become increasingly populist and relatively pragmatic, compared to the parties to their left and right. Neither party has ever attained a majority of Knesset seats; the remaining seats being gained by small parties which reflect the variety of opinions in Isreli society concerning security, religion, social issues and economics. These parties may be roughly divided into several groupings: the religious parties, basically of two kinds, the national-religious and the ultra-orthodox; the liberal left-wing parties; the nationalist right-wing parties; and the Arab parties. In the 1999 elections, the two large parties together gained less than half of the Knesset seats.

Prior to the elections, each party presents its platform, and the list of candidates for the Knesset, in order of precedence. The parties select their candidates for the Knesset in primaries or by other procedures. Parties represented in the outgoing Knesset can automatically stand for re-election; other parties may present their candidacy by obtaining the signatures of 2,500 eligible voters and depositing a bond, which is refunded if they succeed in receiving at least one and one half percent of the national vote, entitling them to one Knesset seat.

Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party's percentage of the total national vote. A party's surplus votes, which are insufficient for an additional seat, are redistributed among the various parties according to their proportional size resulting from the elections, or as agreed between parties prior to the election.

An allocation funding the expenses of election campaigns is granted to each party from public funds, based on its number of seats in the outgoing Knesset. New parties receive a similar allocation retroactively for each member elected. The state comptroller reviews the disbursement of all campaign expenditures.

Every citizen is eligible to vote from age 18 and to be elected to the Knesset from age 21. The president, the state comptroller, judges and senior public officials, as well as the chief-of-staff and high-ranking military officers, are disqualified from presenting their candidacy, unless they have resigned their position at least 100 days before the elections.

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Page last modified: 03-07-2022 15:26:04 ZULU