Israeli National Elections 2019

Today is election day, in fact as of this writing it is nearly over. I have not written about the elections at all for a few reasons:

  1. As I have mentioned frequently lately, we have been dealing with a family health crisis which is taking up a huge amount of our time and mental energy;
  2. I have been very torn as to whom to vote for so I’ve been trying to avoid the subject altogether; and
  3. It has been a horrible, dirty, personal campaign this year on ALL sides. Almost every party has smeared and slammed their rivals and it has left a very bitter taste in most Israelis’ mouths. It almost put me off voting at all.

Key points to note: there are two new, very popular parties: Blue and White, led by former Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who has rounded up a roster of two other former CoS’s. And the Yamin Hachadash, the New Right, headed by former Bayit Yehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked. I would have been tempted to vote for them, but I cannot find it in my heart to forgive them for leaving Bayit Yehudi, my own political home since I made aliya, high and dry 5 minutes before the elections, giving them almost no time to find a new charismatic leader and cobble together a vote-worthy list.

So who are the 40 (!!!) parties involved? Arutz Sheva gives us a rundown:

Ten to fourteen of the 40 Knesset slates competing in the election are likely to actually pass the 3.25% electoral threshold and enter Israel’s parliament, while at least 26 parties are expected to fall short of the projected 144,000-145,000 (3.25%) or so votes needed to cross the threshold.

The 10 parties most likely to enter the 21st Knesset

A quarter of the 40 parties running in Tuesday’s election are widely expected to clear the electoral threshold, having been projected to win at least four seats in every pre-election poll conducted over the past 30 days. They include the Blue and White party, the Likud, Labor, Meretz, United Torah Judaism, Shas, the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the New Right, Zehut, and Hadash-Ta’al.

The Blue and White Party

Party Type: Joint list of three separate factions (Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid, Telem)
Alignment: Center (self-declared) to Center-Left
Current number of MKs: 11 (Yesh Atid)
Chairman: Benny Gantz
Polling at: 27 – 32 seats

Gantz (left) and Lapid (right)

A joint ticket of the existing Yesh Atid faction and the newly-established Israel Resilience and Telem parties, the Blue and White alliance was formed in February and has presented itself as a centrist alternative to the ruling Likud party.

The joint list is led by former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz, who chairs the Israel Resilience faction, Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid, former IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, and former Defense Minister and ex-IDF chief of staff Moshe Yaalon, who heads the Telem faction.

Blue and White’s platform emphasizes the security bona fides of its three generals – Gantz, Yaalon, and Ashkenazi – and eschewing the right-left divide, offering itself as a kind of radical centrist alternative.

According to the party’s platform, the Blue and White list backs territorial compromise with the Palestinian Authority and “separation from the Palestinians”, while calling for maintaining Israeli sovereignty over the whole of Jerusalem, as well as Israeli security control over the Jordan Valley along the border with Jordan.

The Likud

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Center-Right to Right-Wing
Current number of MKs: 30
Chairman: Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu
Polling at: 26 – 31 seats

Netanyahu Likud election poster

The Likud, Israel’s big-tent conservative party, has governed for 31 of the last 42 years since it first took power in 1977. Originally formed in 1973 as a joint list of nationalist and classical liberal parties, the Likud was formally established as a unified movement in 1988.

The party has long backed the settlement movement in Judea and Samaria, and in December 2017, the party’s central committee voted unanimously to back the annexation of “all areas of liberated settlement in Judea and Samaria.”

On April 6th, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu announced that he would pursue the annexation of Israeli towns in Judea and Samaria if reelected as premier.

Fiscally conservative and emphasizing economic growth, the Likud backs additional tax cuts, the reduction of business regulation, and the reform of some government-owned companies.

The Israeli Labor Party

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Center-Left to Left-Wing
Current number of MKs: 19
Chairman: Avi Gabbay
Polling at: 8 – 14 seats

Avi Gabbay

Once dominant in Israeli politics, the Labor party has not controlled the premiership since March 2001, when then Prime Minister Ehud Barak was defeated by the Likud’s Ariel Sharon after just one year and eight months in power.

With its roots in the socialist but often hawkish Mapai, Labor has evolved into a progressive-left faction emphasizing the Two-State Solution, the expansion of the welfare state, economic equality, and social liberalism.

While the party managed to win 19 seats in 2015 as part of a joint list with Hatnuah (the union won a total of 24 seats), polls show Labor falling to mid-single digits in the April election.

Like Blue and White, Labor’s 2019 platform emphasizes security and separation from the Palestinian Arab population in Judea and Samaria. Labor explicitly endorses the establishment of a Palestinian state, and provides for the possible eviction of large numbers of Israelis living in Judea and Samaria.

The New Right

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Center-Right to Right-Wing
Current number of MKs: 3
Chairman: Education Minister Naftali Bennett
Polling at: 5 – 6 seats

Naftali Bennet and Ayelet Shaked

In December 2018, then-Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett, Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and Shuli Mualem broke away from the Jewish Home party to form a new right-wing faction aimed at attracting support from both religious and secular opponents of the Two-State Solution.

The New Right’s strongly opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state, favoring instead Israeli sovereignty over large swathes of Judea and Samaria, with expanded autonomy for large Arab population centers in the Palestinian Authority.

In line with Western-style conservative parties, the New Right backs market-based economic reforms and the curtailing of judicial activism by the Supreme Court – what Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked has dubbed the “judicial revolution”.

On social issues, the party has called for the preservation of Jewish tradition “without coercion”, condemning efforts to promote either secularism or religious observance in the public sphere via legislation. The New Right also backs greater integration of the haredi community in the Israeli “economy, academia, public service, service in the IDF and civilian national service.”

Union of Right-Wing Parties

Party Type: Joint list of three separate factions
Alignment: Right-Wing, National-Religious
Current number of MKs: 5 (3 Jewish Home, 2 National Union-Tekuma)
Chairman: Rabbi Rafael Peretz
Polling at: 5 – 7 seats

Betzalel Smotrich (l) and Rabbi Rafi Peretz (r)

Formed on the eve of the elections for the 21st Knesset, the Union of Right-Wing Parties is a temporary alliance of three small rightist, socially conservative, national-religious factions: the Jewish Home, the National Union, and Otzma Yehudit.

A rebranded version of Israel’s National Religious Party (NRP), the Jewish Home – like its predecessor – has advertised itself as the political home for Israel’s Religious Zionist community, yet for decades has failed to win a majority of the national-religious vote.

While many Religious Zionist voters have backed the Likud, the Jewish Home has also faced competition from rival national-religious parties, such as the National Union. An amalgamation of smaller rightist factions, the National Union is led by the Tekuma faction, which broke away from the NRP and represents the Hardal, or so-called ‘haredi national religious’ sub-sector of the Religious Zionist movement.

The Jewish Home and National Union successfully ran together on joint tickets in 2006, 2013, and 2015. This year, however, the two parties brought in a third faction – the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party – for a technical bloc, with plans to run together in the election, then split once they enter the Knesset. Otzma Yehudit, which is led by followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, has drawn controversy for its founders’ ties to the banned Kach party, which advocated the transfer of Arabs from Israel.

The joint ticket’s platform emphasizes its support for maintaining Israel’s Jewish character, the sanctity of the Sabbath in the public sphere, traditional family values, support for the Chief Rabbinate, the need to expand Israeli settlement in Judea and Samaria, and the party’s opposition to the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The three factions are led by Rabbi Rafael ‘Rafi’ Peretz (Jewish Home), MK Bezalel Smotrich (National Union-Tekuma), and former MK Michael Ben-Ari (Otzma Yehudit).

And here is one of the weirdest parties I’ve ever seen contending for the Knesset, and there are those who say it has a strong chance of crossing the threshold:

Zehut (Identity)

Party Type: Single faction list
Alignment: Libertarian, Right-Wing
Current number of MKs: 0
Chairman: Moshe Feiglin
Polling at: 4 – 6 seats

Moshe Feiglin

Founded by former Likud MK and Land of Israel activist Moshe Feiglin, Zehut combine a laissez-faire, libertarian political ideology with nationalist positions on issues of territory and foreign policy.

The unusual combination of support for decriminalization of marijuana and staunchly right-wing views regarding the future of Judea and Samaria have led some to dub Zehut the party of “legalization and annexation”.

Zehut has called for the full legalization of marijuana – both medicinal and recreational – and the application of Israeli sovereignty to Judea and Samaria, while offering Palestinian Arabs who declared loyalty to Israel legal residency status, much like the Arabs of eastern Jerusalem.

The party’s platform, which was written in large part by libertarian economist Gilad Alper (third on the Zehut Knesset slate), calls for massive reductions in taxes and regulations.

Zehut has also called for a school voucher system, allowing parents greater freedom to choose what school to send their children to.

Other policies on the Zehut platform include: legalizing civil marriages; privatizing Israeli hospitals and large swaths of the public health insurance system; ending state funding of political campaigns; an end to state coercion in matters of religion and state; land privatization; replacement of Israel’s progressive tax system with a flat tax; free trade and an end to protective tariffs; increased gun-ownership rights; and an end to US government aid to Israel.

Zehut Chairman Moshe Feiglin served in the Knesset with the Likud from 2013 to 2015. Prior to that, he was known as the leader of the Zo Artzenu (This Is Our Land) movement, which protested the Oslo Accords and establishment of the Palestinian Authority. In the mid-1990s, Feiglin founded the Manhigut Yehudit (Jewish Leadership) faction of the Likud, with the aim of pushing the party to the right.

There are several other parties in the article, including a long list of single-issue parties who don’t stand a chance but add some piquancy to voting day. You can read about them at the link.

Arutz Sheva also provided a helpful article explaining how the Israeli electoral system works:

Minimum Electoral Threshold and Seat Allocation

Any party which receives 3.25% or more of the vote is represented in the Knesset. Given historical trends of voter turnout, it is expected that some 4.4 million or so Israelis will take part in this year’s election – meaning that a party must win about 144,000 votes to pass the electoral threshold.

Each seat will represent some 36,000 to 37,000 votes – not including the seats allocated in the second round of the vote count, based on the votes to parties which did not cross the threshold.

That means that a part can enter the Knesset with a bare minimum of 3.25%, or the equivalent of 3.9 seats. In theory, a party can thus win a minimum of three seats in the Knesset, though practically speaking winning less than four while still crossing the threshold is unlikely.

The Knesset

After the initial seat allocations are made, the votes to parties which failed to cross the electoral threshold are divided up among the remaining parties, in proportion to each faction’s share of the vote. In other words, votes to parties which fail to enter the Knesset are distributed to those parties which passed the threshold, which the larger parties receiving a larger number of those ‘extra’ votes.

Alliances and Vote Sharing

In addition to receiving extra votes from parties which failed to cross the electoral threshold, lists which do manage to enter the Knesset can also win ‘extra’ seats through vote-sharing alliances with other parties.

Based on the Bader-Ofer method of voting sharing, two parties (or joint lists) may sign a pre-election agreement to ‘share’ surplus votes.

Under this arrangement, if one of the parties in the agreement is just short of an additional seat and the other party has enough ‘extra’ votes beyond the seats they’ve been allocated, those ‘extra’ votes are transferred to the first party, giving them an additional seat.

This happened, for instance in 2009, when the National Union list was just shy of its fourth seat, but had signed a vote-sharing deal with the Jewish Home, enabling it to ‘borrow’ votes pushing it up to the fourth seat.

This election cycle, several large parties signed vote-sharing deals, including the Likud with the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the New Right with Yisrael Beytenu, United Torah Judaism with Shas, the two Arab lists with each other, and Labor with Meretz.

An Israeli voting booth, with letters representing each party

Parties, Factions, and Joint Lists

In elections to the Knesset, parties (miflagot) may run either as independent factions, or join together with other parties to form a joint list.

For instance, since 1992, two small Ashkenazi haredi parties – the Hasidic Agudat Yisrael faction and the non-Hasidic Degel Hatorah – have run for the Knesset on a joint ticket, dubbed the United Torah Judaism list.

Both parties remain independent entities, and run separately in municipal elections, negotiating the terms of their joint ticket every election cycle.

In 2015, four smaller Arab factions – the communist Hadash, secular Arab nationalist Balad, the populist-nationalist Ta’al, and the largely Bedouin United Arab List – ran together on a joint list, unimaginatively named the Joint List.

This year, three right-wing parties – Jewish Home, the National Union, and Otzma Yehudit – formed a similar joint ticket, dubbed the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

Joint lists function in some regards like parties, even though they are in fact collections of smaller parties. While the member factions often retain a high degree of autonomy within the larger list, in terms of elections, they are treated as a single party. The joint ticket submits a single Knesset slate to the elections committee, and runs under a single letter(s) symbol – represented by either one, two, or three letters, which appear on the joint list’s slips in every voting booth around the country.

The vote this year, as it is in every election cycle, is of huge importance in a country as volatile as Israel. And yet it seems that the election turnout so far has been relatively low. The weather is gorgeous and I think many people just can’t be bothered to vote, thinking the results will be the same old same old, and have gone off on picnics and hikes, or even abroad. We will see the full numbers at the close of voting at 10 pm local time.

My own tuppence ha’penny on the elections and possible results:

We won’t know till tomorrow Israel time at the earliest what the results will be. And even if Netanyahu wins, he has to put together a coalition. The same goes if Benny Gantz wins. And the theory at the moment is that even if Netanyahu loses, he will be the one most able to put together a coalition first and that is what counts in the end.

Most people can’t imagine Israel without Bibi any more. He has been in power for 13 years which is an extremely long time by any standards. At this stage it’s not necessarily a good thing anymore. He has been an excellent prime minister but he has not cultivated a successor. No one lives forever and even if he is the best prime minister consistently, one day someone will have to take over. The trouble is no one has the diplomatic experience that he has.

I am less worried about security, although that is also a concern. I have full faith in the other leaders that they are loyal Israelis who wouldn’t do anything to endanger the country. Then again they may be delusional like Shimon Peres was, dreaming of a New Middle East which was never going to come about, at least in the pink-rainbow way he imagined.

But Netanyahu has managed to negotiate us through the very difficult waters of Russia, Syria, Iran and America, keeping us safe and strong. I don’t think there is another leader in Israel, or the entire world, who could have done what he did.
But as the cynics say, cemeteries are full of indispensable people. And as I said, no one lives forever and even if he is voted in again he must cultivate a successor to ensure a smooth continuity. But I doubt he is listening to me!

Meanwhile, here is Sivan Rahav Meir on how the national vote was viewed back in those fateful early days of the state, in 1949:

This is how Rabbi Moshe Alpert of Jerusalem’s pre-State Old Yishuv described the first Israeli elections to the Knesset in 1949. To give us some perspective, the day before Israel’s elections, above all the blaring headlines and non-stop noise:
“At 5:35 AM we woke up, my wife, my brother Reb Shimon Leib and my brother-in-law Reb Natanel Solduchil. And after we drank coffee we put on Shabbat clothing in honor of this great and holy day, because ‘This is the day the Lord has made, we will rejoice and be happy on it .’After 2000 or more years of exile, you could say that from the six days of Creation until this day, we have not merited to see a day like this, that we are holding elections in a Jewish state. Shehechiyanu! Blessed is the One that kept us alive and sustained us and brought us to this day! So we went to the voting station near Chabashim Street with our identity cards in hand. With great and mighty joy we walked the short way there, and the entire way I walked like it was Simchat Torah and I was circling with a Torah scroll, because I was holding the identity card of our new Jewish State in my hand.
My happiness and joy knew no bounds! The assistant at the voting station brought the ballot box, and the chairman called out to me and said ‘V’Hadarta Pnei Zaken’ – ‘And you shall honor the old man’, And he told me that since I was the oldest person present, I would be the first to votre. With a thrill of awe and holiness, I handed my identity card over to the chairman, and he read out my name from my card and from the book of voters.
And the deputy chairman wrote down my name and handed me the number 1. Then he handed me an envelope and I went into the other room, where there were ballots from all the parties. And with a shaking hand, moved with holiness, I took one ballot marked “B,” for the Religious Union party, and I placed the ballot inside the envelope I had received from the deputy chairman.
I reentered the polling room, and I showed them that I held only one envelope. Then the holiest moment of my life arrived. The moment that neither my father nor my grandfather had the privilege to experience in their lifetimes. Only me, in my time, in my lifetime, did I merit to experience such a holy and pure moment as this… What joy for me and my portion!
At 6:28 AM, we returned home and went to pray. What a great holiday!”.

Translated by

What a pity that a mere 70 years later people are so apathetic. And then they complain that they don’t like what their leaders are doing! That’s what happens when you don’t make use of your legal right and civic duty to participate in the elections.

May the best man or woman win!

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6 Responses to Israeli National Elections 2019

  1. Reality says:

    I’m so relieved the elections are almost over! What a dirty election it was. And as you say,tomorrow will anything change? I highly doubt it. I too was still making up my mind about which party to vote for,while standing at the polling booth!
    My daughter was so disillusioned,she refused to vote. I don’t agree with her, but I understand her frustration. I wouldn’t be surprised if in the end,we get a joint coalition of Bibi and Benny Gantz. That actually might work out well.
    Whoever is our next prime minister, I wish them well,and hope they continue to reign in the high courts, who think they are leading the country!

  2. Pingback: Israeli National Elections 2019 – 24/6 Magazine

  3. floranista says:

    The detail make my head spin but the outcome appears to be what I was praying for.

    I’m so sorry to hear you have had a family health crisis, annie. Praying that it is getting better, miss talking to you about your kids and grands.

  4. Earl says:

    Bad news if at least Bennett and Shaked are not returned (to say nothing of Glick missing out a Knesset seat). Those two have served admirably and often as Bibi’s spine…

    /hope all improving at home

    • anneinpt says:

      Sadly Bennett and Shaked did not cross the threshold. They overestimated their popularity. Also they were hardly distinguishable from Likud so the non religious right simply stayed with the devil they know.

      It’s a crying shame because the right wing bloc could have been even stronger.

      Re home situation, mild improvement.

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