Here we go again: ToI’s guide to the 37 parties still seeking your vote

The 23rd Knesset officially dispersed as the clock struck midnight on December 23 and the deadline for approval of a 2020 budget expired. Three months later, on March 23, 2021, Israelis are going to the polls for the fourth time in less than two years.

The failure to pass a budget came just seven months after the swearing-in of the “unity government” between Likud and Blue and White. The two parties, which had fought each other bitterly in the three ultimately inconclusive elections throughout 2019 and 2020, had agreed in May to form a power-sharing government, with a rotating premiership between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

But despite pledges to put aside their differences in order to fight the coronavirus pandemic, the political turmoil followed them into government, with both leaders soon claiming the other was breaking their coalition agreements.

Under the power-sharing deal that underpinned the coalition, a failure to pass a budget was the lone loophole that enabled Netanyahu to avoid having to give up the premiership to Gantz in November 2021.

But no budget was passed by the extended deadline, and new elections were, inevitably, called.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after giving a statement shortly before the demise of the coalition and the triggering of elections, in the Knesset on December 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After three months of political breakups and couplings, exits and entries, and unexpected rises and falls, when the 6.57 million eligible Israeli voters go to the polls on Tuesday, they will be faced with a total of 37 factions. Twelve of those have regularly passed the 3.25 percent electoral threshold for entry, with a minimum of four seats, to the Knesset.

For voters and observers befuddled about what the parties actually stand for, after several head-spinning weeks of political news, here is The Times of Israel’s look at each of the political parties in the race: the front-runners, the new mergers, the well-established parties in danger of stumbling under the electoral threshold into political oblivion, the earnest-yet-hopeless unknowns, and the quirky provocateurs.

A note about the opinion polls included in this summary: though Israeli networks play up surveys several times a week, the polls have proven inaccurate in the past and should best be seen as a general gauge of public moods rather than an accurate predictor. (Ahead of the 2015 elections, for example, the surveys consistently placed Zionist Union as outscoring Likud, but the latter ultimately emerged with a six-seat advantage.) And with so many small parties flirting with the electoral threshold, as ToI’s David Horovitz has written, the process of predicting the outcome becomes “if not a fool’s errand, then a masochist’s one.” 

So, whomever you want as the next prime minister of Israel, here is a primer to all of the major parties, and some of the dark horses too.

— Raoul Wootliff

Israelis count the remaining ballots at the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, a day after the general elections, early on March 4, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Click to learn about a party:

Likud
Yesh Atid
Yamina
New Hope
Joint List
Yisrael Beytenu
Shas
United Torah Judaism
Labor
Religious Zionism
Blue and White
Meretz
Ra’am

Smaller parties

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Likud

Letters on ballot slip: מחל

What the party is pitching: Likud, Israel’s ruling party for 13 years, has not presented an official party platform since 2015. Its last platform [Hebrew link] emphasized liberal economic policies, reforms to land regulation as a means for tackling rising housing costs, and aggressive efforts to combat organized crime, among other issues.

In the current race, the Likud campaign has made two consistent promises: that a government it leads will prioritize economic recovery from the pandemic, and that it will expand the circle of peace treaties already signed with four Arab nations over the past year to include as many as four additional countries.

A man walks near an election campaign poster showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on March 18, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The election, like the previous three, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s rule amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges, as well as his government’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Netanyahu has put Israel’s vaccination drive, one of the fastest in the world per capita, at the forefront of his campaign, saying under his leadership, Israel has become the first country in the world to beat the pandemic.

Key figures: Likud’s most prominent public figure is, of course, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has led Israel consecutively since 2009 and is now the longest-serving prime minister in the country’s history.

Alongside Netanyahu at the top of the party’s Knesset slate are Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, a former Soviet dissident and former speaker of the Knesset, and Finance Minister Israel Katz, who has served for years in senior cabinet posts, including as minister of foreign affairs and minister of transportation.

Polls: Likud leads in the polls, consistently winning 27 to 29 seats over the past month, and hurtling to as high as 32 seats in the final polls over the weekend, an optimistic signal for the party that the final days of the race may see a trickle of undecided voters headed its way.

Something you may not have known: Likud (and its predecessor party, Herut) has had just four leaders in the 73 years since Israel’s founding: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

— Haviv Rettig Gur

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Yesh Atid

Letters on ballot slip: פה

What the party is pitching: Yesh Atid, which describes itself as a “centrist” party, has published and updated one of the most comprehensive platforms of any party running in recent years, offering proposals on issues ranging from combating corruption to religion and state to small businesses to environmental sustainability programs.

Among the platform’s many, many proposals: strengthening Knesset oversight over the cabinet and limiting the number of ministers; term limits on the post of prime minister; separating Israel from the Palestinians; writing a constitution; instituting civil marriage; strengthening anti-corruption rules in government; cutting and streamlining government regulation on the business sector; expanding afternoon class hours in schools; raising investment in the high-tech sector; expanding work opportunities for minorities; incentivizing the switch to electric vehicles; investing massively in renewable energy; increasing autonomy for schools; and eliminating most high school matriculation exams.

Yesh Atid MK Yair Lapid speaks during a Knesset plenum session on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/ Pool/ Flash90)

Key figures: Founder Yair Lapid, a former popular columnist and talk-show host, is the party’s public face and most influential personality, with sole discretion over placing candidates on the party slate. An unsuccessful bid by senior party MK Ofer Shelah to force a leadership primary last year ended with Shelah leaving to start his own party, which dropped out after polling poorly.

Other prominent party politicians include Orna Barbivai, the first woman to attain the rank of major general in the IDF, disability rights activist Karine Elharrar, and former Jerusalem police chief Mickey Levy.

Polls: Yesh Atid is the second-largest party in polls over the past month, garnering 18 to 20 seats this week, after a slow but steady rise since late December.

Something you may not have known: In its first run for Knesset in 2013, Yesh Atid managed to get the most MKs of any single party into the parliament, with an unexpectedly high 19 seats. The only larger slate, the joint 31-seat Likud-Israel Beytenu faction, was composed of two parties, and would go on to split midway through the term, leaving an 18-seat Likud at the helm of a government that included the 19-seat Yesh Atid as a more junior partner. The wonders of coalition politics.

— Haviv Rettig Gur

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Yamina

Letters on ballot slip: ב

What the party is pitching: “Livelihood or nothing.” This became Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett’s catchphrase months before the election was even called. It proved particularly effective as unemployment numbers rose above one million due to the pandemic.

The national religious opposition party, which won just six seats in the previous election, has attempted to position itself as the home for right-wing voters frustrated with the government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis. Bennett has been almost singularly focused on the message that only he knows how to lead Israel out of the pandemic.

The party has also refused to align itself with either the pro or anti-Netanyahu blocs, making it one of the election’s few true wildcards, and Bennett has declared himself a candidate for prime minister.

Free of the far-right baggage of the other religious Zionist parties, Yamina has sought to appeal to a wider audience while also sticking to its right-wing principles. In addition to advocating for lowering taxes and trickle-down economic policies, Yamina has made clear that it still supports West Bank annexation and passing judicial reform to impose greater checks on the court system.

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett takes a selfie with supporters in the southern city of Sderot on March 17, 2021. (Yossi Zeliger/Flash90)

Key figures: Save for a few additions and some shifts in the rankings, the gang that made up the core of the Jewish Home less than a year ago, with Bennett at the top of the ticket followed by Ayelet Shaked, is mostly back together in the Yamina party. Two notable newcomers are Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi and small business owners’ protest leader Abir Kara.

Polling: Yamina is polling between 11 and 13 seats, and while that is a distant third to Yesh Atid and Likud, if the right-wing bloc fails to win a majority necessary to form a government, Bennett may get his wish of being kingmaker, including possibly being able to demand the premiership in a rotational capacity in what would likely be a motley coalition of parties from across the political spectrum.

Something you may not have known: Bennett wrote and published a book late last year titled “How to Beat an Epidemic.” The tome, according to the book jacket, “describes what went on behind the scenes of the health and economic battle and explains that if we want to win, bureaucracy must clear the way for entrepreneurship.”

.– Jacob Magid

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New Hope

Letters on ballot slip: ת

What the party is pitching: A former longtime Likud member, New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar’s biggest selling point has been that he is not Benjamin Netanyahu, and he has declared he has lost faith in the premier.

From the start of his campaign, Sa’ar has repeatedly vowed not to sit in a government headed by Netanyahu and the party says that its “main electoral pledge is to replace Netanyahu after 15 years in power, and restore respectful and accountable leadership for Israel.”

The party says it will prioritize West Bank settlements and reform the judicial system, placing itself firmly on the right of Israel’s political spectrum. It says it is committed to the “realization of the natural and historic rights of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel”; improving schools and minimizing educational gaps; supporting a free market company with “a fair promise of opportunity for all”; and upholding Israel’s “values as the national state of the Jewish people, which safeguards human rights and practices equal individual rights.”

A campaign poster for Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party in Tel Aviv prior to the Israeli general election, on March 18, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The party’s platform includes a wide range of policy reforms that include limiting the premiership to eight years, changing the electoral system to include some representatives elected by district, increasing aid for immigrants, increasing the number of public health care providers, and far-reaching reforms to the education system and recruitment of teachers.

Key figures: Sa’ar has recruited a roster of former or current MKs including Benny Begin, the son of former Likud prime minister Menachem Begin; former Netanyahu confidant Ze’ev Elkin; chair of the Knesset coronavirus committee Yifat Shasha-Biton, and several other Likud lawmakers. Derech Eretz MKs Yoaz Hendel and Tzvi Hauser of the Derech Eretz faction, aligned with Blue and White in the last three elections, have also joined New Right.

Polling: Shortly after its formation, New Hope soared in the polls with as many as 21 Knesset seats predicted in December and most of its support appearing to come at the expense of both Likud and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party. But since then, the three-month campaign has seen New Hope consistently shed support, dropping to 16 seats in mid-January, 13 in mid-February, and just nine in the final polls published last week.

Something you may not have known: In his spare time, Sa’ar likes to deejay, in a throwback to his days on the student circuit at Tel Aviv University.

— Raoul Wootliff

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Joint List

Letters on ballot slip: ודעם

What the party is pitching: The Joint List is a coalition of mostly Arab parties: Communist Arab-Jewish Hadash, nationalist Balad, and Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party. The bloc was an alliance of necessity formed in 2015, when a new law raising the election threshold threatened Arab political parties. As such, the Joint List runs the ideological gamut, ranging from well-educated progressive Communists to socially conservative Palestinian nationalists to a small minority of left-wing Jewish members.

Nonetheless, Arab Israelis share a number of key priorities that the Joint List has said it will seek to advance in the next Knesset. Far and away the highest priority for Arab voters is putting an end to the wave of violence and organized crime that has swept through their cities and towns in recent years.

Joint List MKs have also pledged to ease the housing crisis in Arab cities by fighting legislation they charge targets illegal construction in Arab cities. They have also said they will fight the 2018 nation-state law, which defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and demoted the official status of Arabic. Many Arab Israelis — especially Galilee Druze, who serve in the Israeli military — view the law as insulting and discriminatory.

Leader of the Joint List Ayman Odeh, left, and Ahmad Tibi present the Joint List’s campaign in Nof HaGalil on February 20, 2021. (Roni Ofer/Flash90)

Key figures: The top candidate on Hadash-Ta’al’s slate is Ayman Odeh (Hadash), a former Haifa city council member who first ventured into national politics in 2015.

The second-highest ranking candidate on the alliance’s list is Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), a veteran lawmaker who served as an adviser to the late Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat. The third party, Balad, is led by the Jaffa-based academic Sami Abou Shehadeh, who previously served on Tel Aviv’s city council.

Polling: The Joint List currently holds 15 seats in the Knesset. But it is likely to take a heavy hit in the next elections, with some polls projecting as low as 7 or 8 seats for the three Arab parties.

Its coalition had previously included the conservative Islamist Ra’am party, run by renegade Arab MK Mansour Abbas. The split between the two parties badly damaged the image of Arab Israeli unity that had helped lead to surging turnout among their base.

Something you may not have known: Odeh speaks Romanian, which he learned while studying law in Bucharest in the mid-1990s.

— Aaron Boxerman 

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Yisrael Beytenu

Letters on ballot slip: ל

What the party is pitching: Yisrael Beytenu is a secularist right-wing party that was formed in 1999 by Avigdor Liberman, who has been leading it to this day. The party has over the years pushed anti-Arab rhetoric and advocated for a two-state solution in which predominantly Arab cities become part of a Palestinian state and their residents lose their Israeli citizenship.

In recent years, Yisrael Beytenu has emphasized a secularist stance, placing itself at the vanguard of the struggle to water down ultra-Orthodox influence. This has included advocating for civil marriage and for widespread mandatory IDF recruitment among the ultra-Orthodox. The party has a solid base of Russian-speaking immigrants, many of whom are right-wing yet secular.

Formerly a close ally of Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties, Yisrael Beytenu has fallen out with Netanyahu and since 2019 has said it refuses to join a coalition headed by Netanyahu or that includes Shas or United Torah Judaism.

Yisrael Beytenu chair Avigdor Liberman visits the Assuta Hospital in Ashdod on February 23, 2021. (Flash90)

Key figures: Avigdor Liberman is the main decision-maker within the party and he has complete control over its electoral slate. A former Likud member and Prime Minister’s Office director general under Netanyahu in the 1990s, he has been the subject of many corruption investigations, which have resulted in convictions for party members but not for him.

The party’s current lawmakers also include faction chairman Oded Forer, the head of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality; former diplomat and businessman Eli Avidar, who made headlines by announcing that he refuses to get the COVID-19 vaccine; and social activist Yulia Malinovsky.

Polling: Yisrael Beytenu is one of the most consistently polling parties, with all major polls over the past month predicting it will get either seven or eight seats. It currently has seven MKs.

Something you may not have known: Liberman is a serial resigner. Over the years, he has resigned five times from ministerial roles — four due to political disagreement with the government’s policy, and once because he was indicted for graft (and later acquitted).

— Michael Bachner

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Shas

Letters on ballot slip: שס

What the party is pitching: Aryeh Deri’s Shas party is campaigning on Orthodox Jewish values and is hoping the memory of its late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef — who died in 2013, but still appears in all of its campaign videos and ads — will keep its traditionally minded base solid.

The party prides itself on socially friendly economic policies and is vowing to help Israelis worst-hit by the pandemic, but has also shifted to accentuate its Mizrahi character. It is also pledging to uphold the Orthodox monopoly on religious affairs, and prevent Shabbat desecration. Like the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, Shas signed on to Netanyahu’s loyalty pledge in February, agreeing that it will not independently join a government led by any party other than Likud after the March 23 election.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri — who was convicted and jailed for bribery decades ago — is set to be charged by the attorney general for tax offenses in an investigation that saw suspicions of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust dropped.

Key figures: Aryeh Deri, a close ally of Netanyahu, has been the party’s leader since 2015, after a previous stint as chairman from 1990 until 1999. He has held the Interior Ministry portfolio for a combined total of a decade. Other prominent lawmakers on the list include Knesset veteran Yaakov Margi, who served as a legislator since 2003 on dozens of parliamentary committees, and current deputy interior minister Yoav Ben Tzur.

Polling: The party currently has nine seats in the Knesset; it is now polling around eight seats, and has since the elections were called.

Something you may not have known: Shas was fined after the March 2020 election for distributing amulets they claimed would protect supporters from COVID-19, in violation of campaign laws that ban offering prayers and charms for votes.

— Marissa Newman

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United Torah Judaism

Letters on ballot slip: ג

What the party is pitching: Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, United Torah Judaism is entering the election more battered than ever. Among its normally loyal voters in the ultra-Orthodox community, hardliners are angry over the government-ordered closure of synagogues and yeshivas during the pandemic and others are disappointed with their representatives’ failure to communicate to its base the gravity of the health crisis and to condemn widespread violations. But ultra-Orthodox politicians are hoping that growing anti-Haredi sentiment in the country over the pandemic will prompt members of the community to vote them back into office as a bulwark and keep turnout high.

As always, the party is pledging to uphold Orthodox Jewish tradition, specifically on issues of Shabbat and conversions to Judaism, including a vow to overturn through Knesset legislation the High Court of Justice ruling recognizing non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel.

United Torah Judaism chair MK Moshe Gafni and other party members at an election campaign tour in Beit Shemesh, March 14, 2021. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

The party is firmly committed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and has ruled out a government not ruled by him. Its new party leader, MK Moshe Gafni, has also said he won’t join a government without a commitment that it would pass a law that would allow the Knesset to override the High Court of Justice, in a bid to reverse rulings related to religion and state.

The Haredi party is also eager to enter the governing coalition to legislate the ultra-Orthodox military enlistment law to its liking ahead of a July deadline.

Key figures: For the first time in 18 years, United Torah Judaism is being run by MK Moshe Gafni, after former chairman Yaakov Litzman stepped aside as leader. Elected to the Knesset in 1999, Litzman was the de facto head of the health ministry for over a decade, serving as either deputy or full health minister from 2009 until mid-2020. He resigned last year, amid the pandemic, in protest of the closure of yeshivas and synagogues and after contracting COVID-19 himself. Gafni, who has been a lawmaker since 1988, has served as chair of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee since 2009.

Polling: UTJ currently holds seven seats in parliament and polls have consistently given the party six to seven seats.

Something you didn’t know: Earlier this month, pro-Netanyahu Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud posted a video of himself singing the United Torah Judaism jingle —  complete with Yiddishisms and stiff dance moves that would make elderly Ashkenazi Jews proud — while urging Haredi voters to stick to the party. (Saud also posted the jingle for the Religious Zionism party, Netanyahu‘s far-right ally, though it’s not quite as catchy.)

— Marissa Newman

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Labor

Letters on ballot slip: אמת

What the party is pitching: Labor’s new leader MK Merav Michaeli has promised “a pink-collar workers’ revolution,” as she aims to distinguish her party from the rest of the male-dominant field with a slew of gender-related proposals across a range of issues.

She recently described the COVID-19 crisis as a “whole year during which schools hardly opened, during which mostly women were laid off,” continuing, “We will need a pink collar revolution to get out of this crisis for the female educators, nurses, social workers, public psychologists, kindergarten teachers, these are the workers serving on our society.”

Labor’s manifesto includes a year of paid maternity leave for either the mother or father, free education from birth until university, and broad legal reform on the way authorities tackle sex offenses, child abuse, and sexual harassment.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference on March 16, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Michaeli has maintained Labor’s basic approach with respect to the two-state solution, backing the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel. Her party also offers biting criticism of Netanyahu’s handling of foreign affairs, specifically the tense relationship with Democratic administrations in the US and the failure to contain Iran’s nuclear program.

Labor also pledges to amend the nation-state Basic Law by adding a clause on “equality” for all citizens; to legalize marijuana; to implement the Western Wall deal; to recognize same-sex marriage and advance surrogacy for gay couples; to allow “limited and organized” public transportation on Shabbat; and to back a law to limit the premiership to two terms.

Michaeli does not reject the notion of sitting in a government with right-wing parties such as Yamina, New Hope, and Yisrael Beytenu, but has ruled out joining Netanyahu. Last year she chose to stay out of Netanyahu’s “unity government,” disobeying former labor leader Amir Peretz and remaining a one-woman opposition inside the Labor party.

Key figures: Michaeli is a former TV anchor, columnist, and feminist activist who became known for sharp critiques of chauvinism and domestic abuse. She won Labor’s leadership primary earlier this year, reinvigorating the party after it had reached an all-time low in support.

Others are former MK Omer Bar Lev, a retired colonel who served as commander of the elite Sayeret Matkal commando unit and looking to rejoin the Knesset; Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi and social activist; Ibtisam Mara’ana-Menuhin, an Arab-Israeli filmmaker who has been criticized by some party faithful for comments deemed anti-Israel.

Polling: Just before Michaeli won the leadership, Laobor, the party that governed Israel for the first three decades of its existence, was on the brink of extinction, abandoned by most of its supporters for breaking the promise to stay out of Netanyahu’s government. However, Michaeli managed within a few weeks to breathe life into the almost deceased Labor and it is now polling at around six-seven seats.

Suzi Kastner (C) lights a memorial candle in the Knesset for her father, Israel Rudolf Kastner at the parliament’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Her daughter, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, is pictured on the right (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office/Yonatan Sindel)

Something you may not have known: Michaeli is the granddaughter of Israel Rudolf Kastner, a former Budapest Zionist leader who rescued nearly 1,700 Jews during World War II by dealing with the Nazis. He was assassinated in 1957 in Tel Aviv after being accused publicly of being a Nazi collaborator who “sold his soul to the devil,” though he was cleared posthumously by Israel’s Supreme Court.

— Tal Schneider

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Religious Zionism

Letters on ballot slip: ט

What the party is pitching: The party is a rebranded version of National Union, a far-right party that has been at the center of the revolving door of far-right partnerships.

While the party has not led its own slate in over a decade, this time party head Bezalel Smotrich is sitting atop the pile and is no longer even the most hardline lawmaker on the party’s Knesset list.

Smotrich has teamed up with the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party and the unabashedly anti-LGBT Noam faction. The mergers came together after extensive pushing from Netanyahu, who has long been willing to go to great lengths to ensure that no votes in the right-wing bloc go to waste with small parties slipping below the electoral threshold.

Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir (R) speaks with National Union faction leader Betzalel Smotrich during a campaign event in Bat Yam, April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

Unencumbered by the more mainstream Yamina, its one-time partner, Religious Zionism is free from even attempting to appeal to the diverse national-religious sector. Its platform calls for settling every hilltop of the West Bank, squeezing the Palestinian Authority out of existence, maintaining the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions, and limiting the independence of the courts.

The party’s platform says it will act to require all sexual assault or domestic violence complainants to sign a statement pledging that they’re not making a false report. The stance has angered advocates of abuse victims who say it will lead to fewer of them coming forward.

The party says it is planning on joining a Netanyahu-led government.

Smotrich has won plaudits as an effective administrator during his short term as transportation minister, when he managed to carry out a number of reforms and responded to countless requests from frustrated members of the public.

Key figures: Bezalel Smotrich, who has finally escaped Naftali Bennett’s shadow, first won infamy for organizing a so-called “Beast Parade,” to protest the gay pride parade in Jerusalem in 2006. He is the only senior party member who has Knesset experience.

Joining Smotrich on the list is Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, a disciple of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. He spent many hours in court as a defendant before passing the bar and going on to represent ultra-nationalist Jews accused of perpetrating racially motivated attacks against Arabs and Palestinians. Noam is represented by Avi Maoz, a former government spokesman who opposes rights for LGBT individuals.

Polling: While surveys initially showed the party falling short of the threshold, recent polls have showed it getting as many as five or six seats. Its numbers have been boosted by Netanyahu pushing the party as an acceptable alternative to his own.

Something you may not have known: Party member Ophir Sofer was given the No. 28 slot on the Likud list as part of a deal for Religious Zionism to run with Otzma Yehudit.

— Jacob Magid

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Blue and White

Letters on ballot slip: כן

What the party is pitching: Officially known as the Israel Resilience Party, the “Blue and White” faction was initially a political alliance of three political parties – Israel Resilience under Benny Gantz, Yesh Atid under Yair Lapid, and Telem under Moshe Ya’alon. The alliance centered around defeating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. However, it fell apart following the March 2020 elections, when Gantz decided to negotiate with Netanyahu about forming a coalition government.

Blue and White presents itself as a centrist party that aims to unite Israeli society. It argues for an eight-year term limit for prime ministers, and supports Israel as a Jewish, democratic state that balances its Jewish identity with individual freedom. It promises to protect Israel’s Jewish demographic majority as part of its national security policy.

Campaign billboard for Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party in Tel Aviv, on March 14, 2021. The billboard reads, “It’s Benny [Gantz] in the Knesset — or Bibi [Netanyahu] forever.” (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Blue and White supports strengthening the main settlement blocs and ensuring “normal daily life” for Israelis in all settlements. At the same time, it argues for economic development in Palestinian areas and increased freedom of movement, to set the stage for a potential peace deal in the future. The party proposes a new national service arrangement in which those who do not serve in the IDF will perform civil service in security, law enforcement, rescue, and agricultural bodies.

Blue and White supports limited public transportation on Shabbat, and reforms of the kashrut and conversion authorities. It pledges to invest heavily in education, especially in Israel’s underserved periphery. The party supports a legally recognized partnership for gay couples, and surrogacy for gay couples. It also pledges investment in social welfare, infrastructure, and health.

Key figures: Following party chairman Benny Gantz, who served as the 20th chief of staff of the IDF in 2011-2015, the Blue and White slate is made up of Aliyah and Immigration minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, the first Ethiopian-born woman in the Knesset; former Yeruham mayor and current Strategic Affairs Minister Michael Biton; Culture and Sports Minister Chili Tropper; and Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks at the annual Jerusalem Conference of the ‘Besheva’ group in Jerusalem, on March 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Polling: The Blue and White party has spent the better part of the past month polling just above the 3.25% percent vote threshold for entering the Knesset. In his best polls, Gantz wins five Knesset seats. He has held steady above the four-seat minimum over the past month, perilously close to the threshold but consistently above it.

Something you may not have known: If this election fails to produce a government and the next one does as well, Gantz will become interim prime minister in November, regardless of how he does in the elections, thanks to the power-sharing deal he reached with Netanyahu last year (assuming no loophole is found). He will be the first person not named Netanyahu to hold the office since 2009.

— Lazar Berman

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Meretz

Letters on ballot slip: מרצ

What the party is pitching: Meretz is the only mainstream party that defines itself as left-wing, offering unbridled support for a Palestinian state along with minority rights and religious pluralism within Israel.

The party, headed by former newsman Nitzan Horowitz, is once again fighting to cross the 3.25% election threshold, and has been attempting to drive turnout by warning its voters that it is close to political extinction.

As well as calling for immediate negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and the loosening of restrictions on both the Gaza Strip and Palestinians living in the West Bank, the party has an extensive platform of progressive domestic proposals. The only party to openly call for raising taxes on top earners, Meretz wants to vastly increase both the education and health budgets to provide better facilities and significant hikes in salaries for teachers and nurses. It specifically calls for introducing free education from the age of 1, and for recalibrating the health budget so as to increase investment in public medicine.

Meretz chief Nitzan Horowitz and supporters of his left-wing party protest against the government’s decision to keep schools closed, outside the Education Ministry in Tel Aviv, February 9, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

A champion of separating religion and state, Meretz’s platform calls for introducing full civil marriage for Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, Orthodox and progressive, opposite-sex and same-sex partners alike. Devoting the longest section of its platform to LGBT rights, Meretz also wants to introduce budgeting for the activities of gay community organizations, financial support for surrogacy arrangements, and adoption services for the transgender community. A special chapter in the platform is dedicated to cracking down on violence in the Arab community.

The party is against joining a Netanyahu-led government.

Key figures: Nitzan Horowitz has been head of the party since 2019, when he won a primary following the first election round. Former party leader Tamar Zandberg is second on the party slate. The slate also includes former deputy IDF chief of staff Yair Golan, peace activist Raida Rinawi-Zoabi, and former MK Issawi Frej.

Polling: The party has consistently hovered near the 3.25% (4-seat) entry threshold. Most polls have shown it getting enough votes for four seats, but rarely any more than that, and sometimes less.

Something you may not have known: Nitzan Horowitz is the first openly gay leader of an Israeli political party. He was the second openly gay elected Knesset member, following fellow Meretz lawmaker Uzi Even, who served from 2002 to 2003.

— Tal Schneider

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United Arab List — Ra’am

Letters on ballot slip: ר

What the party is pitching: The United Arab List is, first and foremost, a socially conservative Islamic party. Known in Hebrew by the acronym Ra’am — meaning “thunder” — the party is the political wing of the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement.

Between 2015 and 2020, Ra’am ran together with Hadash, Ta’al, and Balad as part of the Joint List. But the slate broke apart in February, with Ra’am choosing to go its own way.

Much like the Joint List, Ra’am sees fighting the rise of violence and organized crime in Arab Israeli communities as a key priority. It also seeks the repeal of the 2018 nation-state law, which defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and demoted the official status of Arabic.

Ra’am party chairman and Joint List MK Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 11, 2020. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Another key priority is the repeal of a 2017 law that drastically increased penalties for illegal Arab construction. Many Ra’am voters are Bedouin, around 60% of whom live in villages unrecognized by Israel; some of these townships, which Israel deems illegally built, see frequent home demolitions.

Ra’am is conservative on gay rights, having voted against a bill banning conversion therapy last summer.

More controversial than their policies, however, is what Abbas and his cohort have said they are willing to do to achieve them.

Ra’am has not ruled out sitting with Netanyahu in a coalition. “We are neither in the pocket of the left nor of the right,” their representatives have said repeatedly in interviews. In fact, Abbas has even gone as far as to suggest that he would vote to provide Netanyahu immunity from prosecution as part of a legislative quid pro quo.

Key figures: Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas has leaped from obscurity to the center of Israeli politics in a matter of months. A dentist from Maghar, a Druze-majority city in central Israel, Abbas entered the Knesset for the first time in 2019.

Abbas has pledged to pursue a new path in Arab Israeli politics, one that would enable Arab Israelis to be genuinely influential in Israeli decision-making. Abbas’s supporters call him pragmatic and say he is committed to fighting for tangible legislative accomplishments for ordinary people. His detractors call him unprincipled, shady, and power-hungry.

Polling: Ra’am is currently hovering around the electoral threshold. It polls strongly among Bedouins in the south, and has some support among conservative Muslims in central and northern Israel.

Like Blue and White and Meretz, Ra’am has been stuck around the four-seat Knesset threshold. Pollsters have said that if enough Arab Israelis show up to vote in general, Ra’am is likely to pass.

Something you may not have known: Traditionally, the Arab Student Union at Hebrew University is controlled by the Communist Arab-Jewish Hadash party. In recent memory, only one student politician has toppled the reign of Hadash in Israel’s oldest university — Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas.

— Aaron Boxerman

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Workers hang an election campaign billboard for the Likud Party showing a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, lower right, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid, upper right, next to a billboard of the Yisrael Beytenu Party showing its leader Avigdor Liberman, in Bnei Brak, March. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The long shots

New Economy [יז] — Former accountant general Yaron Zelekha, a vocal longtime critic of Netanyahu’s policies, established the party in December to, in his own words, “save Israel from economic destruction.”

Zelekha, who says he wants to be finance minister in the next government, has torn into the economic conduct of Israel’s leadership during the coronavirus pandemic, when lockdowns caused hundreds of thousands of people to lose their livelihoods and thousands of businesses to close.

Zelekha is running a low-budget campaign and has passed the 1% mark in most polls, while falling well short of 3.25%.

Prof. Yaron Zelekha, head of the New Economic Party, seen at an election campaign event focused on the cost of groceries, at Hacarmel market in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

The Bible Bloc, or Gush Hatanachi [יק], presents itself as the first Jewish-Christian list to run for the Knesset. The slate offers representatives from both faiths, including a Messianic Jew, David Friedman (not the former US ambassador). The party seeks to preserve “Judeo-Christian values” that it says are under threat from radical Islam and vows to fight for the under-represented Christian population in Israel, including non-Jewish Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The Ani V’Ata (Me and You) [כך] party is calling for the creation of a platform for the public to be able to contribute more directly to the democratic process, “in order to break the illicit bond between politics and money that has taken over our democracy.” The party blames both the “extreme right rule” and the “weak opposition” for allowing Israel to become a “plutocracy,” and says it will give power back to the people.

HaPiratim (The Pirates) [ףז] – Leaders of the Israeli branch of the Pirate party define their goals as promoting freedom of expression, science, the individual, and the right to take copyrighted material, as well as “development and promotion of the pirate sector” and a direct democracy. The party is known for silly pranks, like dressing up to file its registration, but has also championed the use of the internet in democratizing society. That issue became personal this year, when it nearly missed out on registering for this election because party chairman Ohad Shem-Tov was stuck abroad and authorities rejected a request for him to file over Zoom. In the end, the party found a member of the slate in the country who could file on Shem-Tov’s behalf. The party has run in every Israeli election for the last 15 years, but has yet to come close to raising the Jolly Roger in the Knesset plenum.

Pirate Party representatives register their slate for the March 2, 2020, election, at the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset on January 15, 2020. (Raoul Wootliff/The Times of Israel)

The Kevod Ha’adam (Respect for Humanity) [יף] party registered with the aim of advancing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; keeping Israel safe; advancing civil, social and cultural rights; encouraging immigration; promoting a free market; and reducing socioeconomic gaps.

Tzomet (Junction) [זץ] — For the April 2019 election, after Likud MK Oren Hazan suffered a defeat in the party’s primaries, the scandal-prone lawmaker formed his own party and titled it Tzomet (junction), the name of a small right-wing party that entered the Knesset in 1988 but went dormant after failing to gain a seat in the 1999 elections. Hazan has since left, but the party remains and is now campaigning on a “pro settlement and agriculture” platform.

Arieh Avni. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Rappeh (Healing) [ר] is a political party run by former doctor Arieh Avni, who recently lost his license for spreading anti-vaccination conspiracy theories via social media. Avni owns a website popular among the Israeli anti-vaxxer community, where he has published a multitude of articles spreading conspiracy theories about COVID-19 and Israel’s vaccination drive, as well as repeatedly trashing Israeli health officials. He also runs the Facebook page “Correct Medicine: Dr. Arieh Avni,” where he writes widely shared posts spreading his bunk theories.

HaLev HaYehudi (The Jewish Heart) [כ] is headed by Eli Yosef, a human rights activist known for his repeated incidents of high-profile heckling against the Israeli sale of weapons to dictatorships. The party says it will “make Israel stand up to the failures and crimes of military exports to murderous countries, and bring correction and healing.”

Seder Hadash (New Order) [קך] seeks to change the electoral system to a constituency-based representative democracy, whereby regions vote for candidates to represent them in the Knesset.

HaBilti Efshari Efshari (The Impossible is Possible) [ק] seeks to allow a vast expansion of foreign investments in Israeli markets, arguing that levies from such deals and future developments that they produce will bring billions into Israel’s coffers.

The Mishpat Tzedek (Fair Trial) [קץ] party is headed by the wife of Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally 25 years ago. The party, which ran in the previous two elections, calls for a retrial for Amir and “all other innocent people unjustly incarcerated.”

Larissa Trimbobler-Amir, wife of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin, Yigal Amir, arrives at the Central Elections Committee to register a new party for her run in the upcoming Israeli elections, January 14, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shema (Hear) [קי] headed by Manchester-born Naftali Goldman says that Israel has become “immoral” and that the party “will work towards a moral society that censors pornography for children, renders the political support of homosexuality illegal, and works towards creating happy family units.”

Da’am: Green Economy – One State [ץ] is a Jewish-Arab party chaired by Yoav Gal Tamir that advocates a binational state and socialism.

The Kama (Standing) [קץ] party is headed by four wives of a polygamous cult leader, Daniel Ambash, who was convicted of sadistic abuse of his family members six years ago. Most of the wives have never renounced Ambash, a Bratslav ultra-Orthodox Jew. They still live together, view themselves as his wives and revere him. Aderet Ambash, chair of the new pro-polygamy party, said that the new faction aims to fight to keep the government from intervening in Israelis’ private lives.

Women from the Ambash cult speak with reporters at the Knesset as they arrive to present their electoral slate to the Central Elections Committee on August 1, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Chetz (Arrow) [צף] is a secular-Zionist centrist party founded by MK Avraham Poraz at the end of 2005, along with most members of the Shinui faction who resigned from Shinui after Poraz lost a leadership race. Despite having nine MKs, it failed to enter the Knesset in the 2006 elections. In 2012 Hetz was taken over by Tzipi Livni to form the basis of her Hatnuah party. It is running independently this time around under the leadership of Lior Shapira.

The Democratit (Democratically) [רק] party was formed by leaders of the anti-Netanyahu protests that have taken place at the prime minister’s official residence in Jerusalem and across the country for the past two years. It calls for tougher restraints of government power to reduce the possibility for public corruption and to enshrine free speech protections in Basic Law.
* This party dropped out of the race on Sunday.

Am Shalem (Whole Nation) [רף] – Party leader, former Shas MK Haim Amsalem sent shock waves through the ultra-Orthodox political world when he split from the party in 2011 in protest of its opposition to drafting yeshiva students into the military. Failing to enter the Knesset in 2012, Amsalem became a regular guest on Israeli television, presenting himself as an ultra-Orthodox rabbi who acknowledges his community’s flaws. In the April 2019 election, his ran with the far-right liberalist Zehut party, failing to enter the Knesset; he sat out the past two elections.

Zehut party number two Rabbi Haim Amsalem speaking to potential voters in Safed, March 9, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Anachnu (Us) [נר] promises to address a variety of social issues but the party’s flagship concern is correcting the electoral system in Israel. The party says that Israel sufferers from “a severe a state of lack of governance,” and that immediate and “deep cutting” reforms are needed to allow wider representation across all of Israeli society.

Olam Hadash (New World) [ני] has said it will work for the weaker sectors of Israeli society, including senior citizens, the self-employed and new immigrants. The party promises to fight to double senior citizens’ pensions and says it would sit in any government and under any prime minister to achieve the aim.

HaMapatz HaChevrati (The Social Breakthrough) [י] is made up of social workers, community organizers and social activists and aims to “make the Israeli government take responsibility for its citizens by providing welfare to allow all Israeli citizens to enjoy a good life.”

Atzameinu Atzmaim Liberalim (Liberal Independent Workers) [צי] was formed following the mass economic protests that erupted in the wake of coronavirus restrictions that shuttered many business and left hundreds of thousands without work. The party says the self-employed have been “serially deprived since the establishment of the state,” and pledges to change the status of Israel’s small business owners.

Hundreds of thousands of Israeli gather to protest against the cost of living in Israel, in a main square in central Tel Aviv, September 3, 2011. (AP Photo/Ariel Schalit/File)

Tikva LeShinui (Hope For Change) [רנ] is a Arab Israeli party led by Sheikh A’ataf Krinoway, who heads the Negev-based Social Justice and National Service NGO. The party says it aims “to bring full equality to Israel’s Arabs and to fully integrate them into society and state institutions.”

HaYisraelim (The Israelis) [ז] is a small party aiming to bring about “social change” that claims Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s now-defunct “Israelis” party took its name against election protocol. The party, which has run in three previous elections since 2009, is currently headed by tour guide Yaron Regev.

Brit HaShutafim (Covenant of partners) [ין] is a Christian Israeli party chaired by ship captain Bashara Shalian of Nazareth that seeks greater integration of minorities into Israeli society, equality and an end to discrimination.

The Manhigut Hevratit (Social Leadership) [יר] party, headed by veteran Knesset also-ran Ilan Meshicha, says that it is committed to “caring for all of the people of Israel based on a commitment to the ideals of our forefathers.” In the 2015 election, the party broke a record for receiving the fewest ever votes by any faction running in any Israeli election — it scored 223. Amazingly, the previous record was also held by Meshicha who in the 2013 elections won 461 votes — then the lowest ever — with his now-defunct Tradition of the Fathers party.

— Raoul Wootliff

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