The Israeli election is two days away!!! Therefore, tomorrow is your last chance to enter Mah Rabu‘s Israeli election March Madness pool. Entry is FREE! To enter, all you have to do is predict how many Knesset seats each party will win. Full instructions are here.
A number of people have expressed concern that they didn’t feel that they could enter, because they haven’t been following the election closely enough. To that I say, humbug. I’ve entered conventional March Madness pools with much much less knowledge about NCAA basketball than you have about Israeli politics. One year I even won (since a large number of upsets knocked out the people who had made more educated choices). And here are some tips to make it easier:
1) Yes, there are 31 parties, and that’s a lot. However, only 13 of them are represented in the current Knesset. It’s a reasonable guess to assume that parties in the current Knesset are most likely to make it into the next Knesset.
2) Wikipedia has been collecting poll results on this election.
3) The Israeli March Madness page has links to many of the parties’ websites. Also, I’ve written brief summaries of each party in this post below the fold. Between these descriptions and the heated comments from Jewschool readers who disagree with my armchair punditry, you should have more than enough information to start predicting.

Parties represented in the current Knesset:

  • Hadash: The Israeli Communist Party, primarily Arab, but with some Jewish candidates. Supports a two-state solution with national capitals in West Jerusalem and East Jerusalem.
  • Hetz / Secular Zionist Movement: Split off from Shinui, taking most of Shinui’s Knesset faction along. It’s not clear to me whether there are any substantive differences between Hetz and Shinui, or whether they split over personal politics. Both are centrist parties that support separation of religion and state, and a free-market economy. Both parties expect significant losses in this election, now that Kadima is in the picture.
  • Ichud Leumi / National Union – Mafdal / National Religious Party: An alliance between Ichud Leumi (an alliance of far-right parties) and the once-moderate Mafdal. Last summer’s “orange” movement cemented the “religious Zionist” population’s lurch to the right. The combined party is made up of settlers and their supporters, and advocates for a single Jewish state between the Jordan and the Mediterranean.
  • Kadima: The breakaway centrist party founded by Sharon just before his incapacitating stroke, drawing MKs from Labor, the Likud, and elsewhere, and supporting more unilateral withdrawals from the territories. Now that Sharon is out of the picture, Kadima continues to lead in the polls under Acting PM Ehud Olmert, defying expectations that Kadima’s support was for Sharon alone.
  • Labor-Meimad: Labor is the center-left party that has been in the top two since 1948. Under its new leader, Amir Peretz, the Moroccan-born leader of the Histadrut labor union, Labor is putting increased emphasis on the social and economic issues that the major parties tend to overlook, and may gain support among Mizrachi voters. Meimad (Jewish State, Democratic State) is a left-leaning Orthodox party, led by R. Michael Melchior, that has teamed up with Labor for the last several elections.
  • Likud: Bibi Netanyahu leads what remains of the Likud after the many defections to Kadima. Netanyahu’s Likud opposes further unilateral withdrawals, as it opposed Sharon’s Gaza plan.
  • Meretz: The left-wing Zionist party, supporting a two-state solution through a negotiated peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and separation between religion and state. Probably the only party with both a haredi candidate and Arab candidates.
  • National Democratic Assembly / Balad: An Arab party calling for a “state of all its citizens” and supporting the Palestinian “right of return”. Secular, in contrast to the largely religious United Arab List.
  • Shas: A Sephardi haredi party that also draws support from non-haredi Sephardim, often finding its way into coalitions on the left and right. Its spiritual leader, Ovadia Yosef, recently promised that you’ll go to heaven if you vote Shas.
  • Shinui: This is what remains of this secular centrist party after the split. See Hetz, above.
  • Torah and Shabbat Judaism / United Torah Judaism: The Ashkenazi haredi party formed by a marriage of convenience between Degel Hatorah (Lithuanian misnagdim) and Agudat Yisrael (Hasidim). They can’t stand each other, but they want the same things: money for the yeshivot, money for families with many children, and a continuation of the religion-state status quo.
  • United Arab List / Ra’am: An Arab party whose dominant faction is the Islamic Movement, in contrast to the secular Hadash and Balad.
  • Yisrael Beiteinu: A right-wing party popular among immigrants from the former Soviet Union, led by Avigdor Lieberman. Supports an exchange of territory involving Israeli Arab towns inside the Green Line and Jewish settlements in the West Bank. Many other parties have been lining up to say that they will or will not serve in a coalition with Lieberman.

Parties not represented in the current Knesset:

  • Brit Olam: I don’t know their story. Anyone?
  • Da’am / Organization for Democratic Action: An Arab workers’ party that split from the Communist Party (Hadash), who they felt “had retreated from the principles of Marxism after the collapse of the Soviet Union”.  Opposes the PA and Islamists.
  • Gil:  Israel’s version of the AARP, advocating for retired people.
  • Green Leaf / Aleh Yarok: This left-wing party’s headline issue is legalization of marijuana, but their platform includes much more, including same-sex marriage. Mobius appears to have endorsed them.
  • Greens / Hayerukim: Israel’s affiliate of the international Green Party movement, with environmental issues at the top of their agenda.
  • Herut:  Named after Jabotinsky’s Herut party, ancestor of today’s Likud, but has no affiliation with it.  A far-right party that supports “greater Israel”, emigration of Arabs to Arab countries, and a return to Gush Katif.
  • Lechem:  Economic justice platform.  I don’t know much more.
  • Leeder:  Immigrants from the former Soviet Union, and I think further to the left than Yisrael Beiteinu.
  • Lev:  Immigrants from central Asia, advocating for olim and ethnic minorities in general.
  • National Arab Party: Another Arab party.  Recently dropped out and endorsed Balad.
  • National Jewish Front / Hayil:  A far-right party that supports the “complete Land of Israel”, and supports amending the Law of Return to prevent “non-Jews” from immigrating to Israel. Its leader, Baruch Marzel, was recently featured here on Jewschool for saying that the outbreak of bird flu was punishment for the Gaza withdrawal.
  • New Zionism:  Advocates rights of Holocaust survivors.
  • One Future / Atid Echad:  Supports full inclusion of Ethiopian olim into Israeli society, but their slate also includes non-Ethiopian candidates such as maverick American publisher Yossi Abramowitz.
  • Party for the Struggle with the Banks / Halev:  Their website says “You thought Hamas was dangerous?  That’s nothing compared to the banks!”
  • Strength to the Poor / Oz La’aniyim:  The name says it all.
  • Tafnit:  A centrist party whose platform of unilateral separation seems to be similar to Kadima, but they’re more forthright about it, since they don’t have to please everyone the way Kadima does.  They also attack the corruption in all of the major parties.
  • Tzedek Lakol / Men’s Rights:  Angry divorced men who don’t want to pay child support.
  • Tzomet:  A historically agricultural right-wing party.  Ran a joint list with Likud in 1996, but hasn’t won any Knesset seats since then.

If you’re an Israeli citizen, vote for real!  Otherwise, enter the March Madness pool!