January Madness: Guide to the Parties

(Crossposted to Mah Rabu.)
Have you entered the January Madness pool yet? Once again, here is a guide to the 34 parties running in the election, with links to their websites if we can find them (English if available, otherwise Hebrew if available, otherwise Arabic if available). In addition, here are the lists of candidates running on each party list, in Hebrew (complete), English (incomplete), and Arabic (incomplete).
Parties represented in the current Knesset:

  • Am Shalem: The name of the party (“Whole Nation”) is a play on the name of the founder, MK Rabbi Haim Amsalem, who was elected as an MK from Shas, but broke with party orthodoxy (as it were) on issues such as conversion and whether haredi men should work for a living, and started his own faction. Am Shalem “seeks to unite all Jews and restore moderate Judaism to Israel”, and to integrate haredim into the workforce and the army.
  • Habayit Hayehudi: After an aborted attempt in the last election, the far-right National Union and the former Mafdal (National Religious Party) have succeeded this time around in forming a combined party. At the top of the joint list is newcomer Naftali Bennett: high-tech millionaire, son of American immigrants, and former head of the settler movement. Bennett’s positions have attracted controversy, including saying he would refuse military orders to evacuate settlements, and proposing the annexation of Area C (the parts of the West Bank where the settlements are located).
  • Hadash – Democratic Front for Peace and Equality: This left-wing Arab-Jewish party, which includes the Israeli Communist Party, is led once again by MK Mohammed Barakeh. Hadash has supported a two-state solution since before it was popular.
  • Hatenua: After former Kadima head and opposition leader Tzipi Livni lost the Kadima leadership election to Shaul Mofaz, she resigned from the Knesset. Now she’s back with a new centrist party, “The Movement”, and has recruited 7 of her former Kadima colleagues in the Knesset. As Kadima’s 2009 candidate for prime minister, Livni has put together an impressive list of fellow also-rans: in the #2 spot is 2003 Labor candidate Amram Mitzna, and in #3 is 2006 Labor candidate Amir Peretz. Hatenua has also joined forces with the Green Movement (whose leader, Alon Tal, is #13 on the list), which ran a joint list with Meimad in 2009 (but Meimad is not running in this year’s election).
  • Israel Labor Party: In the 2009 election, Labor (the center-left party going back to the beginning of the state) hit a historic low, winning only 13 seats. And then it got even smaller: Party leader (and Defense Minister) MK Ehud Barak wanted to stay part of the Netanyahu government, and the majority of the party didn’t, so Barak and 4 other MKs formed a breakaway party, Atzma’ut (Independence), reducing the Labor faction to 8. (Barak has announced his retirement from politics, and Atzma’ut is not running in this election.) Labor is now trying to rebound, with new leadership (MK Shelly Yachimovich) and a focus on domestic issues. Labor’s candidate list includes some notable new faces: At #8 is Stav Shaffir, organizer of the tent protests, and at #27 is Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Israeli Reform movement.
  • Kadima: This centrist party, led at the time by Tzipi Livni, actually won the largest number of seats (28) in the 2009 election, but was unable to pull together 60 seats to form a coalition, so Netanyahu got to form the coalition and become prime minister instead, and Kadima has been leading the opposition. Kadima is now led by MK Shaul Mofaz, and has been splintered, with some of its members leaving for Hatenua and elsewhere.
  • Likud Yisrael Beiteinu: The Likud, led by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, and its lead coalition partner Yisrael Beiteinu, led by MK Avigdor Lieberman, have combined to form a right-wing superparty. Lieberman recently resigned as Foreign Minister after being indicted for fraud and breach of trust, but he remains at #2 on the party list for the election. The superparty hopes to remain in power for the next Knesset, and Netanyahu hopes to be reelected for a third term as Prime Minister, unprecedented since Ben-Gurion.
  • Meretz – Israel’s Left: The leftmost majority-Jewish party in the Knesset, Meretz has been shrinking in recent elections. In this election, Meretz will be led for the first time by MK Zahava Gal-On, who has been active in working against human trafficking. A number of distinguished Israelis are in symbolic positions on the Meretz list, such as writer A.B. Yehoshua in the 109th spot.
  • National Democratic Assembly (Balad): One of the two major Arab parties. Once again it is led by MK Jamal Zahalka, who took over after party founder Azmi Bishara fled the country. But the candidate who has been attracting more attention is #2 candidate MK Hanin Zoabi (the first woman elected to Knesset from an Arab party), who participated in the 2010 Gaza flotilla and was banned by the Central Elections Committee from running in the election, but was reinstated by the Supreme Court.
  • Otzma Leyisrael: Not everyone in the National Union went along with the Habayit Hayehudi merger. Two MKs stayed behind and started their own (also far-right) faction: the secular Jabotinskyite MK Arieh Eldad and the Kahanist MK Michael Ben-Ari. Also on the list, at #3, is Baruch Marzel, former leader of the banned Kach party.
  • ShasM: This Sephardi haredi party often wins enough seats to make or break coalitions. Longtime leader MK Eli Yishai is at the top of the list once again, but the big news this year is that former leader Aryeh Deri has returned to politics (after serving time for bribery) and is running at #2. (Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef is the party’s spiritual leader, but doesn’t run in the elections.)
  • United Arab List (Ra’am) – Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al) – Arab Democratic Party (Mada): One of the two main Arab parties, made up of multiple factions, including the southern faction of the Islamic Movement, where party leader MK Ibrahim Sarsur comes from. Another faction is the Arab Democratic Party, led by MK Taleb el-Sana (running at #5). Ta’al is MK Ahmad Tibi’s operation (Tibi is in the #2 spot), and has allied with Balad and Hadash in the past.
  • United Torah Judaism: Despite haredi population growth, the main Ashkenazi haredi party’s representation in the Knesset has remained remarkably stable. It is led once again by MK Yaakov Litzman, who represents the Agudat Yisrael faction and the Ger Hasidim. At #2 is MK Moshe Gafni, representing the Degel Hatorah faction and the B’nei B’rak yeshivish crowd.

Parties not represented in the current Knesset:

  • Brit Olam Legeulat Yisrael: As far as I can tell, this party is very different from the Jewish-Arab party that ran under the name Brit Olam in the last election. (A number of the parties below also have the same names as parties that ran last time, but are completely unrelated. This is because it’s easier to register if the party’s name is already on the books.) This year’s Brit Olam has biblical quotes on its home page, and the slogan “Yes! to the God of Israel”. Its platform includes Israeli sovereignty over “all the territories of Judea and Samaria”, the expansion of settlements, expanded national health care, and higher salaries for teachers.
  • Chaim Bekavod: This new party is advocating on behalf of seniors living alone and in poverty.
  • Da’am – Workers Party: This far-left Arab-Jewish party “views socialism as the alternative to the present capitalist regime, which has forfeited the trust of its citizens” and supports the Arab Spring. The party is headed by activist Asma Aghbarieh-Zahalka (no relation to Balad’s Jamal Zahalka as far as I know), the first Arab woman to lead an Israeli party.
  • Dor Bonei Haaretz: “The generation who built the country”. This is the new incarnation of Gil (the Pensioners’ Party), which surprised everyone and won 7 Knesset seats in 2006, but then faded away in 2009. They’re still advocating for retired people.
  • Eretz Hadasha: This left-wing party opposes corruption and the influence of money in politics. Its Facebook page sports a number of pictures of young supporters who have written the hashtag ארץחדשה# on their hands.
  • Green Leaf – Liberal List: The Green Leaf (Aleh Yarok) party has been around for a while, supporting marijuana legalization. But by rebranding themselves as the Liberal List, they’re also emphasizing other planks of their platform “based on the principles of free market and individual freedom”. It’s “liberal” in the European sense – i.e. closer to what Americans would call “libertarian”.
  • Hatikva Leshinui: A new Arab party that supports full equality for Arab Israelis and integration into Israeli society. They want to see Arab Israelis serve as a bridge in relations between Israel and Arab states.
  • Hayisraelim: This party represents Russian immigrants, charging that Yisrael Beiteinu (having joined with Likud) no longer represents them.
  • Koach Lehashpia: A breakaway party from Shas, led by Rabbi Amnon Yitzchak (who, like Shas’s R. Ovadiah Yosef, is not running as a candidate), founder of the kiruv (outreach) organization Shofar.
  • Kulanu Haverim: It was bound to happen eventually. The Na Nach Hasidim, known for dance parties in the streets and graffiti saying “Na Nach Nachma Nachman Me’Uman” (Hebrew for “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare”), have formed a political party. Their platform calls for being happy.
  • Light (Or): A secular party calling for separation of religion and state.
  • Mitkademet Liberalit Democratit: This party, also known as “Leeder”, is a Russian immigrant party aligned with the Liberal Democratic Party of Russia.
  • Moreshet Avot: Led by Ilan Meshicha Yar-Zanbar, this party says it wants to bring all the parties together to solve economic problems. Their #3 candidate is named Moshe Moses.
  • Netzach: A “Lithuanian” haredi party founded by followers of Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach of Jerusalem. It’s a breakaway from Degel Hatorah (the non-Hasidic faction within United Torah Judaism).
  • One Future – Fighting the New Drug: The “new drug” is Internet pornography. They want to pass legislation requiring Internet providers to filter porn, except to users who opt out of the filter.
  • The Economics Party: This party was founded by American-born brothers Danny and Benny Goldstein, and is led by Russian-born Kadima MK Yulia Shamalov-Berkovich. They support a free-market economy, and Danny Goldstein calls it “the first party in Israeli politics that has American ideals and American ways”.
  • The Green and Young for a Green Future in Israel: This is the latest branding for the Green Party (Hayerukim), which has been around for a while (not to be confused with the Green Movement, which is running on a joint list with Hatenuah). Like other Green parties around the world, it is an environmental party. Longtime party leader Peer Visner was convicted of forgery and fraud, so the party is now led by Amir Meltzer.
  • The Pirates: ARRRR! Yes, this is a real party. It’s not the type of pirates you’re thinking of, though their logo is a skull with an eyepatch. It’s pirates in the sense of software piracy, and they’re part of an international movement of Pirate Parties that has actually gotten candidates elected to the European Parliament and the Czech Senate. They want to lift restrictions on intellectual property, and provide free Internet access as a basic right.
  • Tzedek Hevrati: Despite using the same name (“Social Justice”), this is not the party founded by Russian-Israeli-Angolan billionaire Arkadi Gaydamak. It is a group of social justice activists, led by Gad Haran, who want to continue the work of the tent protests. Their platform emphasizes affordable housing, health care, and raising the minimum wage.
  • We Are Brothers: This party was founded by Ethiopian and Indian immigrants, and opposes racial discrimination. Their platform includes economic measures to fight poverty.
  • Yesh Atid: By far the most prominent of the parties running in the election that are not currently represented in the Knesset. This new centrist party was founded by former TV anchor Yair Lapid, and has put together an eclectic list of candidates including mayors and rabbis. Their emphasis is on domestic issues.

Enter January Madness now! Good luck!!!

3 thoughts on “January Madness: Guide to the Parties

  1. If I was still in Israel, I’d be voting for Hadash. If Hadash didn’t exist, I’d prolly vote for Da’am. That said…. to the extent that Hadash is more boring, I’m for boring.

  2. I would vote for Yesh Lanu Tayish party, which demands line dancing return to the streets. It is a secular breakaway from the Na Nach party, which similarly seeks to promote joy, though this party also advocates goat ownership as an alternative to national service…

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