JAMES MARLOW reports from Jerusalem just before Israelis head to the voting booths and choose a political party of their choice on Tuesday for the twenty-first Knesset.

OPINION: As someone who has immersed himself in election analysis, candidate squabbling, party mergers and election polls for the last four months, I am thankful we are now just days away from the general election. But we will have many, many weeks of coalition negotiations still to come and that’s only if a leading party can form a government with other parties – if not, it’s back to another election later in the year.

My instinct tells me that there will be at least one big surprise on Wednesday morning when the votes are counted, and the results are announced. It maybe Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut party, as suggested by a respected pollster will astonish everyone and end up with 7 or more seats. It could be that Blue and White, which is made up of three political parties, and at one time was polling 7 seats ahead of Likud, could end up with less than 30 seats and therefore have little chance of forming a coalition. Or perhaps the surprise will be at least one well-known party like Meretz, Yisrael Beitenu or Shas may completely disappear from the Knesset, having failed to reach the minimum threshold.

I have covered elections since the eighties and each time the dirty tricks and mud-slinging from the parties gets worse with all sorts of accusations being aimed at each other. Even the polls have drifted wildly from one side to the other these past two months – partly due to a few party mergers but also because more has been revealed about faction leaderships and voters have turned elsewhere.

Polls offer huge advantages to the voters and with at least a dozen survey companies compiling poll tables for the news networks and newspapers, many base their decision on who to vote for according to poll numbers. If a party is barely reaching the minimum threshold, they may turn away thinking it could be a wasted vote. On the other hand, some voters have told me if they note a party is polling well, they will vote for another party as they do not wish to give that faction too much power.

In addition, political parties commission survey companies to determine how well they as a party are doing with their supporters. Tzipi Livni withdrew her Hatnua faction based on low poll numbers. The Achi Yisraeli party founded by Adina Bar-Shalom, who is the eldest child of the late halachic authority and former mentor, Ovadia Yosef, pulled out, due to falling behind the minimum threshold. And last week former Shas head Eli Yishai, who formed his own party called Yachad threw in the towel as all polls showed he would not enter the Knesset.

There were a record number of 47 parties who registered with the Central Elections Committee to run this time. They include the Pirate Party, the Simply Love Party and the new Ki Party led by the father of murder victim Kim Levengrond Yehezkel. In addition, there is a Bible Bloc Party known as Gush Hatanachi, a new centrist Arab party called New Horizon and another new party called Bitachon Hevrati led by Semion Grafman who spent a year in a US federal prison for involvement in money laundering and insurance fraud. Ironically, his list of policies includes, “fighting corruption.”

I do recall there was a sausage roll party back in the nineties set up by an Israeli who was angry that every time he purchased sausage rolls, he felt there was not enough meat inside, and campaigned for legislation that retailers had to add “the meat.” Sadly, for meat lovers, the party did not cross the minimum threshold.

Reliable polling still shows that up to a third of voters are still undecided which party ballot slip they should put in the envelope and some (like myself in previous years), make the decision whilst standing in the voting booth.

Here is a brief look at some of the party manifestos expected to pass the threshold on Tuesday night:


BLUE AND WHITE Headed by Benny Gantz

A brand-new faction made up of three parties and three former IDF Chief of Staff’s with a centralist platform. Firstly, former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon who was sacked by the Prime Minister, promptly resigned from Likud and vowed to stand against Netanyahu for PM. But his newly formed Telem party could not even rise above the minimum 3.25% threshold. Benny Gantz then confirmed his new party called Israel Resilience which immediately polled at 16 seats. He then joined with Ya’alon to increase their popularity to 19 seats. Next Gabi Ashkenazi joined and just before the deadline to submit party lists and candidates, Gantz merged with Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid who received 11 seats in the March 2015 election.

Suddenly the faction polled up to 36 seats without Benny Gantz saying a word on any subject, proving voters were looking for something new. The faction registered the name Blue and White, but when Gantz made his first speech, some voters drifted away. The party policies include public transport on Shabbat, recognition and funding of the reform movement and making room for liberal prayer services at the Kotel.

On security matters Gantz vowed to keep the Golan, Jordan Valley and to be tough on terrorism and especially Hamas in Gaza. The party has not spoken about two states and have said little on social and economic issues. Gantz also believes a new leadership will bring the country together because he insists no government minister can be tainted with the word corruption or fraud.

Yair Lapid’s late father Tommy Lapid, led the Shinui party but used his position to attack religion and the Jewish religious community in an extreme and uncompromising way and many traditional Jews completely rejected this. Today the chareidi community believe his son, Yair Lapid, is like the father and they don’t trust him. Therefore, the two religious parties are unlikely to join Blue and White in a government, especially as Lapid would be Prime Minister in an agreed rotation agreement with Gantz.  

LIKUD Headed by Binyamin Netanyahu

With a platform of low taxation, private enterprise, including a free market economy, the Likud has privatised state-owned companies and in doing so has brought in huge competition to utility companies, mobile phone operators and airliners flying to and from Tel Aviv. It has also eased bureaucracy that foreign companies experienced when investing in Israel. Netanyahu has also presided over the longest period of economic stability in the country’s history and has reached out to countries in Asia, Africa and South America to forge new trade deals.  

However, Netanyahu has been blamed from many sides for rising poverty which is not just in the Chareidi and Arab sectors, but in mainstream Israel. Generally, prices of food, property and other essentials are much more than the average wage of an Israeli, despite the thriving economy. The gap between rich and poor is enormous.  

On the Palestinian front, Netanyahu believes in continued cooperation with Palestinian Police forces in Area’s A and B which have been extremely helpful in thwarting terrorist attacks. However, he has come under attack for not making decisive decisions about the growing Islamist problem in Gaza and continuous rocket fire. Netanyahu has hinted that if he is re-elected for an unprecedented fifth term, he will annex Area C in Judea and Samaria which is where the major Jewish community blocs are based. In addition, the Likud believe in a strong Jewish state with strong Jewish values and is proud of passing the nation state law. The Likud has always been a centre to right party but some of its candidates are more-right wing.   

LABOR Headed by Avi Gabbay

Labor is a centre to left party but has moved further to the left since the Oslo Accords in 1993 and indeed since they were last in power under Ehud Barak until January 2001. The party has traditionally stood for a strong socialist welfare state with strong links to the trade unions and nationalisation, believing the middle and upper classes should pay higher taxes to fund the welfare needed for the poorer members of society.

However, it does accept that under the Likud years, Israel is today a thriving capitalist economy and would therefore not revert entirely to hard socialist policies and complete nationalisation. But would take strong steps to distribute the wealth to the poorer members of society and somehow break the monopoly of the main Israeli food companies who deliberately keep prices high. Labor also vow to fight for the rights of Israeli workers and pensioners with a minimum wage and guaranteed pension.  

On the Palestinian front, Labor has made major concessions in Gaza, Judea and Samaria over the years which has in return, brought terror and destruction to Israelis. This is the main reason Labor lost power more than 18 years ago and has since struggled to come close to forming another government with major infighting and 13 party leaders. But today Labor have played down a lasting peace agreement as the Israeli public overwhelmingly do not believe there is any Palestinian leader willing to give up their red lines of a “Palestinian right of return” and a full withdrawal to pre-June 1967 with minor land exchanges.

HADASH and TA’AL Headed by Ayman Odeh             

Hadash is the Israeli Communist party led by Odeh and made up mostly from Arab candidates. 90% of its voters come from the Arab sector, although it does have one very secular Jewish candidate on the party list. His name is Ofer Kassif, who was disqualified by the Central Elections Committee last month on the grounds of racism against Jews and Israel, but the High Court overturned the decision. Hadash is running with the Arab party known in English as the Democratic Front for Peace and Equality led by Ahmed Tibi who is a former advisor to Yasser Arafat. Tibi has previously stated, “We hold that the Jewish character of the State of Israel must be annulled,” and has previously “welcomed” and “admired” the intifada.  

In the previous Knesset, four Arab factions with different ideologies joined ranks and became the third largest political party in the Knesset with 13 seats. However, in January, all four factions split from the Joint List and then paired up as two separate parties. The two Arab factions could again reach 13 seats.

YEHADUT HATORAH Headed by Yaacov Litzman

In English, the faction is known as United Torah Judaism which is made up of the strictly Orthodox Ashkenazi Lithuanian Chareidi party headed by Moshe Gafni and Agudat Yisrael which is the Ashkenazi Chassidic party made up of groups such as Gur, Vishnitz, Belz and Bobov, headed by Litzman. The merger was approved by the late halachic authority, Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv who represented Degal and the Gerrer (Gur) Rebbe, who represented Aguda.  

The two Rabbis signed the agreement to run together back in the early nineties and have run together ever since. Only for the twelth Knesset election in 1988, shortly after Degel was founded, did they run seperately.

The religious faction believes in a strong Torah educational system, funding for their religious schools and yeshiva programmes and at the very least, a long deferment from conscription into the army, due to its secular structure and make-up. On the Palestinian front, there has been a difference of opinion between the two lists in previous years – Degal is more right-wing and against giving up parts of the Land of Israel whereas Aguda was willing to concede land as it considered the learning of Torah more important. However today they both agree there is no Palestinian leader to talk to.  

Unlike Shas, this party has traditionally not accepted any ministerial posts but only deputy ministerial positions. That was until this last Knesset when Litzman received the go ahead from UTJ Rabbis to become Health Minister. However due to some internal rabbinic disagreements, Litzman was informed a year later he had to revert to the deputy role whilst the Prime Minister officially became Health Minister, (along with 4 other portfolios).

Their Sephardi counterparts, Shas, have in the past always received more seats that UTJ, but this time things may be different if UTJ can convince its rival hardliners, Peleg Yerushaliyim (Jerusalem Faction) to vote for the UTJ and not convince their supporters to boycott the polls.  

HAYEMIN HEHADASH Headed by Naftali Bennett

Known in English as the New Right, Bennett, who was previously leader of the Jewish Home, which was the original National Religious party or Mafdal, surprised the country late last year and announced he was forming a new party. Jewish Home attracted many secular voters and their number two, Justice Minister, Ayelet Shaked, is a secular, but traditional Jew.  

Bennett felt he can only make a difference to the Israeli split between secular and national religious, if he makes his own decisions and does not have to report back to the Mafdal Rabbis. So he broke away with Shaked and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli – if a minimum of 3 MKs break away from a party in the Knesset, they automatically receive some government funding to fight the next election.  

The New Right are a secular-religious right-wing party believing strong might is needed to clear Gaza of its Islamists. The party will also compromise on reform and liberal mixed prayer at the Western Wall (Kotel) and be lenient when it comes to conversion to Judaism.  

Speaking at an event in Tel Aviv earlier this year, Ayelet Shaked declared, “We want to encourage more and more people to convert to Judaism and the best way to do that is through the army,” she said, praising the efforts of religious-Zionist Rabbi Haim Druckman. Former Jerusalem Post journalist, Caroline Glick who is number six on the party list also joined Shaked on stage, saying that  seeking  a freer conversion process, was one of the reasons Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett broke off from Bayit Yehudi, (Jewish Home). In addition, the party wish to introduce legislation that each new government has the right to appoint its own Supreme Court Judges.  


Made up of the right-wing parties, Bayit Yehudi, National Union and the far-right Otzma Yehudit, the faction has traditionally represented the modern orthodox and settler’s movement. But the National Religious party, (NRP) or Mafdal has been on a journey with so many different factions joining and breaking away for the last twenty years.  

The Jewish Home had no choice but to join with National Union and Otzma because if it did not, all polls showed the party would completely disappear from the Knesset after Bennett suddenly bolted from the party, taking many supporters with him. As it looks today, some of the grass roots support has disappeared because of its merger with the far-right, but no doubt, the new party will also have attracted those who want a much tougher stance against terrorism and believe in annexing the entire West Bank, known historically as Judea and Samaria.  

The new URWP also call for the re-taking of Gaza and giving financial incentives to encourage Palestinian Arabs to resettle abroad.

SHAS headed by Aryeh Deri  

A party set up to look after the interests of Sephardi Jews (those that came from Arab countries) and although is a strictly Orthodox Chareidi party, it has in the past attracted many secular voters. The party believes in a strong educational system along with government funding for their religious school system and yeshiva programmes. It also believes in a welfare state as many Sephardi Jews (especially the religious) live below the poverty line.

In the election days of two votes – one for a prime minister and one for a party, Shas received a whopping 17 seats and was a key player when it came to coalition talks. However, since the death of the great halachic authority and mentor, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the party is now struggling to reach the minimum threshold, especially since the high publicised break up between leader Aryeh Deri and the former Shas leader Eli Yishai in 2014, about a year after the death of Rabbi Yosef.

On the Palestinian front, Shas supported the Oslo One agreement but opposed Oslo Two. Since the Intifada it moved to the right after dozens and dozens of suicide bombings. Just like United Torah Judaism, Shas believes in a long deferment from conscription into the army or preferably no army, due to its secular structure and make-up. But unlike UTJ, Shas accepts ministerial posts.  

MERETZ headed by Tamar Zandberg 

The far-left Meretz party formed just before the 1992 general election and was originally made up of three parties – Mapam, Shinui and Ratz (Citizens Rights Movement). Mapam represented the far-left Socialist National Workers Union while Shinui and Ratz were more centralist with their ideology. However, all merged with a goal of separating Jewish values and traditions from the affairs of the state. They won 12 seats in 1992 and held on to most of them throughout the nineties with a far-left political platform including huge criticism against the religious community. Mapam, Shinui and Ratz immersed themselves within Meretz which is why the party name Shinui, was available and grabbed by Tommy Lapid who ran with the name just before the 1999 election. Just like the Labor party, Meretz have also had numerous leaders over the years which has brought major internal infighting. This is one reason why the party struggle to meet the minimum threshold.

However, Meretz is the only faction in this election openly talking about two states and that Israel must withdraw from “all Palestinian occupied territory” including the old city of Jerusalem. It further believes in a complete separation between Judaism and the state, the introduction of secular marriages in Israel without any interference from the Rabbis and full recognition of LBGT rights in all areas of society, marriage, adoption of children, mixed toilets and prayer.

 KULANU headed by Moshe Kahlon

Another former Likud MK who fell out with Netanyahu and formed his own party just before  the March 2015 election to win 10 seats and Kahlon became Finance Minister. However, some have felt Kahlon has not made a large enough impact, which explains why his party is polling just above the minimum threshold. Kulanu hold similar views to the Likud although Kulanu wishes to focus more on social and economic issues. Kahlon was invited to return to the Likud earlier this year, but he prefers to have a voice as head of his own party rather than being lost within a large Likud party.    

ZEHUT by Moshe Feiglin   

This party could be the surprise of the election – a former Likud member who formed his own faction within Likud, called Jewish Leadership, he managed to enrol thousands of hard-line right-wing supporters to join Likud and vote for him in 3 leadership elections against Netanyahu. Of course, he lost each one, but he became a Likud MK in 2013, although the 19th Knesset only lasted for 2 years. He was a constant thorn in the side of Netanyahu for his hard-line views and when he won a reasonable position on the Likud slate in 2015, Netanyahu used a legal manoeuvre to bump him down to an unrealistic spot. Feiglin promptly resigned after many years as a Likud member and formed Zehut.

His policies include annexing the entire West Bank, rebuilding the Beit Hamigdash (Temple) and carpet-bombing Gaza as well as appointing a right wing religious Supreme Court to make real changes in Israel. However, what is unusual, is Feiglin has also adopted a liberal attitude when it comes to Shabbat transportation, secular marriages, the selling and eating of pig, and the big one is the legalisation of cannabis. (Some say, he was on it when he wrote his manifesto). Believe it or not, Feiglin was polling 7 seats this week in one survey as he has attracted many Israeli lefties who just want to smoke pot.

BALAD AND RA’AM headed by Mansour Abbas  

Balad is known in English as the National Democratic Alliance and is the mostly secular but nationalistic Arab party. It has previously been led by Azmi Bishara, who assisted Hezbollah firing rockets into Israel from Lebanon whilst a Knesset MK and is now on the run. And Haneen Zoabi who as a Balad MK loathed Israel as a Jewish state, calls all soldiers murderers, backed the intifada and spat in the faces of Arab Israeli soldiers and police.  

Ra’am is the United Arab List which is mostly made up of the Israel Islamic Movement and is also quite radical against the Jewish state. The two parties  previously ran with Hadash and Ta’al as the Joint List in the 2015 election, but split in January.  

YISRAEL BEITEINU headed by Avigdor Lieberman  

Ironically, it was Lieberman that first introduced the minimum threshold of 3.25% and now his own party may not make it into the next Knesset. Yisrael Beiteinu is a right-wing secular party, believing in a no-nonsense approach to any terrorism and a massive retaliatory strike against Gaza. As his party represented many Russians from the former Soviet Union who were not halachically Jewish, the party supports civil marriage, easy conversion and the selling and eating of pig. In addition, all Israeli citizens must contribute to the state, either by some form of national service or the army – this includes Arabs as well as Chareidim.

What is unusual about this right-wing party is that it has always supported a Palestinian state and believes the way to do this is by transferring all Arabs to the north of Israel where the majority of Israeli Arabs live and taking the Jews from the north and settling them in the West Bank – a plan adopted by India and Pakistan when the Muslim state was created.



































James will be appearing at the Borehamwood United Synagogue from 7.30pm on election night, Tuesday 9th April, as the exit polls float in from Israel.

In addition, he will be discussing the results of the election and coalition agreements at the Edgware United Synagogue in Edgware on Tuesday 4 June from 8.30pm.

You can email him at James@TheJewishWeekly.com to ask a question or invite him to speak at your group, organisation or school.

AND finally, the last poll table just before the general election on Tuesday.

Just click here…..Poll Table

James Marlow