There are many people who deeply care about Israel who find this Israeli election very confusing – primarily, because it can be very hard to keep track of so many parties.
Here is my three minute introduction to the 11 major parties in this Israeli election (naturally, this will oversimplify the parties, but hopefully it gives a starting point that organises what can otherwise be very confusing)
Imagine that you live in Israel. We can point to five different issues that there are in Israelis lives, and we can associate different parties with each of them.
- The economy – Many find the cost of living in Israel too high, due to a mixture of taxes, monopolies and bureaucracy – this lead to large protests on the streets a few years ago.
- Chareidim – Many Israelis are angry that the Chareidi sector encourages its children not to serve in the army, or work for a living, but encourages them to study in Yeshivot for their whole lives. The Chareidim want representatives who will help them financially, and allow them to live a lifestyle in which they can maintain their religious standards.
- Israeli Arabs – about 20% of Israel is Arab. Israeli Arabs have been accused of not having a true commitment to the State of Israel, but Israeli Arabs often feel that they are on the receiving end of racism from Israel`s Jewish citizens.
- The Palestinian question – There are millions of Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, who currently do not have a state. There is a huge debate in Israel and worldwide as to when/how/if the Palestinians should get a state.
- The Iranian bomb – Iran is currently developing a nuclear program which Israel fears will be used to develop a nuclear bomb to attack Israel with, and many Israelis are worried about this scenario.
If we take these 5 issues, we can associate each of the 11 major parties with one of these issues (Once again, this is obviously a simplification, because most parties have views on a range of issues. I have tried to take issues that are central and/or unique to that party – and again, the point of this exercise is to get make some kind of order out of confusion, rather than give a total picture of each party)
1. There are two parties who we will put in the economy section. Yair Lapid, a former TV presenter who entered politics before the previous election, leads the Yesh Atid party (Yesh Atid means “there is a future”), which promises to try and bring down house prices, help the elderly, and bring down food prices. Moshe Kachlon leads the new Kulanu party, who are also aiming to reduce the cost of living. Moshe Kachlon`s claim to fame is that he successfully reduced prices in the cell phone market, and is looking to do the same again in the wider economy.
2. There are two parties who represent the Chareidim. United Torah Judaism represents Ashkenazi Chareidim, and the spiritual leaders of the party are Rabbi Chaim Kanievski and Rav Aharon Leib Steinman. Shas represents Sephardi Chareidim, and it is led by Arye Deri, a politician who infamously spent time in jail for bribery, but who is also adored by many Sephardim, Chareidi or otherwise. (The spiritual leader of Shas was the now deceased Rabbi Ovadya Yosef). Unlike the previous election, there is no party whose major aim is to encourage Charedi army service or participation in the workforce.
3. The Joint Arab List represents Israeli Arabs, lead by Ayman Odeh. Four Arab parties joined together to form one large party for this election. There is one party, Yisrael Beiteinu, lead by Avigdor Lieberman, who are quite active in pointing out the flaws in Israeli Arabs and Israeli Arab parties. Lieberman tried to have certain Arab politicians banned, claiming they support terrorist groups. One of Lieberman`s major policies that he wishes to introduce is to have a death penalty for terrorists.
4. There are two parties who are primarily defined as being against the formation of a Palestinian state. The national religious Bayit Yehudi party, lead by Naftali Bennett, as well as the new Yachad party, lead by Eli Yishai, strongly believe that there should not be a Palestinian state, for a mixture of religious and pragmatic reasons. Meretz, lead by Zehava Galon very strongly believe that there should be a Palestinian state – for example, Meretz officials will not take part in any events over the Green Line.
5. The issue of the Iranian bomb is the biggest issue Israel faces, according to Bibi Netanyahu, the leader of Likkud, and the current Prime Minster of Israel. Last month, he went to the American Congress to speak to them about the importance of this issue. However, Bibi Netanyahu`s largest rivals in this elections are HaMachane Tzioni, lead by Yitzchak Herzog and Tzipi Livni. The reason I am putting this party in this section is more to do with Bibi Netanyahu than Iran. Herzog and Livni have been calling to the country to vote for them both because of their policies (they will help the economy and work towards a Palestinian State) but also because they believe Bibi is a bad Prime Minister. The campaign of Machane Tzioni is not just about their policies, but it is about the fact that if Machane Tzioni do not win, then Bibi will – and for many people, that is enough reason to vote for them. For Bibi, the biggest issue is the Iranian Bomb. For Machane Tzioni, one of the biggest problems is Bibi.
Obviously this was a simplification – I made each party one dimensional, and even then I obviously could not summarise everything about their position. However, hopefully this will help somewhat in understanding all the discussion which will come in the coming days and weeks.