As the deadline for registering with the Central Elections Committee passed Thursday night, the election season kicked into high gear, with 26 parties jostling for the Knesset’s 120 seats.
Mainstream parties, such as the Likud, the Zionist Camp, and the ultra-Orthodox factions registered for the March 17 elections, as did a host of newcomers. Former Shas leader Eli Yishai settled on the new name Yachad — Hebrew for “Together” — for his new faction, after toying with the name Ha’am Itanu.
Haredi women’s party U’Bezchutan, formed to protest the exclusion of women on ultra-Orthodox lists, also registered.
Among other newbies, the united Arab party, the Joint List — made up of the Hadash, Ra’am, Ta’al, and Balad parties — is projected to win around 12 seats in the elections. Moshe Kahlon’s new party, Kulanu, is polling around nine seats.
But many of the 26 factions are eccentric, one-issue parties that face slim odds of reaching the minimum vote threshold of 3.25%.
The Pirates party registered for the second straight election. The one-man Protecting Our Children — Stop Feeding Them Porno party is also vying for a spot. The hippie-Hassidic Breslaver We Are All Friends (Kulanu Chaverim) Na Nach party also threw its black hat into the ring.
The Green Party went with a vulgar phrase meaning, “We just don’t care” for its faction name.
The parties and their lists of candidates were final, pending the approval of the Central Elections Committee, chaired by Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran.
There were last minute wheelings and dealings ahead of the deadline Thursday, as the factions worked to shore up their lists.
In a surprise move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu named Benny Begin to the 11th slot on the Likud list.
Begin, a respected former minister and son of the first Likud prime minister Menachem Begin, lost his Knesset seat after failing to win a sufficiently high slot on the 2013 Likud slate, and did not compete in the party primaries this time. Netanyahu had toyed with several other potential candidates for the two slots on the list left open for his preferences. He placed terrorism expert Dr. Anat Berko in the 23rd slot.
Likud was polling at around 23 seats in the lead-up to Thursday’s finalization.
Also Thursday, Netanyahu reportedly made a last-ditch attempt to woo former Likud minister Kahlon into running on a joint list with the Likud, as a counterforce to the Zionist Camp, the joint Labor-Hatnua list that is leading the polls at around 25 seats.
A mediator on behalf of Netanyahu presented the Kulanu party head with a detailed proposal for a joint list, Haaretz reported, but Kahlon rejected it.
Likud sources later claimed it had been Kulanu, via Kahlon’s brother, who approached the Likud, and not the other way around, and that the approach happened, and was rebuffed, last week.
Dani Dayan, the former head of the Yesha Council settler organization, who was elected to the 21st slot on the Jewish Home list, announced he was leaving the party. Dayan said he rejected an offer from party head Naftali Bennett to move up to the 17th slot. “I asked to remove my name from the list altogether,” he tweeted. Jewish Home has recently been polling at 15 or 16 seats.
Raphael Ahren and Jonathan Beck contributed to this report.