Blue and White, Gesher, Kulanu file party slates hours before deadline

Parties register candidate lists to Central Elections Committee amid a flurry of mergers and talks of possible alliances still in the works

Raoul Wootliff is the Times of Israel's former political correspondent and producer of the Daily Briefing podcast.

Head of the Gesher Political party MK Orly Levy Abekasis at the Central Elections Committee, where political parties running for a spot in the upcoming Israeli elections, arrive to present their slates, Tel Aviv, February 21, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Gesher Political party MK Orly Levy Abekasis at the Central Elections Committee, where political parties running for a spot in the upcoming Israeli elections, arrive to present their slates, Tel Aviv, February 21, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With less than two hours remaining until the final deadline, the newly formed Blue and White party on Thursday evening presented the Central Elections Committee with its joint party slate of candidates from the Israel Resilience Party and Yesh Atid.

“We are delighted to present here a chance for change,” said party number nine Yoaz Hendel. “Our party has people from the right and left but we are coming together to work for the public, not dividing it. With this great list we will form the government.”

Former IDF major general Orna Barbivai, number 10 on the slate, said that the party will “stand above the small politics of others. We represent something bigger.”

The Central Elections Committee opened its doors on Wednesday for parties jostling for the Knesset’s 120 seats to register their rosters ahead of the Apri 9 elections. With over 60 parties in total having taken registration forms, 27 had completed registration by Thursday evening, overtaking the 26 who had filed in the 2015 elections.

Parties are registered at the Central Elections Committee, where political parties running for a spot in the upcoming Israeli elections arrive to present their party slates, on February 21, 2019 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

But with time ticking to the 10 p.m. unextendable deadline, a number of major parties — Likud, Labor, Meretz, Kulanu, Shas and more — were yet to file their own lists.

Amid a flurry of mergers and talks of possible alliances still in the works, one veteran Central Elections Committee official told The Times of Israel that this year’s registration “felt like the most tense it’s ever been.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was reportedly engaged in last minute efforts to unite right-wing parties against the fresh threat of a centrist bloc posed by the Blue and White alliance.

Likud lawmaker MK David Bitan, speaking to the Times of Israel outside the committee proceedings, said that Likud’s final list would be ready “very, very soon.”

The Blue and White party was formed overnight Wednesday-Thursday after marathon negotiations between Israel Resilience chair Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

Under the merger agreement, Yesh Atid candidates fill 13 of the first 30 slots, Israel Resilience gets 12, and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, which merged with Israel Resilience last month, has four slots. Ex-IDF chief of staff Gabi Ashkenazi, who joined the party Wednesday night, is in the fourth spot on the list.

The first four first spots on the list are thus: Gantz, Lapid, Ya’alon and Ashkenazi. Of that quartet, only Lapid is not a former head of the army.

Significantly, if the party was tasked with forming the government after elections, Gantz and Lapid would rotate serving as prime minister, with Gantz taking the post for the first two and a half years. Lapid will serve as foreign minister and Ya’alon will head the Defense Ministry while Gantz is prime minister — if they win the election. Lapid would then take over as prime minister from Gantz, who in turn would become defense minister. It was not clear from reports if Ya’alon would then be appointed foreign minister or receive another role.

Filing the slate with the committee, the three representative from the party, Hendel from Israel Resilience, Barbivai from Yesh Atid, and Orit Farkash Hacohen from Telem, were initially told that only two of them could enter the hall. Eventually, explaining that the party was a merger of three separate factions, all three candidates were allowed in.

The deal between Gantz and Lapid came hours after MK Orly Levy-Abekasis announced Wednesday that her Gesher party would run alone in the upcoming elections, after failing to reach a merger agreement with Israel Resilience.

Presenting Gesher’s independent candidate slate to the Central Elections Committee, Levy-Abekasis said that in the face of polling showing it may not pass the electoral threshold, her party would be “the surprise of these elections.”

According to the former Yisrael Beytenu MK, Gesher will succeed in entering the Knesset, “because there is a need for a party that knows about and cares about the challenges facing people. ​We will be here for the people who need it.”

Levy-Abekasis said negotiations with Gantz fell apart despite the sides having reached written agreements that included Israel Resilience’s adoption of Gesher’s socioeconomic platform as one of the alliance’s main campaign planks, as well as which spots on a unified list her party members would receive.

“We are not in anyone’s pockets. Gesher will follow its own path,” she promised. “I was courted by different parties for many months, especially Israel Resilience. I gave it a chance, I wanted to try.”

Of the first to arrive on Thursday were representatives from the Pirate party who seek to promote a form of direct democracy via internet referendums. Party chairman Ohad Shem Tov, decked in a tricorn hat, said that if elected to the Knesset, they would recommend “the internet” as prime minister and not Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz.

Another party taking a lighter approach to the elections was that of former YouTube star Semeon Grafman called “Betach – Bitachon Chevrati,” meaning “Social security.” It requested to be represented on ballot slips by the Hebrew letters פק, read phonetically as “fuck.”

“It’s ‘Fuck,’ it sounds better in English,” Grafman told Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer.

The only incumbent parties to file slates on Wednesday were the New Right, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism.

Speaking to journalists before officially filing the list with committee chairman Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer and its director general, Orli Hadas, Shaked said, “We are today presenting an excellent list, an ideologically right-wing party in the political, economic, security and legal spheres.”

In an appeal to Likud voters, which the new party is hoping to court, Shaked added, “It is clear that Netanyahu will be the prime minister. The question is, which government will he form — with the New Right or with Gantz’s leftist party?”

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