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2022 elections

Fifth time’s a charm? ToI’s guide to the 39 parties vying for your vote, again

From Netanyahu supporters to those trying to block his return to power, plus a TikTok star and a Telegrass activist, what you need to know about the parties running on November 1

Prominent Israeli politicians ahead of the 25th Knesset election: Top row, left to right: Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich, Benjamin Netanyahu, Aryeh Deri, Moshe Gafni; middle row, left to right: Zehava Galon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman, Merav Michaeli; bottom row, left to right: Ayelet Shaked, Sami Abou Shahadeh, Mansour Abbas, Ahmad Tibi, Ayman Odeh. (Flash90, GPO)
Prominent Israeli politicians ahead of the 25th Knesset election: Top row, left to right: Itamar Ben Gvir, Bezalel Smotrich, Benjamin Netanyahu, Aryeh Deri, Moshe Gafni; middle row, left to right: Zehava Galon, Benny Gantz, Yair Lapid, Avigdor Liberman, Merav Michaeli; bottom row, left to right: Ayelet Shaked, Sami Abou Shahadeh, Mansour Abbas, Ahmad Tibi, Ayman Odeh. (Flash90, GPO)

On Tuesday, November 1, Israelis will return to the polls for the fifth time in 43 months.

The outgoing “change government” crumbled after losing its razor-thin majority and succumbing to exactly the kind of ideological rifts its eight-party, big tent coalition sought to avoid. A right-wing and religious alliance is fighting to regain power after a year and a half in the opposition but, days out from the election, polls continue to show that without inter-bloc movement, the outcome may again be a deadlock.

The November 1 vote, much like the four that preceded it since 2019, has shaped up to be a referendum on former and would-be prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Likud party leader. This point is underscored by the fact that the Knesset has an ideological right-wing and religious majority of about 70 of the 120 MKs, but a stable coalition remains elusive — largely thanks to the number of politicians refusing to be part of a government led by Netanyahu, who may be Israel’s most divisive politician but also consistently polls as its most popular.

These high school lunch table politics, focusing on which parties are willing to sit in a future coalition with which others, may frustrate voters who see them taking precedence over policy issues in a significant amount of election season discussion. But understanding potential blocs is critical in an election that polls consistently see as producing yet another stalemate.

For much of the election season, Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc has polled in the high 50s to 60 seats in major network polls, just shy of the 61-lawmaker majority necessary to form a government. Netanyahu says his bloc will include Likud, far-right Religious Zionism, and Haredi parties United Torah Judaism and Shas.

While Israeli election polls are often inaccurate, they are very influential among both politicians and voters.

From left to right: Prime Minister Yair Lapid, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu. (Flash90)

His chief political rival, Prime Minister Yair Lapid, has been unable to articulate how he’ll be able to form a government — which will not include the traditionally non-aligned majority-Arab party Hadash-Ta’al according to both Lapid and Hadash-Ta’al — if polls prove accurate.

If centrist Yesh Atid’s Lapid, who inherited the premiership in July as part of an agreement with outgoing prime minister Naftali Bennett, the former Yamina leader, cannot transform his caretaker premiership into a permanent one, he can try to block rivals from forming a government and remain in the prime minister’s seat until a sixth election is called, possibly in May.

Putting himself forward as a third, compromise option for prime minister, Defense Minister Benny Gantz stresses that he has not been disqualified by a majority of parties and that his centrist National Unity party can form a government. Unfortunately for his chances, his potential coalition partners have disqualified each other, most notably Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu and the two Haredi parties.

Election Day and its run-up are just the first phase of determining the next government. Once the Knesset map is set by voters, each party will make a recommendation to President Isaac Herzog as to which party leader should get the first shot at forming a government as the prime minister. If successful in attracting parties that add up at least 61 lawmakers — securing them through coalition agreement promises, budgets, ministries, and the distribution of other power pieces — that leader will head a new government. If not, and a potential second round of attempts fails, it’s back to the polls.

Itamar Ben Gvir speaks to the media at Safra Square in Jerusalem ahead of a right-wing march on April 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Although issues like Israel’s rising cost of living, judicial reform, security vis-a-vis Iran and Hezbollah, a maritime border agreement with Lebanon, crime in Arab communities, instability in Jerusalem and the West Bank, domestic terrorism, and the idea of renewing negotiations for a two-state solution are on top of voters’ minds and politicians’ statements, a deeper issue of Israeli identity has also gained prominence this election.

The question of whether Israel should be a Jewish and democratic state, and what both “Jewish” and “democratic” mean across the political spectrum, has been the subtext to many of the other policy debates. On the left, this has played out in conversations about Zionism and whether Israel should be a state of all of its citizens rather than predominantly Jewish in character. On the right, this issue might be most underscored by the dramatic rise of far-right politician Itamar Ben Gvir, who climbed from only 0.42% of the 2020 vote to becoming arguably the most prominent personality in what polls say will be the Knesset’s third-largest party, Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit.

Both parties and alliances have also contended with technical factors. Voter turnout rates will impact the final Knesset party map, most especially the parties that are skirting the 3.25% of the vote threshold needed to enter Knesset (with a minimum of 4 seats). Four major parties have polled near the threshold: Meretz, Labor, Ra’am and Hadash-Ta’al, and two parties are consistently polling below it, Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked’s Jewish Home and Palestinian nationalist Balad.

This election, Israel’s nearly 6.8 million eligible voters can choose from 39 parties. Below is The Times of Israel’s guide to these parties and what they stand for, with a special focus on the 11 parties consistently polling above the electoral threshold.

— Carrie Keller-Lynn

Click to learn about a party:

Likud
Yesh Atid
Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit
National Unity
Shas
United Torah Judaism
Yisrael Beytenu
Labor
Meretz
Hadash-Ta’al
Ra’am

Smaller parties

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Likud

Letters on ballot slip: מחל

What the party is pitching: Likud, which polls say will retain its title as Israel’s largest party, has not presented a comprehensive, official party platform since 2015. Its last platform [Hebrew link] emphasized liberal economic policies, reforms to land regulation as a means of tackling rising housing costs, and aggressive efforts to combat organized crime, among other issues.

In the current race, the Likud campaign has made three consistent promises: to take a strong hand against security challenges and Iranian nuclear ambitions, to fight to reduce Israel’s skyrocketing cost of living, and the nebulous promise to “restore national pride.”

Longtime leader Benjamin Netanyahu in August presented an economic plan to simultaneously implement a number of innovative social policies — such as free childhood education for ages 0 to 3 — and tax cuts.

Several influential party members have also proposed wide-sweeping judicial reform proposals that would remake the Supreme Court and curtail the attorney general’s power, although the indicted Netanyahu has been publicly quiet on the issue.

A man walks near an election campaign poster showing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on March 18, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The election, like the previous four, is largely seen as a referendum on Netanyahu’s return to the premiership after a year and a half leading the opposition, amid his ongoing trial on corruption charges.

If he has the numbers, Netanyahu has said he would form a government with his right-religious political partners: Religious Zionism, United Torah Judaism, and Shas. The four parties have polled as high as 60 seats in major network polls, one away from the crucial threshold to form a government in the 120-seat Knesset.

Key figures: Likud’s most prominent public figure is, of course, former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, with a short stint from 1996 to 1999 and a long one from 2009 to 2021.

Netanyahu consistently polls as the country’s most popular politician, but also its most divisive, as his continued leadership of Likud has perpetuated the inability of the ideological Knesset right-religious majority to cohere as a political majority.

Alongside Netanyahu at the top of the party’s Knesset slate are former Knesset speaker Yariv Levin, a key figure who is considered the politician closest to Netanyahu and Likud’s judicial reform policy brain, and David Amsalem, who has reportedly clashed with Netanyahu but is strong within the party and aspires to be a senior minister.

Several Likud stalwarts, such as Yuli Edelstein and Israel Katz, were pushed down to the middle of the realistic slots on the slate during the party primaries and replaced near the top by politicians considered to be more aligned with Netanyahu.

Former Israel Hayom editor-in-chief Boaz Bismuth entered politics on this election’s Likud ticket, and former UN ambassador and minister Danny Danon is projected to reenter Knesset with the party in November.

Likud also handed reserved slots on its list to Yamina exiles Idit Silman and Amichai Chikli, whose desertion of the former ruling party contributed to the fall of the outgoing government.

Polls: Likud leads in the polls, consistently winning 30 to 33 seats over the past month, which if achieved would handily retain the party’s title of the Knesset’s largest.

Something you may not have known: Likud (along with its predecessor party, Herut) has had just four leaders in the 74 years since Israel’s founding: Menachem Begin, Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Benjamin Netanyahu.

— Haviv Rettig Gur and Carrie Keller-Lynn

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Yesh Atid

Letters on ballot slip: פה

What the party is pitching: Yesh Atid, which describes itself as a “centrist” party, has published and updated one of the most comprehensive platforms of any party running in recent years, offering proposals on issues including corruption, religion and state, violence against women, and Israel’s dwindling population of Holocaust survivors.

Among the platform’s many, many proposals: legislating a ban against politicians convicted of moral turpitude from holding the post of lawmaker, minister, mayor, president, or state comptroller; promoting humanitarian initiatives in the Gaza Strip in exchange for reduced Hamas influence; reducing the gender wage gap; incentivizing large workplaces to create childcare options and increasing work-from-home hours; adopting the Istanbul Convention against violence against women; and integrating more of the population into the workforce, with an emphasis on Haredi men and Arab women.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid leads a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on September 18, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Key figures: Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a former popular columnist and talk-show host, is the party’s founder, public face and most influential personality, with outsized discretion over placing candidates on the party slate. The party canceled its January 2022 leadership primary — slated to be its first — after no other candidate challenged Lapid.

Other prominent party politicians include Economy Minister Orna Barbivai, the first woman to attain the rank of major general in the IDF; former disability rights activist Energy Minister Karine Elharrar; and former Jerusalem police chief Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy. Although the party absorbed former New Hope MK Michal Shir into its candidate line-up, it failed to attract a new prominent personality in the run-up to elections.

Polls: Yesh Atid is the second-largest party in polls, garnering 24 to 26 seats over the past week, having climbed steadily from 20 seats when Bennett and Lapid declared their intention to dissolve their government in mid-June.

Something you may not have known: In its first run for Knesset in 2013, Yesh Atid managed to get the most MKs of any single party into the parliament, with an unexpectedly high 19 seats. The only larger slate, the joint 31-seat Likud-Yisrael Beytenu faction, was composed of two parties, and would go on to split midway through the term, leaving an 18-seat Likud at the helm of a government that included the 19-seat Yesh Atid as a more junior partner. The wonders of coalition politics.

— Haviv Rettig Gur and Carrie Keller-Lynn

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* * *

Religious Zionism-Otzma Yehudit

Letters on ballot slip: ט

What the party is pitching: Religious Zionism is a rebranded version of National Union, a far-right party that has been at the center of the revolving door of far-right partnerships.

Party leader Bezalel Smotrich has teamed up with the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party and the unabashedly anti-LGBT Noam faction. The alliances came together after extensive pushing from Netanyahu, who has been willing to go to great lengths to ensure that no votes in the right-wing bloc go to waste through small parties slipping below the electoral threshold.

Although Religious Zionism ran its first party primary in August in an effort to increase the diversity of its ranks and appeal to a broader swath of the national religious (non-Haredi) community, the Otzma alliance demanded half of its slate and the combined party remains on the right flank of national religious politics. With the collapse of Yamina, no one party represents mainstream or more liberal national religious Israelis, and Religious Zionism is expected to mop up a portion of voters left without a closer ideological alternative.

MK Itamar Ben Gvir joins right-wing activists participating in a ‘flag march,’ planned to reach Jerusalem’s Old City, but ultimately stopping beforehand at Tzahal Square, on April 20, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Its platform calls for settling every hilltop of the West Bank, squeezing the Palestinian Authority out of existence, maintaining the Orthodox Rabbinate’s monopoly over conversions, and limiting the independence of the courts.

In October, the party rolled out a wide-sweeping judicial reform platform, which would split the role of the attorney general, set up a mechanism for the Knesset to overrule Supreme Court legislative vetoes, redo the judicial appointment system, and revoke the criminal infraction “fraud and breach of trust,” which forms the basis of three of Netanyahu’s four corruption charges.

Netanyahu and Likud say that the potential repeal would not affect his ongoing trial, but according to Israeli law, charges relating to a crime that has been canceled would be dropped.

Ben Gvir, who holds similar policy views to Smotrich but appeals to a less establishment base, first came to public notice when he appeared on television shortly before former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination, holding an emblem from Rabin’s car and threatening that if he could get to the prime minister’s vehicle his fellow ideologues could get to Rabin, as well.

Head of the Religious Zionist Party MK Bezalel Smotrich waves an Israeli flag at Damascus Gate outside Jerusalem’s Old City, during Jerusalem Day celebrations, May 29, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Despite being deemed too much of an extremist to serve in the IDF, Ben Gvir has vociferously defended Israeli soldiers, and has said he wants to deport “disloyal” Arab Israelis who attack soldiers. He has also said that he wants to revive a bill that would impose the death penalty on terrorists and has pushed the government to flex its muscles in service of Jewish worship on the Temple Mount, currently prohibited per a status quo agreement with site administrator Jordan.

The party says it is planning on joining a Netanyahu-led government, in which Netanyahu said Ben Gvir “certainly can” be a minister.

Key figures: Bezalel Smotrich, who escaped Naftali Bennett’s shadow in 2021, first won infamy for organizing a “Beast Parade” to protest the gay pride parade in Jerusalem in 2006.

Joining Smotrich on the list is Otzma Yehudit chairman Itamar Ben Gvir, a disciple of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. He spent many hours in court as a defendant before passing the bar and going on to represent ultra-nationalist Jews accused of perpetrating racially motivated attacks against Arabs and Palestinians. The Noam faction is represented by Avi Maoz, a former government spokesman who opposes rights for LGBT individuals.

Polling: Boosted by Ben Gvir’s popularity, the party is polling to be the third largest in the Knesset, in the past week between 13 and 14 seats.

Something you may not have known: Smotrich was arrested by the Shin Bet in 2005 on suspicion of planning violent protests against the then-ongoing Gaza Disengagement, but was never charged.

— Jacob Magid and Carrie Keller-Lynn

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* * *

National Unity

Letters on ballot slip: כן

What the party is pitching: National Unity is an alliance between Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s right-wing New Hope. Along the way, they recruited former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot into the party’s third spot.

Political watchers have asked how National Unity might bridge its internal ideological differences, chief among them how to handle Israeli settlements.

While its party platform (in Hebrew) is silent on the issue, Sa’ar and party senior Ze’ev Elkin are staunchly pro-settlement, while Eisenkot has said he wants to separate from the Palestinians to prevent a binational state.

Prime Minister Yair Lapid, right, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz at a state memorial ceremony for the fallen soldiers of the Yom Kippur War, at the military cemetery memorial hall on Mount Herzl, October 6, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Gantz has stood alongside Lapid in press conferences to showcase his prominent role in several of Israel’s election-time security-related matters, including coming out against a potential Iran nuclear deal, directing a three-day operation against Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza, and pushing for the government’s ratification of a maritime border deal with Lebanon.

Leaning heavily on Eisenkot and Gantz’s security chops, the party has also presented the “Eisenkot Plan” (in Hebrew) to fight organized crime and domestic terror.

While the party supports a Jewish and democratic state, with regional flexibility to determine issues such as levels of Shabbat observance, perhaps its most significant element is not policy but positioning.

Gantz has pushed himself as a possible third alternative to Lapid and Netanyahu for prime minister, pegging himself as a compromise candidate. However, it’s unclear if Gantz will have the numbers to form a government, as several of his presumptive political partners have vetoed sitting with each other.

Gantz, who was previously burned by Netanyahu in their failed 2020 unity government rotation deal, has recently delivered a barrage of statements saying he wouldn’t sit with the Likud leader. Netanyahu has done much the same.

Key figures: Following party chairman Benny Gantz, who served as the 20th chief of staff of the IDF from 2011 to 2015, are Gideon Sa’ar and Gadi Eisenkot, who succeeded Gantz as the top IDF general from 2015 to 2019.

Former Yamina religious affairs minister Matan Kahana also joined the party, but is toward the bottom of the realistic spots on its slate.

Polling: In the past week, the party has been polling between 11 and 12 seats. Eisenkot famously gave an interview in which he said under 13 seats was too few to allow a party leader to seek to be prime minister, although Gantz continues to press his case.

Something you may not have known: In his spare time, Sa’ar likes to deejay, in a throwback to his days on the student circuit at Tel Aviv University.

Carrie Keller-Lynn

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* * *

Shas

Letters on ballot slip: שס

What the party is pitching: Aryeh Deri’s Shas party is campaigning on Orthodox Jewish values and is hoping the memory of its late spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef — who died in 2013, but still appears in all of its campaign videos and ads — will keep its traditionally minded Mizrahi base solid.

The party prides itself on socially friendly economic policies and is vowing to help Israelis worst-hit by the rising cost of living, leaning on the election slogan “Hungry for change.” The party is also appealing to Haredim annoyed by several of the outgoing government’s policies, including a tax on the single-use plates and cutlery popular with ultra-Orthodox communities. It has also come out against Shabbat desecration, including Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli’s push to expand public transportation on Saturdays.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with Shas party chairman Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Deri — who was convicted and jailed for bribery decades ago — recently left Knesset as part of a deal to settle tax offenses in an investigation that saw suspicions of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust dropped. He has remained in control of the party and tops the party’s slate to return to Knesset in November.

Key figures: Aryeh Deri, a close ally of Netanyahu, has been the party’s leader since 2015, after a previous stint as chairman from 1990 until 1999. He held the Interior Ministry portfolio for a combined total of a decade. Another prominent party lawmaker is Knesset veteran Yaakov Margi, who served as a legislator since 2003 on dozens of parliamentary committees.

Polling: The party currently has nine seats in the Knesset; it is now polling around eight seats, and has since the elections were called.

Something you may not have known: Shas was fined after the March 2020 election for distributing amulets they claimed would protect supporters from COVID-19, in violation of campaign laws that ban offering prayers and charms for votes.

— Marissa Newman and Carrie Keller-Lynn

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* * *

United Torah Judaism

Letters on ballot slip: ג

What the party is pitching: An alliance between Hasidic Agudat Yisrael and Lithuanian (non-Hasidic) Degel HaTorah, United Torah Judaism leaders again threatened to split into two Ashkenazi Haredi parties in the run-up to party list submissions, but ultimately stuck together.

Despite being stacked with some of the Knesset’s most veteran lawmakers, the party has a fresh head this election, with newly appointed Agudat Yisrael chair Yitzhak Goldknopf leading the slate.

Goldknopf has been especially vociferous against attempts to condition additional state funding to cash-strapped Haredi schools upon the teaching of core curricular subjects such as math and English. Netanyahu has promised UTJ to not press the issue if he were to form a government with them.

As always, the party is also pledging to uphold Orthodox Jewish tradition and supports judicial reform, long battling the Supreme Court on issues of religion and state.

United Torah Judaism chair MK Moshe Gafni and other party members at an election campaign tour in Beit Shemesh, March 14, 2021. (Yaakov Lederman/Flash90)

The party is firmly committed to Benjamin Netanyahu and is expected to join a Likud-led coalition.

Key figures: Newcomer to politics and longtime Gur political macher Yitzhak Goldknopf leads Agudat Yisrael and UTJ, displacing Degel HaTorah’s Moshe Gafni just a year and a half after former UTJ chairman and now-retired politician Yaakov Litzman stepped aside.

Goldknopf is the former head of the powerful Committee for Shabbat Observance and a longtime operator in Hasidic circles. Appointed by the Gur rebbe, Goldknopf represents the largest and most politically powerful Hasidic sect, albeit one that has roiled with internal discord in the past year.

Gafni, the leader of Degel HaTorah, has been a lawmaker since 1988, serving as chair of the powerful Knesset Finance Committee from 2009 to 2021.

Rabbi Yitzchak Goldknopf is seen outside a meeting of the Council of Torah Sages in Jerusalem on September 7, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Polling: UTJ currently holds six seats in parliament and polls have consistently given the party seven seats.

Something you didn’t know: Last year, pro-Netanyahu Saudi blogger Mohammed Saud posted a video of himself singing the United Torah Judaism jingle —  complete with Yiddishisms and stiff dance moves that would make elderly Ashkenazi Jews proud — while urging Haredi voters to stick to the party. (Saud also posted the jingle for the Religious Zionism party, Netanyahu‘s far-right ally, though it’s not quite as catchy.)

— Carrie Keller-Lynn and Marissa Newman

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* * *

Yisrael Beytenu

Letters on ballot slip: ל

What the party is pitching: Yisrael Beytenu is a secularist right-wing party that was formed in 1999 by Avigdor Liberman, who still leads it. The party has over the years pushed anti-Arab rhetoric and advocated for a two-state solution in which predominantly Arab cities become part of a Palestinian state and their residents lose their Israeli citizenship.

In recent years, Yisrael Beytenu has emphasized a secularist stance, placing itself at the vanguard of the struggle to weaken ultra-Orthodox influence. This has included advocating for civil marriage and for widespread mandatory IDF recruitment among the ultra-Orthodox. The party has a solid base of Russian-speaking immigrants, many of whom are right-wing and secular.

Formerly a close ally of Likud and the ultra-Orthodox parties, Yisrael Beytenu has fallen out with Netanyahu and since 2019 has refused to join a coalition that is headed by Netanyahu or that includes Shas or United Torah Judaism.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman speaks during a press conference at his ministry in Jerusalem, August 17, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Finance Minister Liberman has pushed for free-market reforms, which over the past year played out as liberalizations in several import markets aimed at reducing prices. Under Liberman, the state has also achieved a surplus in its annual operational balance.

In addition to continuing to open markets to competition and to fight against market concentration, Liberman has promised more resources for police officers in order to increase internal security. He has also said that Yisrael Beytenu would continue to push for benefits for working families and low-income earners, and that he would push for legislation that would make it harder to topple a government within its first two years.

Key figures: Avigdor Liberman is the main decisionmaker within the party and he has complete control over its electoral slate. A former Likud member and Prime Minister’s Office director general under Netanyahu in the 1990s, he has been the subject of many corruption investigations, which have resulted in convictions for party members but not for him.

The party’s current lawmakers also include Agriculture Minister Oded Forer, Knesset Finance Committee chair Alex Kushnir and social activist and MK Yulia Malinovsky.

Polling: Yisrael Beytenu is consistently polling at between five and seven seats. It currently has seven MKs.

Something you may not have known: Liberman is a serial resigner. Over the years, he has resigned five times from ministerial roles — four due to political disagreement with the government’s policy, and once because he was indicted for graft (and later acquitted).

— Michael Bachner; Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this section

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Labor

Letters on ballot slip: אמת

What the party is pitching:  Nearly two years after rehabilitating the erstwhile ruling party, whose support dwindled drastically of late, into a government partner, Labor leader Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli has promised to be a home for Israelis interested in “equality, social justice, and peace.”

In addition to working toward a two-state solution, which the party says requires strengthening both the IDF and the Palestinian Authority, center-left Labor’s updated manifesto (in Hebrew) includes a year of paid maternity leave for either the mother or the father, raising the minimum wage, and broad legal reform on the way authorities tackle sex offenses, child abuse, and sexual harassment.

Labor also pledges to institute civil marriage, to further public transportation on Shabbat, and to prevent exclusive importation rights in order to open up the market and reduce the cost of living.

Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli at the launch of a new Shabbat bus route in Haifa, October 8, 2022 (Merav Michaeli Twitter account)

Michaeli has maintained Labor’s basic approach with respect to the two-state solution, backing the establishment of a demilitarized Palestinian state alongside Israel.

Michaeli does not reject the notion of sitting in a government with centrist and right-wing parties such as National Unity and Yisrael Beytenu, but has ruled out joining Netanyahu. In 2020, she chose to stay out of Netanyahu’s “unity government,” disobeying former Labor leader Amir Peretz and remaining a one-woman opposition inside the party.

Key figures: Merav Michaeli is a former TV anchor, columnist, and feminist activist who became known for sharp critiques of chauvinism and domestic abuse. She again won Labor’s leadership primary earlier this summer, becoming the first leader in the party’s history to be elected to two terms.

Others are Naama Lazimi, a social activist and former Haifa city councilmember who has fought to raise minimum wage in the Knesset, and Gilad Kariv, a Reform rabbi and social activist who led the Knesset’s powerful Constitutional, Law and Justice Committee.

Polling: Perhaps the most secure party among the ones that are flirting with the electoral threshold, Labor has been predicted to get between five and six seats in major polls in the past week, and consistently between four and six since the election was first called.

Suzi Kastner (C) lights a memorial candle in the Knesset for her father, Israel Rudolf Kastner, at the parliament’s official Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony. Her daughter, Zionist Union MK Merav Michaeli, is pictured on the right (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office/Yonatan Sindel)

Something you may not have known: Michaeli is the granddaughter of Israel Rudolf Kastner, a former Budapest Zionist leader who rescued nearly 1,700 Jews during World War II by dealing with the Nazis. He was assassinated in 1957 in Tel Aviv after being accused publicly of being a Nazi collaborator who “sold his soul to the devil,” though he was cleared posthumously by the Supreme Court.

— Tal Schneider; Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this section

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Meretz

Letters on ballot slip: מרצ

What the party is pitching: Meretz is the only mainstream party that defines itself as left-wing, offering unbridled support for a Palestinian state along with minority rights and religious pluralism within Israel.

The party, again headed by former leader Zehava Galon, is once again at risk of not crossing the 3.25% election threshold, although it is better positioned than it was last election, and has reanimated its last-election turnout rallying cry insisting that either Meretz enters the government or its political opponents will be handed the numbers they need for for a coalition.

Fervently pushing its vision of Israel as a democratic state this is both “the state of the Jewish nation” and a state “of all of its citizens,” Meretz leader Galon maintains that the party is “Israeli,” not explicitly Zionist.

The party has an extensive platform (in Hebrew) of progressive domestic proposals. The only party to openly call for raising taxes on top earners, Meretz wants to vastly increase both the education and health budgets to provide better facilities and significant hikes in salaries for teachers and nurses. It specifically calls for introducing free education from the age of of three months, and for recognizing medical marijuana.

Zehava Galon seen in Tel Aviv after winning the Meretz party leadership race, August 23, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A champion of separation of religion and state, Meretz’s platform calls for introducing full civil marriage for Jews and non-Jews, religious and secular, Orthodox and progressive, opposite-sex and same-sex partners alike. Meretz also wants to introduce budgeting for the activities of gay community organizations, financial support for surrogacy arrangements, and adoption services for the transgender community. A special section in the platform is dedicated to cracking down on violence in the Arab community.

The party is against joining a Netanyahu-led government.

Key figures: Along with Zehava Galon, former IDF deputy chief of staff and Deputy Economic Minister Yair Golan is sticking with the party, after Galon was recruited out of retirement to take on his party leadership challenge.

Several key figures are not running in this election, or failed to win a realistic spot on the Knesset roster. Former party head Nitzan Horowitz was thrust below Meretz’s expected Knesset yield, taking the seventh seat in the party’s primary. Former party leader Environment Minister Tamar Zandberg is sitting out this election, as is Regional Cooperation Minister Esawi Frej. Freshman lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie-Zoabi is also leaving politics, after contributing to the coalition’s downfall by flouting party discipline on matters that touched Arab affairs.

Polling: The party has consistently hovered near the 3.25% (four-seat) entry threshold. Most polls have shown it getting between four and five seats.

Something you may not have known: Former party head Nitzan Horowitz was the first openly gay leader of an Israeli political party. He was the second openly gay elected Knesset member, following fellow Meretz lawmaker Uzi Even, who served from 2002 to 2003.

— Tal Schneider and Carrie Keller-Lynn

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Hadash-Ta’al

Letters on ballot slip: ום

What the party is pitching: Hadash-Ta’al is a coalition of two parties: Communist Arab-Jewish Hadash and secular Arab Ta’al. The parties first banded together out of necessity in 2015 under the Joint List alliance, when a new law raised the electoral threshold and threatened Arab parties’ chances of entering Knesset. The Joint List has subsequently broken up and re-formed in several constellations, but lost Islamist Arab partner Ra’am in 2021 and broke from nationalist Balad in an eleventh-hour decision before party slates were finalized this September.

Hadash and Ta’al previously won 6 seats running together in 2019. Hadash’s leader Ayman Odeh leads the shared list, but is often at strategic odds with Ta’al head and veteran Knesset parliamentarian Ahmad Tibi. Their combined faction runs the ideological gamut from progressive Communists to a small minority of left-wing Jewish members.

Hadash and Ta’al have in the past supported a two-state solution based on pre-1967 borders, with a just solution for Palestinian refugees, although Hadash dismissed Lapid’s September support for Palestinians statehood as mere talk. The parties have also supported transforming Israel from a Jewish state into “a state of all its citizens.”

Ahmad Tibi and Ayman Odeh of the Arab Joint List during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on July 6, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Nonetheless, Arab Israelis share a number of key priorities. Far and away the highest priority for Arab voters is putting an end to the wave of violence and organized crime that has swept through their cities and towns in recent years.

Hadash-Ta’al MKs have also pledged to ease the housing crisis in Arab cities by fighting legislation that targets illegal construction in Arab cities. They have also said they will fight the 2018 nation-state law, which defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and demoted the official status of Arabic. Many Arab Israelis — especially Galilee Druze, who serve in the Israeli military — view the law as insulting and discriminatory.

Hadash-Ta’al has said that it would not recommend any candidate for prime minister unless a number of policy promise conditions are met, and similarly has deflected any talk of joining a potential coalition.

Key figures: The top candidate on Hadash-Ta’al’s slate is Ayman Odeh (Hadash), a former Haifa city council member who ventured into national politics in 2015.

The second-highest ranking candidate on the alliance’s list is Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), a veteran lawmaker who served as an adviser to the late Palestine Liberation Organization chairman Yasser Arafat.

Polling: Currently, together with Balad in a three-party Joint List, the parties hold six seats in the Knesset. But they are likely to drop in the next Knesset, with polls putting Hadash-Ta’al right at the electoral threshold with four to five seats.

Hadash leader Ayman Odeh points during a press conference with lawmakers from the allied Hadash-Ta’al faction as they register their party list on September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Balad is pursuing a solo run, but is not expected to cross the electoral threshold.

Arab voter turnout hit a historic low in 2021’s election, following Ra’am’s spin-off. With Balad’s 2022 departure, pollsters predict that turnout might suffer another hit, as the image of Arab Israeli political unity has been damaged.

Something you may not have known: Tibi graduated Hebrew University’s medical school and remains a licensed physician according to the Health Ministry,  but never completed his gynecological training.

— Carrie Keller-Lynn and Aaron Boxerman 

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Ra’am — United Arab List

Letters on ballot slip: עם

What the party is pitching: Ra’am is, first and foremost, a socially conservative Islamic party. Its Hebrew acronym Ra’am — meaning “thunder” — translates to United Arab List, and the party is the political wing of the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement.

Between 2015 and 2020, Ra’am ran together with Hadash, Ta’al, and Balad in different constellations of the Joint List. But Ra’am chose to go its own way in February 2021.

Much like the other Arab parties, Ra’am sees fighting the rise of violence and organized crime in Arab Israeli communities as a key priority. It also seeks the repeal of the 2018 nation-state law, which defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people and demoted the official status of Arabic.

Ra’am party chairman and Joint List MK Mansour Abbas at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 11, 2020. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Another key priority is the repeal of the 2017 so-called Kaminitz Law that drastically increased penalties for illegal Arab construction. Many Ra’am voters are Bedouin, around 60% of whom live in villages unrecognized by Israel; some of these townships, which Israel deems illegally built, see frequent home demolitions.

Ra’am is conservative on gay rights, having voted against a bill banning conversion therapy in 2020.

More controversial than their policies, however, is what Abbas and his cohort have been willing to do to achieve them.

Ra’am flipped the script on Arab political dynamics by becoming the first independent Arab party to join a ruling coalition last May. Ra’am has indicated that it would like to rekindle and perhaps intensify its mainstream political participation, especially if there is an opportunity for a government not headed by figures who attack it.

Despite reportedly having negotiated to include Ra’am in a coalition before his efforts were derailed by a veto from Religious Zionism, Netanyahu has been vicious in his attacks against Abbas, calling him and his party “terror supporters” and a branch of the Muslim Brotherhood, where the Islamic Movement has roots.

Key figures: Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas has leaped from obscurity to the center of Israeli politics over the past two years. A dentist from Maghar, a Druze-majority city in central Israel, the Muslim Abbas entered the Knesset for the first time in 2019.

Abbas has pledged to continue pursuing a new path in Arab Israeli politics, one that would enable Arab Israelis to be genuinely influential in Israeli decision-making. Abbas’s supporters call him pragmatic and say he is committed to fighting for tangible legislative accomplishments for his electorate. His detractors point to the fact that no significant change has occurred after a year in the government, and highlight the difficult position Ra’am was in every time a significant security event arose.

Polling: Ra’am has consistently polled between four and five seats. Low Arab voter turnout would affect its showing and potentially push Ra’am below the threshold to enter Knesset, but pollsters believe the party is likely to pass.

Something you may not have known: Traditionally, the Arab Student Union at Hebrew University is controlled by the Communist Arab-Jewish Hadash party. In recent memory, only one student politician has toppled the reign of Hadash in Israel’s oldest university — Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas.

— Aaron Boxerman and Carrie Keller-Lynn

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Workers hang an election campaign billboard for the Likud Party showing a portrait of its leader Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, lower right, and opposition party leader Yair Lapid, upper right, next to a billboard of the Yisrael Beytenu Party showing its leader Avigdor Liberman, in Bnei Brak, March. 14, 2021. (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

The long shots

Jewish Home [ב] — Ayelet Shaked leads Jewish Home, after a peripatetic election season that took her from Yamina to the now-defect Zionist Spirit alliance with Derech Eretz, whose two MKs bowed out of the race after the partnership frayed in September, to Jewish Home. Shaked remains interior minister in the outgoing government, despite campaigning on her regret over joining it. She promises that she’s come home to the right wing and has said she would join a Netanyahu-led government, going as far as to say that without her, Netanyahu is unlikely to get the 61-seat minimum to form a government.

Netanyahu and his allies have campaigned against Shaked, deeming her unlikely to pass the threshold and pressing her to quit the race. However, secular Shaked, paired with Givat Shmuel mayor Yossi Brodny, leads the only party presuming to represent the moderate end of national religious voters.

An election campaign poster of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked in Jerusalem, September 13, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Balad [ד] — Led by the Jaffa-based academic Sami Abou Shehadeh, who previously served on Tel Aviv’s city council, Balad was considered the Palestinian nationalist arm of the Joint List until it peeled off in September. The party pushes for a one-state solution, whereby Israel and Palestine would become a single democratic state stripped of Israel’s current Jewish character.

Fiery Youth [צ] — Although at 20 years old, party leader Hadar Muchtar is a year below the minimum age to enter Knesset, the social media star leveraged her TikTok platform to turn protest into a party. Muchtar’s main platform is to combat the increased cost of living, and she initially drew attention when she reanimated housing cost protests by pitching tents on Tel Aviv’s Rothschild Boulevard.

Controversially, Muchtar’s claim that she could never afford an apartment was debunked when it was uncovered that she owns property in Haifa. Muchtar has claimed that her parents bought the apartment as a retirement investment, triggering investigation into whether the Muchtar family committed tax fraud by registering the apartment in her name to avoid levies applied to second homes.

Although several long-shot, protest, or joke candidates grace every election, the media has been especially critical of Muchtar, dismissing her as a youngster who does not understand politics. Despite her slips, she has polled as high as 1.9%.

Hadar Muchtar speaks at the Knesset upon registering her Fiery Youth party’s list of candidates with the Central Elections Committee, on September 15, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Economic Freedom [אצ] — Another party formed from the ashes of Yamina, Economic Freedom is the niche party of small business and independent contractor champion Abir Kara. Kara rose to prominence as one of the leaders of the economic protest group the Shulmanim, a reference to someone left to pick up the tab.

Economic Freedom’s libertarian platform pushes increasing personal and economic freedom, and builds on Kara’s Knesset efforts to reduce bureaucracy and provide compensation for independent contractors affected by pandemic-related economic closures, in line with benefits given to businesses and employed persons.

Israel Free and Democratic [י] — Former Yisrael Beytenu lawmaker Eli Avidar heads this protest party, which calls itself libertarian and wants to root out corruption in politics. When in Knesset, Avidar placed almost singular focus on an unsuccessful bid to pass a bill to block criminally indicted politicians from forming a government. The bill is widely seen as a personal attack against Netanyahu, and Avidar promised to continue the fight in his campaign.

Avidar also said wanted to bar lawmakers from defecting from their parties, which helped contribute to the outgoing coalition’s quick collapse. Avidar estranged himself from Yisrael Beytenu right after the government was sworn in over disappointment in not being granted a ministerial post. He later quit the perfunctory post he received and ultimately resigned Knesset to form his new party.

30/40 [רז] — Yamina party executive Stella Weinstein quit the beleaguered party this summer and formed 30/40, pausing her budding career as a television political pundit. As indicated by its name, the party is targeting young families headed by adults in their 30s or 40s, promising a three-part platform focused on reducing economic burdens. Specifically, 30/40 advocates reducing government bureaucracy, promoting free market and competition, and improving national infrastructure.

Before joining Yamina in 2021, Weinstein was a Russian immigrant leader, an Ashdod city councilwoman, and a spokesman for Yisrael Beytenu leader Liberman when he was foreign minister.

It has been said that Weinstein is running 30/40 in part to poach votes from Liberman, who has turned his back on Netanyahu’s right-religious bloc.

New Economy [יז] — Former accountant general Yaron Zelekha, a vocal longtime critic of Netanyahu’s policies, established the party in December 2020 to, in his words, “save Israel from economic destruction.”

Although Zelekha made a minor splash in 2021, he has not played a significant role in the current election cycle.

Prof. Yaron Zelekha, head of the New Economic Party, seen at an election campaign event focused on the cost of groceries, at Hacarmel market in Tel Aviv on March 9, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Yesh Kivun (There’s a Direction) [נק] — Formed this summer by Telegrass activists who support marijuana sales and distribution via the Telegram app, the party places marijuana legalization at its core. However, it also is interested in lowering Israel’s skyrocketing cost of living.

Its request to register as “The Telegrass Party” was denied. Topping its list is Telegrass founder Amos Silver, who until recently was jailed for his activities and is now under house arrest, and his wife Gali runs the party’s activities.

Da’at Tov va’Ra u’Brit Shevet Avraham (Knowledge of Good and Evil and Covenant of Abrahamic Tribes) [ת] — Pro-marijuana legalization Green Leaves joined hands with a pro-medical marijuana Muslim wellness party, Usrat al-Islamia (Islamic Family), for November’s run.

Marijuana is usually religiously prohibited in the Muslim community, but the new Usrat al-Islamia party’s head, registered nurse Karam Shbeeta, runs a marijuana coffee shop in Tira, where he distributes the drug medicinally.

Green Leaves used to run its libertarian list almost every election, but sat out the four races in 2019 to 2021.

Kol HaSviva VeHaChai (Voice of the Environment and the Living) [ק] — As the only party running on a predominantly environmental agenda, the party pushes for environment justice, animal rights and thoughtful usage and long-term preservation of natural resources.

As part of its vision, it pushes for expanding clean public transportation and investment in education.

HaAtzmaim HaHadashim (The New Independents) [נץ] — Formed to support independent contractors, the self-employed, and small businesses, the party wants a social safety net for workers who do not receive one from a set employer. It also wants to reduce bureaucratic and regulatory burdens for small businesses.

Shahar Koach Hevrati (Dawn Social Power) [ז] — Founded by Druze former teacher and social activist Wajdi Tahar, the party claims to be the first Druze-led party representing all of Israel’s citizens. The party’s website says it seeks to close social gaps, including for retirees and the disabled.

The Bible Bloc, or Gush Hatanachi [יק], presents itself as the first Jewish-Christian list to run for the Knesset. The slate offers representatives from both faiths and seeks to preserve “Judeo-Christian values” that it says are under threat from radical Islam and vows to fight for the underrepresented Christian population in Israel, including non-Jewish Russian immigrants from the former Soviet Union.

The Ani V’Ata (Me and You) [ך] party is calling for the creation of a platform for the public to be able to contribute more directly to the democratic process, “in order to break the illicit bond between politics and money that has taken over our democracy.” The party blames both the “extreme right rule” and the “weak opposition” for allowing Israel to become a “plutocracy,” and says it will give power back to the people. It defines itself as social democratic, liberal and Zionist.

HaPiratim (The Pirates) [ף] – Leaders of the Israeli branch of the Pirate party define their goals as promoting freedom of expression, science, the individual, and the right to take copyrighted material, as well as “development and promotion of the pirate sector” and a direct democracy. The party is known for silly pranks, like dressing up to file its registration, but has also championed the use of the internet in democratizing society. The party has run in every Israeli election for the last 16 years, but has yet to come close to raising the Jolly Roger in the Knesset plenum.

The Pirate Party registers its electoral list at the Knesset on September 14, 2022. (Screenshot)

The Kevod Ha’adam (Respect for Humanity) [נז] party registered with the aim of advancing Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; keeping Israel safe; advancing civil, social and cultural rights; encouraging immigration; promoting a free market; and reducing socioeconomic gaps.

Tzomet (Junction) [זץ] — For the April 2019 election, after Likud MK Oren Hazan suffered a defeat in the party’s primaries, the scandal-prone lawmaker revived Tzomet (junction), a small right-wing party that entered the Knesset in 1988 but went dormant after failing to gain a seat in the 1999 elections. Hazan has since left, but the party remains and is now campaigning on a “pro settlement and agriculture” platform and defines itself as secular right.

HaLev HaYehudi (The Jewish Heart) [קי] is headed by Eli Yosef, a human rights activist known for his repeated incidents of high-profile heckling against the Israeli sale of weapons to dictatorships. The party says it will “make Israel stand up to the failures and crimes of military exports to murderous countries, and bring correction and healing.”

Seder Hadash (New Order) [קך] has changed its focus from advocating for changes in Israel’s electoral system to fighting for elderly citizens. In particular, it wants to increase social security benefits for the elderly, reform nursing and home health care systems, and increase state oversight over elderly Israelis living on their own.

Shema (Hear) [נף] headed by Manchester-born Naftali Goldman says that Israel has become “immoral” and that the party “will work towards a moral society that censors pornography for children, renders the political support of homosexuality illegal, and works towards creating happy family units.” The party only submitted two candidates on its 2022 roster.

Anachnu (Us) [נר] promises to address a variety of social issues but the party’s flagship concern is correcting the electoral system in Israel. The party says that Israel sufferers from “a severe a state of lack of governance,” and that immediate and “deep cutting” reforms are needed to allow wider representation across all of Israeli society.

Nativ (Path) [ני] — Nativ is focused on improving quality of life for Israel’s elderly and disabled populations, helping them to “live with dignity.” In particular, it has written in its registration documents that it hopes to achieve this by reducing the bureaucratic burden.

The Manhigut Hevratit (Social Leadership) [ץ] party, headed by veteran Knesset also-ran Ilan Meshicha, says that it is committed to “caring for all of the people of Israel based on a commitment to the ideals of our forefathers.” In the 2015 election, the party broke a record for receiving the fewest ever votes by any faction running in any Israeli election — 223. Amazingly, the previous record was also held by Meshicha who in the 2013 elections won 461 votes — then the lowest ever — with his now-defunct Tradition of the Fathers party.

Ichud Bnei HaBrit (United Allies) [ינ] is a Christian Israeli party chaired by ship captain Bishara Shilyan of Nazareth that seeks greater integration of minorities into Israeli society, equality and an end to discrimination.

Often changing its name, in 2021, the party ran under the name Covenant of Partners, in 2020 and April 2019 as United Allies, and in September 2019 as the Liberal Christian Movement.

Kol Kol Kovea (Every Vote Counts) [קנ] — The party deals with welfare and caretaking issues close to party leader Noam Coleman’s heart. Coleman has a son with autism and a mother suffering from Alzheimer’s and nursing services are particularly of concern to him. Coleman said that he is running to “voice my ideas,” and recognizing that small parties have “no chance” has encouraged voters to choose “a big party that is close to my ideas.” The party only listed two candidates.

Tzav HaSha’a (Order of the Hour) [יץ] — The party was formed to promote the interests of retired and handicapped Israelis, in particular taxi drivers.

B’Ometz Bishvilcha (With Strength for You) [קץ] — Headed by immunologist  and COVID-19 researcher and commentator Zvika Granot, this new party was formed in protest over how the state handled its pandemic policies. It also promotes individual freedom.

A fortieth party, Koach L’hashpia (Power to Influence), registered for the election but dropped out of the race in mid-October. Its founder Benny Elbaz called for his supporters to vote for Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir.

— Carrie Keller-Lynn; Raoul Wootliff contributed to this section

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