Huldai says 4 female candidates, ex-IDF deputy chief have joined his party list

Tel Aviv mayor says he wants half of candidates for The Israelis to be women; his party drops from 8 to 6 projected seats in latest poll

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, left, presents four women for the electoral slate of his new party, The Israelis. (Screenshot/Facebook)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, left, presents four women for the electoral slate of his new party, The Israelis. (Screenshot/Facebook)

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai announced Tuesday that four female candidates have joined his new center-left party, The Israelis, and said that half of the faction’s electoral candidates will be women.

He also enlisted Dan Harel, a former director-general of the Defense Ministry and an ex-deputy IDF chief of staff, for The Israelis. Harel is perhaps best known for leading Israel’s 2005 pullout from the Gaza Strip as then-head of the military’s southern command.

The women Huldai announced for the party are former Blue and White MK Einav Kabala; information scientist Karine Nahon; educator Karen Tal; and Adi Tsabari, head of the Education, Culture and Neighborhood Renewal Company in Tel Aviv, which manages numerous institutions in the city.

Huldai previously recruited former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn from Blue and White to join his party. The party’s official slate for the March elections has not yet been announced.

Dan Harel on November 18, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The list for The Israelis will be composed of people of action, people that not only talk… and will take action for the benefit of the entire Israeli public,” Huldai said at an event with the new candidates. “The list for The Israelis will be diverse, balanced and representative, one that the whole of Israeli society can identify with, believe, and believe in. This is just the beginning.”

He pitched his party to disillusioned Blue and White voters, saying, “It’s not you that made a mistake. The leader of the party made a mistake.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White has shed support since he agreed to join a unity government with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu following the last election in March 2020, breaking repeated campaign promises to not sit in a coalition with the premier, who is under indictment for criminal corruption charges. A number of Blue and White lawmakers have fled the party since the government collapsed last month. At least one poll said the party would not cross the electoral threshold to enter the Knesset in the election, though most have shown it polling at around 5-6 seats.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and then-Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn visit the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“I see what’s happening in the past several weeks with the Blue and White party, and hear your voices and disappointment. You voters wanted to promote your values, as you should. You have a home, you have a party — The Israelis party,” Huldai said.

Blue and White fired back at Huldai in a statement, saying, “Blue and White’s way of doing things prevented [West Bank] annexation, the closure of courts, damage to democracy and one-party rule during health, economic and social crises.

“The Israelis’ way of doing things is preventing Tel Aviv from having a full-time mayor,” it said, referencing Huldai’s refusal so far to vacate his mayoral post while running for national office.

Huldai launched his party last week, saying he could not “stand idly by” as Israel is led by a “crazy” right-wing government, which he charged was eroding the country’s core values and threatening its democracy.

Huldai, 76, grew up in the Labor party, and to many on the left represents the last vestige of the old Labor guard who can still muster election wins — even if only in the secular left-wing bastion of Tel Aviv. He had a long career in the IDF as a combat pilot and was principal of the prestigious Herzliya Gymnasium high school in Tel Aviv for six years, before becoming mayor of Tel Aviv in 1998.

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai attends the annual international Municipal Innovation Conference in Tel Aviv, on February 19, 2020. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

New parties are cropping up, existing parties are shuffling their alliances and lawmakers are changing their allegiances since the government collapsed late last month, triggering new elections in March.

Huldai, former Finance Ministry accountant general Yaron Zelekha, former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, former head of the Mossad intelligence agency Danny Yatom and former Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar have all established new parties over the last few weeks, as Israel gears up for its fourth election in two years. Former defense minister Moshe Ya’alon is also reportedly planning to split his Telem faction from Yesh Atid.

Huldai’s party will vie for left-wing votes with Yesh Atid, Labor, Meretz, Blue and White and Shelah’s party.

Earlier Tuesday, Shelah said former IDF spokesperson Lieutenant General (res.) Ruth Malki-Yaron was joining his new party, Tnufa. Shelah, a founding member of Yesh Atid, split with the party to start his own faction late last month.

Jerusalem Minister Rafi Peretz, head of the right-wing Jewish Home faction, said Tuesday he was quitting politics, likely opening a door for the party’s merger with Yamina.

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen revealed Tuesday she is leaving Blue and White for Yesh Atid, making her the ninth lawmaker to abandon the party in the past two weeks.

Social Equality Minister Meirav Cohen at the Ministry of Social Equality in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Flash90)

A survey released Tuesday by Channel 12 found that Huldai’s party has lost some support in the week since it was established, falling from eight to six projected seats.

Netanyahu’s Likud was projected to win 27 seats; Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, 18; Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, 14; Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, 13; the Arab majority Joint List alliance, 10; ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism, 8 each; Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu, 6; and Blue and White and Meretz, 5 each.

Netanyahu remains the preferred candidate for prime minister, with 27%, followed by Sa’ar (16%), Lapid (14%), Bennett (13%), and Gantz (6%).

The survey also suggested that Yamina would pick up two more seats, for a total of 16, without its hard-right MK Bezalel Smotrich.

The poll suggests Netanyahu still has no clear path to forming a government, despite his Likud remaining the largest party. His rivals on the right, left, and center could narrowly form a coalition, though they would need to bridge significant ideological differences between them.

The survey predicted that a handful of parties will not cross the electoral threshold of 3.25% to enter the Knesset without merging with another faction — Zelekha’s new party, Labor, Tnufa, Jewish Home and Orly Levy Abekasis’s Gesher.

The poll was based on data from 500 respondents and had a margin of error of 4.4%.

While horse-race polls are an almost daily occurrence in Israel in the months leading up to elections and are not seen as overly reliable, taken together the surveys can often serve as a general gauge of the political climate and where the vote may be headed.

Netanyahu and Gantz reached an agreement that was supposed to see Gantz replace Netanyahu as prime minister in November 2021, but a loophole in the agreement saw the coalition collapse due to Netanyahu’s refusal to pass an annual budget, triggering elections.

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