Elections 2022

Joint List agrees on another united run ahead of deadline for filing Knesset slates

Netanyahu said to promise NIS 3 billion a year for ultra-Orthodox education to ensure joint run of Ashkenazi Haredi parties in UTJ; Meretz still willing to merge with Labor

Joint List party chairman Ayman Odeh at a conference in Jerusalem on July 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Joint List party chairman Ayman Odeh at a conference in Jerusalem on July 26, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The three parties currently in the Joint List agreed early Wednesday to again run together in the upcoming elections ahead of a deadline the next day for parties to finalize their Knesset slates.

The decision to run together came after three days of meetings as the predominantly Arab party contends with poor polling numbers and internal divisions.

The parties agreed that Ayman Odeh (Hadash) would continue to lead the alliance,  followed by Ahmad Tibi (Ta’al), Sami Abou Shahadeh (Balad), Aida Touma-Sliman (Hadash), Ofer Cassif (Hadash) and Mtanes Shehadeh (Balad).

Cassif and Shehadeh will rotate the fifth spot. The party is currently polling at five seats.

The three parties said that they “continue to work together with the aim of increasing voter participation in Arab society and among the Jewish democratic forces, and to stop the fascist right from coming to power.”

The agreement comes with polls predicting the lowest-ever turnout among Arab Israelis in the November 1 election, potentially causing Arab representation in the Knesset to dwindle.

The lowest turnout so far among Arab voters, 44.6 percent, was reached in the most recent election in 2021. A year before that, when all four major Arab and Arab-majority parties ran on a combined slate as the Joint List, Arab participation hit its peak, 64.8%, giving the Joint List 15 seats in the 120-member Knesset.

Joint List MK Sami Abou Shehadeh is ejected from the Knesset during a stormy vote to ban the flying of Palestinian flags at state-funded institutions in Jerusalem on June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

But an  independent run by the Islamist Ra’am party in last year’s election caused Arab representation to drop to 10 seats (six for the Joint List, four for Ra’am), and current polls predicted it will further drop to nine — five for the Joint List and four for Ra’am.

Smaller parties have largely been eager to unite, fearing that if one or more of them fail to cross the electoral threshold it could lead to lost votes and seats for their bloc, although the Joint List has so far remained in the opposition, refusing to support either bloc.

Joint runs and divisions on the right

Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu struck a deal this week to shore up his own bloc by mending a rift in the Ashkenazi Haredi alliance United Torah Judaism.

To broker the deal, signed Monday, Netanyahu promised to fund Haredi schools without requiring them to bend to the Education Ministry’s demand to implement a core curriculum.

According to details published Tuesday evening by Channel 13, Netanyahu promised them he would increase the annual budget for ultra-Orthodox schools from NIS 1.2 billion shekels to NIS 3 billion ($875 million) if he regains the premiership.

The agreement has drawn widespread condemnation from the current coalition. On Tuesday while announcing his own party’s slate, Prime Minister Yair Lapid slammed the move, saying that not enforcing the core curriculum trades Haredi children’s future employment opportunities for political expediency.

Prime Minister and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during an election campaign event in Tel Aviv, September 8, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

“We need to make sure that every child in Israel learns math and English and Hebrew. Core studies are the future of this country. There is a historic opportunity here to integrate the ultra-Orthodox into the labor market. Netanyahu’s attempt to sell our children’s future for a political deal is irresponsible,” Lapid said at the campaign event.

Likud quickly responded that “no harm to core studies” will happen, arguing that the deal will maintain the status quo by which “those who study core curriculum will continue to learn the core curriculum.”

About 60% of Haredi children do not study the full core curriculum as part of their basic education in Israel, with some schools teaching as little as half of the core subjects.

Netanyahu has also brokered a deal between the far-right Religious Zionism, under Bezalel Smotrich, and Itamar Ben Gvir’s extremist Otzmah Yehudit to run together again.

However, on Wednesday the two parties confirmed that the ultra-conservative, anti-LGBT Noam faction will run as a separate party after partnering with the other two in the last election.

MK Avi Maoz had announced the move earlier in the week, saying Noam decided to run independently — despite the high likelihood of it failing to pass the electoral threshold — citing “unequivocal calls from our many supporters.”

“Unfortunately, Noam will not be joining our union and announced a separate, irresponsible run that will endanger the right-wing bloc,” Religious Zionism said in a statement.

“The victory of the right and the fight for the Jewish identity of the country oblige us to take zero chances of wasting votes that could lead to a left-wing progressive government under Lapid,” the statement said.

Unite the left?

Lapid, meanwhile has been unable to unite the center-left Labor party and the left-wing Meretz, which are both currently polling at five seats, just above the threshold.

Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon after winning the party’s primary elections, Tel Aviv, August 23, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Labor leader Merav Michaeli has been adamantly opposed to the move, although Meretz’s Zehava Galon said Wednesday she was still hoping for a last-minute change of heart.

“I think we need to create a large party of the left, with Jews and Arabs,” she told the Kan public broadcaster. “But that’s not going to happen at the moment. Currently our goal is to stop the return of Netanyahu.”

“That’s why Meretz is still ready for this merger, with all the pain it entails,” Galon added.

Carrie Keller-Lynn contributed to this report.

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