Orly Levy-Abekasis is Israel’s newest political wildcard
MK says she hopes to break free of left-right paradigm

Orly Levy-Abekasis is Israel’s newest political wildcard

Yisrael Beytenu rebel's newly announced party had strong initial showing in its first poll this week, possibly helping stave off elections and positioning the MK as a major player

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at the Knesset on October 3, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
MK Orly Levy-Abekasis at the Knesset on October 3, 2017 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Beyond the Will They? Won’t They? elections drama that unfolded in the halls of the Knesset, perhaps the most important political story this week was the emergence of a new, and possibly major, player.

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis’s freshly announced party managed to garner 5 seats in a poll of likely voters Monday — before it had been given a title or named a single person on its roster beyond the headlining legislator.

The same poll showed it surpassing Levy-Abekasis’s former party Yisrael Beytenu which, with a projected 4 seats (the minimum to enter the Knesset), appeared to be in danger of disappearing from parliament altogether.

The Hadashot TV poll shuffled the cards in the legislature and, according to some observers, may have been a major contributor to coalition leaders — particularly Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman — coming to an agreement to stave off early elections, for the time being.

Levy-Abekasis, the daughter of former long-time legislator and foreign minister David Levy, on Tuesday credited her “nine years of hard work” at the Knesset for her strong initial showing.

The public “wants the agenda to return to one that concerns us all,” she told Hadashot.

Asked on which side of the political map she believed her natural political partners were found, the legislator said she sought to break free of the traditional left-right paradigm.

“There’s this constant divide between right and left, which is a divide that serves the interests of members of the old world order,” Levy-Abekasis stated. She, on the other hand, would much rather focus on socioeconomic affairs including pensions, health, housing, child-rearing and strengthening small and medium businesses.

“I want to advance these issues, I want to put them front and center. I want to make them the issues that perhaps will break the status quo and create in my eyes a new order,” she told Hadashot.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting of his Yisrael Beytenu party at the Knesset on March 12, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Levy-Abekasis may be enjoying the Israeli public’s proven partiality towards fresh, untested parties which promise to eschew traditional politics and focus on issues affecting people’s daily lives.

But she can also argue that she never sought to lead her own party, and that her hand was forced. She has also managed to amass public goodwill with a proven track record of a social-minded legislative agenda — one that could have cost her her political career.

Levy-Abekasis first entered parliament in 2009 as a member of Yisrael Beytenu but has been an independent MK for the past two years. In May 2016 she announced that she would leave Yisrael Beytenu over its entry into the Likud-led government, saying that the party had abandoned its social platform during negotiations to enter the coalition.

“The issues for which I turned to public action relate to children at risk, the elderly, the poor, public housing, for those people who are truly transparent, not just as a slogan,” Levy-Abekasis said at the time. “As soon as things became clear to me, it was very easy to make the decision” to leave the party.

She has since been serving as an independent MK in the opposition. She never officially tendered her resignation from Yisrael Beytenu, as according to Knesset protocol, leaving a party prohibits an incumbent MK from running on any already existing list in the next elections. However the party later forcibly ousted her, effectively compelling her to form a new platform if she hoped to enter the Knesset again.

Asked Tuesday if she had experienced some schadenfreude at Yisrael Beytenu’s dismal showing in the previous day’s poll, Levy-Abekasis claimed she didn’t dwell on it.

“The moment I left the party I closed that door. I’m not looking back,” she said.

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