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Israel's closed skies mean Pirate Party can't set sail

Yesh Atid, Yamina, Blue and White file their election slates, ruling out mergers

A day ahead of the deadline, several prominent parties submit their lists of candidates for March 23 vote; some small parties drop out

Yesh Atid, with MK Orna Barbivai at left, presents its candidates' list for the March 23, 2021 election to the Central Elections Committee, in the Knesset, February 3, 2021 (GPO)
Yesh Atid, with MK Orna Barbivai at left, presents its candidates' list for the March 23, 2021 election to the Central Elections Committee, in the Knesset, February 3, 2021 (GPO)

Registration opened Wednesday for parties to submit their lists of candidates in the upcoming Knesset elections, with several major parties unveiling their slates and several small parties quitting the race.

The slates can be handed to the Central Elections Committee until Thursday at midnight, meaning that parties have just one day left to finalize potential mergers, or to announce they aren’t running.

Any party that has submitted its slate cannot change it.

In an antiquated and at-times bizarre process, new parties compete for the free letters not already in use by existing parties to appear on their ballot slips; these are given out on a first-come, first-served basis. The last of the parties to register are therefore often forced to take obscure pairings of letters that make little sense and have no relation to their party name.

The first party to submit its slate Wednesday was the center-left Yesh Atid, which is shaping up in opinion polls to be the main challenger to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s leadership as the second-largest party after Likud. The filing of the candidate list means the party has ruled out any mergers.

Yair Lapid (left) and Benny Gantz speak to supporters in Tel Aviv, on February 20, 2020. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

After party leader Yair Lapid, the slate’s top ten are, in order, MKs Orna Barbivai, Meir Cohen, Karine Elharrar, Meirav Cohen, Yoel Razvozov, Elazar Stern, Mickey Levy, Merav Ben-Ari and Ram Ben Barak.

Following are Yoav Segalovitz, Boaz Toporovsky, Idan Roll, Yorai Lahav Hertzanu, Vladimir Beliak, Ron Katz, Nira Shpak, Tanya Mazarsky, Yasmin Sacks Friedman and Inbar Bezek.

“We have a strong team with clear principles and values,” said faction chairman Meir Cohen in a statement. “Anyone looking for stability knows that they can trust us and that we keep our word. It’s time for a sane and liberal government – only a strong Yesh Atid, the election of as many members of this list as possible, will make that happen.”

Another party to submit its list early was Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White, which got 14 seats in the previous election — as part of an alliance with Yesh Atid that got 33 seats in total — but is now teetering on the edge of extinction after Gantz broke his central campaign promise not to join a Netanyahu-led government.

Blue and White, with Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata at center, presents its candidates’ list for the March 23, 2021 election to the Central Elections Committee, in the Knesset, February 3, 2021 (GPO)

The submission of the slate means Blue and White will not be merging with any other party, risking slipping under the electoral threshold.

Gantz’s slate included MK Pnina Tamano-Shata as his No. 2, followed by MKs Chili Tropper, Michael Biton and Orit Farkash-Hacohen.

The right-wing Yamina party also registered its slate, whose top ten consists of party leader Naftali Bennett followed by MK Ayelet Shaked, Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi, MK Matan Kahana, IDF veteran Amichai Chikli, former Jewish Home party manager Nir Orbach, small business protest leader Abir Kara, MK Idit Silman, social activist Shirley Pinto, and right-wing activist and lawyer Shai Maimon.

Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked attend a press conference in Ramat Gan, July 21, 2019. (Photo: Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Presenting an almost identical slate to the previous three elections — with the addition of only Yossi Shein, a political science professor from the University of Tel Aviv, in the eighth spot — Yisrael Beytenu MK Oded Forer said his party, headed by Avigdor Liberman, was putting forward “a diverse, experienced slate, which has proved itself during the work in this Knesset.”

Waiting until Thursday to present his New Hope party’s slate, Gideon Sa’ar nonetheless announced Wednesday that Jerusalem council member Ofer Berkovitch, head of the Hitorerut movement, was joining him ahead of the election.

Berkovitch, 37, ran for Jerusalem mayor in 2018 against another member of New Hope, Ze’ev Elkin; both were defeated by current mayor Moshe Lion.

Meanwhile, former Labor MK Danny Yatom, who recently formed a senior citizens party, said the party would not run in the election due to budget constraints and the unwillingness of other center-left parties to merge with it.

In a statement, Yatom called on party leaders Gantz, Ron Huldai, Ofer Shelah, Yaron Zelekha, Nitzan Horowitz and Merav Michaeli to form a unified center-left party under Lapid’s leadership. However, that isn’t possible anymore since Lapid has already submitted his slate.

Another minor party that won’t run in the election is the Pirate Party, which has run in every Israeli election for the last 15 years but has never won a seat in the Knesset, or come close to do doing so.

It is part of a network of parties in various countries calling for laws to be voted on by the public through the internet.

Pirate Party representatives register their slate for the March 2, 2020, election, at the Central Elections Committee in the Knesset on January 15, 2020. (Raoul Wootliff/The Times of Israel)

But ironically, the party cannot register this time because Israel — along with pretty much all countries — currently doesn’t allow for bureaucratic procedures such as slate submissions to be held online.

Party chairman Ohad Shem-Tov is currently in New York as the representative at the Pirate Parties International Headquarters at the UN, the Maariv daily reported. Since Israel has closed its skies to almost all international travel to curb the coronavirus, he can’t come to Israel.

As the only other official who can legally register the party wasn’t able to go to the Central Elections Committee in person, Shem-Tov wrote to the CEC, asking for the procedure to be held via videoconference. That request was rejected.

Among the other small parties which did manage to register Wednesday was the Mishpat Tzedek (Fair Trial) party headed by the wife of Yigal Amir, the man who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin at a peace rally 25 years ago. The party, which ran in the previous two elections, calls for a retrial for Amir and “all other innocent people unjustly incarcerated.”

Most parties are expected to file their slates on Thursday.

The elections will be held on March 23, and will be Israel’s fourth national vote in under two years after the first two were deadlocked and the third yielded a short-lived unity government between Netanyahu and Gantz.

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