Millions of Israelis head to the polls this week to decide Israel’s future in an early election deeply mired with political scandals, deep party divisions, and the ever-present weight of the nation’s security at hand.
Here is a simple guide to Israel’s elections.
- Israel has a parliamentary democracy with legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Voters will be choosing parties to fill the Knesset, Israel’s legislative branch.
- There are 120 seats to be filled in the Knesset.
- The seats are elected through proportional representation in a single nationwide vote, meaning that parties gain seats in proportion to the number of votes cast for them.
- To win seats in the Knesset, a party must receive at least 3.25% of the national vote, equivalent to four seats.
- A record number of forty-seven parties signed up for the elections.
- In this election, about 5.8 million Israelis are eligible to vote, according to the Israeli statistics bureau.
- This election was scheduled for November, but the collapse of the ruling majority coalition triggered the early vote.
The election was initially scheduled for November, but when the ruling majority, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party lost its hold on the majority, Israeli law dictated that elections must be held to reestablish a new government. Israel is no stranger to controversial politics, but the collapse of the coalition is symptomatic of the deeply dividing issues and controversies splitting Israeli parties.
- Security: This is always a significant issue in Israeli politics, but the Gaza border protests, running for more than a year now, have tested Israel’s ability to protect the southern border communities without another full-scale invasion of the Gaza Strip. More pressure comes from the north with encroaching Iranians in Syria and an increasingly brazen Hezbollah in Lebanon.
- Haredi Draft: In 2018, the Knesset was embroiled in a controversial Haredi draft bill that would extend compulsory military service to the Ultra-Orthodox, revoking an exemption from duty. This issue, involving both security and religion, strikes at the heart of Israel.
- Corruption: Current Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is being investigated in three separate corruption investigations, and just before the elections Israel’s attorney general announced he would be indicted.
After all the votes are collected, the goal is to have the party with the most seats form a coalition government with other parties to create the government. Here is how that works.
First, Israel’s president, currently Reuven Rivlin, consults with party leaders and asks the candidate judged as having the best chance of forming a coalition to try to put together a government. Usually, that is whoever is heading the largest party, but it’s not always the case. That candidate then has twenty-eight days to form a coalition with at least sixty-one MKs, just more than half the seats. If the candidate fails to win the necessary support in that time, the president can task a different candidate with forming a coalition.
If Likud wins the most seats in this election, it is likely they will again select Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister making Netanyahu Israel’s longest-serving premier. But the election is competitive. Here is a rundown of the leading parties.
Who Is Running?
- Leader: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu
- Platform: Likud is Israel’s biggest center to center-right party and led the previous government. Likud takes a hard stance on security regarding Iran, Syria, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Most members reject the notion of a Palestinian state in a peace plan, and just last week Netanyahu said he would annex West Bank territory if elected.
BLUE AND WHITE
- Leader: Benny Gantz (former military chief)
- Platform: This brand-new party has risen to become serious competition for Likud. Led by Gantz and other ministers, it advocates for pursuing peace with Palestinians while protecting Israeli security interests and anti-corruption in government.
- Leader: Avi Gabbay
- Platform: This left-wing party has campaigned on social and economic reformation and supports pursuing a peace plan with Palestinians with a two-state solution. Until 1977, all Israeli prime ministers were connected to the Labor movement.
THE NEW RIGHT
- Leader: Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked
- Platform: This party advocates for the annexation of most of the West Bank while offering autonomy to Palestinians in addition to reforming Israel’s supreme court, which Shaked deems liberal and interventionist.
RIGHT WING UNION
- Leader: Rabbi Rafi Peretz
- Platform: This national-religious party represents many Israeli settlers in the West Bank and stresses Israel’s biblical connection to the land rejecting the idea of the creation of a Palestinian state.
- Leader: Moshe Feiglin
- Platform: This ultra-nationalist religious party runs a libertarian style platform calling for a free market economy, the legalization of marijuana, and the voluntary transfer of Palestinians to other Arab states.
- Leader: Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon
- Platform: A moderate right-wing party, Kulanu focuses on socio-economic issues such as the high cost of living and housing prices.
- Leader: Former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman
- Platform: After resigning from his post over the Gaza situation, Lieberman’s campaign took on issues of West Bank territory with land trades and state loyalty conditions for Israeli citizens.
UNITED TORAH JUDAISM
- Leader: Deputy Health Minister Yakov Litzman
- Platform: Representing ultra-Orthodox Jews from Europe, UTJ’s primary concern is protecting the exempt status of their members from compulsory military service, an issue that has become a hotbed of debate in the last year.
- Leader: Interior Minister Aryeh Deri
- Platform: SHAS, or Union of Sephardic Torah Observers, represents ultra-Orthodox Jews from the Middle East and has held a place in most recent governments along with UTJ.
- Leader: Ayman Odeh and Ahmed Tibi
- Platform: This socialist party supports a Jewish-Arab alliance to take on discrimination, racism, and social inequality in Israel. They have never held a spot in the governing coalition.
- Leader: Tamar Zandberg
- Platform: This left-wing party advocates a two-state solution with Palestinians but has not been a part of the ruling coalition in two decades.
And don’t forget about the Messianic Jew running for a seat - read more here.
Given the nature of the multi-party system, it could be weeks after the election before a government is formed. Once that is done, the new government will present policies that will guide Israel’s actions for the next election in four years, though few governing coalitions have made it that far.
Current predictions lean toward Likud retaining its position of power but also indicate many undecided voters who could swing the vote. All will be decided on April 9.