Wednesday, February 04, 2009

February Madness Cliffs Notes

The Israeli election is less than a week away! It’s not too late to make your predictions for the February Madness pool. Once again, here are brief descriptions of each of the 34 parties running in the election, along with links to their websites (English if available, otherwise Hebrew if available, otherwise Arabic).

Parties represented in the current Knesset:

  • Balad: One of the two major Arab parties, with a secular nationalist orientation. It was one of the parties banned by the Central Election Committee, then reinstated by the Supreme Court. Founding leader Azmi Bishara is out of the picture, having fled the country after being charged with treason and espionage in connection with allegations of passing information to Hezbollah, and has been replaced with the less controversial Dr. Jamal Zahalka.
  • Gil (Pensioners): This party advocates for retired people. It was a perennial also-ran until it became the big surprise of the 2006 election, winning 7 seats. It won support not only from senior citizens, but from younger voters who were disenchanted by the major parties and wanted to cast a protest vote, and were concerned about their grandparents and other members of Israel’s founding generation. Gil joined the Kadima-led coalition, but its tenure in the Knesset has been characterized by infighting, since this single-issue party has no unified position on other issues that come up, and the faction has splintered several times. Will Gil be elected again, or was it just a one-hit wonder?
  • Green Movement - Meimad: A new “green” party, not to be confused with the existing Green party (which Green Movement supporters would claim is not green at all). Its main focus is environmental issues, but its platform also addresses social issues. The Green Movement has joined forces with Meimad (the reason that it is listed as “represented in the current Knesset”), a left-wing Orthodox party led by Rabbi Michael Melchior that has run on a joint ticket with Labor in the past, bringing together secular and religious environmentalists.
  • HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home)- the New Mafdal: It used to be that the National Religious Party (Mafdal) had a moderate platform, and the far-right pro-settlement camp had religious and secular adherents. By 2006 it looked like Religious Zionism and support for the settlements had become one and the same, to the point that Mafdal and the National Union ran on a joint list in that election. This year the two parties were ready to take their relationship to the next level, and created a new combined party called HaBayit HaYehudi. But then the factions comprising the National Union pulled out one by one, in part because they wanted to keep secular folks around and in part because they saw Mafdal as too left-wing. So HaBayit HaYehudi is now basically a renamed Mafdal, with a new leader, Prof. Daniel Hershkowitz.
  • Hadash: This far-left party, which includes the Communist Party, is often lumped in with the “Arab parties”, but its Knesset faction includes a Jewish MK, Dov Khenin. It is the only majority-Arab party with Jewish MKs. They have put out a series of “Left vs. Left” ads inspired by the Mac vs. PC commercials, and their slogan is “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies.”
  • Kadima:It’s the oldest story in politics: Then-PM Ariel Sharon pulls off the “Big Bang” in November 2005, founding this centrist party by drawing MKs from both Likud and Labor, calls new elections, and has a permanently incapacitating stroke in January 2006. Kadima won a plurality of Knesset seats in the March 2006 election, and ever since the Lebanon War of summer 2006, PM Ehud Olmert has spent much of his term with single-digit approval ratings. Olmert announced his resignation in July 2008 in light of a corruption scandal, and for various procedural reasons has been a lame duck for 6 months and counting. This election is Kadima’s first as a normal party, with primaries and such, and Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni is running for prime minister as the new party leader.
  • Labor: The major center-left party lost a chunk of its Knesset faction to Kadima in the “Big Bang”, but reinvented itself for the 2006 elections with a domestic platform championed by (small-l and big-L) labor leader Amir Peretz, and did ok, coming in second and becoming Kadima’s main coalition partner. For reasons no one understands, Peretz became Defense Minister rather than taking a domestic portfolio, and presided over the disastrous Lebanon War, ending his political career for the moment. Former PM Ehud Barak became the new party leader and Defense Minister, and Labor’s success in this election will depend on public perceptions of Barak’s handling of the recent Gaza war.
  • Likud: Like Labor, the major center-right party lost MKs and support to Kadima in 2006, and fared considerably worse than Labor in that election. But the Likud appears to be on its way to bouncing back: under the leadership of opposition leader and former PM Bibi Netanyahu and his Obama-inspired campaign, the Likud has led in most recent polls for this election, perhaps in part because (unlike Kadima and Labor) it is untainted by the Olmert administration.
  • Meretz: The left-wing Zionist party supports a two-state solution with a negotiated peace agreement, along with progressive positions on social and economic issues. Its new leader Haim “Jumes” Oron is particularly popular in the kibbutz sector.
  • National Union (Ichud Leumi): The far-right pro-settlement party. Its website incorporates an orange theme, presumably not in solidarity with Daily Kos. See above under HaBayit HaYehudi for its recent history.
  • Shas: This Sephardi haredi party often wins enough support (from haredim and non-haredim) to make or break coalitions: it provided crucial votes to Olmert’s coalition, but then declined to join a coalition with Livni, forcing this election. Its website has the slogan “Mi lAdonai eilai” (”Whoever is for God, with me!”), evoking Moses’s zeal in the golden calf episode.
  • United Arab List / Ta’al: The other major Arab party, also banned from this election and then reinstated. Its constituent factions include the Islamic Movement. Ta’al (Arab Movement for Renewal) is basically a one-man faction consisting of outspoken MK Ahmad Tibi, who has also run on the Hadash and Balad slates in the past.
  • United Torah Judaism: The Ashkenazi haredi party, comprising Agudat Yisrael (Hasidim) and Degel Hatorah (Lithuanian misnagdim). Their platform promises funding for yeshivot and other haredi institutions, payments to families with many children, and a chicken in every pot.
  • Yisrael Beytenu: This right-wing party was originally primarily for immigrants from the former Soviet Union, but has gained support from other Israelis as well. Its charismatic leader, Avigdor Lieberman, is a polarizing figure, with right-wingers lining up behind him while various parties on the left position themselves as the anti-Lieberman. His controversial plan involves ceding Israeli Arab areas (and people) inside the Green Line to the Palestinian state in exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

Parties not represented in the current Knesset:

  • Achrayut: Their platform promises to restructure the government, creating a bicameral Knesset in which candidates for the lower house are elected directly by the voters (rather than the current system in which voters vote for party lists).
  • Aleh Yarok (Green Leaf): This left-wing party’s signature issue is the legalization of marijuana.
  • Brit Olam: The video on their website features a man urinating (connected to their ballot letters, “pee”, though I’m not sure which came first), and the text below says “If you’re sick of being peed on too, click the button.” This Jewish-Arab party has a peace platform which includes, among other things, “teaching peace on the roads as part of driver education”.
  • Greens: This is the older Green Party, which has won local elections as well as tiebreaker #1 in March Madness 2006 (the most votes among the parties not elected to the Knesset), but has never made it to the Knesset.
  • HaYisraelim: This party promises more accountability for Knesset members, including electing half of the Knesset by geographic districts, and requiring Knesset members to hold weekly office hours for the public.
  • Holocaust Survivors & Grown-Up Green Leaf: As its name suggests, this party includes marijuana legalization activists who split from the Green Leaf party, along with Holocaust survivors, and the video says it all. Will the free media inspired by this outlandish combination be enough to consolidate the protest vote and make this party the next Gil?
  • Koach HaKesef (The Power of Money): The party formerly known as the Party for the Struggle with the Banks. “The bank is stealing your money!”
  • Koach Lehashpia (The Power to Influence): Focuses on disability issues. Their website includes a photoshopped picture of Livni, Netanyahu, and Barak in wheelchairs.
  • Lazuz: They want to set a maximum salary for elected officials and government employees, so there is more money available for other things. Until such a law is passed, their candidates pledge to donate 40% of their Knesset salaries to tzedakah.
  • Leeder: This party had the distinction of coming in last out of 31 parties in 2006. Will it place in the top 30 this time? The party leader is Alexander Radko, a fish merchant from Ashdod, and there are a lot of Russian names on their candidate list, but I can’t find anything about their platform.
  • Lehem: Anti-corruption agenda.
  • Lev LaOlim: Immigrants from central Asia.
  • Mahpach b’Chinuch (Revolution in Education): An education platform, including mandatory preschool, limits to class size, and higher teacher salaries. But they’ve apparently dropped out — they’re no longer listed on the Knesset website.
  • Men’s Rights: Angry divorced men who don’t want to pay child support.
  • Or: Secular and proud, advocating for separation of religion and state, and universal military or national service.
  • Organization for Democratic Action (Da’am): A Marxist workers’ party, mostly Arab Israeli, which publishes Challenge Magazine. Its leader, Asma Agbarieh-Zahalka, is one of only two women running in their parties’ #1 spots (you know the other).
  • Strong Israel: Led by former MK Ephraim Sneh, formerly of Labor. Two-state solution, “Israel will not permit hostile nations to maintain nuclear weapons”, equality for all the Jewish streams, and getting tough on crime.
  • Tzabar: The “young people’s party”, headed by leaders of national student organizations. Higher pay for soldiers, mandatory national service for everyone, lower tuition for university students.
  • Tzomet: This right-wing party ran on a joint list with the Likud in 1996, but hasn’t been elected to the Knesset on its own since then. They want to cut taxes and cut spending.
  • Yisrael HaMitchadeshet (Renewed Israel): Originally a breakaway from Natan Sharansky’s Yisrael Ba’aliyah party (which merged with the Likud), headed by Michael Nudelman and representing Russian immigrants.

If you’re an Israeli citizen, vote! If not (or even if you are), enter the February Madness pool! Good luck!


  1. Thanks for the review.

    PS - The "word verification" for post this comment [was] "parti" (!)
    Seems like Google knows all!


  2. Under "HaBayit HaYehudi" you mention that the National Union broke off from them because they weren't Leftist enough...of course, you meant "Rightest".

  3. mahpach bachinuch has indeed dropped out of the race.

    i suggest letting anyone who included them in their submission resubmit.