There's a week left until the Israeli election, which means there's less than a week to enter March Madness 2015! To aid in the process of making your picks, here is a guide to the 26 parties running in the election, as we have done in the past. We include links to their websites if we can find them (English if available, otherwise Hebrew if available, otherwise Arabic if available). The full candidate lists are available in Hebrew. Again, we're using the translations of the party names from the official election website (whether or not these are the most accurate translations).
Those who have been following past Israeli elections might notice that, while 26 sounds like a lot, this is actually the fewest parties we have seen in a long time. There are two likely reasons for this: 1) The new election threshold of 3.25% has forced smaller parties to consolidate. 2) It has only been 2 years since the last election, so there has been less time for new parties to form.
Parties represented in the current Knesset:
- Habayit Hayehudi: This far-right party, with links to the (overlapping) settlement movement and Religious Zionist movement, first ran in its current configuration in 2013, with Naftali Bennett at the head, and he is running at the top of the list again. Habayit Hayehudi was a key coalition partner in the current Knesset, and will likely be again if Netanyahu forms the next government.
- Joint Arab List: An alliance of 3 Arab parties (United Arab List, Ta'al, and Balad), and the left-wing Arab-Jewish party Hadash. It was forced into existence by the new election threshold, since Hadash and Balad each got less than 3.25% of the vote in the last election, and the combined UAL-Ta'al list got slightly more, so all the parties feared for their survival. As a result, it is diverse, comprising factions from the Islamic Movement to the Communist Party (no, Fox News, those aren't the same thing). At the head is the new Hadash leader, former Haifa city councilmember Ayman Odeh.
- Likud: The Likud is led once again by (and strongly identified with) incumbent PM Benjamin "Bibi" Netanyahu, who hopes to become the first person since Ben-Gurion to be elected to a fourth term as prime minister. Whether he will succeed depends not only on how many seats the Likud wins, but on whether the right-of-center (and haredi) parties collectively add up to 61 seats.
- Meretz – Israel's Left: Meretz is on the left with respect to both Israeli-Palestinian issues and domestic issues, and is led again by Zahava Gal-On. They're hoping to block Netanyahu from forming the next government.
- Shas: It's the first election since the death of founder R. Ovadiah Yosef, and the Sephardi haredi party has been beset by internal struggles, between Eli Yishai (who led the party through the 2000s) and Aryeh Deri (who led the party through the 1990s, went to prison, and returned to the Knesset in the last election). Deri won out, and Yishai left to start his own party (see Yachad, below). But then posthumous recordings were released in which R. Yosef said bad things about Deri. Humiliated, Deri resigned from the lame-duck Knesset, but he's still at the top of the Shas list for the election, so he'll be back.
- United Torah Judaism: In an election campaign filled with mergers, splits, and other excitement, the Ashkenazi haredi party is the island of stability. They have 7 incumbent MKs, and those men (all men, of course) are filling the first 7 spots on the party list. Yaakov Litzman is at the top of the list for the 5th time.
- Yachad: After losing the leadership of Shas (see above), Eli Yishai started a new party. While its platform shares some issues with Shas, Yachad is more of a right-wing party than a standard haredi party, recruiting candidates such as MK Yoni Chetboun (who left Habayit Hayehudi over their support for the haredi draft bill) and Baruch Marzel (of the far-right Otzma Leyisrael party). Its platform calls for the annexation of the territories and for a greater role for religion in the state (but also for protecting the environment and reducing economic inequality).
- Yesh Atid: This party, focusing on social and economic issues, was new in the 2013 election and came out of nowhere to win 19 seats (which actually makes them the largest party in the current lame-duck Knesset, following the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu split and some other shifts). Party leader Yair Lapid served in the government as Finance Minister, but was fired by PM Netanyahu after public disagreements, leading to the collapse of the coalition and to this election.
- Yisrael Beiteinu: This right-wing party with a Russian immigrant base, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, ran on a joint list with the Likud in the last election, but the two factions split last summer during the Gaza war (Lieberman was concerned that Netanyahu's response was not hardline enough). In recent months, a number of senior party members have been implicated in a corruption scandal.
- Zionist Camp: A center-left alliance between Labor (which leads the opposition in the current Knesset) and Hatenuah (which was part of the coalition until Justice Minister Tzipi Livni was fired from the government). Under the agreement creating the joint list, if the Zionist Camp forms the next government, Labor leader Yitzchak Herzog will serve as prime minister for 2 years, followed by Hatenuah's Livni (if, of course, the government lasts 4 years).
- Arab List: Not to be confused with the Joint Arab List (whose name in Hebrew and Arabic is just the Joint List, but voters could still get confused), this party brings together other Arab Israeli factions that didn't enter the Joint List. It was founded by former MKs Taleb a-Sana of the Arab Democratic Party (formerly one of the factions within the United Arab List) and Muhammad Kanan of the Arab National Party (a breakaway from the UAL). However, a-Sana has since endorsed the Joint List.
- Democratura: This party, founded by Doron Hakimi (author of Who is Muhammad? and other books), proposes a new constitution for Israel that would elect each MK from a geographic district.
- Green Leaf: As usual, their signature issue is marijuana legalization, and their tag line this year is "Proud of my choice". This time, their platform also emphasizes health care. They broke 1% of the vote in the last election, but that didn't make the election threshold.
- Green Party: The Green Party focuses on environmental issues, and has had some success at the local level, but it has never been elected to the Knesset. This year, they originally submitted their party list under the name "The Greens Don't Give a [possibly untranslatable]", but this name was rejected by the Central Elections Committee.
- Hope for Change: An Arab party that supports full equality and integration for Arab Israelis. In the 2013 election, they came in second to last.
- Kulanu: In almost every election, there seems to be a new party that exceeds expectations by attracting voters who are disaffected with the conventional left-right spectrum. It was Gil in 2006, Yesh Atid in 2013, and Kulanu hopes to be that party this year. Kulanu was founded by former Likud MK Moshe Kahlon, who served as Communications Minister and deregulated the cell phone market. Prominent first-time Knesset candidates include Michael Oren (former ambassador to the US) and Rachel Azaria (deputy mayor of Jerusalem). The platform focuses on economic issues and transparency.
- Light: A secular party calling for separation of religion and state, and universal military or national service.
- Perach: Shefa, Bracha, Chaim Veshalom: The name means "Flower: Abundance, Blessing, Life, and Peace", and it's a haredi party based in Beit Shemesh. You can join the party as a Copper Club, Silver Club, Golden Club, or global Diamond Club member. They're not aiming high: they have only 5 candidates on their list.
- Protecting Our Children – Stopping to Feed Them Pornography: A better translation, of course, would be "Stop Feeding Them Pornography"; amusingly, this sounds like the opposite! The name sums up the platform. UPDATE: The party has dropped out and endorsed Habayit Hayehudi.
- Rent with Honor: This party calls for more direct democracy, including giving voters the power to recall Knesset members and to propose Knesset bills.
- Social Leadership: It ran last time under the name "Moreshet Avot", and finished in last place. Party leader Ilan Meshicha Yar-Zanbar has pledged to donate most of his Knesset salary to the needy, and has suggested that MKs should be paid minimum wage.
- The (Temporary) National Team: They oppose corruption and economic inequality, and call for returning wealth and power to the people. I think the "temporary" part of the party name is meant to indicate that they don't intend to be career politicians, but it's not entirely clear to me.
- The Economics Party: This party was founded by American-born brothers Danny and Benny Goldstein. This time around, the brothers have had some disputes, leaving Danny in the #1 spot on the list, and Benny all the way down at #5. The platform focuses on economic reforms.
- The Pirates: ARRRR! They're not actual pirates, but they're connected to the Pirate Parties in various European countries. The party leader, Ohad Shem-Tov, lives in New York and is not planning to return to Israel to vote. This time they are calling themselves the "petek lavan" (blank ballot), suggesting that they are a protest vote.
- Ubezchutan – Haredi Women Making a Change: No, that's not a typo for Uzbekistan; "uvizchutan" means "and by their (f.) merits". This party was founded by haredi women to protest the exclusion of women candidates from the major haredi parties. Not surprisingly, it has stirred controversy in the haredi world.
- We Are All Friends: The Na Nach party is back! Their campaign slogan this time is "Im tirtzu" ("If you will it"), and the platform is about the power of positive thinking. (Since the name of the party in Hebrew is "Kulanu Haveirim", will some voters mix them up with Kulanu?)