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Israeli Parliamentary Elections 2015
- JCRC's 2015 Israeli Election Events
- Results of the 2015 Elections
- The 2015 Elections
- Major Issues
- Political Parties
- The Israeli Election Process
JCRC's 2015 Israeli Election Events
May 19: Conference Call: The New Israeli Government - Can it Last?
The JCRC of Greater Washington and the JCPA re-connected with leading Israeli Journalist, Tal Schnieder, to discuss the results of the 2015 Israeli election and ensuing coalition building which took place. Schneider discussed the razor thin 61 seat governing coalition PM Netanyahu formed, the process of building said coalition including the promises made to each party, and the discourse of centrist and left leaning Israelis in the wake of the 34th Knesset being formed. She offered her analysis on how long this government would last, whether more parties will join throughout the course of this government, and the impact on laws passed in the last government concerning the integration of the Haredim among many other topics. Click here to listen to a recording of the call.
March 17: Israel's 2015 Election: Real Time Analysis
More than 100 community members joined the JCRC and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington on March 17th, as we celebrated Israel's democracy on the day of its 2015 elections. We offered a peek into the Israeli parties and campaigns with Noa Meir and Pnina Agenyahu, followed by an analysis of the initial results by Neri Zilber, Journalist and Researcher on Middle East politics and culture, Visiting Scholar at the Washington Institute. To view pictures of the program on our website, please click here, and to view on Facebook, please click here.
March 9: Aleph Bet of Israel's Elections
The JCRC's Noa Meir and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington's Community Shaliach Pnina Agenyahu discussed the Israeli political process with an in depth introduction to the parties, key players, issues, media, and the polls of the 2015 elections. The event took place at Temple Shalom in Chevy Chase and Rabbi Michael Feshbach introduced the program teaching the basics of Israel's governing system. Click here to view pictures from the event. Click here to download the presentation about Israel's political system, parties, and 2015 elections.
February 12: Live from Israel - 2015 Election: What you Need to Know with Israeli Journalist Tal Schneider
Thank you to the more than 100 people across the country who join us for our conference call on February 12th. And, thank you to the JCPA, American University Hillel, George Washington University Hillel, Maryland Hillel, and the Gildenhorn Institute for Israeli Studies at UMD for co-sponsoring the call. Select this link to listen to a recording of the call.
|Noa Meir and Tal Schneider on the conference call.||JCPA Chair Susan Turnbull introducing the conference call and Maryland Hillel students participating via Skype||Noa Meir and Tal Schneider after the successful call!|
Israel's elections were free, fair and democratic. The only democracy in the Middle East saw its highest voter turnout since 1999, with 71.8% of the eligible electorate participating. With all votes counted (more than 4.25 million of the 5,881,696 eligible voters), the Likud has won 30 seats and the Zionist Camp 24. The Joint Arab List placed third with 13 seats, followed by Yesh Atid with 11, Kulanu with 10, HaBayit HaYehudi with 8, Shas with 7, Yisrael Beytenu and United Torah Judaism with 6 each, and Meretz with 5.
As of May 12th, 2015 the new coalition government of Israel has been through a series of deals and understandings between the parties been assembled, it has not yet however been sworn in. Leading the coalition is Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud with 30 seats, followed by Kulanu with 10, Jewish Home with 8, Shas with 7, and United Torah Judaism with 8 seats totaling 61 total seats.
The portfolios for the coalition will be divided as follows: Kulanu will oversee finance, housing, and environment; Shas will be in charge of economy, religious affairs, and development of the Galilee and Negev; United Torah Judaism will receive the health ministry; and Habayit Hayehudi will receive education, justice, agriculture, and Diaspora affairs. This will likely lead to a much more rightward shift in Israeli policy including rolling back many laws aimed at integrating the very religious into society passed in the last Knesset. Because of the contentious nature of the election and comments made by leaders of their parties it is unlikely that more centrists or leftists would consider defecting to add their support to the Netanyahu government.
It will be important to continue watching closely for updates, as the narrow nature of the current coalition, at least numerically leaves the Government exceptionally brittle and subject to further shake-ups. Additionally intra-party politics among the Likud party could cause a further upset over dissatisfaction regarding the ministry positions left available to them.
The makeup of the Knesset is more diverse than ever. Thirteen members of the Arab Joint List, now the third largest party in the parliament, are Arabs. Four Arabs also serve in Zionist parties for a total of 17, the highest total ever. There will also be 28 women serving, the highest total ever.
Scenes of Israelis Voting on March 17th (Even Superwoman, Gal Gadot, casts her ballot, top left)
Post Election 2015 Information
- Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs Post Election Information Page
- Post Election Analysis by Woodrow Wilson Center Experts - Speakers include: Jane Harman, Director, President and CEO, Wilson Center; Shlomo Avineri, Professor of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, former Director-General of the Foreign Ministry, and Wilson Center Fellow; Nahum Barnea, Chief Political columnist, Yedioth Ahronoth; David Horovitz, Founding Editor of The Times of Israel, a current affairs website based in Jerusalem and former Editor-in-Chief of The Jerusalem Post; and Aaron David Miller, Vice President for New Initiatives and Distinguished Scholar, Historian, analyst, negotiator, and former advisor to Republican and Democratic Secretaries of State on Arab-Israeli negotiations, 1978-2003
- So Israel Voted. What Happened? What Didn't? What Now? - by Jeremy Burton, Executive Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston (JCRC)
- Post Election NPR Interview with PM Netanyahu
- Post Election Interview of PM Netanyahu interview by NBC's Andrea Mitchell
- Readout of President Obama's post election call with PM Netanyahu
Election 2015 Information
- Haaretz - Guide to the 2015 Elections and related news articles (Left leaning news source)
- Jerusalem Post - Guide to the 2015 Elections and related news articles (Right leaning news source)
- Times of Israel - Guide to the 2015 Elections and related news articles (Centrist news source)
- YNet News - News articles relating to the 2015 elections
- J-Street Guide to the Israeli Elections
- Embassy of Israel in Washington DC Guide to the Elections
- Washington Institute for Near East Policy Article about the 2015 Israeli Election
- Washington Institute for Near East Policy Roundtable discussion on 2015 Israeli Election
The 2015 Israeli Elections
Israel last held elections in 2013 with the Likud-Beitenu party winning the most seats. A coalition government was formed with the Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu, Yesh Atid and the Jewish Home parties. In late November and early December, 2014, a series of major disagreements between these parties erupted over numerous issues, including a proposed “Value Added Tax Law” (a bill proposing zero-rate VAT for first-time home buyers) and a proposed legislation called the "Jewish Nation State Bill" (which sought to resolve the tension between the country's dual Jewish and democratic character, as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence. It aspired to do so by defining Jewishness as the default nature of the state in any instance, legal or legislative, in which the state's Jewishness and its democratic aspirations clash). This lead to a call for the 2015 elections by the ruling coalition.
On December 2nd, Likud announced a government dissolution bill, with a vote schedule for December 8th. Later on the 2nd, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fired Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid from their cabinet positions. The government dissolution bill passed its 3rd reading on December 3, 2014 by a vote of 93-0. After some pushback from several parties, the date for the 2015 elections was set for March 17, 2015.
Major Issues in the 2015 Elections
These elections have become very personal to the Israeli voter and increasingly distasteful in terms of attacks on candidates. Similar issues that arose in 2013 with regards to the economy are somewhat present. Israel as a whole has weathered the global economic downturn favorably, but the gap between the “haves” and “have not’s” has only increased. The cost of living and housing have sky-rocketed while wages have stagnated or even dropped. Many average Israelis have trouble "finishing the month" and meeting their cost of living financial obligations. This is in addition to the regular security issues, including the Iranian threat and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, which accompany every election campaign.
The 2015 election is forcing the Israeli voters to decide where on the political spectrum they would like their government to be. This election is forcing them to declare a conservative/right wing or liberal/left wing outlook on questions including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, settlement building and funding, how the State of Israel defines itself, budget priorities, etc. There is also a growing sentiment of "just not Bibi" as many citizens and politicians have grown weary of PM Netanyahu's politics and tactics, who has served as Israel's PM for the last six consecutive years, nine years total since 1996. They are concerned that nothing would change positively if PM Netanyahu were elected for a third consecutive term. On the other hand, there is a growing attack against the Israeli left, which has adopted the name “The Zionist Camp”, claiming that they are not really Zionists and are acting against the State of Israel.
Right Wing Parties
Likud (Consolidation) - Israel's current ruling party led by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was founded in 1973. In the 2015 elections, this party is campaigning on issues of security and national identity hoping to appeal to its right-wing base constituency. The party has moved further right than in previous elections with the hope that if it wins enough mandates, it will create natural connections with other far right and ultra-Orthodox parties to form a coalition. PM Netanyahu (Bibi) is running for his 3rd consecutive term and faces a growing "just not Bibi" sentiment. Likud has publicly endorsed a Two State Solution and leadership entered into peace negotiations led by the U.S. in both 2010 and 2013, but PM Netanyahu said current security threats prevent that solution from viability, blaming the collapse of peace talks on the Palestinians’ rejection of all reasonable offers. The other major issue Likud supports this election cycle, and the main reason for the collapse of the current government is the "Jewish Nation State Bill" which emphasizes the Jewish characteristics of Israel above the democratic characteristics of the state. However, PM Netanyahu has clearly stated he will not agree to any legislation that undermines Israel's democratic values.
|HaBayit HaYehudi (Jewish Home) -
Led by Naftali Bennet, this party is considered very right wing. It was founded in 2008 and is associated with the religious Zionist and settler movements. This party was also a part of the government elected in 2013 with Bennet serving as the Minister of Economics and Uri Ariel, deputy to Bennet, serving as Minister of Housing which legislates and controls the settlements. HaBayit Hayehudi and its leadership are opposed to a Two State Solution and any type of withdrawal from the West Bank. Bennet proposed, instead, that Israel should offer full citizenship to Palestinians living in "Area C" which represents about 2/3 of the West Bank area. By controlling the Housing Ministry, HaBayit Hayehudi has been able to push its policies of expanding settlement housing. Naftali Bennet was also instrumental in pushing the introduction and hopeful passage of the “Jewish Nation State Bill” as he made his joining the 2013 ruling coalition contingent on its passage.
|Yisrael Beiteinu (Israel Our Home) - A secular nationalist party headed by Avigdor Lieberman, founded in 1999 for Jews born in the former Soviet Union. Lieberman, as party leader, served as Foreign Minister as part of Netanyahu's 2013 ruling coalition. However, Yisrael Beiteinu pulled out of the coalition after criticizing PM Netanyahu's restraint in managing the Gaza escalation (“Protective Edge”) in the summer of 2014. Lieberman and consequently Yisrael Beiteinu, is now a vocal part of the "just not Bibi" chorus for the 2015 election. However, this party is under great scrutiny after an investigation into alleged corruption by party officials. Recently, the party's stance on a Two State Solution has been changed to call instead for a regional peace agreement based around the establishment of a state for Palestinians. The plan released by the party does not deliver specifics, but does affirm the idea that giving up territory for peace is viable and that the Israeli people must take precedence over the unity of the land.
Ultra Orthodox Parties
|Shas (Sephardic Guards) -
Founded in 1984 as a home for ultra-Orthodox Sephardim, this party has a history of playing both spoiler and kingmaker in ruling coalitions across the political spectrum. For practically the first time since its establishment, it was not part of the 2013 governing coalition and has seen its popularity fall after its spiritual leader and founder, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, died in the last year. After Rabbi Ovadia’s passing, there has been a struggle for leadership of the party between current leader Aryeh Deri and Eli Yishai, leader of a faction within the party. Yishai formed a new party for the 2015 elections. Deri, and thus Shas, has endorsed an interim peace agreement with the Palestinians affirming the idea that trading land for a lasting peace is acceptable, but has also said a lasting peace is not possible until solving the problem of Hamas. Deri is also very public about condemning anti-Arab hate crimes and makes clear that Shas cares about all citizens of Israel including Arabs.
|Ha'am Itanu (The People Are With Us) - A faction from within Shas led by Eli Yishai broke away to form this party in 2015. Yishai claims Ha’am Itanu is the path which Rabbi Ovadia Yosef would have taken. Yishai opposes settlement freezes in the West Bank, does not believe Israel should negotiate with the Palestinians until significant changes have been made on their side, and felt that PM Netanyahu was wrong to hold back during “Operation Pillar of Defense” in 2012 and instead should have sent “Gaza back to the Middle Ages.” Yishai is anti-immigration and has called for the deportation and repatriation of migrants with the sole goal of maintaining the Jewish majority in Israel.|
|Yahadut Ha’Torah (United Torah Judaism) - This party, founded in 1992, can be described as an alliance of Hasidic rabbis and their interest groups. They work to obtain funding for Haredi institutions and to keep the State of Israel’s relationship between state and religion in tact. UTJ does not allow female candidates. This party will not accept cabinet positions in the government and identifies as non-Zionist. The majority of support for this party comes from Haredi settlers in the West Bank in places like Modi’in Illit and Beitar Illit. They have proposed a bill that would require a supermajority in Knesset before Israel could hold negotiations regarding the status of Jerusalem. UTJ considered supporting PM Netanyahu’s “Jewish Nation State Bill” before the government collapsed.
|Yesh Atid (There is a Future) - Founded in 2013 by popular television personality, Yair Lapid, they were the surprise winner of the 2nd most seats in the in the 2013 elections with 19 seats. Yesh Atid's appeal in 2013 was to middle-class voters who were frustrated with Israel’s political system and economic policies. In the 19th Knesset, Lapid served as Finance Minister. His popularity over the last 2 years has plummeted, as he is perceived to have not delivered many of the economic promises he made. Lapid, meanwhile, has accused PM Netanyahu of being out of touch with the Israeli voter. The party believes in a Two-State Solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but they have concentrated more on domestic issues than foreign policy. Yesh Atid is a Center Left party. Notable members include Silver Spring native Rabbi Dov Lipman, Yaakov Peri, and Shai Peron.|
|Kulanu (All of us) - A brand new party established in late 2014 by former Welfare Minister Moshe Kahlon formerly of the Likud party. Kahlon gained praise for helping reform the Israeli communications market thereby reducing the price of cell phone services when he was Welfare Minister. The focus of this party is on “clean” lawmakers and reductions to the cost of living for the average Israeli. Kahlon is known for his support for egalitarian economics and for issues affecting the middle class, although he also maintains a strong working-class appeal. Traditionally known for a hard line on security matters, Kahlon has in more recent times suggested support for territorial compromise for a two-state solution. He has said he is “a product of the Likud” but that his “worldview is center, slightly leaning to the right”. Michael Oren, former Ambassador of Israel to the U.S. has joined this party and is number 4 on the list of candidates.|
Left Wing Parties
Ha’Machane Ha’Tzioni (Zionist Camp) - A joint party for 2015, comprised of two leftist paties, Avodah and Hatnuah led by Isaac “Buji” Herzog and Tzipi Livni.
Avodah (Labor) - Founded in 1968, the Labor party is running on joint "Zionist Camp" ticket in 2015 with Hatnuah. They are a left leaning political party whose notable members include Isaac Herzog (the son of former Israeli President Haim Herzog), Shelly Yachimovich, and Stav Shaffir. Iterations of this party can be traced back to the founding of the State of Israel, but it has struggled to remain competitive. For the 2015 elections, Herzog has announced a joint slate with Hatnuah’s Tzipi Livni, and if they win enough seats to form the next government, Herzog would serve as prime minister for the first two years, and Livni, the last two years. Labor supports a Two State Solution and a freeze on settlements. They are also in support of an increase in transparency and a cut to government funding over the Green Line.
Hatnuah (The Movement) - Founded in 2012 by Tzipi Livni, this Left leaning party is running on a joint "Zionist Camp" ticket with Labor. Former Foreign Minister and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni founded Hatnuah and campaigned on the idea that peace with the Palestinians was both attainable and necessary. She was the first to join the Netanyahu coalition in 2013 as Justice Minister and Chief Peace Negotiator. Hatnuah believes that only a Two State Solution can allow Israel to keep its values as a Jewish, democratic state and blames Israeli settlements for failing to reach peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
|Meretz (Vigor) - Founded in 1992, Meretz is considered a progressive party with rising popularity and self identifies as leftist. They concentrate on social justice and equality issues and campaign for peace with the Palestinians. They have been very critical of PM Netanyahu's policies, including settlement expansions and their perceived lack of negotiations with Palestinians. They very much support a Two State Solution and have expressed support for Palestinian efforts to achieve statehood at the UN. Notable members of Meretz include Zehava Gal-On, Nitzan Horowitz, and Tamar Zandberg.
The Arab Parties are running on 1 joint list composed of 3 parties: Hadash, Ra’am Ta’al, & Balad.
Hadash (acronym for Ha’Hazit Ha’Demokratit Le’Shalom u’Le’Shivion - The Democratic Front for Peace and Equality) - In 2015, Hadash joined the United List with Balad, and Ra’am-Ta’al, the other Arab parties. The only Jewish-Arab party, Hadash was founded in 1977 and comprises what remains of the Israeli Communist Party. They advocate for a Two State Solution based on the borders as they were in 1967 and would like for Israel be defined secularly without reference to being a Jewish state.
|Ra'am-Ta'al (Two parties that united: Ra’am - acronym for Reshima Aravit Me’uhedet - United Arab List and Ta’al: acronym for Tnu’a Aravit Le’Hithadshut - Arab Movement for Renewal) - Israel’s only Islamic party, founded in 2006, is joining with Hadash and Balad in 2015 as a United Arab List. Ra’am has endorsed the unification of state and religion, lobbying for Sharia courts and supports a modern day Islamic caliphate. For the 2013 elections, Ra’am joined with Ta’al, a smaller Arab party that concentrates on issues of equal rights for Palestinian-Israeli citizens and the peace process. The party supports a Palestinian state based on the borders as they were in 1967 and blames the Netanyahu government for sabotaging a negotiated Two State Solution.
|Balad (acronym for Brit Le’umit Demokratit - Nation) - Part of the United List with the other Arab parties, Balad is a non-religious, anti-Zionist organization which supports Arab nationalism. Its leader, Hanin Zoabi, has been barred from Knesset for supporting Palestinian terrorists. The party supports the removal of Jewish from the definition of the State of Israel and supports ceding all territory captured in 1967. They claim there is no hope for democracy without ending the “Zionist regime.”
The Israeli Election Process
Israel has a parliamentary system based on nation-wide proportional representation. The Prime Minister, who heads Israel’s government, is chosen from among the members of the newly elected Knesset, Israel’s parliament. This means that voters elect nationally registered political parties—not local candidates. Each party receives representation in the 120-seat Knesset (parliament) proportional to how many votes it gets. Parties must meet a threshold of at least 3.25 percent of the vote to qualify for seats in the Knesset (the threshold was recently raised from 2 percent, making it harder for small parties to get into the Knesset). Parties individually determine their own list of candidates, including by internal election or appointment (aka Primaries). National elections will determine the composition of the 20th Knesset and will determine the composition of the government to be established based on these results.
Any Israeli over the age of 18 residing in the Jewish State may vote. Israelis of all ethnic groups and religious beliefs, including Arab-Israelis, actively participate in the process. Every eligible Israeli citizen is automatically registered. Because Israel is a parliamentary democracy, in which parties run on lists and the electorate votes for parties rather than candidates, it is virtually impossible for one party to win a majority in the Knesset and coalition governments between tense partners are the norm. Elections are required to be held every four years, but because of unstable coalitions, elected Israeli governments rarely last the entire term, and elections are often held early (and this has been the case over the past decade).
The entire country constitutes a single electoral constituency. In Israel's proportional representation system, candidates represent national parties and not electoral districts or local constituencies. The Knesset is elected directly by the voters, not through a body of electors. On Election Day, voters cast one ballot for a single political party to represent them in the Knesset. All votes cast are equal in weight. Elections are by secret ballot. The 120 Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party's percentage of the total national vote. Israel has many parties vying for 120 Knesset seats.
Knesset elections are based on a vote for a party rather than for individuals, and the parties competing for elections to the 20th Knesset reflect a wide range of outlooks and beliefs. The number and order of members entering the new Knesset for each party corresponds to its list of candidates as presented for election. For example, if a party receives 10 mandates, the first ten candidates on its list enter the new Knesset. Prior to the elections, each party submits its list of candidates for the Knesset (in order of precedence). The parties select their candidates for the Knesset in primaries or by other procedures. Only registered parties or an alignment of two or more registered parties can present a list of candidates and participate in the elections. Knesset seats are assigned in proportion to each party's percentage of the total national vote. A party's surplus votes, which are insufficient for an additional seat, can be transferred to another party according to agreements made between them prior to the election. If no agreement exists, the surplus votes are distributed according to the parties' proportional sizes in the elections. The Prime Minister is selected from among the Knesset members. The President of the State assigns the task to the Knesset member considered to have the best chance of forming a viable coalition government in light of the Knesset election results.
The government (cabinet of ministers) is the executive authority of the state, charged with administering internal and foreign affairs, including security matters. When a new government is to be formed, the President of the State - after consulting with representatives of the parties elected to the Knesset - assigns the task of forming the government to a Knesset member. This Knesset member is usually the leader of the party with the largest Knesset representation or the head of the party that leads a coalition of more than 60 members. Since a government requires the Knesset's confidence to function, it must have a supporting coalition of at least 61 of the 120 Knesset members.
To date, no single party has received enough Knesset seats to be able to form a government by itself; thus all Israeli governments have been based on coalitions of several parties. Those remaining outside the government compose the opposition. The Knesset member to whom the task is assigned has a period of 28 days to form a government. The President may extend the term by an additional period of time, not exceeding 14 days. If this period (up to 42 days) has passed and the designated Knesset member has not succeeded in forming a government, the President may then assign the task of forming a government to another Knesset member. This Knesset member has a period of 28 days for the fulfillment of the task. There are no further extensions.
If a government still has not been formed, an absolute majority of Knesset members (61) has the option of applying in writing to the President, asking him to assign the task to a particular Knesset member. Such a precedent has yet to occur. When a government has been formed, the designated Prime Minister presents it to the Knesset within 45 days of publication of election results in the official gazette. At this time, he announces its composition, the basic guidelines of its policy and the distribution of functions among its ministers. The Prime Minister then asks the Knesset for an expression of confidence. The government is installed when the Knesset has expressed confidence in it by a majority of 61 Knesset members. Then the new ministers assume their offices.