A Guide to the Guide to Israeli Elections

If you read American or British press reports or even English-language Israeli news reports about political events in Israel, it can be quite confusing!  The left-wing Labor Party is often called "centrist," the equally left-wing Kadima party is called "center right," and I was surprised the other day to see the Hadash Communist party merely called "socialist."  What's an informed reader to make of all this?

Well, if Josef Stalin or Mao Zedong or their disciples were writing these articles, from their radical left perspective, nearly everyone would be to the right.  So center parties would be right, left parties would be center, and so on.  With that in mind, I thought I'd provide a quick guide to the Israeli political parties participating in this election.

The Likud Party.  The Likud party really is a right-wing party...headed by a centrist, Benjamin Netanyahu.  Why do I call him that?  Well, because although he is ostensibly the head of a right-wing party, his actions in many cases are typical of the left.  For one thing, he has endorsed the idea of a Palestinian state, something other right-wing parties have not done.  He has had an "unofficial" freeze on building in Jerusalem and the West Bank for nearly a year.  In his previous government, he sought out a partnership with the Labor Party, and in his current government, he gave an outsized role to a small leftist party, Hatnua.  And if the rumors are true, he is already looking forward to a coalition with the Labor Party after the next election.  These are not the actions of a centrist.  So the Likud is a center-right party at best.  Out of a 120-seat Knesset, they are currently projected to win about 21-23 seats.

The Labor Party.  The Labor Party is the traditional left-wing party in Israeli politics, no matter how many dispatches call it "centrist" or even "center left."  It is led by Isaac Herzog, who has been described as "one of the dullest, most ordinary, monotonous, uninspiring politicians this country ever gave birth to."  Perhaps sensing his weakness in this area, he persuaded Tzipi Livni's Hatnua party to merge with his own.  They are also projected to win about 21-24 seats.

Tzipi Livni is famous in Israeli political circles because she is a political vampire, who kills nearly every party she has sunk her teeth into.  Her main reason for existence is to create a hostile Palestinian state on nearly the entire West Bank, including half of Jerusalem.  When she was in Likud, the party jettisoned her and Ariel Sharon because of their plans for a Palestinian state.  Livni eventually became the head of the Kadima Party (which the media will tell you was "center right," even though it wanted Israel to withdraw to the 1967 armistice lines) and won the most votes in the 2009 elections, but she couldn't persuade other parties to form a coalition with her.  Then the Kadima Party jettisoned her as party leader, and the party subsequently withered and died (down to two seats in the current Knesset, expected to have zero in the next one).  Then Livni realized she needed to belong to yet another political party (her third) and started Hatnua, which means "The Movement" (no, not the bowel type, though it is an understandable first thought where her politics are concerned).  Hatnua was also called center-right or centrist by the media, even though it was every bit as left as the Labor Party.

Hatnua got only six seats in the current Knesset, and polls showed Livni getting wiped out in the upcoming election.  So Livni decided she needed to belong to a fourth political party, and she killed Hatnua (as she killed Kadima and almost killed Likud before) and wedded Isaac Herzog in a political marriage where he will be on top (premier the first two years) and she on the bottom (premier in the third and fourth year of their coalition, if it lasts that long).  After she destroys the Labor Party, perhaps she will be ready to join Hadash.  Water runs downhill.

Naftali Bennett leads the Jewish Home party, which is called a right-wing party and, surprisingly, really is a right-wing party.  Still, it wasn't so right-wing that it couldn't sit in Netanyahu's government while he kept in place a quiet building freeze for nearly a year.  The Jewish Home party has the potential to be the third-largest party in the next election after Labor and Likud.  They are projected to win about 16 or 17 seats.

Then there is the Yisrael Beiteinu party.  It would be wrong to call Yisrael Beiteinu the Russian mafia party, so please forgive me while I do it anyway.  It's a party supported by Russian émigrés, and it's a party that always seems to be having legal troubles.  (Most recently, the homes of senior party members were raided, and millions of dollars of unexplained money have been found.  That's kind of hampering their poll numbers.)

Yisrael Beiteinu was, past tense, a right-wing party, but as the media would say, they have "evolved" and "grown."  The party was originally created to attract conservative-minded voters who emigrated from Russia.  But now its leader, Avigdor Lieberman, talks about creating a Palestinian state and forming a coalition with the Labor Party.  So, right-wing?  No.  Centrist, maybe.  They are projected to win about 7 or 8 seats, down from 11 in the current Knesset.

Then there is the new Kulanu party.  Kulanu – which, I know, sounds like a Hawaiian luau – is headed by former Likud minister Moshe Kahlon.  Kahlon is known for deregulating the Israeli cell phone market, as well as...actually, that's all he's known for.  He says he's slightly right of center, but don't believe him.  He believes in "egalitarian economics" and talks about the "social" agenda, both key phrases for redistribution of wealth.  Media notation: center-right.  Real notation: center-left.  Kulanu is expected to win 9 or 10 seats.

The Yesh Atid party is led by Yair Lapid, a TV personality who has very good hair.  The strength of that hair won him 19 seats in the last election but is projected to win only 9 or 10 in the next one.  Lapid wants to break up monopolies, but he believes in creating a Palestinian state.  Media notation: centrist.  Real notation: left of center.

There is also Shas, the ultra-orthodox Sephardic party, and United Torah Judaism, the ultra-orthodox Ashkenazi party.  The Shas Party was part of the government that created the disastrous Oslo accords.  These parties can be for a Palestinian state or against a Palestinian state.  Every decision these political parties make is predicated on only one question: will a yes vote get us more money for our group?  Shas is actually a bit down in the polls right now, possibly because of a split in the party, and because the party is led by a convicted criminal.  (Really.  A convicted criminal, named Aryeh Deri.)  So call them "centrists," politically.  They are estimated to get 6-10 seats.  (The group that split off from Shas, led by Eli Yishai, is not projected to do well in the polls.)

Then there are several Arab parties (including the Hadash communist party), who have never been allowed to participate in Israeli governments, perhaps because doing so would be the political equivalent of allowing 9/11 hijackers into the cockpit.  They are expected to get about 11 seats.

Lastly there is the Meretz party.  I hesitate to call them the communist party because I have already talked about Hadash.  Maybe they are the Jewish communist party while Hadash is the part-Jewish, part-Arab communist party.  In any event, they are extreme leftists by any standard, which is why they are seldom included in any government.  They typically win about 5-6 seats.

Most people expect the Likud to cobble together a coalition of right, center-left, and ultra-orthodox parties, but theoretically, Labor could do the same with center, left, and ultra-orthodox parties as well (the ultra-orthodox have sat in Labor governments before).

And that's it!

As a bonus, here's a guide to English-language Israeli media.

Haaretz.  Extreme left-wing.  Why extreme?  For them, most actions the Israeli government takes to protect its interests are provocative, and most actions Palestinian aggressors take springs from "legitimate" grievances.  And a former editor of the paper called on the U.S. to "rape" Israel.

Times of Israel.  Everyone calls them right of center.  But they're actually left-wing.  They called the Communist Hadash party merely "socialist" (Was Chairman Mao's party  also merely socialist?), and they regularly refer to Hamas terrorists as "activists."

Jerusalem Post.  Reportedly right-wing.  Actually left-wing.  Would a right-wing paper call Hamas terrorists "activists"?  They also play the same game of calling left parties center and center parties right.

IsraelNationalNews.com.  Right-wing.  For real.

YnetNews.com.  Also right-wing.

Israel Hayom.  This paper is owned by Sheldon Adelson, who is tight with Netanyahu (or perhaps, more accurately, Netanyahu is tight with him).  Netanyahu can do no wrong in these pages, and the other political parties can do nothing right.  If Netanyahu were caught drowning a young girl in the river, Israel Hayom would report that he was giving her swimming lessons.  It has the same ideology as Netanyahu...whatever that is.

Pedro Gonzales is the editor of NewsMachete.com, the conservative news site.

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