Showing posts with label Yair Lapid. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yair Lapid. Show all posts

Monday, November 20, 2017

Memories After My Death: The Story of My Father, Joseph "Tommy" Lapid - by Yair Lapid - A Review

It has been a while since I have had the chance to put together a new post.  Things have been quite hectic, I suppose.  I'm not complaining about that.

I have been meaning to write a review for a while - about Memories After My Death: The Story of My Father, Joseph "Tommy" Lapid, by Yair Lapid.  This was quite an interesting read.

The book as written as an autobiography, yet it was written by Yair Lapid after the death of his father Tommy Lapid.  As Yair Lapid indicates in the acknowledgements, much of the material came from a series of interviews conducted by Amnon Dankner with Tommy Lapid in the last years of his life.

Tommy Lapid was a remarkable figure.  His story of survival from the Holocaust is powerful and chilling.  The book details the incredible sacrifices his parents made and their efforts to keep Tommy alive as the situation became grimmer and grimmer for the Jews of Hungary.  Lapid and his mother were rescued by Raoul Wallenberg and moved to Israel in 1948, while Lapid's father was murdered in a concentration camp.  

The book also traces Lapid's immigration to Israel and the astounding challenges that he faced along with all of the other new immigrants as they moved one from one existential struggle to another.  Through it all, Lapid became a lawyer, a journalist, a politician and a writer.  He wrote for a Hungarian language newspaper in Israel but later became a journalist with Maariv, director of the Israeli Public Broadcasting Authority, founder of the magazine "At" (a women's magazine), a Knesset member and, eventually, chair of Yad Vashem.

The book is an often intimate look at Lapid's life and those around him.  He doesn't shy away from telling stories of romantic and other sexual encounters - along with various stories of his travels and escapades.  From eating shark-fin soup in Hong Kong to meeting royalty in England, Lapid certainly managed to come into contact with many influential figures.  He covered the Eichmann trial as a journalist, he rubbed elbows with Arnon Milchan, Robert Maxwell (for whom he worked) and Ehud Olmert.  Interesting group of characters.  In fairness, he was also close with Ariel Sharon.

Lapid is a controversial figure in Israeli politics.  He was avowedly secular and dedicated to fostering an increased separation between shul and state in Israel.  This caused him to be a lightning rod for ultra-orthodox anger.  Yet, as Yair Lapid tells it, Tommy Lapid's vision for Israel was a considered one.  Here, for example, are some thoughts about his rift with the Ultra-Orthodox:

"a democratic society is not founded merely on rights but on obligations as well.  I have no problem whatsoever with an Ultra-Orthodox Jew who serves in the army, goes off to work in the morning, then studies Torah all night if he wants.  That man is my brother and I love him better than any non-Jew in the world.  He was there with me in the ghetto and on the rickety boat that brought me to Israel, he sat with me on a boulder facing a ruined synagogue on the island of Rhodes when I sobbed at the memory of 500 Jews led from the building by the Nazis and drowned at sea in an Italian ship."

And he goes on:

"The fact that a man wears a shtreimel on his head and grows a beard does not absolve him from the responsibilities carried out by all the other citizens of the state.  It was not with ultra-Orthodoxy that I have a complaint but with the fact that the Ultra-Orthodox turned it into a permit for ignoring all the chores were are obliged to carry out on a daily basis..."

These excerpts provide a window into the ideology of Lapid as well as his son Yair.  While Tommy pushed for the Israeli government to make changes to laws in Israel that define the religious-secular divide, it was Yair Lapid who was actually able to institute some key changes for a fleeting period of two years during which he was Israel's Finance Minister.  Once Yair Lapid was excluded from the government, the changes that had been made were reversed and the religious-secular landscape has shifted considerably with ever greater power accruing to the ultra-religious and the nationalist religious in Israel.

While I agree with Yair Lapid's past approach to these issues, an approach that was more nuanced than the vision that his father apparently espoused, I felt that little other philosophical ground was covered in this book.  That is an ongoing criticism of Yair Lapid in Israel - that he is shallow and often seems more concerned with who he is meeting, where is speaking and how he looks - than the policy content that he advocates.

I was not able to conclude from this book that I had a solid understanding of Tommy Lapid's goals for the country, his aspirations or his dreams.  Certainly I understood that he was successful, bright, engaging and often acerbic and determined.  He enjoyed fine wine, high quality food and many other trappings of his self-described bourgeois life.

Yet I came away feeling that I had missed out on his real goals.  Sure, Lapid was an ardent Zionist who was committed, unconditionally, to the survival of the State of Israel and to doing whatever he could to help it flourish.  I have little doubt that his son Yair shares those aspirations, just as he seems to share, for the most part, Tommy Lapid's outlook on the Ultra-Religious and the religious-secular fault line in Israel.

But beyond that, this book provides little from which one might discern a further understanding of the real aspirations of either the father or the son.  And perhaps that is by design.  Simply a genuine reflection of reality.  That shallowness, if you will, for lack of a better term, may well doom Yair Lapid to a comparable political fate.

      

Friday, July 10, 2015

Current Government: Religious Issues and Some Predictions

Chief Rabbs Yitzhak Yosef and David Lau
Does it look like Iran?  It's not.  It's Israel and here are a couple of Israel's major power brokers (under the current government) - the two chief Rabbis of Israel.

The rabbis and their supporters have had a busy week, filled with lots of newsworthy items.

Last Sunday, they were successful in rolling back a conversion initiative that was intended to make it easier for people to convert to Judaism in Israel.  This was rolled back at the behest of the Shas and Degel HaTorah parties which are major partners in the current governing coalition.  The rollback has widely been viewed as an effort to consolidate power over religious affairs in Israel back to the Ultra-Religious and away from the Zionist religious (i.e. the "modern Orthodox").

On Tuesday, a woman from Colorado, Linda Siegel Richman, was ordered to leave the Kotel (the "Western Wall) in Jerusalem because she was wearing a kippah (a skullcap or yarmulke).  The Western Wall ushers told her that she did not belong and asked her to leave the area.  She had come from the U.S. to study at the Conservative Yeshiva in Israel and was at the Kotel to pray and to place notes in the wall. The notes had been given to her by her students at a Denver school.  The incident attracted enormous public attention.  The next day, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch issued a half-hearted apology in which he noted that it was not clear that the incident had actually even occurred.  Rabbi Rabinovitch has, of course, made concerted efforts over the past few years to prevent women from having access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel, from praying out loud and from wearing tallithot.  So it is really no surprise that a woman wearing a kippah encountered such difficulties under his watch.

On Wednesday, the Israeli Minister for Religious Affairs, David Azoulai, (of the Shas party), lashed out at Reform Jews and stated that he did not even consider them to be Jews.  He had other choice comments for Reform and Conservative Jews that were along the same lines.  Prime Minister Netanyahu swiftly issued a condemnation of these remarks and called them "hurtful." Education Minster Naftali Bennett also condemned the remarks in no uncertain terms and stated that all Jews are Jews.  Bennett went on to say the home for all Jews, including Reform and Conservative, is in Israel.

Is all of this related?  Well, the current government includes 7 Shas members and 6 Degel HaTorah members as part of its 61 seat bloc, which gives the government the slimmest possible majority in the Knesset, facing 59 opposition Knesset members.  Prime Minister Netanyahu paid an enormous price to enlist these Ultra-Religious parties into the governing coalition.  Both parties were granted a range of powerful political portfolios as as significant policy and financial concessions. 

This is in marked contrast to the previous government.  After the 2013 Israeli elections, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid had won 19 seats.  His party insisted that it would not join a government that would make so many concessions to to the Ultra-Religious parties.  Lapid held out and an Israeli government was formed without the Ultra-Religious parties - for the first time in quite a while.  As a result, the previous government began to make certain changes.  These included mandatory military enlistment for the Ultra-Orthodox, reducing government grants for non-working Yeshiva students, ensuring that secular subjects like math and science are mandatory for everyone and numerous other changes.  Many of these changes as well as other proposed changes that were in the pipeline were quite popular among secular and other non-ultra-Orthodox Israelis.

But when it came time to negotiate a coalition agreement this time around after the 2015 election, Prime Minister Netanyahu simply gave away everything.  He agree to roll back all of the changes that had been made or proposed in the last government and to go beyond that by providing additional monetary incentives for the Ultra-Orthodox to join the government.  The disappointing aspect of all of that is that Moshe Kahlon and his allegedly centrist Kulanu party simply agreed to all of these terms and conditions.  This was in marked contrast to Yair Lapid in 2013 who had retained some principles during the previous round of coalition building negotiations.

As the Ultra-Religious establishment increases its power during the current mandate, many Israelis are becoming more and more disaffected with this turn of events.  This will cause many Israeli voters to turn away from Kahlon and Netanyahu in the next election.  Who will benefit?  Bennett will be the winner among religious and more conservative voters and will take away some seats from Netanyahu and/or Kahlon on the right.  But the big winner is likely to be Lapid.  If he stays the course and continues to fight as an opposition member, Israelis will view him as one of the few principled politicians who is willing to stand up to the Ultra-Orthodox.

It is a fairly common viewpoint that the Labour party, Zionist Camp or other name that it might run under would be as willing as the Likud party to court the support of Shas and/or Degel HaTorah by making similar concessions in order to form a government.  Only Yair Lapid and, perhaps, Tsipi Livni, have shown that they would be willing to hold out against these demands.  It will be clear to Israeli voters that Kahlon will simply agree to anything in order to get a cabinet seat.

While there are many Israelis who simply do not care about many of these secular-religious issues or other issues of religious pluralism, more and more Israelis are starting to pay attention.  Many Israelis are looking for alternatives to Orthodox weddings, which currently have a monopoly in Israel.  Opening the door to civil marriage ceremonies could lead to widespread change and could also open the door to same sex marriages in Israel.  Easing the conversion laws could benefit a large number of Israelis including thousands of immigrants whose religious status as Jews has been called into question. Still other Israelis would like to see public transportation on Shabbat, demonopolization of Kashrut authority, or more liberal laws in other areas affecting personal status.

The more that the current government acts in a fashion that is viewed as extremist, the greater the resentment will be among centrist Israelis.  This may all lead to a large shift of voters from Kahlon and Netanyahu to Lapid and others.

The Shas and Degel HaTorah voters will not change.  Those parties will continue to attract similar numbers in any given election.  Their elected officials are doing a good job in advocating for policies that they support.

But the Israeli political landscape has a large number of undecided centrist voters who are mobile.  These voters have swung around over the past number of years, from the Kadima party, to Tsipi Livni and Yair Lapid and now to Moshe Kahlon and Kulanu.  Lapid and the Yesh Atid party make a strong case that the centrist voters should shift back to him and his party and that they are the only party that will stick to some principled positions on certain issues.

The current coalition is very tenuous.  It is hanging on by a thread and Prime Minister Netanyahu's government even lost its first legislative vote this week, although that vote was not a "non-confidence" vote.  We will probably see another election in Israel sooner rather than later.  And if the current trend continues, Lapid and his Yesh Atid party are likely to be the big winners.
       

 

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Israel: Coalition Talks Continue

Yair Lapid (left) and Naftali Bennett
The Israeli election was held on January 22, 2013.  My analysis of the expected coaltion talks, writing at the time, can be found here.  Meanwhile, more than a month has passed and it is still unclear what type of government Israel will have, other than the fact that it will almost certainly be led by the Likud party.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has failed to reach a coalition deal within the initial alotted time period.  He will now have until March 14, 2013.  If he still cannot conclude a deal by that time, there will either be new elections - or President Shimon Peres will ask another party to try to form the government.  In all probability, Netanyahu will reach a deal with some of the other parties by the deadline, even if the deal is reached just as time is expiring.

The only party to have joined the Likud so far is "The Movement" led by Tsipi Livni.  This was quite surprising to many Israelis since the centrist Livni joined a government without knowing which other parties would be involved.  She was granted a few cabinet posts and put in charge of overseeing Israeli-Palestinian negotiations.  As leader of the Kadima party after the previous election, Livni had opted to stay out of the government, despite having a large and powerful party.  This time around, she brings a much smaller number of seats.  To date, no other parties have been willing to join this coalition, which now numbers 37.  A majority of 61 is required to control the Knesset.

Prime Minister Netanyahu has been speaking to all of the possible suitors - Labour, Yesh Atid, Habayit Hayehudi and the ultra-Religious parties.  These talks are mainly held behind closed doors and it is really difficult to know exactly what is being demanded, promised or rejected and what genuine information or misinformation is being leaked.

However, it is fairly clear that two of the largest parties, Yesh Atid and Habayit Hayehudi have reached some sort of deal under which they will only enter the government together.  Apparently, the main piece of the deal centres around the idea that almost all ultra-religious Israelis will be required to serve in the army or the national service, by age 21, with only a small number exempted.  Both parties seem to be holding very firm to this demand, even as the ultra-religious Shas party has been attacking the parties for their lack of flexiblity and alleging that they are "anti-Haredi."  Tonight, Likud-Beitenu suggested that Yesh Atid was refusing to sit in a government with the ultra-religious parties.  However, it is not clear that Yesh Atid has actually taken this position.  It may be that they are holding merely steadfast to certain demands - the content of which are entirely unacceptable to the ultra-religious.  However, there is a big difference between insisting on some significant policy changes that will affect Haredim (as well as many other Israelis) - versus being "anti-Haredi."

Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid seem to have been able to agree on policies in a number of areas, primarily related to domestic issues.  Their stated aims are to improve education in Israel, improve life for the middle class, change the relationship of the State and the Ultra-Religious and other issues.  Both Bennett and Lapid served in the Israeli Defence Forces and both believe that the burden of mandatory military service should be distributed universally across Israeli society including ultra-religious Jews and Arab Israelis.  Overall, in the realm of domestic policy, Bennett does not appear to have staked out any particularly extreme positions, though his party would certainly have a much more right leaning social and domestic agenda than the platform on which Lapid campaigned.

The big question mark is what this means for the future of Israeli-Arab and Israeli-Palestinian relations.  Bennett is adamantly opposed to any territorial concessions and has indicated that his party will not support a government that makes any such compromises.  Lapid is much more flexible and favours an immediate return to the bargaining table  with the Palestinians.  Even though both parties oppose any concessions with respect to Jerusalem, it is hard to see how any kind of peace deal could be reached with the Palestinians without significant territorial concessions in other areas.  So, ultimately, if both Bennett and Lapid join the Netanyahu-led government together, the government will likely be preoccupied with domestic issues and negotiations with the Palestinians will move down on the priority list, even below where they have been currently.

The big winner so far in the Israeli public forum has been Yair Lapid.  Israelis have apparently been very supportive of his determination and resolve in not making concessions to the ultra-orthodox on the issue of universal conscription.  Some polls have suggested that Lapid's party would win more than 30 seats if a new election were held now.  It may well be that Lapid plans to deal with domestic issues first and then use his momentum and popularity to force a change in the governing coaltion or to force the government to turn its attention to addressing the Palestinian-Israeli dispute in more flexible fashion.

In any event, it seems to me that there are still reasons for Israelis to be cautiously optimistic.  Although the Yesh Atid Party may not be able to fulfill all of its promises, the determination that Yair Lapid is showing with respect to domestic issues is a promising sign that some significant, positive changes are on the way.
 






Thursday, January 24, 2013

Israeli Election is Over: Coalition Talks Begin

On Wednesday, we received the official results from the January 22, 2013 Israeli election.  These results have now been slightly adjusted and we have received the "final" official result as of approximately 5 p.m. on Thursday January 24, 2013.  Apparently, there were still ballots to be counted from military personnel, prisons, hospitals and foreign-stationed diplomats.  After counting all of these ballots  (approximately 220,000), a few changes have now been announced.  Naftali Bennett's party, HaBayit Hayehudi has increased by one seat to 12 and the United Arab List has dropped to 4 from 5. Yair Lapid and the Yesh Atid party have remained stable at 19 seats.  The Yesh Atid party still seems to be in the driver's seat as the front runner to help build a government with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Lapid has a wide ranging and interesting background.  The son of Tommy Lapid, late leader of the Shinui ("change") party, a secular party which reached 15 Knesset seats in 2003, Yair Lapid has politics in his family background.  In addition to his political career, he has also been involved in many other activities.  He has written well known Israeli songs, tried amateur kick-boxing (which he still practices 1-2 hours a day - even while on the campaign trail), acted in Israeli shows and worked as a TV news commentator.  He has also brought a refreshing approach to bridging the secular-religious divide in Israel.  For example, or a number of years, he ran a Shavuoth night "tikkun" - an all night learning program that  focused on a wide range of topics of Jewish interest rather than pure Torah study.

With his new political party, Lapid has emphasized a new approach to politics in Israel and an effort to represent the silent majority - the non-ultra-orthdox, army-serving, middle class, zionist Israelis.  Among other platforms, Lapid has called for efforts to increase the availability of lower cost housing, and to ensure that all Israelis, at the age of 18, including ultra-orthodox and Arabs, serve in the army or perform some type of national service.  He has vowed to insist on these demands as part of his fundamental terms for joining any coaltion government.  He has also vowed to insist that the peace process with the Palestinians be re-ignited.

As of yesterday, the left-centre "bloc" in Israel, including the Arab parties and Yesh Atid made up exactly 1/2 of the new Knesset - 60 seats - with the right and right-centre bloc, including the ultra-orthodox, making up the other 60.  As a result of this afternoon's announcement, adjusting the results, the right bloc now has 61 seats and could, theoretically, form a very right wing/ultra-orthodox coaltion that could hold the majority by 2 seats.  Most commentators feel that Prime Minister Netanyahu does not want to go down this road for a number of reasons.  The government would be very fragile.  The Prime Minister would be under constant threat of different coalition members leaving the government if they were not provided with new concessions.  Many of the concessions Prime Minister Netanyahu would have to make, particularly to the ultra-orthodox would be unpalatable to much of the Israeli public including many who voted for Netanyahu's party, Likud.  So there is a real sense that Prime Minister Netanyahu  very much intends to enter into a coalition agreement with Yesh Atid.

But this is where the fun starts.  Lapid has indicated that he has three key demands in order to enter the government:

1.   Most imporantly - an equal sharing of the "burden" of military/ national service.  Lapid proposes that all Israelis, with the exception of a very small number of ultra-orthodox, super-bright scholars, will be required to serve in the army or perform national service.  Prime Minister Netanyahu has made statements indicating that he is prepared to support this idea, although it is unclear whether he will be willing to follow it through.  The other left and left-centre parties - such as Labor, Meretz, Hatenuah and Kadima would support this type of legislated change.  It may also be the case that Naftali Bennett's party, Habayit Heyehudi, would also support a modified version of this type of law. Bennett might also support changes to Israeli laws that deal with zoning restrictions on land and other laws that would, generally, help bring about a lower cost of living in Israel.  So there is a good chance that Lapid could wind up in a government with Netanyahu and Bennett, which would make significant domestic changes that many Israelis would appreciate.  It is hard to imagine that these terms (at least universal conscription) are terms to which the Shas party (with its 11 Knesset seats) would agree.  So this scenario might see a government without Shas, the ultra-religious party that has historically extracted massive concessions in exchange for joining coalition governments.

2.  Lapid has also indicated that another key demand is a resumption of Israeli-Palestinian dialogue with a view to negotiating an agreement.  Of course, just starting talks does not mean that they would go anywhere.  Lapid has firmly stated that he would not be prepared to divide Jerusalem and that view probably represents a significant majority view in Israel.  The Palestinian Authority described the visit by Prime Minister Netanyahu to the Kotel on the eve of the Israeli elections as a "provocation."  But this is Judaism's holiest site.  There are no conditions, in the foreseeable future, under which Israel would cede control of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Lapid has also indicated that the Palestinian refugee problem should be solved by the Palestinians in their new state when an agreement is reached.  This makes eminent sense and is a view that also enjoys wide ranging Israeli public support.

These two issues, Jerusalem and the Palestinian refugee problem, have supposedly caused or contributed to collapses in talks in the past.  But realistically, no Israeli government, even a left wing government would be prepared or even able to make major concessions on these points.

On the other hand, Lapid has indicated a willingness to support a two-state solution and to come to terms with Palestinians on mutually agreeable borders, which could even include the removal of some Jewish settlements.  It is quite clear Bennett's party is not prepared to make any such concessions and would refuse to join a government that planned to do so.  So while Bennett may be prepared to support some of Lapid's domestic agenda, he will not support Lapid's foreign policy. 

3.  Lapid's third demand is for a reform to education to ensure that everyone studies secular subjects in school. This is strongly opposed by Shas, but not necessarily by Bennett.  Netanyahu has indicated that he would be prepared to support this type of change.

Overall, Shas is on the opposite of Bennett on a number of these issues.  While they might support Bennett's foreign policy views, they would oppose most of his domestic agenda and would insist on continued support for much of the ultra-religious political agend, which Lapid has staunchly opposed, and which make up two of his three main platform ideas. 

So it looks like the Netanyahu-Lapid coalition, if it happens, will either include Shas - and maintain much of the status quo on the domestic front while moving ahead on the diplomatic front - or it will include Bennett and it will make signficant changes domestically but drag its feet on foreign policy matters including negotiations ,with the Palestinians, if they take place at all.

For now, the likeilhood seems to be the addition of Habayit Hayehudi.  This may well result in some very real and tangible gains for the left-centre, domestically, but it is unlikely to result in any progress with respect to peace talks and peace efforts.  Of course, if Lapid is able to demonstrate tangible accomplishments for at least part of his platform, that may well improve his political capital and open the door to changes in other areas in the future.

In the meantime, it is worth remembering that the Shas party negotiators are very experienced in these matters.  They may yet offer some concessions on the issue of universal conscription and may show a willingness to support a broad peace initiative.  It is quite conceivable, though, admittedly less likely, that Shas could be part of a Lapid-Netanyahu government that could make progress in a few different areas.

Some commentators are estimating that it may take up to six weeks for this coalition negotiation process to unfold.  This is where we will see the real results of this election.  This process is sure to be even more interesting than the election itself.







Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Israeli Elections 2013: Preview

With Israeli national elections approaching on January 22, 2013, I thought it was about time that I provided a bit of information and perspective on the coming elections.  It will be my first opportunity to vote in Israel, though I'm not writing this article as a partisan piece.  I thought I would look at trends and anticipated outcomes.

As many of you know, Israel is a parliamentary democracy with a 120 seat legislative assembly, the "Knesset."  Like in other similar systems (Canada, Britain, to name a couple), a party is required to cobble together a majority in order to govern.  A governing coalition requires more than 61 seats to hold the confidence of the Knesset.

The Knesset


The challenge in Israel, of course, is that each Israeli believes that he or she can and should run the country.  New political parties are constantly being formed, old ones disbanded and new coalitions arranged.  Things are very volatile, to put it mildly.

Following the last election in 2009, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put together a very stable coalition (by Israeli historical standards).  The numbers ranged from 66 to 74 over the course of this term in office but the coalition was never really threatened.  The government was made up of a multi-party coalition which included the Likud party, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Yisrael Beitenu party lead by Avigdor Lieberman (who has now been indicted), some religious and ultra-religious parties and the leftist Labour Party.  It is interesting to note that some of the most vociferous condemnation of the current government has come from the leader of the Labor Party, even though Labor was an integral part of the governing coaliton.


Prime Minister Netanyahu
For the current election, there have been some very interesting changes for some of the parties. While at this point, there seems to be little doubt that Prime Minister Netanyahu will be reelected, the big issue is what type of coalition he will put together and what policies that government will embrace.

The "Right Wing" Parties

The two major right wing or right centre parties are Likud and Yisrael Beitenu ("Israel, Our Home")Founded by former Prime Minister Menachem Begin in 1973, Likud has been one of the two dominant Israeli political parties for more than 30 years.  Its membership includes members with a range of view points from those who support a negotiated two-state peace solution with the Palestinians to those who favour annexation of much, if not all, of the disputed territories (Judea and Semaria or the West Bank).  On its own in the last election, Likud won 27 seats.

Avigdor Lieberman
Yisrael Beitenu is a party led by Avigdor Lieberman, who was serving as Israel's Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister until December 2012 at which time he was charged with fraud and breach of trust.  Yisrael Beitenu won 15 seats in the last election.  While characterized as a right wing nationalist party, Yisrael Beitenu favours a two-state solution including territory swaps with the Palestinians.  Lieberman has called for the Israeli government to demand "loyalty" from its Arab citizens and has also called for a reduction in the power of Israel's religious authorities.

Likud and Yisrael Beitenu have now merged and are running as one party for the current elections.  Most recent polls estimate that they will win anywhere from 32 to 37 seats.  The combined total will almost certainly be lower than the 42 that these two parties won in the 2009 election.

One of the big surprises of the campaign to date has been the newly named party Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home).  Its leader Naftali Bennett, a youthful and successful entrepreneur oversaw a merger of the Jewish Home and National Union parties and won more than 60% of the combined leadership race.  The party has an avowedly right wing platform, favouring annexation of the disputed territories, even though Bennett himself lives in the wonderful city of...Ra'anana.  Bennett has used a mixture of facebook advertising, carefully produced videos and his own energetic appeal to build growing support.  While many might characterize Bennett's views as extremist, current polls have estimated that Bennett may win between 13 and 18 seats in the Knesset.

Naftali Bennett
 One other "right wing" party, Otzma L'Yisrael ("Strength for Israel) could also win anywhere from 0 to 4 seats.  This was a group that splintered off from the newly merged Bennett party.

Overall, the "right wing" parties, which are not characterized as "religious" are projected to win anywhere from 45 to 59 seats.  This is quite a variance and will have a tremendous impact on the type of government that is formed.  If the combined numbers are closer to 45, the group will almost certainly be forced to combine with some of the centrist parties to form a fairly broad coalition.  If the group is close to, or even over 60, it could combine with some of the religious parties and produce a very stable, very right wing government, politically and even economically.

The Religious Parties

Shas is an ultra-religious party dedicated to furthering the interests of observant Sephardic and Mizrachi Jews.  It has formed governments with the right and the left over the past 20 years - and has been willing to bend on some of its principles, as long as there is lots of money available for its constituents.  Several Shas Knesset Members have been convicted of offences including fraud, forgery and bribery.   One of those convicted, well known member, Aryeh Deri is now the number two candidate on the Shas list and will almost certainly be elected in the coming elections.  Polling numbers for Shas have been quite consistent.  Estimates range from 9 to 12 seats, with most polls at 10 or 11.

Aryeh Deri

United Torah Judaism, another ultra-religious party, is estimated to win between 5 and 6 seats.

So the ultra-religious block is expected to have somewhere between 14 and 18 seats, which would position it well to join a government in exchange for all kinds of concessions.

Throughout Israel's history, left wing and right wing governments have been prepared to make major concessions to this religious block to bolster their governments.  Some of the resulting policies have included exemptions from the army for Yeshiva students, exclusive legal jurisdiction for the religious over personal status matters including weddings and funerals and control of many other aspects of Israeli life, ranging from limitations on public transportation on Shabbat to laws prohibiting the sale of Hametz (leavened bread) on Pesach.   Of course the flip side is that at least some of these laws enjoy fairly widespread public support, even among non-Orthodox Jews.


The Centrist Parties

There are currently three centrist parties that are expected to win seats in the coming election - Kadima, Yesh Atid and Hatnuah.

Formed in 2005 by moderate Likud members, Kadima reached a high point of 29 seats in the 2006 elections, with a policy platform emphasizing efforts to reach a peace deal with the Palestinians.   In the 2009 election, the party won 28 seats under the leadership of Tsipi Livni.  Rather than join a coalition with Prime Minister Netanyahu, Livni opted to remain in opposition.  In 2012, Livni lost a leadership race to Shaul Mofaz.  Following Israel's history of politicians founding new parties, Livni left Kadima and set up her own party, arrogantly named "Hatnuah" - "the Movement."  The party's campaign has featured some fairly bizarre advertising slogans.  Tsipi Livni herself has been viewed as ineffective as an opposition leader.  Nevertheless, it looks like many of the Kadima supporters have deserted Mofaz and flocked to Livni.  The party's platform has emphasized peace, social justice, environmental protection and religious pluralism.  Current estimates suggest that Livni's party may win between 7 and 10 seats.

Tzipi Livni
The other centrist party expected to do well is the party led by well known Israeli media personality Yair Lapid named Yesh Atid ("There is a future").  Lapid's party's platform has included an emphasis on education, religious pluralism, an end to exemptions from military service for the ultra-religious, and efforts to change the Israeli political system.  Lapid's party seems to be running at 9 to 11 seats.

If these two parties, which should be natural allies, combine for between 16 and 21 seats, they could be part of a government and have substantial power.  Lapid has already suggested that he would like to be part of a Likud led government if Likud wins the election while Livni has been more circumspect.
Yair Lapid
The number of seats won by the centre may be the most significant factor in determining what type of government Israel has.  If the centre attracts some Likud supporters and helps limit the cumulative right wing block to less than 50 seats, it will be very important for Likud to include the centre in the government.  If the centrist parties are less successful, Likud may be able to form a government without them, relying only on the religious parties.




The Left

Though the Labor Party was one of Israel's two strongest parties and has been the governing party throughout much of Israel's history, it seems fairly clear that this has been a party on the decline over the past several years.  Perhaps Israel's new economic realities, with a shift over time to more of a capitalist economy have been instrumental in creating this result.  Or perhaps there has been disenchantment over Labor's role in participating in a staunchly right wing Likud coalition.  In any event, under its current leader, Shelly Yacimovich, the party has emphasized social justice issues rather than national security and has tried to position itself as the party most willing to tackle issues of widespread Israeli middle class decline and increasingly high levels of poverty.  Predictions have varied for the Labor Party, but most seem to estimate 16 to 21 seats.     


Over to the left of the Labor Party is Meretz, a party that touts itself as "Israel's Left."  Emphasizing human rights (especially in the area of sexual orientation), social justice, separation of religion and state, dismantling of most Israeli settlements, and humanism, the party is expected to win 3 to 5 seats.

If Labor and Meretz do well in the coming elections, they could have as many as 25 or 26 seats.  This would either be a considerable opposition block - or it could elect to try to form a national unity government though that seems unlikely.    Even if the political left and centre were to combine, the ceiling would probably be in the range of 40 to 45 seats.  Given current Israeli political realities, it seems quite unlikely that the left wing parties will play a significant role in the next government.

The Arab Parties

Israel currently has three Arab or Arab-Socialist parties in the Knesset.  UAL-Ta'al, Balad and Hadash.  They currently have 10 seats between the three of them.  The expectation is that they will be in a similar range following the coming election.  It is unlikely that they will form part of the next government, though it is theoretically possible that these parties could bolster a left-centre coalition.  Given the expected number of seats, it appears that even if the left and the centre combined with the Arab parties, they would still have less than 61 seats.

Israeli MK Ahmed Tibi

Finally, this type of survey article would not be complete without mentioning at least some of the "novelty parties" that are not expected to win seats.

There is the "Green Leaf Party" - I will leave it to you to figure out what they stand for...

How could I not mention the "Kulanu Haverim" ("We are all friends") party, whose members include follows of Rabbi Nachman of Breslev?



And finally - the "Pirate Party" whose members advocate the "freedom to copy" and promote the lifestyle of the piracy sector.

This list is not complete - there are many other parties running, including, for the first time, an Arab Zionist party (El Amal Lat'gir), led by Bedouin politician Aatef Karinaoui.  But time limitations keep me from making this blog article more comprehensive.
Green Leaf...

I will see if I have time to add some additional information between now and the election date.  I will want to be sure to research all of the issues thoroughly to make an informed decision.

For now, a couple of things seem fairly clear to me.  Prime Minister Netanyahu will almost certainly be the next Prime Minister.  Labor and Meretz will almost certainly be in the opposition along with the Arab parties.  The real issue is whether Netanyahu will lead a broad right-centre or right-centre-religious coalition or whether it will be a much narrower right-religious government.  Stay tuned and if you are in Israel and you are eligible - make sure to vote!!