Israel’s Do-over Election: A Guide to All the Parties and Who Holds the Keys to the Next Government

The final list of political parties running in Israel’s September 17 election looks like it will be remarkably — and historically — short.

The entire political firmament learned a harsh lesson from the April election: unity within ideological allies is crucial. Smaller parties flying solo risk falling below the electoral threshold and not making the Knesset — and when that happens, they not only hurt themselves but mortally wound their entire political camp by “wasting” votes that could have potentially helped them build a bloc large enough to construct a government.

Blame practicality or election exhaustion: With only nine parties seemingly in a position to cross the electoral threshold, the next Knesset is set to feature the fewest number of parties in Israel’s history. With the final slates needing to be submitted by midnight on August 1, here are the main contenders…

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fighting a second election under the shadow of pending corruption indictments, he has reinforced Likud by merging it with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s party. Bringing Kahlon into the largest right-wing party was a win-win: Kahlon, whose Kulanu party barely scraped into the last Knesset with the minimum of four seats, got a guaranteed top spot in the party where he launched his political career, and has a chance to angle for the leadership in the post-Bibi era. Netanyahu grabbed a chance at a few more seats — and gave himself one less party to wrestle with in governing coalition negotiations.

Netanyahu’s biggest challenge in this election will be fighting on multiple fronts. He must battle his main rival for the premiership, Benny Gantz, while fending off two other right-wing parties, each headed by a nemesis who once served in his cabinet: former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and former Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who are already aggressively working to poach voters from Likud.

The largest of the multiparty players in the race, Kahol Lavan continues with its alliance formed ahead of the April election. This “brotherhood” of centrist parties features Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and new parties headed by two former IDF chiefs of staff — Benny Gantz and Moshe Ya’alon, who previously served as defense minister under Netanyahu. Many predicted that the three-way marriage wouldn’t last past the April election, but the parties are still together, surviving rumblings of dissatisfaction about the rotation arrangement in which Gantz and Lapid would each serve as prime minister for two years.

The party benefits greatly from having a leader in Gantz whom many Israelis see as a viable alternative to Netanyahu. Early polls show the party is holding strong despite the recent shake-up on the political left, with neither the Labor-Gesher alliance nor the newly formed Democratic Union appearing to threaten its wide base of support, which is helping it run neck and neck with Likud. (Both parties won 35 seats in the year’s first election.)

The newly formed United Right slate is essentially a restoration of the alliance Ayelet Shaked helped dismantle, with disastrous results, after she and Naftali Bennett broke away to form Hayamin Hehadash last December. (Their new party failed to cross the electoral threshold). After a weak showing in the election, the religious parties they left behind — Habayit Hayehudi, and also Bezalel Smotrich’s realized that the whole of the “right of Netanyahu” camp is greater than the sum of its parts, and have fallen in line behind Shaked — to the astonishment of men who did not believe male Orthodox political leaders men could ever bow to the leadership of a secular woman.

Also disappointed: Barak himself, who has been forced to forfeit his leadership role within the new party in order to assuage misgivings about his connections to convicted sex offender Jeffrey Epstein — a scandal that threatened to end his political comeback before it even began.

The others

For a while in spring, Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut looked like the surprise package of the April election. However, polls predicting that the libertarian party would cross the electoral threshold proved false, with it ultimately falling well short on April 9. Its main contribution to both of this year’s elections may well be its advancement of calls to decriminalize marijuana usage in Israel.

Zehut looks set to run alone on September 17, but an equally controversial party in April’s election — the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit— will be running on a joint slate with another extremist party, Noam. Running under the slogan “A normal nation in our own land,” Noam is campaigning on an avowedly anti-LGBTQ ticket under Rabbi Zvi Thau, who is calling for a return to “Jewish values.”

Following entreaties by Netanyahu for the far-right bloc to run together, Otzma Yehudit was part of the Union of Right-Wing Parties in April. Now, alongside Noam, it will be appealing to ultra-conservative religious Zionists and hoping there are enough in Israel to see it over the 3.25 electoral threshold.

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