The new parties in Israel’s political scene are seeking a berth into the Knesset while the established parties attempt to consolidate control
By Allison Good
You can read all about the key parties here, but let’s face it: some of the recent arrivals on Israel’s political scene are way more interesting than their more conventional rivals. Why this proliferation of unusual new parties? Fringe parties are nothing new in Israel. With a 120-seat unicameral parliament and an election threshold of 2 percent, maintaining a plethora of parties is an inherent feature of the system. From the Working and Religious Women’s Party that failed to win a seat in 1949, to the coalition party of Holocaust survivors and pro-marijuana legalization advocates that received a mere 2,346 votes in 2009, these newcomers are certain to face the disadvantages of not being major power players in the Israeli political scene. The new parties are motivated by both political ambition and frustrations with the established parties. Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid in particular is a response to the social justice protests of 2011, while Aryeh Deri’s Tikun is likely a move for negotiating with Shas.
Journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid registered the Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) Party in April. Running on a center-left platform, Lapid vows that his party will fight political corruption, improve the economic situation of the middle class, prioritize education, support a two-state solution, and mandate that all Israelis serve in the IDF. Yesh Atid is the only new party that pollsters are actually paying attention to, as it certainly poses a threat to Kadima and Labor. A Maariv poll this week gave the party 17 seats, while a Haaretz survey projected that it will win 11. As for his foreign policy positions, Lapid blasted Prime Minister Netanyahu last week for “trying to drag the United States into war with Iran.”
Danny and Benny Goldstein are the American-born businessmen behind the recently formed political party Calcala, which means “finance” in Hebrew. Founded only in May, Calcala plans to try crossing the electoral threshold in the 2013 elections on the platform that Middle East peace “can be achieved through joint business ventures” such as shopping malls. “All people love shopping and food,” Danny Goldstein said in October. “If major shopping malls were to be placed at strategic points along the borders between Israel and its neighboring countries, with entrances accessible from both sides, it would bring people of all nationalities and beliefs together.” Unfortunately, Calcala’s lack of a tangible base will probably prevent its dream of peace by resource-sharing from gathering any steam in the upcoming Knesset elections.
Israeli-Arab Nationalist Party
Israeli-Arab Sarhan Bader, formerly of Likud, has a vision for an “unabashedly pro-Israel” Arab party. Denouncing factions like Hadash and Balad for being too critical of Israel, Bader announced in April that he was forming a political party to serve the needs of Arabs living in Israel. “Most Arab citizens are in favor of coexisting, cooperating, and living in harmony with Jewish Israelis,” he told the Jerusalem Post. “The other Arab parties place too much emphasis on the Palestinians and external Arabs.” Bader is convinced that only a strong right-wing party can bring peace, and if the Israeli-Arab Nationalists win any seats — an unlikely outcome — Bader says he will join the coalition.
The Pirates Party does not belong to the international pro-pirating movement, but it does champion the “freedom to copy” and the “pirating sector.” Although the group only recently applied for recognition as an official political party, the public may recognize lead member Ohad Shem-Tov, who is best known for forming an offshoot of the Green Leaf party, which campaigns to decriminalize marijuana. Unfortunately for voters, the Pirates Party refuses to speak to non-pirate media, but its platform does include “the freedom to divide and copy” and social justice. For now, the party seems to be merely a gimmick, and it is unlikely to gain much traction.
Even parties that don’t make it on the ballot can influence Israeli politics. Aryeh Deri’s short-lived Tikun party is a case in point. Deri, former interior minister and one-time chairman of the Sephardi religious party Shas, split with the party last year to form Tikun. In doing so, Deri claimed he could bridge the gap between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews in Israel by running on a platform supporting welfare and social justice. As many suspected, his real reason for running to head of an independent party is that Shas spiritual leader Rabbi Ovadia Yosef did not offer him the number-one slot on the party’s list. Recent rumors indicating that Deri would return to Shas if Yosef lists him ahead of current chairman Eli Yishai turned out to be true. Just last week, Yosef announced that Deri would join him and Yishai as part of a governing triumvirate, marking a full comeback for Deri, who only a decade ago served jail time for taking bribes during his ministerial tenure.
Allison Good is a M.A. candidate in Middle East Studies at the George Washington University’s Elliott School of International Relations. She blogs at www.allisonwgood.com and tweets frequently @AllisonGood1.
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