Israeli Politics: A Guide to the Knesset

Georgie Smith-Charles - Reporter

The Knesset is the Israeli Parliament. Electing 120 members, it is the top law-making body in the State of Israel. Today, we’re going to talk about the political parties in it.

Likudlikud-logolikud-knesset

Likud is a major right-wing conservative party founded in 1973 by Menachem Begin in an alliance with several right-wing and liberal parties. The party emphasises national security policy based on a strong military force when threatened with a continued enmity against Israel. As of the beginning of 2017, the party remains divided between moderates and hardliners. Though it commits to the strengthening of settlements in the West Bank, it does not explicitly rule out the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Kulanu

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Kulanu is a centrist party led by Moshe Kahlon that focuses on economic and cost-of-living issues. Established in 2014, it is known for its support of egalitarian economics and issues affecting the middle class, though the party also retains a strong working-class support base. Traditionally known for a hard line on security issues, Kulanu has recently suggested support for territorial compromises leading to a two-state solution. Kulanu supports civil marriage in Israel, including for same-sex couples, increased state fundign for non-Orthodox Jewish denominations, partial operation of public transport on Shabbat (Friday sundown to Saturday Sundown – the Jewish day of rest) and the decriminalisation of marijuana. It opposes the nation-state bill (A bill that would define Israel as the homeland of the Jewish people in law) and attempts at reducing the power of the Supreme Court of Israel.

The Jewish Home

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The Jewish Home is an Orthodox Jewish, religious Zionist party. The party primarily represents Modern Orthodox Jews, who often tend towards Israeli nationalism. The party promises to end the controversial system of draft exemtpions given to ultra-Orthodox seminary students, and to “ease the burden” on middle class Israelis who serve in the military, work, and pay taxes. The Jewish Home agree with Yesh Atid (featured later) on many domestic issues, but the two differ sharply over peace efforts and settlement building. They are opposed to concessions to Palestine, and have called for Israel to fully annex an area of the West Bank, and offer citizenship to Palestinians living there.

Shas

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Shas is an ultra-Orthodox party founded by a former Sephardi Chief Rabbi. It primarily represents the interests of Haredi Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews. The stated purpose of the party is to “return the crown to its former glory”, and to rectify what it sees as the continued economic and social discrimination against the Sephardic population of Israel. Shas follows a moderate policy in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, and has declared that it believes lives are more important than territories, but opposes any freeze to Israeli settlement in the West Bank. Shas opposes any form of public expression of homosexuality, calling homosexuals “a plague as toxic as bird flu”. However, it officially condemns any form of violence against LGBT individuals.

United Torah Judaism

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United Torah Judaism is an electoral alliance of Degel HaTorah and Adugat Isrel, two small Ultra-Orthodox parties. The two parties have not always agreed with each other on policy matters, but over the recent years, however, they have co-operated and united as a voting bloc in order to win the maximum number of seats, as many extra votes can we wasted if electoral thresholds are not attained under Israel’s proportional representation system. First founded in 1992, UTJ wants to maintain the status quo with regards to religion and state issues, and has kept neutral on settlements in the West Bank.

Yisrael BeiteinuIsrael-beytenu-logoyisraelbeiteinu-knesset

Yisrael Beiteinu is a secularist and right-wing nationalist political party. The party’s base has traditionally been secular, Russian-speaking Israelis. The party supports increasing the police force, improving education, easing conversions and secular/non-religious civil unions, public transportation on Saturdays, the ability to sell pork (which is treif and haram) in general stores. It does not take an official stance on same-sex marriage, but 80% of its voters back its passage.

The Zionist Union

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The Zionist Union are an electoral alliance of the Israeli Labor Party, Hatnuah and Green Movement. They created a joint list for the 2014 Knesset elections with the hopes of unseating Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Zionist Union is co-led by Izaac Herzog of the Israeli Labor Party and Tzipi Livni of Hatnuah, a pro-peace social liberal party. The Zionist Union form the official opposition to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu.

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The Joint List is an alliance of four Arab-dominated parties in the Knesset. With just over 10% of the seats available in the Knesset, the Joint List is the third largest party. The party is a broad church party that aims to represent the interests of Israeli Arabs, and promotes a two-state solution in the Knesset.

Yesh Atid

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Yesh Atid is a party that seeks to represent the secular middle class. It focuses primarily on civic, socioeconomic, and governance issues, including government reform and ending military draft exemptions for the ultra-Orthodox. The party’s eight goals – Changing the priorities in Israel, with an emphasis on civil life – education, housing, health, transport and policing, changing the system of government, and striving for peace according to an outline of “two states for two peoples”, whilst maintaining the large Israeli settlement blocs and ensuring the safety of Israel.

Meretz

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Meretz is a left-wing, social democratic green party. It was originally formed in 1992 and was at it’s peak between 1993 – 96. Meretz is a secular party emphasising a two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian conflict. It sees itself as the political representative of the Israeli Peace movement in the Knesset. The party emphasises the principles of peace between Israel and the Palestinians, freezing construction of the Israeli settlements in the West Bank, and similar beliefs social and environmental issues to green and left wing parties across the world.

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