Israel is heading to the polls, again.
Despite being re-elected in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition and called another general election, which will now take place on 17 September.
Yet following widespread election weariness among the Israeli public and amid poor polling figures for his Likud party, Netanyahu has tried to backtrack on holding the do-over election.
Israeli law only allows the cancellation of an election in the event of war, leading to speculation that Netanyahu could strike the Gaza Strip in the coming weeks rather than see his re-election bid falter.
MEMO will be following this unprecedented set of events, taking a look at the major political parties, their top candidates and campaign promises on key topics affecting the Israel-Palestine conflict..
Click the "more about the party" buttons below to see a summary of each party's manifesto and what the party leaders have said about Jerusalem, the occupied West Bank and the besieged Gaza Strip. Stay tuned for updates in the run up to election day.
Also see: Israeli Elections - April 2019
Led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Likud is once again fighting to keep its Knesset dominance on 17 September. In the last election on 9 April, the party won 35 seats, the same number as its biggest rival Blue and White (Kahol Lavan). However, since Netanyahu held the position of incumbent prime minister, he was given the first chance to form a ruling coalition.
Having failed in this task, Netanyahu hoped that calling a second election would provide the opportunity to improve on Likud’s April performance. To this end, the party quickly approved a merger with centrist party Kulanu, absorbing its four seats and bringing Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon – who broke away from Likud in 2013 – back into the fold.
Netanyahu is framing the entire election as a question of who is fit to be Israel’s next prime minister. Again using the slogan “Netanyahu: A different league”, Likud has released slick campaign videos focusing on the prime minister’s achievements in the past decade, from improving domestic infrastructure to international diplomacy on Iran and normalisation with Arab states.
The Likud party has also unveiled a series of posters showing Netanyahu with other world leaders – including US President Donald Trump, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi – to highlight his international standing.
Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Health Minister, Aliya Minister
General Alignment: Right
Benjamin Netanyahu has been the face of Israeli politics for decades and in July became the country’s longest serving prime minister, surpassing even the state’s founder, David Ben Gurion.
He studied in the US before returning to Israel to complete his national service, serving in an elite special forces unit of the army. In the late 1980s he joined the Likud party, being elected its leader in 1993. He was prime minister from 1996-1999, and then from 2009 to the present day.
“We don’t yearn for an unnecessary war in Gaza, but Hamas apparently has not understood the message: if it does not stop its attacks, they will stop in another way, in the form of painful blows. If Hamas is clever, it will cease fire and violence now. [Israel is] preparing for the possibility of a military campaign in the Gaza Strip should the [situation] spiral out of control.”
“We will never leave the Golan Heights and it is important that all countries recognise Israel’s sovereignty [there].”
“The truth is that Jerusalem has been and will always be the capital of the Jewish people, the capital of the Jewish state. The Jewish connection to Jerusalem is being denied by those seeking to erase the history of our people, [but] we are in Jerusalem and we are here to stay.”
“The Nation-State Law prevents the exploitation of the family reunification clause under which very, very many Palestinians have been absorbed into the country since the Oslo agreement [in 1993]. This law helps prevent the continued uncontrolled entry into Israel of Palestinians.”
“The Land of Israel is ours, and will remain ours. We did not come back here after thousands of years only to be uprooted. As long as I am the prime minister of Israel, not a single Jew will be uprooted from his home. Not only [that], but we will build and add to [these settlements]. We have built and built and built, with great wisdom and determination, [so in the future] we will complete the construction of bypass roads, widening lanes, improving infrastructure.”
Yuli Edelstein was born in the Soviet Union and moved to Israel in the late 1980s. He was first elected to the Knesset in 1996 and served as Minister of Immigrant Absorption in Benjamin Netanyahu’s first government. He has been Speaker of the Knesset since 2013 and gained the second place on Likud’s ticket following the party’s primary in February.
“We have turned the wheel substantially to the right, the Palestinian state is no longer an agenda item, but Israeli sovereignty in [the occupied West Bank] is. It took us 20 years to eschew the idea of a Palestinian state – if the left gets in [during the election] it will take them 20 seconds to put it back on the agenda. We [therefore] have a responsibility to ensure that the right remains in control.”
Gilad Erdan was born in Ashkelon and became a captain in the Israeli army during his national service. He worked as an advisor to Benjamin Netanyahu during his first term as prime minister in 1996, before being elected to the Knesset in 2003 with the Likud party.
In 2015 Erdan was appointed Minister of Public Security, Strategic Affairs and Information, a role he still holds. As part of this role, Erdan has waged a de facto war against the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement, banning a number of activists from entering the country, launching the “terrorists in suits” smear campaign and working closely with Israel’s intelligence agency Mossad to discredit the movement.
Regev was born in Kiryat Gat, south of Tel Aviv, to a Mizrahi-Sephardic family. She was a Brigadier General and spokeswoman for the Israeli army during Israel’s “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip in 2005 and the 2006 Lebanon war.
She entered the Knesset in 2008 with the Likud party and, since 2015, has served as the Minister for Culture and Sport. Regev has been at the forefront of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s normalisation drive, visiting the United Arab Emirates (UAE) with Israel’s national judo team. She has also verbally attacked Israeli-Arab Knesset Members (MKs) calling them a “Trojan horse” which seeks to destroy Israel.
Nir Barkat was born in Jerusalem and served in the Paratroopers Brigade during his national service in the Israeli army. He was elected Mayor of Jerusalem in 2008 and joined the Likud party in 2015.
In 2018, Barkat stopped all United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) operations in Jerusalem. Barkat labelled UNRWA a “foreign and unnecessary organisation that has failed miserably,” adding that he “intend[ed] to expel it from Jerusalem”. He also vowed to close UNRWA schools, leaving 1,800 children in the city without access to education.
He was replaced as mayor of Jerusalem by Moshe Leon in November and is now placed tenth on the Likud party’s electoral slate.
General Alignment: Centre
Moshe Kahlon is of Mizrahi descent and served in the Israeli army’s Ordnance Corps. Kahlon was elected to the Knesset in the 2003 elections as part of the Likud party. He has since served in numerous Likud governments, holding the position of Communications Minister and Minister of Welfare. In 2014 he formed the Kulanu party, which he now heads.
“I do not reproach citizens of Israel who are angry [about the besieged Gaza Strip], but when officials in the highest security offices in Israel tell us not to [escalate the situation], I am inclined to accept their opinions. We knew the truce [with Hamas] would be unpopular, but it came from a sense of great responsibility.”
“The US embassy will [soon] be standing in Jerusalem, our nation’s eternal capital.”
“The enactment of the Nation-State Law was done hastily, we were wrong and we need to fix it. But this is a Jewish and democratic state, and if a community wants to separate for certain reasons, I can live with that very well.”
“My concern is that instead of rewarding the moderates and strengthening them, we’ll be doing the opposite, giving a prize to the problem child [Gaza]. This is very dangerous and could lead to an outburst of violence in [the West Bank].”
“I think it's time to annex the settlement blocs.”
Benjamin Netanyahu Leader
The Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) party was formed in February as an alliance between the Israel Resilience party (Hosen L’Yisrael) and Yesh Atid ahead of the April election.
Under this arrangement, the two parties’ leaders – Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid – will rotate the premiership, with Gantz first serving as prime minister for 2.5 years and Lapid then serving for a further 2.5 years.
The agreement also saw former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, Gabi Ashkenazi, join the ticket, leading Blue and White to become known as the “boys’ club”.
In April, Kahol Lavan proved to be the biggest threat to the Likud party’s dominance of the Knesset. The alliance eventually finished with 35 seats, the same number as Likud, but Gantz was not given the chance to form a government because of Benjamin Netanyahu’s position as incumbent prime minister.
However, since fresh elections were announced Blue and White has been most notable by its absence, with rumours circulating of discord within the ranks. Much of this seems to be focused on the rotation agreement, with a recording of Ya’alon saying that “only Lapid supports the rotation” leaked to the press in July.
Gantz has also come under fire, with senior party officials likening him to a “turtle” for the slow pace with which he makes decisions.
What little campaigning has been undertaken has focused on Israel’s south, near the besieged Gaza Strip. Gantz has long advocated for a hawkish approach to the Strip, accusing Netanyahu of “surrendering” to Hamas after Israel bombarded the coastal enclave in May.
Gantz has also vowed that there will be “no Gaza solution without returning Hadar and Oron," two Israeli army soldiers who were captured during Israel’s 2014 assault on the Strip.
Former Chief of General Staff
General Alignment: Centre
Benny Gantz comes from a pre-state Ashkenazi family and was drafted into the Israeli army in 1977. He rose through the army’s ranks to become the Chief of Staff in 2011, overseeing both the 2012 and 2014 wars on the besieged Gaza Strip.
“I will allow any humanitarian assistance to the residents of Gaza [and] will assist in the economic development of the Strip. But I will not allow the payment of cash in suitcases to murderous gangs,” referring to Qatari money delivered to support Gazans living in poverty.
“The heads of the terrorist organisations need to know that [senior Hamas commander] Ahmed Jabari was not the first [to be assassinated], nor may he be the last.”
“We will preserve the Golan Heights, which will remain in our hands forever. We won’t ever leave.”
“Jerusalem will remain forever the capital of the State of Israel and the Jewish people.”
“I will do everything in my power to act to fix the [Nation-State] Law.”
“[We] must safeguard Israel from a security standpoint. The Jordan Valley will be our border [and] in a Gantz government there won’t be unilateral actions to dismantle settlements. We will not build wildly, which will foil diplomatic opportunities, but we will not freeze settlements [either]. They are strategic and spiritual assets and will remain so forever.”
“We are not trying to rule over anyone else, and will strive for peace with countries and leaders in the region. But we won’t let millions of Palestinians living beyond the [Separation Wall] endanger our identity as a Jewish state.”
Former Finance Minister
General Alignment: Centre
Yair Lapid was born in Tel Aviv and completed his national service in the Israeli army’s Armored Corps. He served in Israel’s 1982 war on Lebanon but, due to health reasons, was forced to complete his service working for the army’s newspaper. He then worked as a journalist and TV anchor, before entering politics in 2012. He founded the Yesh Atid party, which became the second largest in the Israeli Knesset in the 2013 elections.
“[We need] a lot of force against Hamas [combined] with economic stimuli that will lead the population [of Gaza] to stabilise. [We must] demand quiet in the south [of Israel], and this can only be done after deterrence is renewed. There is a solution: to hit Gaza’s terrorists hard. Only after that strike, only after we regain deterrence, can we go back to talking about an agreement.”
“Had we returned [Golan] to Syria, as the world demanded, we would have had Iranian soldiers staring down at the Galilee, and Iranian artillery aimed directly at our cities. This is the time for the world to recognise full Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”
“Now is the time for the entire world to recognise united Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. Abu Dis will be [...] the capital of Palestine.”
“The Jordan Valley would remain the security border of the state of Israel in any future agreement.”
Like Blue and White head Benny Gantz, Moshe Ya'alon is of Ashkenazi origin and had a long army career. He served in the 1973 war and the 1982 Lebanon war before being appointed Chief of Staff of the Israeli army in 2002, overseeing Israel’s crackdown on the Second Intifada. He retired in 2005 citing his opposition to Israel’s “disengagement” from Gaza.
Ya’alon was Defence Minister between 2013 and 2016 and now holds third place on Kahol Lavan’s electoral slate.
“When you look westward [from a West Bank settlement towards Israel] and see the lights of the Tel Aviv region, you can understand the strategic security importance of the settlements. It is our right to settle every part of the Land of Israel.”
Born to Sephardic-Mizrahi (Mediterranean-Middle Eastern Jewish) parents, Ashkenazi attended a prestigious military school in Tel Aviv and eventually joined the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade in 1972. He served in both the 1973 War and the 1982 war in Lebanon, eventually becoming Chief of Staff in 2007, overseeing Israel’s first war on the Gaza Strip in 2008.
He is now placed in fourth position on Blue and White’s electoral slate.
“We must work to solve the humanitarian crisis [in Gaza …] We have no problem with Qatari money going into the Strip to build a water desalination plant, provide electric power and improve the standard of living. This is in our interest.”
“However, we [Blue and White] will not hand out cash [in Gaza] when incendiary balloons are flying. Deterrence must be reinstated. We will not hit empty homes and unmanned positions. We will hit Hamas where it hurts.”
Benny Gantz Leader
Ram Ben Barak
Yorai Lahav Hertzanu
With only a few days to go before the 1 August deadline to submit electoral slates, the New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party announced it would form a technical bloc with the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP). Initially called the United Right, the bloc in August launched its campaign under the name Yamina - meaning “right” or “rightward” – vowing to make Israel more right-wing.
The parties stopped short of forming a fully-fledged alliance, meaning they will maintain their independence after the election.
The bloc will be led by New Right leader Ayelet Shaked, while head of the URWP and Israel’s Education Minister, Rafi Peretz, will take second place on the slate. Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich is placed third and former Education Minister Naftali Bennett fourth.
Polls show that the new bloc could gain as many as 12 seats, significantly more than the five URWP currently holds. New Right failed to cross the electoral threshold in April.
The alliance aims to present itself as the natural home of religious-Zionism, despite Shaked’s personal secularism which has come under criticism from right-wing religious figures. Both factions are strong supporters of Israel’s illegal settlements and have advocated for annexing all or part of the occupied West Bank.
Former Justice Minister
General Alignment: Right
Ayelet Shaked was born to a wealthy family in Tel Aviv and completed her national service in the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade. In 2012 she was elected to the Likud party’s central committee, but resigned later that year to form the Jewish Home party with Naftali Bennett.
In December 2018 Shaked and Bennett broke away from Jewish Home to form a new party, the New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party. Despite high hopes, the party suffered a disastrous defeat in April’s election, failing to cross the electoral threshold.
Shaked served as Justice Minister from 2015-2019, during which she worked continuously to dismantle the independence of Israel’s judicial system, even posing in a mock advert for fascism prior to April’s election.
However, Shaked was unceremoniously dismissed from her position after New Right’s defeat. She has since staged a spectacular political comeback, ousting Bennett to become New Right’s leader and Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) head Rafi Peretz to lead the two parties’ technical bloc, Yamina.
“The State of Israel must land an iron fist on incendiary kite launchers and terror operatives. The response must be very severe, as if blood was shed here – all options are possible, including the occupation of the Gaza Strip. [This will form] part of efforts to destroy the authority of Hamas.”
“From the beginning of my current term [as Minister of Justice] I have set a goal of normalising the lives of [illegal Israeli settlers in the West Bank]. We have gone from a discourse of eviction to a discourse of normalisation.”
“It is time to apply Israeli sovereignty to the [occupied] Palestinian territories. I think we should apply Israeli law in [Area C] and give full Israeli citizenship, with all its rights, to the Palestinians there. I believe that in three years from now, the international community will understand this is the right solution.”
“We’re not in [the West Bank] in order to disappear one day. We’ve been here for 50 years already, and we will be here for another 5,000 years. Our policy is clear: Settlement in the entire Land of Israel. I can tell you that my party and I are against a Palestinian state. We did this experiment once in Gaza, and we are not going to do this experiment again in [the West Bank].”
Rafi Peretz is an orthodox rabbi who served as the Chief Military Rabbi of the Israeli army. He was previously involved in Israel’s illegal settlement of the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip, prior to its “disengagement” in 2005. He was previously a relatively unknown figure, never having held political office until his appointment as head of the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) ahead of the April election.
In June, Peretz was appointed as Israel’s Education Minister and granted observer status in the security cabinet. He has already sparked controversy in his short tenure as minister, announcing that he will strictly enforce a law requiring Arab-Israeli and ultra-Orthodox schools to fly the Israeli flag.
“We are committed to the residents of Israel's south, and to defeating Hamas. The concept of a proportionate response is off the table. Hamas needs to understand that when they hurt us, there is no proportion."
“In order to stop [US President Donald] Trump's 'deal of the century' we need a party committed to the land of Israel. We need to move from defence to offense, from destruction to construction and sovereignty."
Bezalel Smotrich heads the National Union faction, which merged with Jewish Home to become the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP). He was born in the illegal Israeli settlement of Haspin, in the Golan Heights, and now lives in Kedumim, an illegal West Bank settlement near Nablus. He undertook his national service in the Operations Division of the army’s General Staff.
In 2015 Smotrich won a Knesset seat with the Jewish Home party, before being elected leader of the party’s National Union faction in January 2019. He is closely linked with some of the West Bank’s most extreme settlers, allegedly inciting violence against Palestinians during an Israeli crackdown on the territory in December.
In June he was appointed Israel’s Transport Minister, which he interpreted as a disappointment after being promised the Justice Ministry. He is expected to push for his preferred portfolio again should Yamina perform well on 17 September.
“The only solution for Gaza that will finally bring quiet, peace and security to the residents of the south [of Israel] is to return [the Israeli army] to the Gaza Strip and take responsibility to re-establish the Gush Katif settlements.”
“We will enforce the law in the Negev [desert in southern Israel]. Sovereignty is not a theoretical matter: If it is not enforced it does not exist. We will put an end to [the] illegal takeover of land by Bedouin in the south and Arabs in the north.”
Former Education Minister
General Alignment: Right
Naftali Bennett was born in Haifa to American parents and did his national service in a special forces unit of the Israeli army. He was called up as a reservist in Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon. Bennett worked alongside Benjamin Netanyahu’s opposition government until 2012.
That year he became leader of the Jewish Home party, which he left in 2018 to form the New Right party with Ayelet Shaked. Following an unexpected defeat in April’s election, Bennett agreed to serve as Shaked’s number two in the New Right party. He is now fourth on Yamina’s slate after the party’s creation of a technical bloc with the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP).
“Terrorists from Gaza should not enter Israel. Just as in Lebanon, Syria or anywhere else, we should shoot to kill. We need to shoot those who send arson balloons from Gaza; they are not children — they are terrorists. We are fooling ourselves. Why shoot next to them and not directly at them?”
“[Former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s] irresolution and the delusional belief that talking to Gaza residents will bring down Hamas [...] are complete nonsense and irresponsible.”
“It will not be possible to divide Jerusalem even after a thousand years. Israel will not allow any concessions over its sovereignty; we are a small country and we will not give the Arabs even a centimetre.”
“The Joint Arab List Members of Knesset have made clear they are supporters of anti-Semitism and terrorism. They sit in the comfort of Israel’s democracy, living off Israeli taxpayers, while they spend their time [...] writing letters to the international media in support of anti-Semites and supporters of terror.”
“It’s now 50 years since we liberated [the West Bank]. It’s time to recognise [it] as Israel. The time has come for us to all internalise the end of the era of the Palestinian state, and the beginning of the era of sovereignty. The time for sovereignty has arrived, and it’s time to bring this idea from potential to reality.”
Shuli Mualem was born in Haifa to Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) parents and worked as a nurse and university lecturer. She ran in the 2013 Israeli elections under the Jewish Home party and was elected to the Knesset. When the Jewish Home’s most prominent figures, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, broke away from the party to form the New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party, Mualem followed suit.
Mualem is well known for repeatedly storming Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound alongside controversial Likud Knesset Member (MK) Yehuda Glick. Although under the status quo agreement Israelis are banned from praying on the compound, Glick and Mualem have often led groups of settlers to the site for prayers and Jewish celebrations.
Ayelet Shaked Leader
After a disastrous performance in the April election, which saw the two Arab-dominated alliances – Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am-Balad – win a combined ten seats, the Joint List has been resurrected. Despite much wrangling and political infighting over weeks of reconciliation talks, the Joint List now hopes to learn from the mistakes of April and re-inspire Palestinian citizens of Israel to head to the polls.
The Joint List will, however, face a number of obstacles, with the Israeli right already conspiring to hamper their comeback. On election day in April, Likud party activists were discovered to be wearing secret cameras to spy on Palestinian citizens’ polling stations.
Now this campaign – orchestrated by a PR firm with links to Israel’s illegal settlement movement – is slated to be run again in September, with Likud doubling its budget to monitor Palestinian voters.
The Joint List is expected to continue its focus on issues specific to Palestinian citizens of Israel, including revoking the Nation-State Law, which failed to mention the community and has effectively declared them second-class citizens.
Ra’am, one of the Joint List factions, is expected to remain popular with Palestinian Bedouin voters, most of whom live in the Negev (Naqab) desert in southern Israel, and is seen as supporting Palestinian national positions. Balad is also a nationalist party, declaring itself “an inseparable part of the Palestinian national movement”.
Born and raised in Haifa, Odeh boasts a long political career. He represented Hadash on the Haifa City Council in the late 1990s and early 2000s, becoming the party’s secretary-general in 2006. He was elected leader of the party in 2015 and placed first on the Joint List’s ticket for the general election that year.
“The problem is the occupying state – Israel. They closed Gaza, threw the key into the sea and said ‘We’re not responsible.’ The army drew up this imaginary line [the Gaza border fence] and whoever crosses it — kill them. Period. Is that the only way to address this matter?”
“Look at how the Israeli public views [those Gazans] killed [in the Great March of Return]. That is contempt for human life.”
“Jerusalem will remain for its people, standing strong, winning and the capital of Palestine.”
“When the rights of minorities are trampled on in a democracy, it is not an internal issue. The [Nation-State Law] harms Arab citizens, Israeli democracy and the possibility of forming a Palestinian state and achieving peace.”
“We, Arab citizens, will rush to the polls en mass, and we will increase our power, now more than ever before. Whoever seeks to make a division and a stumbling block between Jews and Arabs, or between Arabs and Arabs strengthens [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu and the right. They want us weak and divided, but we will be strong together.”
“The residents of the small [Bedouin] village of Umm Al-Hiran, whose 1,000 residents are Palestinian citizens of Israel, tasted the continuing Nakba bitterly [when their homes were demolished by Israel].”
“Time and again Netanyahu chooses to continue the occupation and military control of another people. [He spends] 22 million shekels [$6 million] to expand the occupation, straight from government ministries; for the benefit of a handful of extremist settlers, the government is trampling its citizens. We choose peace and you choose apartheid.”
“If the government follows through on its desires to annex the West Bank without providing full equal rights to its Palestinian residents, it won’t be a new Nakba. It will be the continuation of one that has never fully ended.”
Ahmad Tibi was born in Tayibe, near the Green Line which separates the occupied West Bank from Israel. He qualified as a gynecologist at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and held a residency at the city’s Hadassah Hospital. He entered politics to work with the Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) and was an advisor to former Palestinian President Yasser Arafat in the mid 1990s. He then established the Ta’al party and was elected to the Israeli Knesset.
“Now more than ever before, Jerusalem is witnessing an unprecedented attack. However, and despite all this, it will remain Arab and Palestinian with its churches, mosques and alleys. It is [Arab] before and after [US President] Donald Trump, whose decision [to transfer the US embassy to Jerusalem] is a slap to all Arabs and proves that the American administration is part of the problem and not the solution.”
“There is a need for [Israel] to resolve its most fundamental contradiction: is it willing to accept universal principles of justice, freedom and equality for all, or is it going to continue its discriminatory policies against its non-Jewish citizens in all fields of life? The vision of an Arab prime minister, which now looks like a delusional idea, is drawing near. And then this will be an equal and democratic country, and not a Jewish and democratic one.”
“Not only in Gaza, also in the West Bank, there’s no doubt that there will be popular opposition [akin to the Great March of Return]. People without weapons, in a peaceful way, will breach [Israel’s] settlements.”
Born in Rishon LeZion near Tel Aviv, Cassif served in the Nahal brigade of the Israeli army before going on to gain a PhD in political philosophy. Prior to Israel’s April election, he was a relatively unknown figure in Israeli politics, despite having been active in the Hadash party for decades.
Ahead of the April election Cassif was elected as Hadash’s only Jewish candidate. Israel’s Central Election Committee tried to ban him from participating in the election, a decision which was overturned by Israel’s Supreme Court. He is now placed fifth on the newly-reunited Joint List’s slate.
“This is a Joint List, not a Joint Arab List. Our internal institutions, our central committee are comprised of both Jewish-Israelis and Palestinian citizens of Israel, and so our platform bears responsibility for all citizens.”
“I’m concerned to say the least that the occupation [of Palestinian territories] is not only going to continue [under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] but is also going to be even more vicious than it is currently.”
Mansour Abbas has previously held the role of spokesperson and deputy chairman of Ra’am. He was elected to head the party ahead of April’s election and, following a merger with Balad, now serves as head of the Ra’am-Balad alliance.
Mtanes Shehadeh has previously worked with Mada Al-Carmel in Haifa, an organisation which conducts research about Palestinian citizens of Israel. He was elected chairman of Balad during the party's primaries in February, succeeding Jamal Zahalka who decided not to run in April’s general election. Under Balad’s agreement to run with Ra’am, he took second place on the alliance’s slate.
Saeed Alkharumi hails from the Bedouin village of Segev Shalom in the Negev (Naqab) desert in southern Israel. After gaining his degree, he worked as a teacher at the village’s high school and was elected to the local council.
In 2002 he was elected secretary general of the United Arab List (Ra'am), remaining in the position until he was elected deputy chairman of the party in 2014. Given his Bedouin background, Alkharumi has lobbied extensively on Bedouin issues and rights, campaigning against Israel’s demolition of Bedouin homes and in favour of recognising “unrecognised” villages in the Negev.
“[Any solution to the conflict] includes liberating Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa Mosque and returning them to the Palestinian state.”
“Of course, it’s the racist laws which the Knesset passed, including the Nation-State Law and the laws regarding planning and construction that ban Arab citizens from building their homes, which are behind this discrimination [against Bedouin citizens].”
“What is happening in the Negev is a crime against humanity. When the state demolishes, and forces people to demolish their own homes, at a rate of 2,270 buildings a year, that is a heinous crime.”
Ayman Odeh Leader
Sami Abu Shehadeh
Having hampered Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attempts to form a ruling coalition in the wake of April’s election, Yisrael Beiteinu is trying to portray itself as an antidote to both the left and right-wing of Israeli politics, despite its hawkish ideology and right-wing roots.
Led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, the party launched its campaign with the slogan “make Israel normal again”, echoing the now-famous slogan of US President Donald Trump, “make America great again”.
At the centre of making Israel “normal” again is Lieberman’s long-time campaign against Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population, which has seen him push his so-called Haredi draft law and compare the Haredim with Hamas – his other nemesis – which governs the besieged Gaza Strip.
Now Lieberman is pushing for a unity government of Israel’s biggest parties, the ruling Likud party and key opposition Blue and White (Kahol Lavan), as well as his Yisrael Beiteinu, which would end the government’s reliance on ultra-Orthodox parties to build a coalition.
Despite initial speculation that Lieberman could be punished at the ballot box for bringing about a do-over election, in fact the opposite appears to be the case – Lieberman has been predicted as many as ten seats, meaning he could once again find himself the “kingmaker” and dictate who forms the next government.
Former Defence Minister
General Alignment: Right
Avigdor Lieberman was born in the Soviet Union and his family immigrated to Israel in the late 1970s. He was conscripted into the Israeli army, serving in Hebron for a year. Lieberman worked for the Likud party in the mid-1990s under Benjamin Netanyahu, in 1999 forming Yisrael Beiteinu specifically to attract Soviet-origin, right-wing voters in Israel. He served as Israel’s Defence Minister from 2016-2018, resigning in November over a dispute about Israeli policy in Gaza.
“We must not surrender to Hamas and its rule in Gaza. We must return to a policy of targeted assassinations and massive damage to terrorist infrastructure. I give my absolute support to the conduct of the Israeli soldiers shooting Great March of Return protesters.”
“There is no way to reach a truce agreement with Hamas without inflicting a severe blow to the Gaza Strip, [which] could bring us at least five more years of quiet.”
“When I took up the post of defence minister, I decided that Army Radio must broadcast from the most worthy place – Jerusalem, our eternal capital.”
“The terrorist Haneen Zoabi is in the Knesset and promotes terror against [Israeli] soldiers and citizens of Israel.”
“We have continued the momentum of Jewish development in Hebron in a way that has not been seen in 20 years. We will promote building in all of [the occupied West Bank], from the north to the south.”
Avigdor Lieberman Leader
Limor Magen Telem
Comprised of two ultra-Orthodox parties - Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah - United Torah Judaism (UTJ) maintained their previous alliance and ran on a joint slate during April’s election. They will now maintain this alliance ahead of 17 September.
The alliance - which is led by Israel’s Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman - had vowed to stand behind incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, recommending that he form the next government even if he is indicted for corruption.
A key campaign platform for UTJ is combating the so-called Haredi draft law, which seeks to conscript ultra-Orthodox men into the Israeli army. UTJ are vehemently opposed to this law, a position which, combined with former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s refusal to compromise on the bill, in May prevented Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government.
Litzman is of Ashkenazi origin and was raised in Brooklyn, New York. He moved to Israel aged 17 to attend yeshiva (religious school). In 1999 he joined Agudat Yisrael, a faction of United Torah Judaism (UTJ) and was elected to the Knesset. In 2003 he became head of UTJ, a position he retains until today. He is also Israel’s Deputy Health Minister.
In August, Israel Police recommended charging Litzman with fraud and breach of trust for his apparent role in helping an alleged paedophile avoid extradition. Litzman reportedly assisted Malka Leifer - a former principle at an ultra-Orthodox girl’s school who is wanted in Australia on 74 counts of child sexual assault and rape – by pressuring officials within Israel’s Health Ministry to deem her medically unfit to attend an extradition hearing.
Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, will now decide whether or not to indict Litzman. For his part, the health minister has denied the charges against him, saying his “conscience is clear”.
Yaakov Litzman Leader
Led by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Shas is continuing to appeal to traditional religious voters and the Sephardic and Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) communities within Israel.
The party is running on a social justice profile, highlighting its success in reducing the price of public transport in Israel and calling for “equality between haredi, religious and secular citizens”.
Despite Deri’s best efforts to join forces with United Torah Judaism - the other ultra-Orthodox alliance that mainly represents Ashkenazi voters - ahead of the April election, no agreement materialised. Shas voters were concerned such a move could shift the party’s priorities away from Mizrahi issues, prompting the party to stay true to its roots once again in the run up to September.
Minister of Interior
General Alignment: Right
Born in Morocco and having moved to Israel as a child, Aryeh Deri heads the Shas party. He has held various interior ministry positions since the late 1980s, but disappeared from politics in the early 2000s after he was handed a three-year prison sentence for corruption.
Deri is currently under investigation for other corruption allegations, with the Israel Police recommending in November that he be indicted for fraud, money laundering and tax offenses thought to amount to millions of shekels.
“If [Gaza] will be quiet, we will respond with quiet. We've given Hamas a chance to prove that we can return to routine, [but] if they release the reins there will be a very painful strike.”
Aryeh Deri Leader
Yitzhak (Itzik) Cohen
The Democratic Union is an alliance of two left-wing parties, Meretz and the Israel Democratic Party (Yisrael Demokratit). It is led by Nitzan Horowitz, a former Haaretz journalist who was elected as Meretz’s leader in June.
The merger came in July after the Israeli Labor Party joined forces with Gesher, itself led by former right-winger Orly Levy-Abekasis. The move effectively ruled out the formation of a broad left-wing bloc, prompting the parties to form the Democratic Union.
The alliance was likely also formed out of necessity, given that its component parties were at risk of not crossing the electoral threshold. This was particularly true of the Israel Democratic Party, led by former Israeli Prime Minister, Ehud Barak.
Despite high hopes of a strong political comeback, Barak’s re-entry into politics has been marred by scandal. As a result, he has agreed to take the tenth position on the Democratic Union’s slate, meaning he could be placed too low to enter the Knesset in September.
Now the Democratic Union is positioning itself as the only truly left-wing party in Israel, with the aim of bringing the country “back on track”. The party has been keen to emphasise its key values of “equality” and “freedom” and vowed to bring about both “social change” and “regime change”, focusing their efforts on removing Benjamin Netanyahu from the premiership.
The party is also seeking to appeal to Palestinian citizens of Israel, who voted for Meretz in unprecedented numbers in April’s election. Now Democratic Union has vowed to repeal the Nation-State Law, which last year effectively declared Palestinians second class citizens, and urged the community to see the new party as their allies.
Born in Rishon LeZion, south of Tel Aviv, Horowitz is a career journalist, working for high profile Israeli news outlets such as Army Radio, Hadashot and Haaretz.
In Israel’s 2009 election, Horowitz ran for Knesset with Meretz, gaining a seat in the parliament. He was re-elected in 2013 but did not stand in 2015. In June Meretz elected him as their leader in the party primaries, ousting former chairwoman Tamar Zandberg.
He now leads the Democratic Union, after Meretz joined forces with Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party (Yisrael Demokratit).
General Alignment: Left
Tamar Zandberg was born in Tel Aviv and served in the Israeli army’s Education Corps. She was previously elected to Tel Aviv’s city council and won a Knesset seat with Meretz in 2013. In 2018 she was elected to head the party, meaning April’s election was her first electoral showing as leader. She was replaced in June with Nitzan Horowitz and now maintains second place on the party’s slate.
“We can’t have another war [in Gaza]. War means more dead soldiers and more children in shelters, and in the end we’ll be back where we started. The government must do everything to reach a ceasefire as soon as possible and then move toward a greater diplomatic solution.”
"I really want to see all the embassies in Jerusalem, and I want to see Jerusalem recognised by the world as the capital of Israel within recognised and safe borders. [Yet] we simply cannot celebrate unilateral moves whose potential for danger is so significant.”
“The Nation-State Law was taken out of storage and apartheid pops out of the box. It is a basic law of racism. Our response is true Jewish-Arab cooperation at the head of our [party] list - our answer to discrimination and racism is a diverse and impressive group of leaders in their fields, fighters for justice and equality, women and men from all over the country.”
“This year we’re marking 50 years [of] the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian people and land, and one thing is clear: the decision is between [whether] to continue this violent conflict, to sink deeper into war, hatred and the loss of hope: or choose a new path – even if it’s a long one – for peace that is based on two states for two people.”
“Israel needs a peace agreement that must include removing settlements. There is no greater deed of patriotism than opposing the occupation and saving the Zionist vision of a national homeland for the Jewish People in the land of Israel. [Being] pro-Israel does not mean pro-settlement.”
Born on a kibbutz (agricultural community) in Mandate Palestine to an Ashkenazi family, Ehud Barak has a long career in the Israeli army. He served as a commando in the elite Sayeret Matkal unit and went on to become Chief of Staff in the early 1990s.
He served as Minister of Internal Affairs under Yitzhak Rabin prior to his assassination, becoming leader of the Israeli Labor Party in 1996. He was elected Prime Minister of Israel in 1999, beating Benjamin Netanyahu to the top spot.
After over a decade away from politics, Barak announced his political comeback in June, forming the Israel Democratic Party. Despite high hopes of a strong political comeback, Barak’s re-entry into politics has been marred by scandal over his alleged connections to Jeffrey Epstein, a US billionaire who was recently arrested on suspicion of sex trafficking underage girls.
As a result of this and poor poll predictions, Barak agreed to merge his party with Meretz, taking tenth position on the slate.
Freige was born in Kafr Qasim, a Palestinian town located near the Green Line, which separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. He previously worked with Israeli NGO Peace Now before being elected to the Knesset in 2013 with Meretz. He was re-elected in 2015 and again in April’s election, before being placed in 6th place on the Democratic Union slate.
Freige has pushed for Meretz and now the Union to reach out to Palestinian citizens of Israel, demanding that former Prime Minister Ehud Barak apologise for the killing of 12 members of the community under his premiership, saying that “the Arabs don’t want to be a fig leaf and a lifesaver. We want to be partners”.
Nitzan Horowitz Leader
Zeinab Abu Sweid
After suffering its worst ever election performance in April, the Israeli Labor Party has found itself with only six Knesset seats and facing political extinction. Former Labor leader Avi Gabbay paid the ultimate price for this dire showing, announcing in June that he would not seek re-election in the party’s primaries.
Gabbay was in July succeeded by Amir Peretz, a veteran Labor party politician and former head of the Histadrut, the powerful trade union federation which predates the state of Israel itself.
Shortly after taking on the leadership, Peretz announced an alliance with Orly Levy-Abekasis, the leader of Gesher, which failed to cross the electoral threshold in April. The alliance was seen as an unusual move, particularly given Levy-Abekasis’ right-wing credentials and the fact that the alliance effectively ruled out any cooperation with Israel’s other left-wing parties.
The new alliance is expected to campaign on a social-justice platform, a favourite of Gesher, which aims to focus on improving pensions, health, housing, parenting and strengthening small businesses.
The party is also hoping to appeal to voters on Israel’s “periphery”, which includes Mizrahim (Israelis of Middle Eastern Jewish origin), Druze and Bedouin, a far cry from the Labor party’s historically Ashkenazi base.
Peretz was born in Morocco to Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) parents who then immigrated to Israel in the 1950s. He previously served as Mayor of Sderot, a development town in southern Israel, and was elected to the Knesset in 1988. He is the longest-serving current Knesset Member (MK).
In 1995 he became chairman of the Histadrut, Israel’s powerful trade union federation which predates the state of Israel. Peretz served briefly as Labor leader from 2005-07, but when he pulled the party from the ruling coalition, thus triggering an election, he was defeated by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak.
He now leads the Israeli Labor Party, having been elected during the party’s primaries in July.
“The equation in which [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu is afraid of defeating Hamas on the one hand and fearing an unbearable diplomatic process on the other — it is clear that the confrontation with Hamas [in the Gaza Strip] is helping Netanyahu evade the need to start a diplomatic process with Abu Mazen [Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas].”
“I do not want a Palestinian state for the Palestinians, but for the Israelis. Peace can also serve the poor, because peace will bring prosperity and economy. I raise the banner of peace and the banner of social justice - they go together."
Orly Levy-Abekasis is an Israeli politician of Mizrahi descent. She is the daughter of David Levy, who served as Deputy Prime Minister three times between 1981 and 2000. Levy-Abekasis served in the Israeli Air Force and studied law.
She entered the Knesset in 2009 as a member of Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party. In 2016 she announced that she would leave the party over its entry into government, saying it had abandoned its social platform during negotiations.
In a surprise move, in July Gesher announced that it would contest the September election with the Israeli Labor Party. Levy-Abekasis has taken second place on the slate, behind Labor leader Amir Peretz.
Amir Peretz Leader
Omer Bar Lev
Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) was plucked from political obscurity ahead of the April election when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu orchestrated a deal to merge the party with Jewish Home and National Union, thus creating the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP).
However, after Otzma Yehudit head Michael Ben Ari was banned from participation in April’s election and party number two, Itamar Ben Gvir, placed too low on the slate to win a Knesset seat, none of the party’s members entered the parliament.
Earlier this month Otzma Yehudit announced that it would break away from URWP, after Education Minister Rafi Peretz and Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich refused to give up their Knesset seats to allow Ben Gvir to sit in the parliament, as they had previously promised.
Despite a brief announcement that it would contest the do-over election with nascent party Noam, another ultra-right-wing, religious-Zionist party, Otzma will now run alone on 17 September. As such, it could risk not passing the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold needed to sit in the Knesset.
Otzma takes its ideology from the outlawed Kach party and its leader, Rabbi Meir Kahane, ideas which inspired the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron in which 29 Palestinian worshippers were killed. In July Otzma launched its election campaign by calling for the forcible expulsion of Palestinians to “their countries of origin,'' referring to them as “our enemies”.
Itamar Ben Gvir is Otzma Yehudit’s de facto leader after party head Michael Ben Ari was banned from participating in elections. During the April election he did not win a place in the Knesset, having been placed seventh on the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP)’s election slate. URWP won only five seats.
Ben-Gvir is of Kurdish-Jewish extraction and grew up in Jerusalem. He was banned from undertaking his national service in the Israeli army for his right-wing views and participation in the youth wing of the Kach party, which was led by rabbi Meir Kahane and banned from Israeli politics in the 1980s for incitement and racism.
He once threatened to “get” former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was later assassinated by an extremist settler who disagreed with the Oslo Accords.
Ben-Gvir now lives in an illegal settlement in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank. He works as a lawyer, regularly defending ultra-right-wing settlers including Yinon Reuveni, who was convicted of carrying out an arson attack on a church near Tiberias in 2015. Ben-Gvir is also defending Amiram Ben-Uliel, a member of the “hilltop youth” movement currently under investigation for carrying out the arson attack against the Dawabsheh family in 2015.
Head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, Michael Ben Ari, is of Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) origin and studied at a yeshiva (religious school), before joining a settlement movement in the then-Israeli-occupied Gaza Strip in the late 1980s.
Ben Ari is a vocal supporter of rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned from political participation in Israel for racism and incitement in the 1980s. Kahane’s teachings advocate for expelling Palestinians from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt), changing the status quo on Jerusalem’s Al-Asqa Mosque compound, and most famously inspired extremist settler Baruch Goldstein to carry out the 1994 Ibrahimi Mosque massacre in Hebron, in the occupied West Bank.
In light of these ultra-nationalist views, a series of petitions were filed to Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, and Israel’s Election Committee to have Ben Ari banned from the April election. On 17 March 2019, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld Mandelblit’s recommendation and ruled that Ben Ari could not stand.
Despite this ban - which will be upheld ahead of September - Ben Ari remains the head of Otzma Yehudit. Speaking at the party’s campaign launch, he continued his anti-Palestinian rhetoric by saying that “we want to resettle our enemies in their countries […] we’ll give them a bottle of mineral water and even a sandwich. We’ll find them countries of origin they can go to”.
Itamar Ben Gvir Leader
The Zehut party is headed by Moshe Feiglin and is seen as a libertarian, right-wing Zionist party that shares its root with incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Ahead of the April election, Zehut tried to appeal to young voters who it believes are disengaged with politics and disenchanted with the old guard of Israeli politicians. As such, it stands for an amalgamation of policies, including the protection of free speech, the right to bear arms and the legalisation of cannabis.
On the question of Israel-Palestine, Zehut advocates for a one-state solution in which the whole of historic Palestine will be named Israel. Palestinians would be granted citizenship if they agree to live in and pledge their loyalty to such a state. Zehut also advocates for scrapping the Oslo Accords, using the money it claims Israel would save by doing so to incentivise Palestinians in the occupied Palestinian territories (oPt) to emigrate.
Although Zehut was expected to do well in April, it failed to cross the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold needed to gain seats in the Knesset. However, almost immediately after it was announced that Israel will once again go to the polls in September, Feiglin reappeared from obscurity and expressed his openness to working with other fringe right-wing parties.
Yet despite speaking with New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party member Naftali Bennett about forming a technical bloc, Zehut failed to secure any agreements prior to the 1 August deadline for declaring party slates. It will therefore contest September’s election alone and could risk once again failing to meet the minimum threshold.
Born in Haifa, Moshe Feiglin completed his national service in the Israeli army’s Engineering Corps and served in Israel’s 1982 war on Lebanon. Feiglin began his political career in the Likud party, running against its current leader Benjamin Netanyahu for the chairmanship throughout the 2000s. He was elected to the Knesset in 2013, but left in 2015 to form Zehut.
Moshe Feiglin Leader
Just hours before the deadline to submit party listings ahead of April’s election, the Israel Resilience party (Hosen L’Yisrael) and Yesh Atid announced that they had reached an agreement to run together, calling their merged list the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance.
Under the agreement the two parties’ leaders - Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid - will rotate the premiership, with Gantz first serving as prime minister for 2.5 years and Lapid then serving for a further 2.5 years.
The agreement also saw former Chief of Staff of the Israeli army, Gabi Ashkenazi, join the ticket. In what will be seen as a coup for the two centrist parties, it is thought that Ashkenazi will bring with him a substantial Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) vote given his family heritage.
In April, Kahol Lavan proved to be the biggest threat to the Likud party’s dominance of the Knesset. The alliance eventually finished with 35 seats, the same number as Likud, but Gantz was not given the chance to form a government because of Netanyahu’s position as incumbent prime minister.
During May’s unprecedented vote to dissolve the Knesset and once again go to elections, Blue and White Knesset Members (MKs) argued that, since Netanyahu had failed to form a government, Gantz should be given the chance. Though the party’s MKs, along with Meretz and Israeli Labor, voted against dissolving the Knesset, they were defeated by a 74 to 45 majority.
The Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) was formed as an alliance between the Jewish Home, National Union and Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) parties, and ran on a joint ticket in the April election. Having won five seats in April and forming a crucial component of subsequent coalition negotiations, it is thought the alliance will continue to work together ahead of 17 September.
URWP was formed as part of a deal orchestrated by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who, fearing an increasingly emboldened centre-left, sought to bolster the right-wing bloc that could support him if he is re-elected and tasked with forming a government.
URWP supports overtly religious-Zionist ideas and is in favour of increased illegal settlement in the occupied West Bank and the annexation of Area C. Several of its prominent members have close ties to the illegal settlement movement, meaning the alliance is likely to play to this electorate once again.