Israel is heading to the polls, again. After re-elected Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a ruling coalition, another general election will now take place on 17 September.
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.
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, Likud 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 now hopes to improve on Likud’s April performance and assemble a more secure right-wing majority. To this end, Likud has already 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.
Likud is also working to bring Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked into the Likud party, a move which could add as many as six seats to its April performance.
Likud is expected to once again run its campaign by attacking all opposition, using the blanket term “the left” to lambast the media, pro-Palestinian activists and any centrist or liberal political parties. To this list Netanyahu has now added former Defence Minister, Avigdor Lieberman, who the prime minister accuses of blocking the formation of a right-wing government and triggering fresh elections.
Likud is also likely to play on the idea that Netanyahu has “got things done” during his time in office, highlighting US President Donald Trump’s decision to move the US embassy to Jerusalem, recognise the city as Israel’s capital and declare the Syrian Golan Heights part of Israel.
In addition, Netanyahu has tried to emphasise his drive to normalise relations with Arab and Muslim countries. Having orchestrated a number of high-profile visits to Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE) and Chad, Netanyahu will be hoping that Israeli ministers’ attendance at the upcoming “Peace and Prosperity” conference – slated to be held in Bahraini capital Manama in June - will again highlight this growing normalisation.
Prime Minister, Defence Minister, Health Minister, Aliya Minister
General Alignment: Right
Benjamin Netanyahu has been the face of Israeli politics for decades and will become the country’s longest serving prime minister if he is re-elected on 9 April. 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]. I will not give up our expectation that the United States [will] recognise Israeli sovereignty over Golan.”
“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 and launching the “terrorists in suits” smear campaign. Erdan has also worked extensively to expel the UN monitoring body TIPH from Hebron, in the occupied West Bank, which he eventually achieved in January.
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 ninth on the Likud party’s electoral slate.
Benjamin Netanyahu Leader
Eli Ben Dahan
April’s election was the Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party’s first appearance, running as part of the Blue and White (Kahol Lavan) alliance with Yesh Atid. It is headed by former army Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who also acts as Blue and White’s leader.
On domestic issues the party has vowed to “fix” the Nation-State Law, which last year declared Israel the “national home of the Jewish people”. It is thought this was a bid to win support from the Druze community, with whom Gantz’s military past might resonate.
The party’s defining manifesto pledge is to put “Israel before everything”, especially on matters of security. Gantz has advocated for a hawkish approach to the besieged Gaza Strip, boasting in his first campaign video of bombing it “back to the Stone Age”. Following Israel’s bombardment of the Strip in May, Gantz accused Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of “surrendering” to Hamas.
On the occupied West Bank the party has been less clear, seeming to swing between advocating for disengagement and supporting illegal settlement.
This security-focused approach extends to foreign policy, with Gantz warning regional foes Iran and Lebanon’s Hezbollah against testing his resolve and saying “on my watch, there will be no appeasement”.
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.”
Like the head of the Israel Resilience (Hosen L’Yisrael) party 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 response to 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. He now heads the Telem party and has agreed to run on the same electoral ticket as Gantz’s Israel Resilience party, taking third place on the Kahol Lavan alliance’s ticket.
“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.”
Benny Gantz Leader
Headed by Yair Lapid, Yesh Atid is Israel’s main centrist party and currently holds 11 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
Yesh Atid has tried to position itself as the “only answer” to incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, which it has vehemently criticised and accused of incitement. Lapid hopes to use Netanyahu’s preoccupation with his corruption scandals against him, portraying him as self-centred and ignorant of the “rising cost of living and the waiting times in hospitals” that preoccupy Israeli voters.
Commentators have predicted that, as in the 2015 elections, Lapid will try to attract young Russian voters who no longer support Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party but who remain somewhat right-wing.
Former Finance Minister
General Alignment: Centre
Yair Lapid was born in Tel Aviv and did 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.”
Ram Ben Barak
Yair Lapid Leader
Yorai Lahav Hertzanu
Formed by Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in December, April’s election was the New Right’s first electoral outing. The party aimed to appeal to both secular and Orthodox voters, as opposed to the religious-Zionist camp that has traditionally supported the pair’s previous party, the Jewish Home.
However, despite hopes that the party could win as many as ten seats, in a shock defeat the New Right failed to pass the 3.25 per cent minimum threshold needed to sit in the Knesset. This was put down to misplaced confidence in Bennett and Shaked’s personal appeal and an election campaign labelled tasteless by onlookers. The party’s defeat plunged the historic allies in political oblivion, causing a seemingly irreconcilable rift between the once dynamic duo.
However, following the announcement that Israel would go to the polls again in September, reports that Bennett and Shaked were plotting their comeback quickly emerged. Whether this will materialise is, however, less certain, with Shaked rumoured to be considering a high-profile slot in Netanyahu’s Likud party.
For his part, Bennett is reportedly in discussions with Moshe Feiglin to merge New Right with the latter’s libertarian and vehemently anti-Palestinian Zehut party, which also failed to cross the threshold in April.
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.
“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.”
General Alignment: Right
Ayelet Shaked was born to a wealthy family in Tel Aviv and did 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. She has served as the Justice Minister since 2015, coming under fire in January after allegations of a sex scandal high in the Israeli judiciary emerged. She currently still leads the New Right party with Naftali Bennett, but is reportedly in discussions with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a high-profile slot on the Likud slate.
“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].”
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.
With moments to spare before the deadline to submit their slates ahead of April’s election, Hadash (Al-Jabhah) and the Arab Movement for Renewal (Ta’al) announced that they would run together as one alliance.
Both are former parties of the Joint List - an alliance which ran in the 2015 election to ensure its four Arab-dominated parties met the minimum threshold needed to sit in the Knesset. Hadash leader Ayman Odeh vowed that this year Palestinian citizens of Israel would vote “in droves”, reclaiming the controversial phrase used against the community by incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his 2015 election campaign.
However, on election day Palestinian citizens of Israel largely stayed away from the ballot box, with some choosing to boycott the election altogether. The community recorded a historically low turnout which, combined with foul-play by Netanyahu’s Likud party, led to a disastrous result for the Arab-Israeli alliances.
Hadash-Ta’al eventually won six seats, while the other Arab-Israeli alliance Ra’am-Balad won four, three less than the 13 the Joint List secured in 2015.
Hadash-Ta’al will now be looking to learn lessons from April, with rumours of a reincarnated Joint List already beginning to surface. The parties are still likely to 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.
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.”
Ayman Odeh Leader
The National Democratic Union (Balad) and the United Arab List (Ra’am) parties announced they would run together ahead of the April election.
Faced with the dispansion of the Joint List alliance - which previously saw Israel’s four Arab-dominated parties merge to contest the 2015 election - the parties looked unlikely to meet the 3.25 per cent of the vote needed to sit in the Knesset if they decided to run alone.
The alliance eventually won four seats in April, the minimum needed to sit in the 120-seat Knesset. However, on election day Palestinian citizens of recorded a historically low turnout which, combined with foul-play by Netanyahu’s Likud party, led to a disastrous result for the Arab-Israeli alliances more broadly.
The other predominately-Arab party, Hadash-Ta’al won six seats which, together with Ra’am-Balad’s four seats, amounted to three less than the 13 the Joint List secured in 2015. As such, following the announcement that another election will now take place in September, Arab-Israeli Knesset Members (MKs) are in discussions to recreate the Joint List.
Ra’am 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.”
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.”
Abd al-Hakim Hajj Yahya
Mansour Abbas Leader
Left reeling after the departure of their two biggest personalities, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, the Jewish Home party struggled to find a voice for itself in the run up to April’s election. The party is headed by Rafi Peretz and agreed to run on a joint ticket with the right-wing National Union and Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) parties under the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) banner.
URWP won five seats in April and will hope to repeat its reasonable performance in September. It is expected to appeal to religious-Zionists, trying to paint itself as a home for “all of religious society and for all of Israeli society”. Jewish Home has also advocated for annexing Area C of the occupied West Bank and an expansion of illegal settlements.
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 is a relatively unknown figure, never having held political office until his election as head of the Jewish Home party in February.
“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."
Rafi Peretz Leader
Headed by controversial Knesset Member (MK) Bezalel Smotrich, the National Union has made an alliance with the Jewish Home and Jewish Power (Otzma Yehudit) parties to run under the Union of Right Wing Parties alliance.
The National Union is itself an alliance of fringe right-wing factions, including Tkuma, Moledet and Hatikva. These parties all see themselves as religious-Zionist and openly advocate for the annexation of all or parts of the occupied West Bank, drawing most of their support from Israel’s illegal settlers living there.
Bezalel Smotrich heads the National Union faction, which merged with the Jewish Home party in return for Smotrich’s placement as number two on the party’s Knesset list. 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. 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.
“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.”
Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) is an ultra-nationalist party which joined with the Jewish Home and National Union parties to run together in April’s election under the Union of Right Wing Parties (URWP) banner.
The party holds extreme right-wing views inspired by rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was outlawed in Israel for incitement and racism and whose teachings inspired Baruch Goldstein’s massacre at Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque in 1994.
Otzma Yehudit has advocated for expelling non-Jewish communities from Israel and a termination of the status quo agreements on Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa Mosque compound. It has also sought to challenge what it sees as legal red tape restricting Israeli soldiers’ actions, releasing a video which appears to advocate for a shoot to kill policy against Palestinians. Commentators have labelled the video as incitement and racism, calling for it to be banned.
As a result of its extreme views, other political parties lobbied for Otzma Yehudit to be banned from participating in the April election. On 17 March 2019 Israel's Supreme Court ruled that the party's leader, Michael Ben Ari, would be banned from running in the election as a result of comments he made about Palestinian citizens of Israel, which Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit previously said amount to "incitement to racism" and "calling for a violent renunciation of the Arab population's rights".
Although Ben Ari’s number two, Itamar Ben-Gvir, argued he should be allowed to move up the URWP slate and take Ben Ari’s place, this demand was refused. Since URWP only won five seats in April, Ben-Gvir did not secure a seat in the Knesset. Whether he will work to alter this prior to September’s election is as yet unclear.
Head of the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, Michael Ben Ari has proved a controversial candidate in the upcoming general election. He 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, who’s 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 have been filed to Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, and Israel’s Election Committee to have Ben Ari banned from the upcoming election. On 17 March 2019, Israel’s Supreme Court upheld Mandelblit’s recommendation
Ben-Ari condemned the ruling, according to local media. "There is a legal junta that seeks to take over our lives. It's not a democracy," he was quoted as saying by Haaretz.
Itamar Ben-Gvir is Otzma Yehudit’s second-in-command and was placed seventh on the Union of Right Wing parties’ election slate after the party’s leader, Michael Ben Ari, was banned from electoral participation. He did not win a Knesset seat in April’s election.
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.
A left-wing and social democratic party led by Tamar Zandberg, Meretz has used its current Knesset term to focus on a number of domestic Israeli issues. These have included women’s rights, equal rights for ethnic minorities and environmental issues.
On the question of Israel-Palestine, Meretz has been consistent in its opposition to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and has remained committed to a two-state solution.
Meretz sought to join forces with the Israeli Labor party in order to strengthen the left-wing’s chances ahead of the April election, but Labor leader Avi Gabbay rejected Zandberg’s overtures. Given the Labor party’s dire April performance, in which it won only six seats, Meretz has once again renewed calls for cooperation in preparation for September’s election. It is also thought that Meretz will try to attract support from Palestinian citizens of Israel, who voted for the party in unprecedented numbers in April.
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.
“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.”
Tamar Zandberg Leader
Headed by Avi Gabbay, the Israeli Labor party struggled in the polls ahead of the April election, having dramatically ousted Tzipi Livni and her Hatnua party from the Zionist Union - an alliance of left-wing parties - in January.
This low polling translated into a disastrous result for the party, which won only six seats on 9 April, its worst ever performance. Labor party members quickly began to call for Gabbay to resign, a demand which picked up pace after it emerged in May that he had considered joining Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition as the latter scrambled for form a government.
A date has not yet been set for the Labor party’s leadership race, but young, up-and-coming candidates Stav Shaffir and Itzik Shmuli are already slated to be considering running for the position. Gabbay’s replacement will also need to consider whether to accept Meretz’s offer of joining forces to present a united left-wing front ahead of the 17 September election.
General Alignment: Left
Avi Gabbay was born in Jerusalem to a Mizrahi family and did his national service in the Israeli army’s Intelligence Corps. He worked at the Ministry of Finance and for communications firm Bezeq before starting his political career. He joined the Labor party in 2016 and won the party’s leadership elections in 2017, heading the party since then. He is not, however, a sitting Knesset member (MK), meaning he has to reach an agreement with an ally who can serve as the official leader of the opposition.
“The [Israeli] government is failing to restore calm [in Gaza] - transferring money to terrorists is not a plan. Quiet is bought by deterrence, not with money. We need to strike Hamas hard with one hand, but with the other search for a diplomatic solution that will put an end to this.”
“[Under incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] there has been no diplomatic, economic or strategic pressure applied. There is a solution, it is a comprehensive plan for the return of Gaza to the PA [Palestinian Authority].”
“A united Jerusalem is the symbol of Israel - it is even more important than peace.”
“If a peace deal is made, why do we need to evacuate [the occupied West Bank]? I think the dynamic or the terminology that we have become accustomed to, that if you make a peace deal you evacuate, is not actually true.”
Avi Gabbay Leader
Led by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, Shas has decided to go back to its roots for its election campaign, aiming 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 - no agreement has materialised, with Shas voters concerned such a move could shift the party’s priorities away from Mizrahi issues.
Minister of Interior
General Alignment: Right
Born in Morocco and having moved to Israel as a child, Aryeh Deri heads the Shas political party. He did not undertake national service in the Israeli army due to his ultra-Orthodox beliefs. 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 Israeli 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
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. It is expected that they will 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.
In January, Litzman took aim at the Israel Resilience party’s Benny Gantz, accusing him of having an anti-Haredi agenda after he promised to open public transport on Shabbat and introduce a form of civil marriage in Israel.
A key campaign platform for UTJ is combatting 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.
Yaakov Litzman Leader
Headed by Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, Kulanu is a centrist party with the slogan “only Kahlon cares”. The party is playing to its strength - the domestic economy - claiming to have lowered house prices in Israel, increased the minimum wage and launched family-orientated programmes.
Kulanu has also poked fun at its rival parties’ factionalism, in a campaign video showing key political figures as cartoons engaged in a fist fight. Kulanu claims: “When everyone is fighting everyone else, only Kahlon fights for you.” It has thus far refused to join forces with other parties in order to strengthen its chances on 9 April.
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.”
A right-wing party led by former Defence Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Yisrael Beiteinu launched its campaign in January by pledging to fight Hamas, which governs the besieged Gaza Strip.
Domestically, Lieberman also took aim at Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population, comparing the Haredim to Hamas with the slogan: “It doesn’t matter if you surrender to those who raise weapons [Hamas] or those who refuse to raise weapons [the Haredim]. Surrender is surrender.”
As expected, Lieberman continued to push his so-called Haredi draft law forward, refusing to soften his demands that the bill be passed without amendments. This issue ultimately prevented Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government after the April election, with Lieberman using the five seats secured by Yisrael Beiteinu as leverage for his demands.
Although it is possible that, by dragging Israel back to elections in September, Lieberman could be punished at the ballot box, polls conducted immediately after the Knesset dissolution in May found that, in fact, Lieberman could win as many as nine seats in September.
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
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. He is reportedly speaking with leader of the New Right (Hayemin Hehadash) party, Naftali Bennett, - who also failed to cross the threshold – about a working arrangement.
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.
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.