Rollercoaster Politics

One would have thought that with the end of operation “Pillar of Defense”, the news in Israel would go back to being boring. However, since Sunday (25 Nov), the news has been anything but. Israel’s election campaign has supplied one headline after another. So here is what you’ve missed in the past 72 hours:

Sunday, Nov 25: Primary Fiasco

Sunday was supposed to be the big day in Israel’s largest party, Likud, as its 123,000 members headed to the polls in an intense primary election. 96 contestants competed for approximately 25-29 predicted seats.

The electoral system in Likud is such that the first twenty slots (not including the party leader, Binyamin Netanyahu) are reserved for the “national list”. Anyone who has ever served as an MK must compete in the national list. The next seats are reserved for the representatives of each district in the party. National list seats resume after that. However, because the combined list of Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu is not expected to receive more than 42 seats, anyone competing in the national list who does not make the first 20 slots, will most likely not become a member of the next Knesset. The national list had 60 contenders, including more than 30 MKs, which meant that many MKs will not be continuing for another term.

But when the polls opened on Sunday morning and thousands of Likud members streamed in to cast their ballots, the computerized systems put in place crashed and many voters were told to go home and return later. Primary elections are not holidays in Israel, and many people spent their entire workday waiting to vote. Some polls only opened as late as 17:00 (5 PM), seven hours late. The initial decision was to postpone closing the polls until midnight, instead of 10 PM, but when the polls closed and less than half the party’s members had voted, it was decided that instead of holding the thrilling finale of reading the results that night, the polls would open again the next day in the locations which suffered the most malfunctions for another day of voting. An anticlimactic ending for what was supposed to be an exhilarating day of democratic celebration.

Monday, Nov 26: Lightning steals the thunder

In Hebrew, the word “Barak” means lightning. On Monday, one would have expected all eyes to still be riveted on Likud’s extra day of primary election voting. Instead, Ehud Barak, Israel’s Defense Minister and leader of a party of five MKs, “Atzmaut”, held a press conference and announced that he would be leaving politics. Barak stole the Likud’s thunder, and until evening, the media was abuzz with nothing but Barak’s announcement, recounting his great deeds as the most decorated Israeli soldier in history, as Prime Minister (1999-2001) and as Defense Minister (2007-2009, 2009-current day), which is strange, considering that ever since Barak left the Labor party to form “Atzmaut” in order to stay in Netanyahu’s government despite Labor’s wishes, Barak has become a “persona non-grata” in the left-leaning media. Nevertheless, Barak as a civilian is no longer a political threat to the Left, and he can be used to push Likud out of the limelight. Likud who? Oh, they’re having a second day of voting?

Ehud Barak

The results come in

During the day, another 10% of the party’s membership came to vote in the 36 polls that were open. Shortly before midnight, the results of the primary election were announced. The top 20 included 19 veteran MKs and one new face.

 Who is in?

1st place- Gideon Sa’ar

Sa’ar is completing his third term in office. Since 2009, he has served as Education Minister. During his term in office, he introduced a major reform to fund free education from age three (instead of five). He also introduced a program in which schoolchildren visit heritage sites. Schools may choose to visit a number of sites from a list compiled by the ministry. Sa’ar was criticized by the Left for including the tomb of the patriarchs in Hebron in the list (for more on the tomb of the patriarchs see Genesis 23:1-20, 25:7-10, 50:13).

2nd place- Gilead Erdan

Erdan is also completing his third term in office. Since 2009 he has served as Minister of Environmental Protection. During his term, he has been active in legislation of regulations regarding environmental issues, an area which has been so far neglected in Israel. Sa’ar and Erdan were two of the major voices against the disengagement plan from Gaza in 2005. The two are the leaders of a new generation of politicians which entered Likud’s national politics arena in 2003.

3rd place- Silvan Shalom

Shalom is a veteran politician. He has been in the Knesset since 1992. He has held a number of ministerial posts during his career, including Minister of Finance (2001-2003). In 2006, he competed against Netanyahu for the post of party leader, and came in second. Since then, Netanyahu perceived him as a threat to his leadership, and in the current Knesset he held the relatively inferior office of Minister for the Development of the Negev and Galilee.

4th place- Yisrael Katz

Katz has been an MK for five terms. He currently holds the office of Minister of Transportation.

5th place- Danny Dannon

Dannon is completing his first term in office, and the fifth place is a considerable achievement for such a new politician. Danon is considered to be further Right than most of Likud’s other members. He was elected to the 24th place in Likud’s list in the previous primaries in 2008. During his term he was active in forging ties with Jewish communities overseas as well as ties with leading republican politicians and other personalities in the US, such as Glenn Beck.

6th place- Rubi (Reuven) Rivlin

Rivlin is the most senior politician in the Knesset, born in 1939. He holds the post of Knesset speaker, and is considered to be a leading candidate to replace President Shimon Peres when his term ends.

7th place- Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon

Ya’alon was Chief of Staff of the IDF (2002-2005). He decided to join politics in 2008 and was elected to the 8th place in the previous primaries. He holds the post of Minister of Strategic Affairs and is a possible candidate for the post of Defense Minister after the elections.

8th place- Ze’ev Elkin

Elkin has been in the Knesset for two terms. Elkin made Aliya (a term used for Jewish immigration to Israel) from Kharkov, Ukraine in 1990. He was originally elected as a member of Kadima in 2006, but moved to Likud in 2008, where he has served as head of the coalition. With Elkin as head of the coalition, the coalition has not lost a single vote, according to a “Gangham style” parody video clip made by Elkin’s staff for the primaries. Like Danny Dannon, Elkin is considered to be further Right than other Likud members.

9th place- Tzipi Hotoveli

Hotoveli is the first woman on the new Likud list, and she has overtaken three other more senior women. This has been Hotoveli’s first term in the Knesset. She is also considered to be further right than other Likud members. She belongs to the National-Religious community. She is active for women’s rights and headed the Knesset committee on the issue.

10th place- Yariv Levine

Levine is yet another new MK who has managed to outshine veteran politicians. He is the MK with the second highest number of laws passed during this term. He speaks Arabic fluently and has published a Hebrew-Arabic dictionary of financial terms. He is considered to be further right than other Likud members.

11th place- Yuli Edelstein

Edelstein made Aliya from the former USSR in 1987 after being held in the Soviet prison for three years for his Zionist activities. He has been an MK since 1994. He holds the post of Information and Diaspora Minister and has been instrumental in bringing the Israeli voice to the social networks arena.

12th place- Haim Katz

Katz is chairman of the Israel Aerospace Industries’ Labor Union, as well as being an MK. Many people have questioned the legality of this, but so far he has managed to slip through a loophole in the law, due to his immense power among the Likud membership. As chairman of the IAI Labor Union, he controls over 10,000 Likud members who are employees of the IAI, which for now, makes him immune to attempts to dethrone him. He has served three terms as an MK, and currently heads the committee for labor, welfare and health.

13th place- Miri Regev

Miri Regev was spokeswoman for the IDF during the disengagement from Gaza and the 2nd Lebanon War of 2006. She was elected to the Knesset in 2009 in the 27th place. She has been sharply criticized for putting her foot in her mouth numerous times, including a comment in which she compared illegal African immigrants to a spreading cancer. Last summer, she got into a televised shouting match with one of the leaders of Israel’s social protest movement, Stav Shafir, who will also be competing in Labor’s primaries this Thursday (Nov 29).

14th place- Moshe Feiglin

Photo: Public Domain

Feiglin is the only new member on the National List. He is considered to be the leader of the Right-wing section of Likud. This is his fourth attempt to run for office. He was disqualified from running in 2003 on the pretext of him not declaring the fact that he had been tried and convicted for sedition in 1997. In 2005 he competed for the leadership of the party against Netanyahu and Silvan Shalom and received only 12% of the vote. He competed for the leadership of the party again in 2007 against Netanyahu and Danny Danon and received 23% of the vote. He was elected 20th in the primaries of 2008, however, by changing the placing of the slots allotted to the districts, Netanyahu managed to push Feiglin down to the 36th and unrealistic place (Likud received only 27 seats in the election). In 2010, Feiglin competed against Netanyahu again for the leadership and lost. Feiglin has gained a reputation as a hardliner and until now it was against Netanyahu’s interests to have him as an MK. However, with the rise of Naftali Bennet as head of HaBayit HaYehudi, a party to the right of Likud, HaBayit HaYehudi has become a threat to Likud, and Feiglin may be able to draw votes away from Bennet.

15th place- Yuval Steinitz

Steinitz is Israel’s Finance Minister. He has been an MK since 1999. He has a doctorate in philosophy.

16th place- Tzachi Hanegbi

Hanegbi is the only one of the four former members of the disintegrating Kadima who competed in the primaries and managed to be elected. Hanegbi was a Likud MK from 1988 until 2005. In 2005 he joined Ariel Sharon when the latter formed Kadima. He was tried on corruption charges in 2006 and was found guilty of some of the charges in 2010. Subsequently he had to resign from the Knesset. He announced his return to Likud and politics earlier this year. Hanegbi’s mother, Geula Cohen, was also a member of Knesset from 1972-1992.

17th place- Limor Livnat

Livnat has been an MK since 1992. During her long political career, she has held the posts of Education Minister and Communications Minister. She supported the Disengagement plan from Gaza (2005), but did not move to Kadima when PM Ariel Sharon formed the party. She is currently Minister of Culture and Sport.

18th place- Ofir Akunis

Akunis was elected to the Knesset in 2009 and was chairman of the committee of economic affairs for two years, until the post was rotated to MK Karmel Shama HaCohen (see 20th place). Since then, Akunis has acted as spokesman for the party.

19th place- Gila Gamliel

Gamliel was elected to the Knesset in 2003. In 2005, she voted against the disengagement plan. In the 2006 primaries, she was pushed down to the 39th place and was not elected. She was reelected in 2009 and since then has held the post as Deputy Minister in the PMs Office in charge of promoting women’s students’ and young people’s rights.

20th place- Karmel Shama HaCohen

Some proper disclosure: for the past six months, I have volunteered in MK Shama’s office and I took part in his election campaign. Shama is head of the committee of economic affairs and his activities as committee chairman drew me in. The committee, despite its ‘scary’ name, does not deal in monetary issues. The issues dealt with by the committee are quite wide and varied, from mobile phone regulations to public transportation; from regulations for recycling batteries and electronic equipment to flight licenses; from marking parking spots for the elderly to the imminent closure of floundering media outlets; all these issues are discussed in the committee. When I joined MK Shama’s team, I met with a level headed, honest and dedicated politician. Shama has been instrumental in a number of important reforms which have taken place over the past years in Israel, including the reform in the mobile-phone service industry and the reform in the oil industry.

MK Shama ran afoul of MK Haim Katz (see 12th place) by calling attention to the problem of Katz’s dual posts and as a result, all of Katz’s people were instructed to refrain from voting for Shama. Feiglin’s (14th place) people also did not support Shama, because he is seen as not being right-wing enough for them. Nevertheless, Shama succeeded in getting into the last place on the national list.

21st place onwards

The next slots on the list are reserved for representatives of the various districts, according to their relative size. The winners of these places are: David Bitan, Uri Faraj, Katy Shitrit, MK Ayoub Kara (in a slot reserved for minorities), Shuki Ohana, David Amsalem, Yitzhak Danino, Karen Barak and David Even-Tzur. According to recent polls, Likud will not receive enough seats in the election for most of these candidates to get in.

Who’s out?

The biggest shock is the MKs who found themselves out of the list.

Michael (Micky) Eitan- 

Has been an MK since 1984 and is considered to be an outstanding legislator.

Benny Begin- Begin is the son of late PM Menachem Begin (1913-1992). He was an MK from 1988-1999. In 1999 he left political life, but returned in 2008 and was elected to the 5th place in the primaries. He is now a Minister without portfolio, and subsequently is the Minister who most often answers questions posed to the government by the Knesset. Begin, like his father, is known for his modesty and for his uncompromising integrity.

Dan Meridor- Meridor was an MK in Likud from 1984-1999. In 1999 he formed the “Center Party” along with three other partners. In 2003 he left politics and returned to his career in law. In the elections of 2006 he supported Kadima. In 2008 he returned to political life and was elected to the 17th place in the Likud primaries.  He has held numerous ministerial posts, including Justice Minister and Finance Minister. He is currently a minister in the PM’s Office and in charge of intelligence services and the committee for atomic energy.

Leah Nass- Ness was first elected in 2003. In the 2006 primaries she was elected in the 18th place but did not get into the Knesset (Likud got only 12 seats in the general election). She was re-elected in 2009 and has served as a Deputy Minister in charge of senior citizens.

Tzion Pinian-

Was elected to the Knesset in 2009, after serving as deputy mayor of Tiberius.

Alali Adamsu– Adamsu is the newest MK. He was sworn in on September 16th, and on the same day the Knesset was dissolved for the elections.

Three former members of Kadima were also not elected: Avi Dichter, former chief of the ISA and current Minister of Home Front Defense, Arie Bibi and Yulia Shamalov Berkovitch.

Avi Dichter

Arie Bibi

Yulia Shamalov Berkovich

The media has hailed the new party list as a far-right wing list, mainly because of the absence of the trio- Michael Eitan, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin. But this should be taken in context: most of the Israeli media is openly opposed to Likud and the Right. Therefore, in the interest of strengthening the Left, the media will attempt to portray the new list as extreme-right, in order to draw votes away from Likud towards the Center and Left parties.

Tuesday, Nov 27: The dust settles and a new party appears

Tzipi LivniOn Tuesday morning, as we were still digesting the results of Monday’s election results, Tzipi Livni, the ousted former head of Kadima, announced that she would be returning to politics at the head of a new party which goes by the name of “The Movement” (“Hatnu’a” in Hebrew). At least four of Kadima’s MKs will be joining her, and others may follow. “The Movement” will be the final nail in Kadima’s coffin, which has been receiving 0-2 seats in the polls lately. Livni is the former head of Kadima. She lost in an election against Shaul Mofaz, and since then Kadima has been declining in the polls. Livni served as FM under PM Ehud Olmert.

Thursday, Nov 29: Primaries in the Labor party

Labor’s primaries are planned for this Thursday. Originally, the party was supposed to use the same computerized systems which crashed in Likud’s primaries, but since that fiasco, Labor has decided to use paper ballots instead. Because Labor’s current size (only 8 MKs) is projected to increase greatly after the election (20+ according to polls), Labor’s list is expected to include many new politicians.


* All photos taken from Knesset website- unless stated otherwise.


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