Analysis: Understanding Israeli Elections, Part 2 – The Political Right

The current government of Israel is a coalition made primarily of center-right parties, most of whom look to return to the Knesset (parliament) in the upcoming elections. However, just because a lot of the parties will stay the same doesn’t mean the flavor of the next government—should the center-right win the most Knesset seats again—will remain unchanged. To get a better idea of who’s running, here’s a look at the parties on the right in Israeli politics.

1. Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu

The Likud party—headed by current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—and the Yisrael Beiteinu party—effectively led by former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman—have joined together for the next election as a joint ticket. The polls from Israeli media, which Haaretz posts on their website, consistently show the combo-ticket as winning more than a quarter of the 120 seats in the next Knesset.

Likud is center-right with some links to the settlement movement and a strong history as the primary party on the political right. Netanyahu has been prime minister twice as the head of Likud.

Diplomatically, the Likud are officially open to a Palestinian state and Netanyahu has publicly expressed his willingness to make territorial compromise. However, unlike the parties on the Left in Israel, Likud sees the Palestinian situation as less pressing and is more insistent on negotiating a solid deal that better benefits Israel. In particular, Likud is less inclined to compromise on as much territory as the Left—particularly in Jerusalem—and makes significant security arrangements essential to any deal with the Palestinians.

Economically, Netanyahu has tended to embrace a more free-market system than the more social-welfare based system that characterized Israel for decades, although he has shown some willingness to compromise on that point. They also embrace a strong army and are aggressive against terrorism.

Yisrael Beiteinu has appealed to immigrants, especially Russian-speaking ones, and tends to be more hawkish in word if not in deed. They are also technically open to a territorial compromise with the Palestinians. They are more nationalist than Likud and have at times disagreed more sharply with the ultra-religious political groups on issues such as conscription into the military or national service (many religiously orthodox persons, which hold a place of regard historically in Jewish culture, can acquire exemptions under current law).

Both Likud and Yisrael Beiteinu are Zionist parties and are moderately religious with some orthodox members.

See also: Understanding Israeli Elections, Part 1 – The System

2. Habayit Hayehudi (The Jewish Home)

The Jewish Home party (Habayit Hayehudi in Hebrew) is the hottest party in current polls and has changed radically from the relatively quiet right-wing religious mini-party that currently sits in the government. With a new leader, American-Israeli Naftali Bennett, The Jewish Home has cast itself as a broad-based and savvy party with wide-ranging benefits. The party’s platform on their website says they want to implement a “free economy with compassion,” and pushes education as a key economic tool.

Bennett, who was previously a successful businessman, has the credentials to make the image-shift work. The party’s backbone is still the settlement movement and the modern Orthodox religious block, but Bennett—who lives in a town near Tel Aviv—has apparently expanded the voting base.

According to the party’s campaign videos on Youtube, providing Jewish education for school kids and Jewish values are some of their selling points, while Ynet reported they have reached out to immigrant communities.

The party is solidly Zionist, but unlike Likud’s Netanyahu, Bennett was quoted by Haaretz as saying in a speech he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state. The party has it’s own plan for handling the Palestinian conflict that Bennett posted on the My Israel website, in which they envision a permanent version of the current situation in which Israel controls the settlement areas in the West Bank and maintains military supremacy in the rest, while the Palestinians maintain general autonomy in the Arab towns. The plan also calls for economic and infrastructure improvements, arguing that “Peace grows from below—through people, and people in daily life.”

Because The Jewish Home party and Likud share some similar voters, the fight between the parties has been intense. In particular, the Israeli media have reported that Likud has sought to portray The Jewish Home as being on the hard-right, as has some of the Israeli media (such as Ynet).

It appears from the polls that that accusation either isn’t sticking or isn’t a dealbreaker, as Haaretz reported that Habayit Hayehudi is consistently polling in the teens in Knesset seats—which could be enough to place them as the third-largest party in the next government.

Despite the political antagonism between Likud and The Jewish Home party, the two would likely end up in a government together since their overall political leanings are similar. Currently, Habayit Hayehudi is in the government with just three seats, but is looking to play a much larger role next time.

Otzma L’Yisrael (Strong Israel)

The smallest of the viable rightist parties, Otzma L’Yisrael is led by two of the main politicians in the National Union party. That party briefly looked into sitting in the government with the current Center-Right coalition back in 2009, but ultimately was unable to work out a deal and now sits as the only rightist opposition party. Polling data posted by Haaretz shows Otzma as barely making the Knesset, if that.

Like Habyait Hayehudi, the Strong Israel party is staunchly opposed to a Palestinian state west of the Jordan River (the West Bank).

The party’s website states that other issues of importance in their party platform include assistance to Jewish immigrants, Jewish education (including academic stipends for those that serve in the IDF) and making housing more affordable.

Bottom Line

The rightist parties in the Knesset have shifted and re-invented themselves—Ynet reported that Likud’s ticket moved further to the right in the last primary and The Jewish Home party has presented a powerful right-wing challenger to the Likud/Yisrael Beiteinu combo ticket.

Ultimately, those parties will probably have to work together, along with the swing-vote Ultra-Orthodox religious parties, in order to maintain control of the Knesset. That would likely shift the government more to the right than it is currently, which could lead to a stronger stance on talks with the Palestinians. That would prevent an overeager compromise with the Palestinians, although it may also further disconnect Israel from the leftist European governments.

The Left once looked to dominate Israeli politics, but the polls aren’t showing that today. Next up we take a look at those parties on the Left-hand side of the political spectrum.

(By Joshua Spurlock,, January 3, 2013)