Israel is about to hold an election spectacle. Elections are meant to be held every four years, but the prime minister may disband the Knesset before four years have passed and call for early elections. That is what happened when Prime Minister Netanyahu was having problems with his coalition partners and he decided that he would let the public decide who should govern. Unlike America, which has a two party system and one of the parties is always the majority, Israel has a multitude of small parties (more than 27 parties) and each party believes that only its message and philosophy is correct for Israel. Recently, the Israeli Knesset passed a law that a party had to win at least four seats to gain admittance to the Knesset. This law will eliminate many of the fringe parties and has forced the four or five Arab parties to form one list.
The major political parties are well known and were part of the Israel Knesset in the past. They include: Netanyahu’s Likud Party, Bennet’s Habayit Hayehudi (Hapoel Hamizrachi) Party, Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party, Herzog’s Leftist Labor Party (now called the Zionist Union), the Russian Yisrael Beiteinu Party of Avigdor Lieberman, Deri’s Shas Party, Yaakov Litzman’s United Torah Judaism (Degel Hatorah and Agudat Israel) Party and the left-wing Meretz Party. A new party, Kulanu, was formed and is led by Moshe Kahlon, a former Likud Knesset member. This Party is now predicted to become the largest or second largest party in the Knesset. Eli Yishai, who broke away from the Sephardic Shas Party, formed the Yachad Party and joined with Baruch Marzel and others and is predicted to split the Shas Party vote and receive enough votes to pass the minimum threshold.
There are also many fringe parties such as Ale Yarok (Green Leaf – supports legalizing marijuana), Bezchutan – Haredi women, We Are All Friends Party, Green’s Party, Pirate Party, Ohr Party, Protecting Our Children Party, Finance Party, Hatikva LeShinui, Democratura, Perach, etc., etc., etc.
In Israel, voters do not vote for individuals but rather for a party. All of the votes are counted and divided by 120 (the number of seats in the Knesset). Each party is allocated the proportional number of seats based on the number of votes it won. If each seat, for example, is allocated for each 10,000 votes won, a party that get 105,000 votes gets 10 seats and has 5,000 surplus votes to its credit.
A unique aspect of Israeli elections is the surplus vote agreements that can be made. Two parties can agree that their surplus votes can be combined and if the combined surplus votes amount to an extra seat (10,000 or more, for example), the party with the largest number of surplus votes will get the seat. Agreements for surplus votes have been made by the Likud and Bayit Hayehudi, by Yisrael Beiteinu and Kulanu, by the Zionist Union and Meretz, and by Shas and United Torah Judaism.
Israel political parties can decide how to choose its candidates. Candidates can be chosen by the party leader, by a closed caucus vote or via a democratic election of registered party members. Some parties hold a democratic election but reserve several choice spots for famous leaders.
An unfortunate misstep by Naftali Bennet of the Bayit Hayehudi Party (which is the new name of the religious Zionist – Hapoel Hamizrachi – Mafdal Party) has angered many voters who have threatened (for some insane reason) to vote for Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel or for the non-religious Likud. In an effort to increase the number of voters for his party, Bennet was trying to attract non-religious but traditional Jews to vote for his party. To attract more of these Jews, Bennet offered a reserved spot on the list to a famous, but non-religious, former soccer player. After the very loud outcry by many Bayit Hayehudi voters, Bennet dropped the idea, but many voters are still angry. I guess they will “shoot themselves in the foot” rather than forgive. Let us pray that the new government will be able to contend with the many challenges of today.