Center-left opposition rides a solid lead into Israeli election


Israel's center-left opposition is poised for an upset victory in next week's parliamentary election, with the last opinion polls before Tuesday's vote giving it a solid lead over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's party.

Final polls published by Israel's Channel 10 and Channel 2 on Friday evening respectively predicted the Zionist Union would win 24 and 26 seats against 20 and 22 for Netanyahu's Likud, echoing earlier surveys which all gave the opposition a clear lead.

Polls in two of Israel's leading newspapers predicted the Zionist Union would secure 25 or 26 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, against 21 or 22 for Likud. All polls in the past three days have given the same margin of victory.

No party has ever won an outright majority in Israel's 67-year history, making coalition-building critical to the formation of a government.

Netanyahu's campaign focus on security issues and the threat from Iran's nuclear program has failed to inspire voters, who consistently say that economic issues, including soaring house prices and the high cost-of-living, are their chief concerns.

Because there are more parties on the right and far-right of the political spectrum, he had been expected to be able to cobble together a coalition more easily than the center-left, even if he narrowly loses the vote.

But there was positive news for the Zionist Union on that score too, with a poll of Israeli-Arabs showing the overwhelming majority would favor their united Arab party joining a center-left coalition government.

The survey showed 71 percent thought the Joint Arab List, which groups four Arab parties and enhances their electoral clout, should sign up with the Zionist Union, while 16 percent said it should support the coalition from the outside.

With the Joint Arab List expected to win 13 to 15 seats, it has become an important player in the election – it could end up being the third largest group in parliament, giving a powerful voice to Israel's 20 percent Arab minority.

If the Zionist Union, jointly led by Labour party leader Isaac Herzog and former justice minister Tzipi Livni, wins, it is expected to link up with the far-left Meretz party (five or six seats) and the centrist, secular Yesh Atid (13 seats).

With the Arab list on side too, it would need the support of just one more party with around five or six seats to cross the threshold of 61 and form a coalition.

That said, while the arithmetic is possible, it is still challenging. Israel's coalition-building is a messy and convoluted game that can spring surprises at the last minute.

POST-ELECTION BATTLE

When he called this election in December, Netanyahu looked to be in a commanding position and set for a fourth term. But the past three months have exposed vulnerabilities in his armor after nine years in power spread over three terms.

His much-criticized speech to the U.S. Congress on March 3 appears to have marked a turning point. Rather than giving him an electoral boost, with his face on primetime TV, polls turned against him shortly after the event.

He has relentlessly attacked Herzog, a man of small stature with a reedy, slightly high-pitched voice. But Herzog has countered with a quick sense of humor and sharp intellect.

With the conflict with the Palestinians barely mentioned, there are signs that voters are growing fed up with Netanyahu's hard-charging style of leadership. One poll published on Friday showed 72 percent of Israelis say a change is needed.

In the past two days, Netanyahu has talked more about economic issues and his ideas for bringing housing prices down, but it may be too little, too late. Earlier this week he said there was a “real danger” he could lose and he took a similar line in an interview on Friday, urging his supporters to vote.

“Don't stay at home and don't waste your votes,” he said on local radio, sounding as though he was suffering from a cold.

“I will not be elected if the gap is not closed and there is a real danger that Tzipi and Bougie will form the next government,” he said, referring to Herzog by his nickname.

Netanyahu’s popularity rises after U.S. speech, polls show


Israeli opinion polls on Wednesday showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu got a slight boost in popularity after his U.S. speech slamming an emerging nuclear deal with Iran, but he is still running neck and neck with his leading rival in a March 17 election.

A survey published by Channel 10 television indicated Netanyahu's Likud party would gaining two seats to 23 compared with what he had a week ago. That would still leave him in a tie with Isaac Herzog's Zionist Union.

The country's Channel 2 television had Netanyahu's right-wing party up by one seat to 23, just behind Herzog's left-of-center list.

In separate surveys conducted by the channels on each candidate's individual popularity, Netanyahu was favored by 44 percent for the job of prime minister, up two percentage points from a week ago. Herzog's number declined by two percentage points to 35 percent, results by Channel 10 showed.

But Netanyahu was further ahead of his rival in a Channel 2 popularity poll, with 47 percent choosing him and 28 percent opting for Herzog. All the surveys indicated Netanyahu had more potential political allies with whom to build a new governing coalition after the election.

In Israel's parliamentary election system, the public chooses parties rather than individual candidates, and the head of the party with the most political allies is the one who usually wins a presidential mandate to form a government.

Israeli critics said that Netanyahu, seeking a fourth term in office, risked damaging Israel's strategic alliance with Washington by speaking in the U.S. Congress on Tuesday, for the sake of wooing voters before the closely contested election.

Netanyahu came under strong criticism from the Obama administration for his speech, which Washington said had injected destructive partisanship into U.S.-Israeli ties.

Republicans, who control Congress, had invited Netanyahu to speak without consulting President Barack Obama or other leading Democrats. As many as 60 of the 232 Democratic members of Congress boycotted the address.

Netanyahu rejected Obama's charges that his speech had offered “no viable alternatives” to an international deal being worked out with Tehran, saying he had presented a practical alternative in Washington to a “deeply flawed” nuclear accord being negotiated with Iran.

Computer woes force Likud to extend hours in primary vote


Polls will remain open past midnight in Likud Party primary voting following computer malfunctions at several polling stations.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the chairman of the ruling Likud, made the announcement Sunday of the longer voting hours following malfunctions at several stations, including the 80 computerized voting systems at Jerusalem's main polling station at the International Convention Center.

The problems led to calls by party leaders to postpone the vote after voters were turned away at some polling stations or left without casting their ballots after waiting a long time.

The party's 123,351 members are voting to select the Knesset list ahead of the Jan. 22 national elections. The polls opened at 9 a.m.

Some 97 Likud candidates are competing for 25 realistic spots on the Likud's Knesset list.

Meanwhile, Yair Lapid, head of the newly formed centrist party Yesh Atid, or There is a Future, said Sunday that he had offered former Kadima Party head Tzipi Livni the second slot on his party's list, and promised that she would be a full partner in all major decisions.

“Splitting the centrist bloc is not good for Israel, and I am calling her to join forces and change the country together,” he wrote on his Facebook page.

Jewish support of Obama is dropping, AJC survey finds


Jewish approval of President Obama is dropping, a new national survey found.

Some 49 percent of U.S. Jews approved of the Obama administration’s handling of U.S.-Israel relations, according to a just-completed American Jewish Committee survey, and 45 percent disapproved.

An AJC survey conducted in March gave Obama a 55 percent approval rating to 37 percent disapproval.

It was the first time the AJC commissioned two surveys in the same calendar year.

In contrast, the view of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is handling U.S.-Israel relations has improved. Some 62 percent of American Jews approved and 27 percent disapproved, according to the new survey. In March, 57 percent approved and 30 percent disapproved.

Overall approval of Obama’s performance as president dropped to 51 percent, from 57 percent in March. Obama captured 78 percent of the Jewish vote in the presidential election two years ago.

American Jewish confidence in Obama’s approach to Iran also has fallen, with 43 percent approving of the administration’s handling of the Iran nuclear issue compared to 47 percent in March. Some 46 percent disapproved, up from 42 percent. Some 59 percent supported and 35 percent opposed U.S. military action to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons. Some 70 percent supported and some 26 opposed Israeli military action.

A series of questions regarding the Arab-Israeli peace process yielded results similar to previous surveys, showing continuity in American Jewish views of a Palestinian state, the status of Jerusalem and West Bank settlements.

Like the March results, the new survey found that 48 percent favored and 45 percent opposed the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Regarding the dismantling of West Bank settlements as part of a permanent agreement with the Palestinians, 6 percent said all should be evacuated, while 56 percent said some should and 37 percent said none should be dismantled.

A majority of American Jews, 60 percent, continued to support a united Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, while 35 percent said Israel should compromise on the city’s status in a peace agreement with the Palestinians.

American Jews remained nearly unanimous, at 95 percent, in supporting a proposal requiring Palestinians to recognize Israel as a Jewish state in a final peace agreement. In March and in 2009, the figure was 94 percent.

Dems and Don’ts


Last Sunday evening, in a Westwood office tower, I sat behind a one-way mirror and watched a group of about 30 voters — half Democrats, half Republicans –respond to images and opinions about Israel’s war in Lebanon.

Pollster Frank Luntz had arranged the session as part of his research to gauge American attitudes toward Israel. Luntz is the Republican opinion maven who helped fashion Newt Gingrich’s Contract With America. His work for Israel is nonpartisan, he said, inspired by his devotion to a state whose leaders’ posture has long been that actions speak louder than words. Luntz has been trying to get Israelis to understand that, in the information age, what you do often matters less than what they say about what you do.

The details of what transpired at Luntz’s “Instant Response” session were off-the-record, but I can say that the overall results were as shocking as they were commonplace: the opinion of Israel among the Democrats was consistently 10 to 20 points lower than that of the Republicans.

For the study, respondents watched various Israeli representatives on a television prompter while holding dial devices in their hands. They turned the dial left or right, depending on whether they felt warmer or cooler to the speaker’s words, and the aggregate levels registered as two graph lines across the screen, red for Republicans, green for Democrats.

This research aims to reveal which words and phrases resonate with voters. A speaker who forcefully explained how Israel risks its own soldiers’ lives to present civilian casualties in Lebanon sent both graphs higher than one who simply said the deaths were regrettable.

I kept waiting for the green line — so to speak — to run alongside the red, for the Democrats to feel as cozy to Israel as the Republicans. They never did.The danger signs of such results stretch far beyond a research session. A Los Angeles Times / Bloomberg Poll in late July found, “a growing partisan divide over Israel and its relationship with the United States.”

While 50 percent of that survey’s respondents said the United States should continue to stand by Israel, Democrats supported neutrality over alignment, 54 percent to 39 percent, while Republicans supported alignment with the Jewish state 64 percent to 29 percent.

“Republicans generally expressed stronger support for Israel,” wrote the Times, “while Democrats tended to believe the United States should play a more neutral role in the region.”

Two rallies last week drove the point home. On Sunday, the extreme left-wing A.N.S.W.E.R. (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) turned out between 1,000 and 5,000 protestors on the streets of downtown Los Angeles, carrying signs accusing Israel of genocide and blaming “the occupation” for the death of innocent Lebanese. (The occupation of what, Kiryat Shemona?)

Two days before, about 100 protesters blocked the entrance to the Israeli Consulate on Wilshire Boulevard calling for an end to the war.

Sure, these protesters — who, I’m going to assume, tend to vote Democratic — are not in the party’s mainstream. The mainstream still belongs solidly to people like Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, who told a group of Arab representatives last week in clear terms that he would never apologize for his support for Israel. And the House of Representatives’ July 21 vote supporting Israel in its war with Hezbollah passed on a 410 to 8 vote.

That’s the way it should be. For most of Israel’s history, America’s support for Israel was the result of a strong bipartisan consensus. It was a Democratic President, Harry Truman, whose recognition helped birth the Jewish state, and politicians from both parties — from John Kennedy to Richard Nixon to Bill Clinton — have played key roles in strengthening it. Most historians agree that Israel’s chilliest reception at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. came when a Republican, George H.W. Bush, was president.

Yet the change in attitudes among some Democratic voters has sparked gleeful Republican e-mails and blog entries across the Internet, and provided talking points for any number of GOP hacks. They want to use Israel as a wedge issue to beckon Jewish longtime Democratic voters away from the fold.

But Luntz and others who care about Israel understand this fissure is no cause for celebration, that treating the State of Israel as the equivalent of flag-burning or the morning after pill is dangerous and foolish.

Eventually, inevitably, the pendulum swings. Voters will kick the ruling party to the curb, and Congress, and perhaps even the White House, will go to the Dems. People who truly care about Israel and not about scoring points on Crossfire need to figure out ways to close the gap, to make support for Israel neither Democrat nor Republican, but American.

The challenge is especially great here in Los Angeles, where liberal Jews make up substantially more than a minyan in the entertainment industry. People took Hollywood’s Marranos to task for remaining largely mute when actor Mel Gibson went on his anti-Semitic bender. But Hollywood’s silence has been positively deafening during the war Israel just fought.

A terrorist group invaded Israeli territory, lobbed in thousands of rockets, killed dozens of Israeli citizens and soldiers and emptied the country’s north. And Hollywood Jewry spoke out in a collective voice about as loud as a Prius in neutral.

These Democrats, who have the power to influence public and political opinion, are being carried along in a wave of liberal antipathy toward Israel. Steven Spielberg, who went public with a $1 million donation to support Israeli hospitals and social services affected by the war, is the notable, high-profile exception.

So what’s the solution? Step one is to stop politicizing Israel. Israel and, by extension, world Jewry, faces an enemy in Islamic fascism that hardly differentiates between Jew and non-Jew, much less Republican and Democrat.

Step two is to uncouple support of Israel from support of Bush, or of the Iraq War. As much as the president understands the danger of “Islamo-fascism,” he has greatly fouled our ability to fight that threat by launching and mishandling the war in Iraq and over-politicizing homeland security. But don’t punish Israel for Bush’s sins.

Step three is for Jews of all political stripes to find ways to come together in support of Israel. I suggest a red-and-blue coalition of American Jews lobby hard to eliminate America’s dependency on foreign oil.

“A stable, peaceful and open world order are being compromised and complicated by high oil prices,” wrote Fareed Zakharia in Newsweek. “And while America spends enormous time, money and effort dealing with the symptoms of this problem, we are actively fueling the cause.”

The technology exists to resolve our oil dependency and deprive the worst anti-Israel regimes of their billions in surplus (see “Winning the Oil Endgame” by energy expert Amory Lovins at oilendgame.com), and Jews can come together to spur politicians and corporations to implement it. It’s not red or blue. It’s pro-Israel, and it’s time.

Israeli Government Gets on With It


Israel is resigning itself to politics without Ariel Sharon.

Shock gripped the Jewish state last week when Sharon was hospitalized with a massive stroke, turning to fears for the worst when he underwent repeated surgery.

Doctors said it could take time to ascertain whether Sharon had suffered cognitive damage or permanent paralysis on the left side of his body from the Jan. 4 stroke. At press time, it also was not certain that Sharon would recuperate at all — his condition was such that it could deteriorate at any moment.

Still, a prognosis took shape whereby Sharon could survive but in a form of forced retirement. Sharon’s chief surgeon, Dr. Jose Cohen, said this week that Sharon had a “very high” chance of surviving.

“He is a very strong man, and he is getting the best care,” the Jerusalem Post quoted Cohen as saying. “He will not continue to be prime minister, but maybe he will be able to understand and to speak.”

As the prime minister lay in a post-operative coma Sunday, his temporary replacement, acting Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, chaired the weekly Cabinet meeting.

“We hope that the prime minister will recover, gain strength and with God’s help will return to run the government of Israel and lead the State of Israel,” Olmert said.

While noting that doctors’ reports from Jerusalem’s Hadassah-Hebrew University Medical Center at Ein Kerem had given a “glimmer of hope” as to Sharon’s chances of recuperating, Olmert said matters of state were as robust as ever.

“We will continue to fulfill Arik’s will and to run things as he wished,” he said, using Sharon’s nickname. “Israeli democracy is strong, and all of the systems are working in a stable, serious and responsible manner. This is just as it should be and how it shall continue.”

With general elections looming on March 28, the 60-year-old Olmert has his hands full. But he received an early show of support with a weekend phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

There was also an internal reprieve from the Likud Party, which decided against resigning from the government, reversing a decision made before Sharon suffered his stroke last week.

“Now is not the time for such moves,” Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom, one of four Cabinet members from the Likud, told Army Radio.

A Channel 10 television survey issued after Sharon was stricken predicted that his new centrist party, Kadima, would take 40 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the election if it is led by Olmert. But analysts suggested the showing reflected short-term public sympathy.

The political correspondent for the newspaper Ha’aretz, Aluf Benn, recalled the aftermath of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination in 1995, when opinion polls showed his successor, Shimon Peres, as a clear favorite for re-election. In the end, Benjamin Netanyahu defeated Peres by the slimmest of margins.

“Instead of presenting himself as pressing ahead with Rabin’s path, Peres made the mistake of insisting that he was an autonomous candidate,” Benn said, suggesting Olmert, the former mayor of Jerusalem, was wise to portray himself as a reluctant stand-in for Sharon.

Yet the Channel 10 survey found that Peres, should he lead Kadima, would perform better than Olmert, taking 42 Knesset seats.

Though Peres quit the Labor Party last year to back Sharon, he has yet to formally join Kadima. But he voiced support for Olmert, who advanced the idea of a unilateral Israeli pullout from occupied Gaza prior to Sharon’s public embrace of the strategy.

“He supported the policies of Mr. Sharon and even occasionally was ahead of him,” Peres told Britain’s Sky Television. “The policies for peace, the continuation of the policies of Sharon, will have my full support.”

 

Gaza Settler Pullout Protest Draws 500


More than 500 demonstrators, mostly Orthodox Jews, gathered in front of the Israeli consulate in Los Angeles last weekend to oppose Israel’s planned, upcoming pullout of settlers from Gaza.

The two-hour Sunday afternoon rally drew the largest gathering yet of several recent anti-pullout events in Los Angeles. It took place in the Miracle Mile District near the Beverly-La-Brea and Fairfax neighborhoods, and slowed traffic on Wilshire Boulevard.

So far, the Israeli government has successfully resisted attempts to derail the Gaza pullout, saying the withdrawal ultimately will enhance Israel’s security and increase the chance for peace with the Palestinians. With some of the 9,000 Gaza settlers refusing to leave, the Israeli government has mobilized thousands of police and soldiers for what is expected to be an emotionally draining, forced removal, scheduled to start in mid-August.

Experts say, and polls show, that a majority of Israelis and American Jews support the withdrawal, which would turn Gaza over to the Palestinian Authority. But opponents at Sunday’s rally were adamant that leaving Gaza is wrong.

“This is not Palestinian land,” said one of the speakers, Avi Davis of the group Israel-Christian Nexus, a Jewish outreach group to Christian Zionists.

Listening to Davis was attorney David Palace, 30, who attends Beverly-La Brea’s Congregation Levy Yitzchok.

“I came here to protest Jews being put in dangerous situations,” Palace said, as he held one of his four children.

His father, Moshe Palace, said the pullout would decrease the distance between terrorists and cities in Israel proper.

“We’re not talking about Orange County to Los Angeles,” he said. “It’s more like what Santa Monica is to downtown Los Angeles.”

The three generations of the Palace family reflected the consulate crowd’s demographics, which though broad in age range appeared almost exclusively Orthodox. Several Chabads and other Orthodox shuls in Beverly Hills, Hancock Park and Beverly-La Brea supported the quickly arranged protest, allowing flyers to be distributed to their congregants.

The rally focused on the Gaza community of Gush Katif, was organized and sponsored by SaveGushKatif.org, the brainchild of Beverlywood mortgage broker Jon Hambourger.

“We pulled a police permit in half an hour even though it usually takes a week.” Hambourger said. “A sound system costs $1,500. We got it for free. Everything fell into place.”

The consulate protest was blessed with lower-than-expected temperatures amidst the current heat wave. Stacks of free bottled water did not interest the crowd listening to speakers denounce Israel’s planned Aug. 16 pullout from Gush Katif and other Jewish settlement areas.

Along Wilshire Boulevard stood a line of teenage girls and young women holding placards toward the cars driving past them. Horns honked at signs bearing phrases in Hebrew such as, “Don’t give the Arabs our homes.” The loud line included two vanloads about 20 road-tripping Orthodox girls and women from New York and Toronto, who took a break from three weeks of sightseeing to join in.

“We stopped all our fun. We wanted to show our support,” said 22-year-old trip leader Bracha Krausz.

The July 24 date was picked for the prayer-and-protest rally because it was also the 17th of Tammuz, a fast day on the Hebrew calendar and the start of three weeks of mourning over the destruction of Jerusalem’s first and second temples. By emphasizing Gush Katif as a religious issue, organizers tapped into a broader sense of outrage in the Orthodox community.

The consulate protest’s turnout surpassed other recent, middle-of-the-week Gush Katif events in synagogues, which had been attracting no more than 250 people. These included a June 23 event at Beverly-La Brea’s Torah Ohr with Knesset Member Benny Elon. Six days later, a crowd of about 200 attended a Gush Katif “evening of solidarity” across the street at Congregation Shaarei Tefila.

“I tried to push it in my synagogue, said Shaarei Tefila’s Rabbi Nachum Kosofsky. “It just seemed like the people who were the most ideologically driven came. I wish it was different. Even people who are very pro-Israel, to them it’s a not a simple issue.”

A planned SaveGushKutif worldwide event on July 19 did not materialize in Los Angeles, though its cancellation partly fueled the quick creation that same week of the July 24 event.

Whatever the crowd size, the rhetoric at Gush Katif events ranges from somber to furious. During the question-and-answer session at the Torah Ohr event, one man said that Israeli Arabs were, “sucking the blood out of [Israel]…. These Arabs are basically Nazis…. One Arab less, one loaf of bread more!”

At the Shaarei Tefila event, Rabbi David Eliezrie of Yorba Linda focused on the internecine strife: “Jews fighting fellow Jews — the images of, God forbid, a civil war.”

Outside the consulate, a man gave a reporter a prayer asking God to “destroy our enemies completely and utterly wipe them off the face of the earth….”

But this sentiment appeared isolated as most in the crowd seemed more determined than vengeful.

Chavi Shagalov, a mother of four, said it is unwise to give away land.

“For years and years, the Jews have been chased by the Romans, the Greeks, or gone into exile while some stayed in the land,” said Shagalov, as her two toddlers swirled around her. “We live in exile and there’s no knowing what there’s going to be tomorrow.”

 

The Party Line


Nearly 30 political parties are vying in Israel’s Jan. 28
general elections.

According to the latest polls, about 15 parties stand a
chance of getting at least 1.5 percent of the vote, the threshold for getting
at least one of the Knesset’s 120 seats.

Following is a guide to the leading parties in the race:

Likud: The odds-on favorite, with a projected 32 seats in
the next Knesset, according to weekend polls. In 1999, when party leader
Benjamin Netanyahu lost the premiership to Ehud Barak, Likud won 19 seats in
the Knesset, considered a major defeat at the time. Now, under the leadership
of Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the party consistently has led in the polls,
despite recent allegations of corruption against party officials and members of
Sharon’s own family.

Traditionally, the party has opposed any territorial
concessions to the Palestinians and has also balked at supporting the eventual
creation of a Palestinian state. As prime minister, however, Sharon has agreed
to make “painful concessions,” but only after the Palestinians completely
renounce terrorism. Sharon backs the creation of a national unity government
with the Labor Party.

Labor: Labor has the largest number of seats — 25 — in the
current Knesset. But, according to the latest polls, the party will get only 19
seats in the next Knesset — a devastating blow for the party that led Israel
for the first 30 years of the country’s existence.

With much of the Israeli electorate turning rightward, party
leader Amram Mitzna’s stances have appeared too dovish to rally greater
support, according to the polls. Mitzna has called for building a fence to
separate Israel from the West Bank, a project already begun by the Sharon
government, but which has not moved as swiftly as some would like. Mitzna also
calls for abandoning Jewish settlements, those in the Gaza Strip first. He also
has expressed willingness to negotiate with whomever the Palestinians choose as
a leader, including Yasser Arafat. Last week Mitzna declared that he would not
join a national unity government with Likud, but he faces strong opposition on
this issue from other members of his party.

Shas: With 17 seats in the current Knesset, this fervently
Orthodox-Sephardi party might soon lose its place as parliament’s third largest
party. Polls show Shas losing votes to Likud, and according to the latest
polls, it will win only 10 Knesset seats this time around. Along with seeking
support for Orthodox causes, the party seeks generous state funding for poorer
Israelis. A member of past coalitions led by Labor and Likud, Shas adopted a
hawkish stance toward the Palestinians after the intifada began in September
2000.

Shinui: This dovish and secular party is the Cinderella
story of the current election campaign. Under the leadership of former
journalist Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, the party is expected to leap from six to 15
Knesset seats, making it the third strongest political force in the next
Knesset. Lapid’s main agenda is anti-clerical. He calls for the creation of a
secular national government, with no religious parties in power. He is
considered liberal on economic issues, and center-right on the Palestinian
issue.

Meretz: When Yossi Beilin, the architect of the Oslo accords
and one of Israel’s leading doves, recently left Labor to join Meretz, this
leftist party hoped the move would boost its chances in the elections. However,
recent polls show it will lose three of its 10 Knesset seats. Under the
leadership of Yossi Sarid, the party calls for Jerusalem to become the shared
capital of both Israel and an eventual Palestinian state. It also calls for the
disbanding of most all settlements in the West Bank and Gaza.

National Union-Israel Our Home: Led by Avigdor Lieberman, a
former director of the prime minister’s office, this hawkish bloc stands to
grow from seven Knesset seats to nine, primarily because of its clear stance
against any concessions to the Palestinians.

The National Religious Party: This pro-settler party is
expected to retain its current five seats in the next Knesset. Considered the
main political force behind the settlement movement, the party opposes any
territorial concessions to the Palestinians.

United Torah Judaism: This fervently Orthodox bloc, which
includes the Agudat Yisrael and Degel HaTorah parties, is expected to retain
its current five Knesset seats. The party opposes drafting yeshiva students and
strongly objects to any changes in Shabbat laws. It has been flexible on the
Palestinian issue, but in recent years adopted a more hawkish stance.

Yisrael Ba’Aliyah: This immigrant-rights party, which held
four seats in the outgoing Knesset, will have to settle for three in the next,
according to polls. Apart from fighting for the rights of new immigrants, the
party adopts a hawkish stand on the Palestinian issue.

One Nation: This workers-rights party seeks to close the
economic gap between the haves and have-nots. It currently has two Knesset seats,
and polls say it will have three in the next parliament.

Green Leaf: This party advocates legalizing marijuana. Polls
say it will make its debut in the Knesset with one seat.

Herut: This nationalist party is expected to retain its sole
Knesset seat after the elections. Led by veteran legislator Michael Kleiner,
formerly of Likud, Herut also features the candidacy of Baruch Marzel, a former
member of the outlawed Kach movement. The party is courting the fervently
Orthodox community — a move that prompted members of the Ashkenazi community to
urge co-religionists not to vote for any “non-religious” party.

Hadash-Ta’al: The latest coalition in the Israeli Arab
sector, combining Hadash, under the leadership of Mohammad Barakeh, with Ahmed
Tibi’s Ta’al movement. The two parties have four Knesset members in the
outgoing Knesset; the polls anticipate three in the next.

United Arab List: A coalition of the Islamic Movement and
the Arab Democratic Party, strongly influenced by moderate Islamists. It is
expected to lose one of its current five Knesset seats.

Balad: A nationalist, pan-Arabist movement, chaired by Azmi
Beshara, who calls for turning Israel into a country of “all its citizens” —
that is, for it no longer to be a specifically Jewish State. Beshara is
currently the only member of the party serving in the Knesset, but Balad is
projected to win two additional seats.