Former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could be poised for a dramatic comeback as Israelis go to the polls Nov. 1 for the fifth time in less than four years.
Polls show elections to the 25th Knesset headed down to the wire, with one showing a right-wing block led by Likud’s Netanyahu likely eking out a 61-seat majority over the center-left block led by current interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid. But other polls, such as the KAN radio poll, show neither side getting a majority, with the Netanyahu-led block stuck at 60 seats and the Lapid-led block with 56 seats. If that happens, voters will try again while Lapid’s government rules until a new coalition materializes.
“Do you want to restore national pride? Reduce living costs? Restore personal safety?” a smiling Netanyahu recently asked a crowd in a Central Israel town. When the crowd chanted, “Bibi the king,” the 73-year-old politician replied, “I’m not a king. A king doesn’t get elected. I need to be elected and that depends on you.”
The Israeli government is elected through a nationwide proportional representation system. Voters vote for a party, and the 120 seats of the Knesset are distributed based on the percentage of votes for each party topping a 3.25% threshold. Each party then chooses its representatives to the Knesset. The leader of any party that can cobble together a 61-seat majority will become the new prime minister.
The president of Israel will usually task the leader of the largest party to try and form a coalition first. If the party leader is unsuccessful after 21 days, any other party can try to form a coalition. If no party is able to form a coalition, the Knesset is dissolved and new elections are scheduled for four months from the date of the dissolution.
Following the previous election in 2021, Naftali Bennett, whose right-wing party Yamina had only 6 seats, broke from a coalition supporting Netanyahu and formed a unity government with the center-left, including current interim Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Tikva. Israel’s 36th government held a thin majority of 61 MKs, composed of eight parties representing a wide range of ideologies and varied interests, and was the first time that an Arab party was included in the coalition. The coalition encountered numerous disagreements among its members and ultimately fell after just one year in office. Once the Knesset was dissolved, Yair Lapid was sworn in as interim Prime Minister.
Here is a quick look at the parties running in the election:
The right-wing block is led by the Likud Party. At its head sits Netanyahu. The Likud platform is security-focused, traditional religion-state status quo, and somewhat capitalist in economics. It won 30 seats in the previous election and is projected to win between 30 and 36 seats this time around.
The Religious Zionism Party is projected to be the second-largest right-wing party and consists of a merger between Betzalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionist Party and Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit Party. Its platform is focused primarily on a strong Israel internally and internationally, religious freedom, security, law and order, civil liberties, and judicial reform. It won six seats in the previous election and is projected to win between 10 and 15 seats.
The wild card is the rise of Ben-Gvir, a hardline conservative who has galvanized the right by calling for increased security by removing restrictions on the police and army in protecting Israel’s citizens from terrorism. Ben-Gvir has been vilified by the Israeli left, who see him as the new kingmaker and a real threat to their agenda. As reported by The Daily Wire, Biden administration officials have signaled to Netanyahu that the White House would be “troubled by the possibility” that Ben-Gvir might become a minister in the future Israeli government, prompting meddling accusations.
The Haredi (ultra-religious) parties consist of Aryeh Deri’s Shas Party, and Moshe Gafni’s and Yitzchok Goldknopf’s United Torah Judaism Party. Their platforms are similar, with each representing different segments of the Haredi population, championing ultra-Jewish religious and educational values, and securing funding for their private school systems. They generally sit in right-wing coalitions. Shas won nine seats in the previous election and are projected to win between six and eight seats. UTJ won 7 seats in the previous election and are projected to win between five and seven seats.
Bennett’s Yamina Party disbanded once he resigned from the premiership, and his deputy, Ayelet Shaked, is headlining the Bayit Hayehudi party. Yamina won six seats in the previous elections, while Bayit Hayehudi is currently not expected to pass the electoral threshold, a sound rebuke from the former prime minister’s right-wing constituents on his decision to create a unity government with the left-wing parties.
Lapid’s Yesh Atid Party is a center-left party, focusing on the secular democratic nature of Israel and a slightly socialist economic platform. Yesh Atid won 17 seats in the previous election and is projected to win between 22 and 27 seats.
The National Unity Party, a merger between Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party and Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope Party, are a centrist/left-leaning party running on an “anything but Bibi” platform. They collectively won 14 seats in the previous election, were members of the Bennett-Lapid coalition, and are projected to win between nine and 13 seats.
Avigdor Leiberman’s Yisrael Beitenu Party represents the Russian immigrant bloc and is very anti-religious in regard to state policy. They used to be part of the right-wing bloc, but a fallout with Netanyahu led Lieberman to join the Bennett-Lapid coalition. Yisrael Beitenu won seven seats in the previous election and are projected to win between four and seven seats.
Zehava Gal-On’s Meretz Party is an ultra-left-wing socialist party, with extreme liberal and anti-religious values, and is against any Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria. Meretz won six seats in the previous election, were members of the Bennett-Lapid Coalition, and are currently projected to win between three and seven seats with a nine percent chance of falling below the electoral threshold.
Merav Michaeli’s Labor Party has a liberal left-wing socialist platform. Once one of the dominating parties in Israel (winning 44 seats in 1992), it has now shrunk to a tiny shell of itself. Labor won seven seats in the previous election, were members of the Bennett-Lapid Coalition, and are currently projected to win between three and six seats with a 16% chance of falling below the electoral threshold.
The Arab parties are made up of Ayman Odeh’s Hadash-Ta’al party, Sami Abu Shehadeh’s Balad party, and Mansour Abbas’s Ra’am party. Their platforms advocate for the rights of Arab citizens in Israel. However, while Hadash-Ta’al and Balad are generally anti-Israel, going so far as to demand from within the creation of a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria with East Jerusalem as its capital, and refuse on principle to sit in a coalition with Israeli parties, Ra’am, an Arab Bedouin party with ties to the Muslim Brotherhood, has sat in the previous Bennett-Lapid coalition. Hadash-Ta’al and Balad ran together in the last election as The Joint List Party and won six seats. Ra’am won four seats. In this election, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am are both projected to each win between two and five seats, with a 45% chance of falling below the election threshold, while the Balad party is not expected to pass the electoral threshold.