Israel's General Election: An ADL Primer

  • March 21, 2019
Knesset

What do I need to know about Israel’s election?

On April 9, 2019, Israel will hold an election for the 21st Knesset. Originally scheduled for November 2019, in December 2018 incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dissolved the Knesset and called for early elections.

There is a total of 42 parties running for 120 Knesset seats – the highest number in Israel's history. In order to secure Knesset representation, a party needs to receive at least 3.25% of the votes (4 seats). Current polls project that there will be upwards of 12 parties who will get enough votes to be represented in the next Knesset. The number of seats each party gets is distributed according to the percentage of votes they receive. 

The victor of the elections in Israel is determined by the party’s ability to form a coalition government (representing at least 61 seats in the Knesset), therefore making the balance of power between the right and left blocs a key issue. According to the Israeli political system, it is not the party which wins the largest number of votes or seats in the Knesset that will lead the next government, it is the party which is able to pull together a viable coalition.  Since Israel’s founding, no political party has ever won a majority of Knesset seats.  

Is ADL involved in the Israeli election campaign?

ADL is non-partisan and we do not take political positions on the Israeli election. ADL does monitor issues relating to racism, bigotry and hate in Israeli society, including those that manifest in the election campaign, and acts when necessary. 

ADL has spoken out on a number of issues in the current campaign.

  • The mainstreaming of extremist parties:

ADL has expressed deep concern about the political mainstreaming of the Otzma Yehudit/Jewish Power party in this campaign. The leaders of Otzma are self-identified disciples of the late U.S.-born Meir Kahane, an extremist rabbi who preached a radical form of Jewish nationalism that promoted unabashed and virulent anti-Arab racism, violence and political fascism. In February 2019, it was announced that Prime Minster Netanyahu helped facilitate a merger between the Otzma party and the more mainstream right-wing Jewish Home party, reportedly to help build enough Knesset seats for a viable governing coalition. However, such a union served to bring Otzma Yehudit -- with its far-right extremist policy agenda and its leadership with a documented history of racism, violence and radicalism -- from the fringes into the political mainstream.  ADL was one of the first American-Jewish organizations to speak out against this disturbing development (tweets available here and here). In addition, ADL published a blog on the reason there is such widespread concern, as well as an op-ed laying out our knowledge of this group and our record of denouncing it.

On the other side of the political spectrum, there are some candidates for Knesset and current Knesset members who have made inflammatory statements about Israel and Israeli leaders, have condemned Zionism and were even involved in illegal actions against the country. While those statements and positions are of deep concern, these politicians remain on the fringe, and are generally not included in governing coalitions.

The Central Election Committee voted to disqualify the Arab party Balad from participating in the election, while allowing far-right Otzma Yehudit MK Michael Ben Ari to run. Shortly after, the High Court overruled these decisions and allowed Balad to run while banning Ben Ari, though not the Otzma party.

  • The Demonization of Israeli Arabs in Campaign Rhetoric

In the current campaign we have seen the maligning of Israeli Arabs by certain Israeli political leaders as a way of attacking the views of rival political parties. These leaders accuse their rivals of seeking cooperation with the Arab political parties in an effort to portray them as extreme left-wing or even as working against Israeli interests. The effect of these accusations is the portrayal of Israeli Arab society as a whole as disloyal.

ADL issued a public statement calling on Israeli political leaders across the spectrum “to stop delegitimizing Israeli Arab political parties and vilifying the Arab minority population of Israel.”

  • The Denigration of the Supreme Court:

ADL called on Israelis from across the political spectrum to be mindful in their choice of words, and to refrain from inflammatory statements about the Supreme Court.  ADL spoke out after politicians and political party officials made inflammatory statements about the court, particularly following the ruling to disqualify far-right Jewish Power party leader Michael Ben Ari from running for Knesset while permitting far-left candidate Ofer Cassif and the Arab parties Balad and United Arab List. Statements included comparing the Supreme Court to Iran, asserting that “in order to defeat Hamas, the Israel Defense Forces must be freed from the Supreme Court,” and suggesting a false parallel between the Supreme Court and Hamas.

In a statement, ADL Israel Director Carole Nuriel asserted:  “…Criticisms of specific rulings are legitimate and welcome within Israel’s vibrant democratic discourse. However, regardless of one’s views of specific Supreme Court’s rulings, statements aimed at delegitimizing the institution and fomenting public hostility toward it are highly problematic. These voices seek to undermine one of Israel’s most important democratic institutions and to erode the system of checks and balances which is vital to defending basic rights and protecting minority groups.”
 

How can I learn more about the Israeli Elections? 

BICOM: Israeli Elections: Everything you need to know

Israel Democracy Institute’s Guide to the Elections 

Israel Policy Forum’s 120 Project

JTA: A Beginners Guide to the 2019 Israeli Elections

Times of Israel: 2019 Israeli Elections