Israel’s January 22 general election looks unlikely to bring a change in who will be heading the government. But it does promise to shake up the Knesset by bringing a large, and in many cases controversial, cohort of new players into politics.
Among them are some hard-nosed ideologues whose likely ascension to Israel’s parliament is provoking consternation from their more moderate party leaders.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nemesis inside his Likud party attained a realistic spot on its election slate after almost two decades of political maneuvering. The radical Moshe Feiglin told the Forward in a recent interview that Netanyahu is “a great pilot, flying nowhere” and pledged that he will become prime minister and push Likud further right. Labor, which leader Shelly Yachimovich is trying hard to present as centrist, has the outspoken leftist Merav Michaeli in its number-four spot.
Two so-called political princes — sons of renowned politicians — have launched their own political careers with this election. Yair Lapid is leading his new Yesh Atid party, and Yair Shamir, son of Israel’s seventh prime minister, Yitzhak Shamir, shunned his father’s Likud party to run for Yisrael Beiteinu, which positions itself to Likud’s right.
Competition for the Orthodox vote is fiercer than ever — and now, it isn’t just the religious parties pursuing religious voters. The Orthodox Feiglin is appealing to religious voters, Lapid made popular rabbi Shai Piron number two on his list, and the Tzipi Livni party has a well-known Orthodox former soldier, Elazar Stern, in its second spot.
In the Sephardi-Orthodox niche, Shas, too, has a new challenger — party rebel and Haredi iconoclast Haim Amsalem, who is leading his new Am Shalem party. Shas is fighting back with the return of its crowd-pleasing ex-convict former leader Arye Deri.
Just as non-Orthodox parties are hoping to attract religious voters, the religious Jewish Home party is branching out and trying to attract non-observant voters, aided by its first-ever secular candidate, Ayelet Shaked.