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Israeli Election Campaign Heats Up

by Marcy Oster, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

February 2, 2009 | 5:04 pm

Front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud.

Front-runner Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud.

In an election season compressed into just three weeks due to the military operation in Gaza, during which campaigning ground to a virtual halt, Israel’s political parties have begun to roll out their campaigns ahead of the national elections Feb. 10.

The first round of publicly sponsored and legally restricted TV advertisements aired during a special hour of political broadcasts last week. Each party was allotted a specific amount of time based on the number of seats it holds in the current Knesset. Due to flagging interest in this year’s campaign, Israeli TV channels have declined to air subsequent broadcasts of the ads during prime time.

Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud is the front-runner, with a widening lead over Kadima, the party now in power.

Kadima has been struggling to raise the profile of party leader Tzipi Livni, Israel’s foreign minister. Of the heads of the three largest parties, Livni emerged from the Gaza operation with the fewest gains. Labor leader Ehud Barak received an initial boost from the campaign because as defense minister he was the architect of Operation Cast Lead.

In the days of criticism that followed the fighting’s end, Netanyahu and another right-wing leader, Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Leiberman, saw their poll numbers rise as critics asked why Israel didn’t finish the job in Gaza by crippling Hamas.

Livni, however, has benefited neither from the war nor its aftermath. Cast by critics as largely irrelevant to the war, Livni was not helped by her appearance in the United States to sign a cooperation agreement on security at the very moment that Israel announced the Gaza cease-fire.

With Likud having the most to lose in the next two weeks of campaigning, Netanyahu is playing it safe and warning supporters not to presume victory.

“We still have two weeks,” the former prime minister said at a rally Monday night. “Even though things look promising, they are not guaranteed.”

If he wins, Netanyahu is expected to reach the 61-seat majority in the Knesset needed to become prime minister by building a coalition with Labor and smaller parties. On Monday afternoon, Likud announced an alliance with the small religious Zionist party Achi, which is headed by Knesset member Effie Eitam, who left the National Religious Party when it refused to bolt Ariel Sharon’s coalition over the Gaza withdrawal.

Netanyahu has said he favors pursuing achievable incremental agreements with the Palestinians rather than chasing what he sees as an elusive final-status deal for a two-state solution. He has said he wants to focus on bolstering the “moderate parts of the Palestinian economy” to foster the conditions for political agreement.

On Sunday, Netanyahu was quoted as telling Tony Blair, the Middle East envoy of the Quartet grouping of Mideast peace sponsors—the United States, European Union, United Nations and Russia—that while he would not build new settlements in the West Bank, he would allow the natural-growth expansion of existing ones.

A former finance minister, Netanyahu is also casting himself as Israel’s economic savior, the man to steer Israel through the choppy waters of the global financial crisis.

On Tuesday, the Sephardic religious party Shas endorsed Netanyahu for prime minister, albeit with caution.

“A strong Shas will ensure Netanyahu doesn’t repeat his mistakes,” Shas leader Eli Yishai said.

After winning the Kadima primary last September, Livni refused to strike a coalition deal with Shas, insisting she would not be forced into paying off the party with budget concessions. Supporters hailed her for refusing to give in to blackmail; critics assailed her for not having the gumption to engage in the political horse-trading necessary to form a governing coalition in Israel.

As for Labor, Barak’s wartime boost has sagged as Israel’s gains from the war have begun to look more dubious. Hamas’ leadership appears to have emerged from the war mostly intact, even though the group’s infrastructure in Gaza was destroyed by the Israel Defense Forces. And last week, an Israeli soldier was killed by a roadside bomb along the Gaza-Israel border, prompting Israel to resume air strikes in the strip.

In a bid to shore up support ahead of the election, Labor is targeting the Russian immigrant community. The party has launched its campaign for Russian speakers, with radio election broadcasts that allude to former Russian President Vladimir Putin, who is viewed favorably by Russian immigrants as a tough leader. Barak garnered 58 percent of the Russian vote when he won the 1999 election.

Perhaps the biggest winner to emerge from the Gaza war is Lieberman, whose right-wing party has been gaining steadily in the polls.

Lieberman, who immigrated to Israel from Moldova in 1978 and lives in a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, has advocated swapping Arab-populated areas of Israel for West Bank areas populated by Jews. He was most recently embroiled in a verbal tussle with Arab lawmakers over claims that they should not be allowed to run in the elections since they are not loyal to the Jewish state.

In what Lieberman derided as an annual election tradition, police on Sunday arrested seven of his associates, including his daughter, as part of an investigation into allegations of money laundering and fraud. The investigation has been ongoing for three years but has produced no indictments.

The left-wing Meretz Party, which has steadily lost ground since its high of 12 Knesset seats in 1992, said it will attack Lieberman during the current campaign, according to an internal memo sent to Meretz leaders, Ynet reported Monday. The memo urges the leaders to cast the party as fascistic, comparing Lieberman to far-rightist leaders such as Austria’s late Joerg Haider.

The Jewish-Arab Hadash Party also is positioning itself as the anti-Lieberman, with a campaign slogan that reads “Jews and Arabs refuse to be enemies. Hadash—the opposite of Lieberman.” The party, which currently holds three seats in the Knesset, is trying with an Internet-based campaign to attract young, Jewish voters disaffected from other left-wing parties.

Perhaps the most unusual alliance in this year’s election is between the Green Leaf Party, which has no seats in the Knesset, and the Pensioners’ Party, which has six. Renamed the Holocaust Survivors’ and Grown-Up Green Leaf Party, the party’s prime issues are legalizing marijuana and pensioners’ rights, especially those of Holocaust survivors. One of the party’s TV ads shows party head Gil Kopatch smoking a joint at the grave of Israel’s first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion.

Below are the lists of parties and their candidates in Israeli Knesset elections Feb. 10:

KADIMA (seats in current Knesset: 29)
This centrist party was founded by erstwhile Likud leader Ariel Sharon in November 2005, when he sought to build a new coalition of political support around his plan for unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Ehud Olmert became the party leader after Sharon’s stroke in January 2006, just months after the withdrawal took place. Following Olmert’s resignation amid a fund-raising scandal, Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni was elected party leader last September. Comprised of defectors from both Labor and Likud, Kadima lacks a clear ideology.

1) Tzipi Livni
2) Shaul Mofaz
3) Dalia Itzik
4) Tzachi Hanegbi
5) Ronnie Bar-On
6) Ze’ev Boim
7) Meir Sheetrit
8) Ruhama Avraham
9) Avi Dichter
10) Marina Solodkin
11) Yoel Hasson
12) Gideon Ezra
13) Yaakov Edry
14) Eli Aflalo
15) Ze’ev Bielski
16) Ronit Tirosh
17) Haim Ramon
18) Nachman Shai
19) Shlomo Molla
20) Robert Tivayev
21) Majali Wahaba
22) Rachel Adato
23) Yohanan Plesner
24) Shai Hermesh
25) Yisrael Hasson
26) Aryeh Bibi
27) Otniel Shneller
28) Orit Zuaretz
29) Yulia Shmuelov Berkovich
30) Nino Absadsa
31) Avner Barazani
32) Doron Avital
33) Avi Duan

LABOR (seats in current Knesset: 18)
Until 1977, every Israeli prime minister came from the Labor Party or its predecessors. In recent years, however, Labor has seen its traditional base of support dwindle as old notions of left and right have fallen by the wayside in Israel. Historically a champion of workers’ rights, Labor today is a center-left party led by a former prime minister, Ehud Barak, who of late has taken pains to establish his credentials as a hard-line defense minister. Labor is expected to lose ground this election but is likely to be a part of the next coalition government, possibly with Barak staying on as defense minister.

1) Ehud Barak
2) Isaac Herzog
3) Ofir Pines-Paz
4) Avishai Braverman
5) Shelly Yachimovich
6) Matan Vilnai
7) Eitan Cabel
8) Binyamin Ben Eliezer
9) Yuli Tamir
10) Armonad Amir
11) Daniel Ben Simon
12) Shalom Simchon
13) Orit Noked
14) Einat Wilf
15) Raleb Magadela
16) Schiv Schnan
17) Yoram Marziano
18) Leon Litensky
19) Colette Avital
20) Moshe Samiah
21) Yosef Suleimani
22) Arik Hadad
23) Avi Hizkiyahu
24) Menachem Leibowitz
25) Ofer Kornfeld

LIKUD (seats in current Knesset: 12)
The center-right party is led by Benjamin Netanyahu, the former prime minister and former finance minister who advocates slowing the peace process with the Palestinians and taking a harder line against Israel’s adversaries. With Israelis skeptical about the prospects for a quick peace with the Palestinians or the establishment of security by way of unilateral withdrawals, Likud is positioned to win the plurality of the vote and Netanyahu is the front-runner in the race for prime minister.

1) Benjamin Netanyahu
2) Gideon Sa’ar
3) Gilad Erdan
4) Rueven Rivlin
5) Benny Begin
6) Moshe Cachlon
7) Silvan Shalom
8) Moshe Ya’alon
9) Yuval Steinitz
10. Lea Nes
11) Yisrael Katz
12) Yuli Edlstein
13) Limor Livnat
14) Haim Katz
15) Yossi Peled
16) Michael Eitan
17) Dan Meridor
18) Tzipi Hotoboli
19) Gila Gamliel
20) Ze’ev Elkin
21) Yariv Levine
22) Zion Fanian
23) Ayub Kara
24) Danny Danon
25) Carmel Shama
26) Ofir Akunis
27) Miri Regev
28) Alelei Adamaso
29) Isaac Danino
30) David Even Tzur
31) Kati Shitrit
32) Keren Barak
33) Sagiv Asulin
34) Boaz Haetzni
35) Guy Yifrach
36) Moshe Feiglin

SHAS (seats in current Knesset: 12)
This Sephardic Orthodox party has built support among constituents for catering to the needs and political proclivities of Sephardic Orthodox voters—most notably, securing funds for religious education and welfare, and opposing the division of Jerusalem. Shas, whose sizable Knesset representation makes it a sought-after coalition partner, is likely to demand guarantees on its core issues as a condition of joining any governing coalition.

1) Eli Yishai
2) Ariel Attias
3) Yitzhak Cohen
4) Amnon Cohen
5) Meshulam Nahari
6) Ya’acov Margi
7) David Azoulay
8) Yitzhak Vaknin
9) Nissim Ze’ev
10) Haim Amsalem
11) Avraham Michaeli
12) Mazor Bahaina
13) Refael Cohen
14) Ami Biton
15) Oren Malka

YISRAEL BEITENU (seats in current Knesset: 11)
The staunchly right-wing party, led by a Moldovan immigrant, has a growing base of support among Israel’s Russian-speaking community and uncompromising right wing. Party leader Avigdor Lieberman advocates making loyalty to the Jewish state a condition of Israeli citizenship and is a proponent of the idea of trading parts of Israel populated by Arab Israelis to a future Palestinian state—along with the Arabs who live there—in exchange for annexation of parts of the West Bank to Israel. Portrayed by political opponents as a right-wing extremist and a fascist, Lieberman has enjoyed a significant boost in the weeks since the launch of the Gaza war.

1) Avigdor Lieberman
2) Uzi Landau
3) Stas Misezhnikov
4) Yitzhak Aharonovitch
5) Sofa Landver
6) Orly Levi
7) Danny Ayalon
8) David Rotem
9) Anastasia Michaeli
10) Faina Kirschenbaum
11) Robert Ilatov
12) Hamed Amar
13) Moshe Matalon
14) Lia Shemtov
15) Alex Miller
16) Viktor Ifrahimov
17) Yitzhak Slavin
18) Smadar Bat-Adam
19) Yulia Melinovsky
20) Arkady Pomerantz

Agudat Yisrael + Degel HaTorah (United Torah Judaism) (seats in current Knesset: 3+3)
1) Ya’acov Litzman
2) Moshe Gafni
3) Meir Porush
4) Uri Maklev
5) Menahem Eliezer Moses
6) Yisrael Eichler
7) Menahem Carmel
8) Ya’acov Guterman
9) Avraham Yosef Lazerson
10) Shimon Hadad

Gil Pensioners Party (seats in current Knesset: 6)
1) Rafi Eitan
2) Gideon Reicher
3) Yossi Katz
4) Yaakov Ben Yizri
5) Shimrit Or
6) Uri Chanoch
7) Avraham Tubol
8) Yehoshua Peretz

Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish home) and National Religious Party (seats in current Knesset: 5)
1) Daniel Hershkovitz
2) Zevulun Orlev
3) Uri Orbach
4) Nissan Slomiansky
5) Sar-Shalom Jerby
6) Liora Minke
7) Shella Shorshan
8)  Avraham Negosa
9) Ophir Cohen
10) Elyashiv Reichner

Meretz-Yahad + The New Movement (seats in current Knesset: 5)
1) Chaim Oron
2) Ilan Gilon
3) Nitzan Horowitz
4) Zahava Gal-On
5) Mosi Raz
6) Avshalom Vilan
7) Talia Sasson
8) Tzvia Greenfeld
9) Tzali Reshef
10) Issawi Freij

Ra’am-Ta’al + United Arab List (seats in current Knesset: 4)
1) Ibrahim Sarsour
2) Ahmed Tibi
3) Taleb a-Sanaa
4) Masid Gnaim
5) Taleb Abu Arar

Balad (seats in current Knesset: 3)
1) Jamal Zahalka
2) Said Nafa
3) Hanin Zuabi
4) Abbas Zakour
5) Oonie Tuma

Hadash (seats in current Knesset: 3)
1) Muhammad Barakei
2) Hanna Sweid
3) Dov Henin
4) Abu Agberiah
5) Aida Tuma-Kalimah

Moledet-Ichud Leumi (seats in current Knesset: 2)
1) Ya’acov Katz
2) Uri Ariel
3) Arye Eldad
4) Michael Ben-Ari
5) Uri Bank

Meimad + The Green Movement (seats in current Knesset: 1)
1) Michael Melchior
2) Eran Ben-Yemini
3) Alon Tal
4) Yonina Falnberg
5) Iris Hahn

OTHER PARTIES (None of the below hold any seats in current Knesset)
Da’am
1) Asma Aghbareh Zahalka
2) Nir Nader

Lazuz
1) Nikki Shtrekman
2) Yitzhak Avidan

Strong Israel
1) Ephraim Sneh
2) Gal Ifergan
3) Omer Selah

Power to Influence
1) Yochai Dok
2) Yael Albeg
3) Nurit Buchnik-Hadif

The Israelis
1) Gideon Doron

Responsibility
1) Ya’akov Hesdai
2) Ya’akov Weiman

Tzabar
1) Boaz Toporovski
2) Nathaniel Isaac

Green Leaf
1) Gil Kopatch
2) Shlomo Sendak
3) Karen Arad

Overhauling Education
1) Avraham Pascal
2) Tzion Amar
3) Aryeh Loker

Or
1) Yaron Yadan
2) Dod Selah
3) Ada Mendel

The Voice of Money
1) Eliezer Levinger
2) Datya Yitzhaki
3) Dod Yosef

The Greens
1) Pe’er Visner
2) Dror Ezra
3) Ariella Ringel-Hoffman

Lev
1) Alezander Tenzer
2) Ovadia Patrov
3) Vladimir Waxman

Green Leaf Graduates with Holocaust Survivors
1) Ohad Shem-Tov
2) Yaakov Kfir
3) Michelle Levine

Movement for Men’s Rights
1) Yaakov Schlosser

Tzomet
1) Moshe Green
2) Elhanan Glazer

Universal Covenant for Our Children
1) Kineret Golan
2) Yaron Yemini

Advanced Liberal Democratic
1)  Alexander Radko
2)  Anatoly Grasimov

United Social Activists
1) Yigal Ankori
2) Simcha Nir

Aliyah (Renewed Israel)
1) Michael Nudelman
2) Valerie Streks
3) Julia Spector

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