Israel's Political Parties

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Within four years of its founding, Likud decisively won the elections and made Begin the first conservative prime minister of Israel. To form Likud, Begin used the help of military hero Ariel Sharon, who would himself become prime minister in 2001 with the support of Likud, until he left it to form a new party, Kadima (meaning "Forward") in 2005. Those who remained in Likud emphasize the belief that peace can only come when groups such as Hamas and Hezbollah are dismantled.

Kadima

The bipolar nature of Israeli politics, bracketed by Labor to the left and Likud to the right, changed, when Likud Prime Minister Ariel Sharon created Kadima. With his new party’s backing, he simultaneously withdrew Israeli troops and settlers from the Gaza Strip--implicitly supporting a Palestinian state--and built a security fence, thus backing strong security measures to protect Israel from its eventual neighbor. This became a middle seam of Israeli politics.

The remaining political parties in Israel can be divided into three groups; rightist, religious, and leftist. Though they take different positions, the distinction between many is more a function of ethnic identity than ideological stance.

Rightist Parties

The rightist party Yisrael Beiteinu, was founded in 1999 by Avigdor Lieberman as a break-away from the National Union, an alliance of rightist parties. The new party emphasized opposition to Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) policies and is characterized by extreme hawkish positions on defense. It calls for loyalty tests for all non-Zionists in Israel, including notably the Israeli Arabs and Haredim. Though Yisrael Beiteinu supports a Palestinian state, it argues that the borders should be determined not by the pre-1967 war borders, but by ethnicity, with all Arabs in Palestine and all Jews in Israel.

The National Union party (HaIhud HaLeumi) is a coalition party of rightist groups that have affiliated and disaffiliated since its founding in 1999. The National Union party is strongly opposed to any Palestinian state, and supports an increase of settlements and settlers in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Two parties formerly of National Union, Tkuma and Moledet, left in 2008 to form the Jewish Home party (Bayit Yehudi), which emphasizes the religious nature of the state.

Religious Parties

Shas was founded in 1984 by Rabbis Ovadia Yosef and Elazar Schach to represent Haredi Sephardic voters, though many of its supports are non-Haredi Mizrahi Jews who rely on the party to provide local social services. It leans conservative on matters of defense, though it has been notably passive in its support of the settlers, reserving its greatest political fire for economic issues of importance to its supporters. It advocates for state funding for religious schools, hospitals, and other institutions.

United Torah Judaism (Yahdut Hatorah) was founded in 1992 as an alliance of Degel HaTorah and Agudat Yisrael. Its supporters lean Ashkenazi Haredi, taking a strong stance on defense and being passionately supportive of the settler movement.

Meimad
is a liberal religious party founded in 1988 by Rabbi Yehuda Amital in an effort to unite the religious and non-religious in support of a Jewish democratic state. It supports protecting the environment, but is primarily known for backing the inclusion of religious studies in public schools and the increased usage of clerical courts in addition to civil courts.

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Daniel Kushner is a graduate of Johns Hopkins University and an editor at The South Wing.