The deadline for parties to hand in their Knesset lists for the upcoming election passed at midnight on Thursday, ending any remaining questions regarding mergers and placements.
The stage is now set for the home stretch: 45 days remain until Israel heads to the polls on November 1, and they are going to be vicious.
Here are some trendlines to look out for in the coming weeks.
1. What kind of a right-wing coalition will we see?
Political analysts agree that the section of the electorate that will decide the election is the “soft Right” – voters who identify as right-wing but do not feel at home in the Likud or in Religious Zionism.
These voters, many of whom are religious-Zionist, do not seem to be heading in the direction of Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked's Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) Party, as initial polls do not show the party coming close to the electoral threshold. This may change, however, as Shaked's return to her home party was cobbled together hastily and her campaign has not begun. She will try to convince voters that she "returned home" to where she wanted to be all along.
National Unity will also try to scoop up some of these voters. A source from the party told Channel 7 news on Thursday that the breakup of Shaked’s short-lived Zionist Spirit Party brought between half a seat to a seat back to the party, which includes Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s former right-wing New Hope faction.
The Likud will also try to convince “soft-Right” voters that they should “return home” to the Right. The party is expected to do all it can to crush Shaked’s party, leaving these voters with no in-between option. It will argue that a vote for Shaked will be wasted under the electoral threshold, and that National Unity is no longer a right-wing party.
Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s choice of a religious Zionist - former deputy head of the Police Investigations Department Moshe Saada, for the third realistic spot reserved for him on the list, served this purpose. Netanyahu chose Sa’ada over secular Brig.-Gen. (res.) Gal Hirsch, who was seen as a larger electoral asset but not one that would pull voters specifically from the soft-right electorate.
2. What about the Arab vote?
The Arab vote will also be a significant factor in this election. Eligible Israeli-Arabs make up 17% of Israel’s population, but according to recent polls only 40% said they will vote, a historic low. The Arab parties, along with parties on the Left and even in the Center, will try to raise the Arab vote, while the right-wing parties will try to not irk Arab voters too much so as not to give them a cause to rally around.
Political analysts noted that 55% was the percentage of voters from the Arab sector needed to give Prime Minister Yair Lapid a chance at forming a government. This is because a small but significant percentage tend to vote for Jewish left-wing parties such as Labor and Meretz which will strengthen them. It will also strengthen Ra’am and the Joint List. Ra’am is considered an assured partner of the Center-Left, and the Joint List has not ruled out supporting a coalition led by Lapid, although there is a very slim chance of that happening.
3. The racism card
An interesting twist occurred on Thursday when Likud MK Galit Distal-Atbaryan informed that the Yesh Atid Russian website included a sentence claiming that the Likud was a “sectorial Sephardi” party. Yesh Atid immediately shut down the Russian-language website saying that the sentence was put up by someone who was not authorized to do so, and that it would investigate the issue.
Shas and the Likud, however, immediately pounced and began to lambast Yesh Atid for the racist comment. Racial tensions between Ashkenazim and Sephardim have always been a controversial issue. Indeed, studies by the Israel Democracy Institute have shown that a vast majority of Yesh Atid, Meretz and Labor voters are Ashkenazi, while nearly all of Shas’ voters and a significant majority of Likud voters are Sephardi.
The Right will try to portray itself as the authentic and down-to-earth camp, and the other side as racist and elitist. This is not new and happens in every election, but it seemed to be simmering on a low flame until Thursday. The Left will counter by arguing that a large number of MKs on its lists are of Sephardi descent, and that in the past year they have done more for all walks of Israeli society than the Likud ever did.
These are just some of the issues to look out for. What is certain is that the next few weeks will be vicious, with parties at each other’s throats following every comment and interview.
Let the hunger games begin.