Should Israel's political parties be splitting up or uniting?

Parties wishing to participate in the upcoming ballot must submit their lists to the Central Elections Committee by February 4.

Knesset plenum April 20, 2020  (photo credit: SHMULIK GROSSMAN)
Knesset plenum April 20, 2020
(photo credit: SHMULIK GROSSMAN)
Something very strange is happening in the Israeli political scene, and it’s not good. As the country gears up for the fourth election in two years, instead of learning from the past and doing everything to avoid previous mistakes, would-be political leaders are establishing ever-more new parties and lists. This is the last thing the country needs right now.
Ron Huldai launched a political party named The Israelis, with former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn – formerly of Blue and White – as his deputy. Cynically, although the party is set to run in the March 23 election, the 76-year-old Huldai did not give up the job he has held for the last 22 years as mayor of Tel Aviv-Jaffa. What does this say about his seriousness and his intentions should he be elected an ordinary back-bench Knesset member rather than receiving a cabinet position as he obviously desires?
Other new parties announced ahead of the March 23 election include one founded by top economist Yaron Zelekha, another outspoken opponent of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Zelekha has said that he is aiming to be the next finance minister as head of the Economics Party. But an economist should realize that something doesn’t add up. The greater the number of parties running on a Center-Left platform, the smaller their chances of passing the electoral threshold. In this case, the votes will have been wasted instead of going to a bloc with a chance of having some influence and making an impact.
Yet another new party is headed by former Mossad chief Danny Yatom (who was a Labor MK from 2003-2008). Yatom is also an open critic of Netanyahu. Tentatively called Havatikim (The Old-timers), the party is dedicating itself to the needs of the country’s senior citizens. The list includes a broad spectrum of well-known names including philosopher-ethicist Asa Kasher and economist and journalist Shlomo Maoz.
It is true that Israel’s older citizens have many problems that need to be addressed, including low state pensions and healthcare problems, but the question remains whether having a separate party to represent them as opposed to representatives working within the larger parties is the best way to deal with these problems. Havatikim calls to mind the Pensioners’ Party (Gil) led by another former senior Mossad officer, Rafi Eitan. The party won an impressive seven seats in the elections of 2006, partly as a protest vote by those fed up with the larger lists. However, once in the Knesset its members split into different factions. The Pensioners’ Party failed to pass the electoral threshold in subsequent polls and proved to be a one-term wonder.
Former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah is also now running at the head of a new list, Tnufa (Momentum). He broke away from Yesh Atid after party leader Yair Lapid refused to hold primary elections. And Moshe Ya’alon has also announced that he is splitting from Yesh Atid, where he had been an MK with what remains of his Telem faction.
If would-be politicians cannot find their place in a current party and therefore decide to establish a list of their own, it does not bode well for their chances to work productively in a future Knesset and government. Having too many small parties creates political instability and makes it difficult for a government to be able to do what it is elected to do: govern. This opens the door to political blackmail, not democratic plurality.
Once elected, MKs should be able to work together for the greater good, and in this way different sectors of society can be represented within larger blocs without the need for parochial small parties.
Parties wishing to participate in the upcoming ballot must submit their lists to the Central Elections Committee by February 4. In every election, thousands of votes are lost to small parties that do not pass the current electoral threshold of 3.25%.
We call on politicians to think twice before registering small lists. Instead of splitting parties and splintering votes, they should be uniting. Having a large number of smaller parties is not good for governance. Without a fundamental change in approach, the 24th Knesset will stand no better chance than its predecessors.