Behind the Headlines Profile of Israeli Parties
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Behind the Headlines Profile of Israeli Parties

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The list of 22 parties running for Knesset seats on May 17 includes many small factions that were unknown on the political scene until this year. However, the two ultra-Orthodox parties, Agudat Israel and Poalei Agudat Israel, are familiar to voters. Together they hold five seats in the outgoing Knesset and are known as the Aguda bloc. But the bloc split and the two factions are now running separate lists.


The Poalei Agudat is more right-wing nationalist than the Agudat on the issue of the West Bank and is believed to be prepared to join either a Labor-led or Likud-led coalition. It demands an end to the conscription of women, a ban on autopsies and an amendment of the Law of Return specifying that conversions to Judaism must be according to halacha, religious law.

It is believed that the last issue is the only one on which the Poalei Agudat would insist were it to be invited to join a coalition government. The faction is headed by Rabbi Kalman Kahane, a rabbinical scholar and member of Kibbutz Hafetz Haim. It has its own kibbutz movement and yeshiva youth movement and is more Zionist-oriented than the Agudat though neither party is formally affiliated with the World Zionist Organization.


Agudat Israel is governed by a panel of Torah sages whose word is law for the followers of the ultra-Orthodox sect. It is therefore considered unlikely to join a coalition government unless all the religious demands made by the Poalei Agudat and several more of its own are accepted.

But Agudat has cooperated quietly with Labor in the present Knesset on most issues in return for government support for its independent educational network. It would probably cooperate similarly with a Likud-led government.

The Agudat list is headed by Yehuda Meir Abramowitz, Deputy Mayor of Tel Aviv, who represents the Gur Hasidim who make up a large portion of the party’s membership. The number two man is Menahem Porush, an Orthodox politician from Jerusalem and third on the list is Shlomo Lorincz, leader of the Orthodox township of Bnei Brak.


This was the name selected by Yom Kippur War hero Gen. Ariel Sharon for his new faction after he broke with Likud. He opposes any withdrawal from the West Bank but does not trust King Hussein of Jordan as a negotiating partner and has suggested that the PLO take over Jordan.

Sharon attempted to build a coalition of “Eretz Israel Faithful” around his faction that would embrace Likud, the National Religious Party and other hawkish factions. Having failed, he sought to return to the Likud fold. But its leader Menachem Beigin would not agree to his terms. Shlomzion counts on the votes of right-wingers disillusioned with Likud, especially among younger voters. Sharon has a small personal following among veterans he commanded in his early army days.


This party represents a merger between former. Black Panther leader Shalom Cohen and longshoreman boss Yehoshua Peretz, the former enfant terrible of the Ashdod docks. Cohen is presently serving a three-month jail term for participating in a violent demonstration. He chose jail over a fine in order to claim that he was thrown into prison for fighting against poverty. The party counts on support in the new development towns and slum neighborhoods. Cohen heads the list and Peretz has second place.


This group is headed by the Arab writer Mahmoud Abassi, a close associate of Foreign Minister Yigal Allon, who broke with the Labor Party when it failed to include him on its election list. There is, in fact, no Arab on the Labor list. Abassi is a member of the Israeli Arab intelligentsia and he counts on its support to win at least one Knesset seat. His followers are mainly from Arab villages and Arab Christian communities in northern Israel.


This is a break-away group from the Black Panthers. Originally they joined Prof. Yigal Yadin’s Democratic Movement for Change but left it when DESH failed to elect their leader, Victor Tayar to its list. The Panthers are identified with the Oriental community. Tayar is number one on the list and Michael Goldstein number two.


This is a merger of the two Arab lists that hold three seats in the outgoing Knesset. It is supported by the Labor Party and is establishment oriented. Its backers are drawn from the relatively small traditional segment of the Arab population and several Bedouin tribes. Its list consists of Seif Ad Din Zuabi, former Mayor of Nazareth; Sheikh Hammad Abu Rabia, a Bedouin; Jaber Maadi, Deputy Minister of Communications, who is a Druze; and Mohammed Hussein Ghadir, a Bedouin.


This movement is headed by former Laborite Mordechai Ben Porat who had been influential in Labor’s Rafi faction and was a close associate of Defense Minister Shimon Peres. He quit Labor before Peres was selected as the party’s new leader. The faction looks to the right-wing for support.


The one-man list of businessman Samuel Flatto-Sharon who is wanted by French authorities for alleged fraud is probably the most unconventional of all political groups. He speaks no Hebrew and his campaign, which is based on the issue of low rental housing for young couples, is run from Flatto-Sharon’s carefully guarded, lavishly furnished villa in the exclusive Savyon section outside Tel Aviv. Political observers believe Flatto-Sharon is seeking a Knesset seat in order to enjoy immunity from extradition. France’s extradition request is now making its slow way through Israel’s courts.

The other parties are:

Co-EXISTENCE; A small Israeli Arab list headed by teacher Shawkat Shalabi.

KACH (Thus): The faction headed by Rabbi Meir Kahane, founder of the Jewish Defense League. Its platform calls for a “Greater Israel” ruled by Torah law.

THE WOMEN’S PARTY; A new feminist faction headed by Shoshana Elings.

THE NEW GENERATION; A new party headed by lawyer Zvi Saar. It concentrates on international issues.

THE BEIT YISRAEL LIST; A new faction representing Yemenite Jews. It is headed by Dr. Yemini Ben Hur.

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