Israeli Election 2013 Guide: The Candidates

In our prior post, we described Israel’s electoral process and the beliefs held by the parties that are competing for seats in the Knesset (the parliament). Since the leader of the party with the most seats in the resulting coalition will become the next prime minister, we wanted to provide the biographies of the leaders in this part of our electoral guide.

Of course, we do not endorse any party or support any specific political position. We are just here to provide information on the January 22 election. We will again begin with the current prime minister – Benjamin Netanyahu of the Likud – and then go in descending order based on the number of seats the parties held in the recently-dissolved Knesset.

Note: The final three are leaders of brand-new parties, and two sets of individual parties have merged to form two larger ones in this election as described below.

The Candidates

Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman (Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu) – Netanyahu, 63, is the current prime minister, minister of health, minister of pension affairs, and minister of economic strategy. Born in Tel Aviv, he lived and attended high school in Pennsylvania. Netanyahu was a team leader in a special-forces unit of the military. He studied architecture at MIT and political science at Harvard University and then worked at the Boston Consulting Group. Before his current position in the government, Netanyahu has held positions including U.N. ambassador, minister of foreign affairs, and minister of finance.

Avigdor Lieberman, 54, is the current minister of foreign affairs and a deputy prime minister. He was born in Moldova in the former Soviet Union and moved to Israel in 1978, living in Beersheva. After serving in the Artillery Corps, he studied international relations and political science at Hebrew University. Later, he was director-general of first the Likud Party and then the prime minister’s office under Netanyahu from 1993 to 1997. Lieberman left the Likud after negotiations with the Palestinian Authority began. He has also served as minister of strategic affairs and minister of transportation.

The two leaders merged their parties to form a single list of Knesset candidates in this election.

Shaul Mofaz (Kadima) – Mofaz, 64, had been vice prime minister briefly in Netanyahu’s government earlier this year. He was born in Iran and moved to Israel in 1957, after which he served in the Paratroopers Brigade during the Six Day War and Yom Kippur War. In the 1982 Lebanon War, he was an infantry brigade commander. Mofaz later attended the U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College and then became brigadier general, commander of the IDF forces in the West Bank, and then chief of the IDF general staff. In prior governments, he has also been minister of defense and minister of transportation.

Shelly Yachimovich (Labor) – Yachimovich, 52, was born in Kfar Saba to Holocaust survivors who had come from Poland. She studied behavioral science at Ben-Gurion University and then was a correspondent for the Al HaMishmar newspaper, an anchor for the radio station Reshet Bet, and a political talk-show host on Channel 2. Yachimovich left journalism and entered politics in 2005. She was the leader of the opposition in the Knesset while Kadima and Mofaz were briefly part of Netanyahu’s government earlier this year.

Eli Yishai (Shas) – Yishai, 49, is currently a deputy prime minister and minister of internal affairs. He has also been minister of industry, trade, and labor as well as minister of labor and social welfare. Born in Jerusalem of Tunisian descent, he was a member of the city council from 1987 to 1988 and was first elected to the Knesset in 1996.

Ehud Barak (Independence) – Barak, 70, is currently minister of defense after having been prime minister from 1999 to 2001 as well as minister of foreign affairs and chief of the IDF general staff.  During his military service, he commanded a tank regiment during the Yom Kippur War and later ran the Military Intelligence Directorate and then Central Command. Yitzhak Rabin appointed Barak minister of internal affairs in 1995, and then Shimon Peres made him minister of foreign affairs. Barak left the Labor Party last year after the party had threatened to force him to leave Netanyahu’s government.

Barak recently announced that he is retiring from politics after the election, and it is not clear if his party will continue.

Yaakov Litzman (United Torah Judaism) – Litzman, 64, was born in 1948 in a refugee camp in Germany to Polish survivors of the Holocaust. His family moved to New York when he was two. At 17, Litzman moved to Jerusalem and his first job was as principal of the Hasidic Beis Yaakov girls’ school. He became close to the Gerrer Rebbe, Rabbi Simcha Binem Alter, who encouraged him to run for the Knesset in 1999. Litzman is deputy minister of health in the current government as well as a former chairman of the Knesset’s Finance Committee and deputy chairman of the Labor and Welfare Committee.

Ya’akov Katz and Naftali Bennett (National Union-Jewish Home) – Katz, 61, is executive director of the Beit El yeshiva and the radio station and website Arutz Sheva. Born in Jerusalem, he graduated from the Bnei Akiva Yeshiva High School and studied at Yeshivat Mercaz HaRav. During his military service, he led a commando unit and was severely wounded. He was a founding member of the Beit El settlement and was an assistant to Ariel Sharon when he was minister of housing and development.

Bennett, 40, is a businessman who was founder and CEO of the anti-fraud software company Cyota and also has a law degree from Hebrew University. During his military service, he was in the elite Sayeret Matkal and Maglan units and is currently a major in the reserves. Bennett was chief of staff for Netanyahu from 2006 to 2008. He was director general of the Yesha Council, which fought against the settlement freeze in 2010.

The two leaders merged their parties to form a single list of Knesset candidates in this election.

Zehava Gal-On (Meretz) – Gal-On, 56, was born in Lithuania and moved to Israel at the age of four. She has a M.A. from Hebrew University. Gal-On was general secretary of the B’Tselem publication “Politika” and is a member of Meretz’s general directorate. After being elected to the Knesset in 1999, she was chair of the committee that fights the trafficking of women and a member of the law and constitution committee. Gal-On lost a leadership election to Haim Oron in 2007 but was elected leader later after he retired.

Tzipi Livni (Hatnuah) – Livni, 54, was minister of foreign affairs and minister of justice under Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and minister of agriculture, immigrant absorption, and housing and construction under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon. She was a lieutenant in the IDF and also served in the Mossad. Livni has a law degree from Bar-Ilan University. She was a Likud member but left to join Kadima when Sharon formed the party in support of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. Livni later lost a Kadima leadership election to Mofaz and then resigned before forming a new political party.

Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid) – Lapid, 49, is a former journalist and TV presenter who entered politics earlier this year and formed his own political party. The son of journalist and politician Yosef “Tommy” Lapid and author Shulamit Lapid, he was a military correspondent for an IDF’s weekly magazine during his service. Later, he wrote for Ma’ariv, edited the local Tel Aviv newspaper, and had a weekly column at Ma’ariv and then Yedioth Ahronoth. In 1994, he moved to Channel 2 and most recently hosted the Friday evening news-magazine program.

Haim Amsalem (Am Shalem) – Amsalem, 53, was born in Algeria and lived in France until the age of 11. His family moved to Israel in 1970. Amsalem graduated from the Kisseh Rahamim Yeshiva and was ordained a rabbi in 1980. In 1993, he was appointed as a city rabbi by the Chief Rabbinate. Amsalem has a neighborhood rabbi in Netivot, head of the Ohalei Yaakov ve Tifereth Israel Yeshiva, head of the Baba Sali kollel, and then rabbi of the Sephardi community in Geneva before returning to Israel and entering the Knesset.

All of the party leaders have diverse backgrounds, and you can read about the beliefs of the various parties in our prior post here. January 22 will prove to be a very interesting Election Day in Israel!

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