MKs scramble to hold onto seats ahead of early elections

Charter for new Yesh Atid party, headed by former journalist Yair Lapid, gives party chairman sole authority to make key decisions • Shas tries to ground Aryeh Deri’s possible future party • Foreign Minister Lieberman set to submit „service for all” bill.

Mati Tuchfeld, Gideon Allon and Yehuda Shlezinger
Yair Lapid cannot be challenged as party leader until 2020, according to party regulations.


Photo credit: KOKO


Avigdor Lieberman talking to activists on Thursday.


Photo credit: Dudi Vaaknin


Aryeh Deri will wait until the end of the mourning period for his father’s death before announcing his new party.


Photo credit: Yossi Zeliger


Yair Lapid cannot be challenged as party leader until 2020, according to party regulations.


Photo credit: KOKO


Get out your calendars and circle the date: General elections will be held on Sept. 4. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to officially announce the elections on Sunday, at a ceremonial launch of the Likud Convention, but Israel’s MKs are not waiting for the official announcement – they are already running around from conference to conference, from meeting to meeting, to ensure their seats in the next Knesset.


Ahead of the election, the various parties are conducting primaries to decide the names, and order, of their party list. Although Netanyahu plans to spearhead a move that would keep most of the Likud members where they currently are on the party list, many of his fellow party members are not resting on their laurels. Deputy Minister Gila Gamliel, for example, hired strategist Memy Peer, the former adviser to newly elected Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz. Coalition Chairman Zeev Elkin hired PR guru Avi Lerner, to name another example.

The district-level candidates are also making preparations. One of the more interesting face-offs can be expected in the Tel Aviv district, where it has been speculated that Cabinet Secretary Zvi Hauser and Finance Ministry Chief of Staff David Sharan will compete against each other after resigning from their respective posts.


Just ahead of the official elections announcement, the top 10 members of the newest party – Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid („There is a Future”) – were made public on Thursday. The partial list includes Poet Ronny Someck, Netanya City Council member and accomplished judoka Yoel Razvozov, and Menachem Tzruya, the principal of the Naamat Technological High School in Jaffa where Lapid teaches communications.


Lapid addressed the publication of the party list on his Facebook page on Thursday, saying, „in order to avoid confusion: The list made public today is not our Knesset list.” Political analysts surmise that Lapid will also include on a future list the well-respected journalist Ofer Shelah, Herzliya Mayor Yael German, Rabbi Shai Piron, former Teva CEO Shlomo Yanai and more.


The Registrar of Parties also made Yair Lapid’s party regulations public, revealing the party’s centralization of power. The regulations stipulate that the „founding chairman will continue to head the party until the dissolution of the 20th Knesset or until he announces his resignation or until he is barred from serving as the party chairman.” The upcoming general elections will decide the make-up of the 19th Knesset, making Lapid the party leader in the next government as well as the one after it, without giving any other candidates the option of challenging him.


The party regulations further stipulate that the party chairman will oversee both the party’s central committee and the party’s administrative body, and will solely decide on the composition of the party’s Knesset list. The chairman will also be authorized to run non-party members for office on behalf of the party, will be the sole decider on whether or not the party joins the coalition, will conduct coalition talks himself, will appoint the party’s ministers and deputy ministers himself and, should he be voted prime minister, solely decide his party members’ positions in the government.


There is also growing criticism against Lapid’s weekly column in the popular Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper – it is widely held that journalists cannot serve as politicians due to conflicts of interest. Lapid did in fact resign from his television news anchoring job when he announced his entry into politics, but maintains the column.


Knesset Finance Committee Chairman Carmel Shama-Hacohen (Likud) called on the state comptroller to investigate whether Lapid’s column can be viewed as a forbidden contribution by the newspaper to a political candidate. „Beyond the immorality of biased and tendentious media, an unchecked newspaper column written by a politician is tantamount to a monetary contribution which requires oversight and regulation,” he said.


It appears that Aryeh Deri, once a Shas prodigy and now the powerful ultra-Orthodox party’s enemy, is planning to run on an independent list – he is expected to officially announce the establishment of his new party in two weeks, after the 30-day mourning period for his late father ends. Shas is not planning on sitting idly by and letting this happen – Shas Chairman Eli Yishai has already tried to ground Deri, saying Thursday that „I don’t believe that Deri will run in defiance of [Shas spiritual leader] Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.” Shas then issued an old recording where Yosef is heard criticizing Deri on some issue.


Yisrael Beitenu, the party that was central in instigating the early elections (which were originally scheduled for late 2013), is preparing its „service for all” bill – aimed at legislating the enlistment of ultra-Orthodox men and any other sector currently exempt from mandatory military service. The bill will be submitted to the Ministerial Legislative Committee for approval on Sunday, party leader Avigdor Lieberman announced on Thursday. He called on activists to pressure government to support the bill, adding that even if the ministers reject the bill he will still bring it to a preliminary vote at the Knesset.


Lieberman added that in the event of a dissolution of the Knesset before the bill is submitted he will seek the support of 61 MKs necessary to call a vote during the recess. In the meantime, as the legal adviser to the Knesset decided, the Tal Law, which exempts ultra-Orthodox men from service, will be automatically renewed if the Knesset is dissolved, to expire three months after the election.