Leader: Benjamin Netanyahu
Current seats in the Knesset: 37
Ideology: Right-Wing, Nationalism
Position on Two-State Solution: Opposes
Notable members:
Yuli Edelstein (Minister of Health)
Yisrael Katz (Minister of Finance)
Miri Regev (Minister of Transportation)
Amir Ohana (Minister of Public Security)
Nir Barkat (Former Mayor of Jerusalem)

Currently the largest part in the Knesset, the Likud party has helmed the government of Israel since 2009 under the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The Likud is considered to be the leader of the right-wing/ultra-Orthodox pro-Netanyahu bloc of parties that includes Shas, United Torah Judaism, Religious Zionism, and may also include Yamina (see below). The party was founded in 1973 in a merger of right-wing parties under the leadership of Menachem Begin, who formerly led the Revisionist Zionist Herut party and subsequently rose to the premiership in 1977, becoming Israel’s first right-wing Likud prime minister and the first not to come from the Labor Party or one of its antecedents. Other previous Likud prime ministers include Yitzhak Shamir and Ariel Sharon.

Inspired by the Revisionist Zionism associated with Ze’ev Jabotinsky, Likud generally opposes territorial concessions for the Palestinians. Despite Netanyahu previously paying lip service to the notion of a Palestinian state, Likud’s Central Committee endorsed West Bank annexation in 2017. More recently, Netanyahu has endorsed unilateral annexation of Israeli settlements and the Jordan Valley. He also expressed his support for the Trump administration’s Peace to Prosperity plan, which nominally called for a two-state solution, but in practice envisioned Israeli annexation of all settlements and permanent Israeli security control over a functionally non-independent Palestinian entity. Although this stated policy was suspended in August 2020 as a concession for establishing diplomatic relations with the United Arab Emirates, Netanyahu’s government continues to promote settlement activity that has furthered de facto or creeping annexation. Likud’s political philosophy is also characterized by economic liberalism that historically set it apart from its socialist rival, Labor, although these distinctions have become less important since privatization in the 1980s.

The series of elections begun in April 2019 are widely viewed as a referendum on Netanyahu and in an era when the political right is ascendant, Likud’s loyalty to its leader as he faces down corruption charges is perhaps its defining characteristic. 


Yesh Atid
Leader: Yair Lapid
Current seats in Knesset: 16
Ideology: Centrism, secularism
Position on Two-State Solution: Supports
Notable members:
Meir Cohen
Mickey Levy

Currently leading the opposition, former journalist Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid (“There is a future”) party is shaping up to be the second-largest party in the Knesset after elections. Yair Lapid founded the party in 2012, after which it proceeded to win 19 seats in the 2013 election, making it a prominent player in Israeli politics. After joining a Likud-led government, Lapid served as finance minister before subsequently falling out with Netanyahu. Since then, Lapid has since served as a prominent figure in the opposition. Prior to the April 2019 elections, Yesh Atid merged with Benny Gantz’s new Hosen l’Yisrael (Israel Resilience) to form the Kachol Lavan (Blue and White) alliance (see below). The alliance broke up after the March 2020 elections due to Gantz’s decision to join in a coalition with Netanyahu, a campaign promise that Lapid would not break.

Yesh Atid’s political agenda focuses on socio-economic issues and promoting governance and rule of law, particularly in light of Netanyahu’s refusal to step down after being indicted for corruption. The party has called for “a sane government” as a contrast to Netanyahu’s many personal scandals and Likud’s fealty to the ultra-Orthodox. Yesh Atid supports the notion of Israel as a secular, Jewish, democratic state and opposes the influence of Haredi parties (Shas and United Torah Judaism) and the Rabbinate in Israeli politics and society. While Yesh Atid’s main focus is not the Israeli-Palestinian relations, Yair Lapid has endorsed “separation” from the Palestinians and described the two-state solution as “the only game in town” when it comes to resolving the conflict. Lapid also supports amending the Nation-State Law, which many Israeli Arabs and Druze opposed.


New Hope
Leader: Gideon Sa’ar
Current seats in Knesset: n/a
Ideology: Right-wing, Nationalism
Position on Two-State Solution: Opposes
Notable members:
Yifat Shasha Bitton
Ze’ev Elkin
Benny Begin
Yoaz Hendel
Zvi Hauser
Dani Dayan (Former Israeli Consul-General in New York)

A longtime member of the Likud party who had previously served as education and interior minister, Gideon Sa’ar left his former political home to found the New Hope (Tikva Hadasha) Party in December 2020 with the aim of challenging Benjamin Netanyahu for the premiership. The party includes several other Likud defectors who have become disillusioned with Netanyahu, in addition to right-wing former Kachol Lavan members Yoaz Hendel and Zvi Hauser. Sa’ar had previously challenged Netanyahu for leadership of Likud in the party’s December 2019 primary, in which garnered a mere 27.5% of the vote to Netanyahu’s 72.5%.

Sa’ar has accused Netanyahu of turning Likud into a “cult of personality” and has positioned himself as a right-wing alternative who is unburdened with corruption allegations, but beyond opposition to the prime minister, not much distinguishes New Hope from Likud in terms of ideology.  Sa’ar has pledged not to sit in a government with Netanyahu and has promised to restore bipartisanship to the US-Israel relationship in the wake of Netanyahu’s close personal relationship with President Trump. On the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Sa’ar sits to the right of Netanyahu; he is an ardent supporter of settlements and has endorsed West Bank annexation before Netanyahu adopted that position.


Leader: Naftali Bennett
Current seats in Knesset: 3
Ideology: Right-wing, Religious Zionism
Position on Two-State Solution: Opposes
Notable members:
Ayelet Shaked

Yamina (Rightward) is a right-wing political party led by Naftali Bennet, and previously led by his political partner, Ayelet Shaked. Yamina was formerly a union of several right-of-Likud parties, including Bennet and Shaked’s more secular HaYamin HeHadash (The New Right), Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union, and Rafi Peretz’s Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home). Prior to the April 2019 election, Bennett and Shaked led the Bayit Yehudi party and served as ministers in the Netanyahu-led government. They currently sit in the opposition. 

Yamina is staunchly opposed to the creation of a Palestinian state and Naftali Bennett has been a longtime proponent of annexation. However, most of the party’s messaging during the campaign has centered around the pandemic and the economic crisis. He has called for cutting taxes and other policies intended to revitalize businesses and the economy. During the early months of the COVID-19 pandemic, Yamina saw a surge in the polls as Bennett positioned himself as a credible voice critical of the government’s pandemic response—he even went so far as to publish a book on the subject. Although Yamina’s popularity has waned amid the rise of Gideon Sa’ar and others, Bennett could be a kingmaker post-election and he has wavered on his opposition to Netanyahu. Despite initially coming out directly opposed to the prime minister, Bennet has refused to rule out sitting with him in a coalition. 


Leader: Merav Michaeli
Current seats in Knesset: 2
Ideology: Liberal Zionism, Center-Left
Position on Two-State Solution: Supports
Notable members:
Omer Bar-Lev
Emilie Moatti
Ibtisam Mara’ana

The Labor Party is the historic leader of the Israeli left, although it has witnessed uneven electoral results and a dramatic decline over the past two decades. Labor and its antecedents, which represented the socialist, secularist Zionist movement that founded the state, led every Israeli government until 1977. During the Oslo era, the party became closely associated with the peace process and the two-state solution under the leadership of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. In the wake of the Second Intifada and the Gaza disengagement in the early 2000s, the party’s influence waned as the Israeli left struggled to win over Israeli voters with its pro-peace narrative and much of the party’s former base turned to centrist alternatives like Kadima, Yesh Atid, and Kachol Lavan.

Like Kachol Lavan chair Benny Gantz, Labor’s former leader, Amir Peretz, faced significant criticism for choosing to join Netanyahu’s government in April 2020 after campaigning on a pledge not to do so. At the start of 2021, polls were showing the party not even crossing the electoral threshold to make it into the Knesset. The January 2021 primary victory of Merav Michaeli, who had maintained credibility by remaining in the opposition, saw a resurgence of interest in the party, which is now consistently polling at 6 or more seats. Michaeli openly supports the two-state solution and equality for all citizens of Israel. Although she has pledged not to sit in a coalition with Likud, she has not ruled out working with other right-wingers who share her desire to depose Netanyahu.


Leader: Nitzan Horowitz
Current seats in Knesset: 4
Ideology: Liberal Zionism, Social Democracy, Left-Wing
Position on Two-State Solution: Supports
Notable members:
Tamar Zandberg
Yair Golan 

Founded in 1992 as a joint list of several left-wing parties, Meretz has since served as the left-most flank of the Jewish Israeli political landscape (aside from the nominally Arab-Jewish Hadash party, which runs as a member of the Joint List). During the previous elections in March 2020, it ran as part of an alliance with Amir Peretz’s Labor and Orly Levy-Abekasis’ Gesher. While the latter two leaders joined the Netanyahu government in exchange for ministries, Meretz remained in the opposition. It is running on an independent slate in this election. 

Whereas the Labor party and others on the Israeli center-left have reduced their emphasis on the two-state solution as the conflict has faded from public discourse, Meretz has branded itself as staunchly anti-occupation and pro-two states. The party advocates for freezing settlements, closer dialogue with the Palestinians, and social democratic economic policies. Former leader Tamar Zandberg even visited Ramallah prior to the April 2019 elections to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. The party has struggled to expand its reach beyond its traditional base of urban Israeli leftists, although it won a significant portion of the Arab vote in April 2019 when the Joint List split into two factions. 


Kachol Lavan
Leader: Benny Gantz (Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister)
Current seats in Knesset: 12
Ideology: Center/Center-Right, Nationalism
Position on Two-State Solution: Vaguely supportive
Notable members:
Gabi Ashkenazi (Foreign Minister) (not running for re-election)
Omer Yankelevich (Minister of Diaspora Affairs) (not running for re-election)
Pnina Tamano-Shatta

Kachol Lavan was once considered the primary contender to replace Likud at the helm of the Israeli government. The party was founded in advance of the April 2019 elections through a merger of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party (see above), Moshe Ya’alon Telem faction, and Hosen l’Yisrael, a new party founded by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz. Branding itself as a big-tent, centrist, anti-Netanyahu party, Kachol Lavan went on to win well over thirty Knesset seats in the subsequent three elections, even beating Likud to become the largest party in September 2019. Although each time the party succeeded in blocking the pro-Bibi right-wing blocc from garnering a majority of seats, Kachol Lavan itself could not form a government without the support of the non- and anti-Zionist Arab Joint List, which it declined to do. Yair Lapid and Moshe Ya’alon withdrew their parties from the alliance in March 2020 after Gantz reneged on a campaign promise by joining a government with Netanyahu. Through this deal, which Gantz ostensibly struck in order to confront the coronavirus crisis, Gantz assumed the roles of defense minister and alternate prime minister. Gantz and Netanyahu also arranged a rotation agreement under which the former would assume the premiership after 18 months. That arrangement was widely criticized by observers who argued that Netanyahu had no intention of honoring the rotation. 

Kachol Lavan has since been hemorrhaging support, due to Gantz’s perceived betrayal of his voters. Whereas his erstwhile partner Lapid is poised to lead the second largest party in the twenty-fourth Knesset, what remains of Gantz’s Kachol Lavan today barely polls above the electoral threshold. While Gantz has vowed to press on, many other notable party members, including Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi and former Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, have since announced that they will not be running. On February 22, 130 former senior military and defense establishment figures wrote an open letter to Gantz calling on him to withdraw from the race—a devastating blow to a former IDF chief of staff. Though Gantz has admitted that he believes joining with Netanyahu was a mistake, he has defended his role in the government as a crucial check on Likud’s power. He has since called for a broad center-left coalition to replace Netanyahu. 


Religious Zionism
Leader: Bezalel Smotrich
Current seats in Knesset: 2
Ideology: Far-right, Religious Zionist, Ultranationalism, Conservatism, Kahanism
Position on Two-State Solution: Opposes
Notable members:
Itamar Ben-Gvir
Avi Moaz

Religious Zionism is a union of three far-right, religious Zionist factions: Bezalel Smotrich’s National Union, Itamar Ben-Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power), and Avi Moaz’s Noam. National Union ran previously as a part of Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, whereas Otzma Yehudit and Noam have never made it into the Knesset. These parties, which call for turning Israel into a “Halachic” state (a state governed by Jewish religious law) and support racist, discriminatory policies against Arab citizens, united under the Religious Zionism umbrella in early February 2021. This union was facilitated by Benjamin Netanyahu in order to ensure that no right-wing, pro-Netanyahu parties fall below the electoral threshold. Likud and Religious Zionism have since signed a vote-sharing agreement. 

Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit is the ideological successor of Rabbi Meir Kahane’s Kach Party, a racist, Jewish supremacist party which endorsed revoking Israeli citizenship of non-Jews and supported acts of terror against Palestinians. Representing a marginal, extremist segment of Israeli society, the Kach Party was ultimately banned by Israel’s Central Elections Committee and is viewed by both Israel and the US as a terrorist organization. Otzma Yehudit, however, is poised to be a key supporting player in the government should the pro-Netanyahu bloc emerge victorious, although Netanyahu has promised that Ben Gvir will not receive a ministry. The Noam faction is best known for its blatant homophobia and stark opposition to LGBTQ+ rights. Smotrich himself, who would in fact hold a ministry and serve as an important partner in the next Netanyahu government, has referred to himself as a “proud homophobe” and has stated that he believes Israel should be governed “as in the days of King David.” 


Leader: Aryeh Deri (Minister of the Interior)
Current seats in Knesset: 9
Ideology: Haredi Judaism, social conservatism
Position on Two-State Solution: Ambiguous
Notable members:
Yitzhak Cohen

Shas (an acronym for Shomrei Sfarad, or “Sephardic Guardians”—its full legal name translates to the “International Union of Sephardic Torah Guardians”) is one of the two Haredi parties in the Knesset. Founded by former Chief Sephardi Rabbi Ovadia Yosef in 1984, the party sought to advocate for religious Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews (Jews from the Middle East, North Africa, and Southern Europe) who did not enjoy the same representation as Ashekanzim within the Haredi political establishment. The party has a solid base of support among the Sephardi and Mizrahi Haredi community, as well as a contingency of non-Haredi Mizrahim. It supports eroding the boundary between religious authority and the secular Israeli state and is staunchly socially conservative. It generally leans right on non-religious issues but has historically been open to territorial concessions to the Palestinians. The party does not take an official position on the conflict.

Like its Ashkenazi counterpart, United Torah Judaism, Shas has historically functioned as a kingmaker in Israeli politics by agreeing to sit in a government with whoever will fulfill the narrow interests of its constituency, such as exemption from military service and generous government subsidies for those who choose to study Torah rather than work. Recently, however, these two parties have closely aligned themselves with Netanyahu and it is unlikely that they would recommend a different party leader for the premiership; indeed, both have pledged not to do so. In recent campaigns, Shas leader Aryeh Deri even went as far as to appear next to Netanyahu—the leader of another party—on Shas billboards, in order to highlight the party’s close relationship with the prime minister.


United Torah Judaism
Leader: Yaakov Litzman (Minister of Housing and Construction; leader of Agudat Yisrael faction)
Current seats in Knesset: 7
Ideology: Hareid Judaism, social conservatism
Position on two-state solution: Ambiguous
Notable members:
Moshe Gafni (Leader of Degel HaTorah faction)

United Torah Judaism (Yahadut HaTorah) is a joint list of two Haredi parties: the Hassidic Agudat Yisrael, led by Yaakov Litzman, and the Lithuanian (non-Hassidic) Degel HaTorah, led by Moshe Gafni. The two factions, both of which represent Ashkenazi Haredi Jews (ultra-Orthodox Jews of Eastern European ancestry), are associated with distinct Haredi rabbinic traditions and sages, but speak with a singular voice within the context of Israeli politics. The parties have occasionally run on separate lists as well, due to internal disputes on the distribution of Knesset seats, but have run together in the previous few elections. UTJ advocates for many of the same positions as Shas, its Sephardi counterpart, including an erosion of the boundary between religion and state and basing Israeli law on Halacha and general social conservatism. 

UTJ is a non-Zionist party and does not take a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It has previously been open to territorial concessions to the Palestinians. Like Shas, UTJ played a kingmaker role by agreeing to sit in a government with whoever will maintain the status quo of generous government subsidies and exemption from military service for Haredim. Currently, both parties are closely aligned with Netanyahu and they have promised not to recommend another leader for prime minister. 


Joint List
Leader: Ayman Odeh (Leader of Hadash)
Current seats in Knesset: 11
Ideologies: Two-state solution, Non-/Anti-Zionism, left-wing, Arab nationalism
Position on two-state solution: Supports
Notable members:
Ahmad Tibi (Leader of Ta’al)
Sami Abu Shehadeh (Leader of Balad)

The Joint List is an alliance of Arab Israeli and leftist political parties. It currently consists of Hadash, a non-Zionist, Arab-Jewish party founded through a merger of socialist and communist parties; Ta’al, a secular Arab nationalist party; and Balad, a pan-Arab nationalist, anti-Zionist party. In previous elections, it also included the Islamist, anti-Zionist Ra’am, which is currently running independently (see below). These separate Arab parties formed the Joint List in 2015, after the electoral threshold to enter the Knesset was raised to 3.25%. Due to the non- or anti-Zionist slant of the Joint List’s constituent factions, the party has never before joined a government, both because its leaders have opted not to in the past and because centrist officials from Jewish-Zionist parties have stated their unwillingness to work with the Joint List. While the Joint List represents a broad spectrum of ideologies, it generally seeks to advocate for Arab citizens of Israel and supports an end to the occupation via a two-state solution. The separate parties have their own specific policy platforms.

In the March 2020 elections, the Joint List managed to garner 15 Knesset seats, the most for any Arab party in history, making it the third largest party in the Knesset. With the anti-Netanyahu holding a slim majority of seats, the Joint List took the important step of recommending Benny Gantz for prime minister in an effort to depose Netanyahu, marking only the second time in Israeli history that an independent Arab party has recommended a Jewish-Zionist candidate. However, key members of Kachol Lavan announced that they would not under any circumstances sit in a government supported by the Joint List, thus foiling any attempt at turning the anti-Netanyahu majority into a governing coalition. With several weeks to go until the March 2021 election, the party is currently on track to lose several seats, due to the schism with Ra’am and growing dissatisfaction with the party from within the Arab community. In the current election cycle, Jewish-Zionist political parties, including Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud have campaigned in Arab cities. The Joint List also faced criticism for voting against ratifying the normalization agreement with the United Arab Emirates, despite widespread support for the deal among Arab citizens of Israel. 


United Arab List (Ra’am)
Leader: Mansour Abbas
Current seats in Knesset: 4
Ideology: Islamism, Anti-Zionism, political conservatism
Position on two-state solution: Supports
Notable members:
Iman Khatib-Yasin
Walid Taha

The United Arab List, known primarily by its Hebrew acronym Ra’am (HaReshima HaAravit HaMeuhedet), is an Arab-Israeli party associated with the southern faction of the Islamic movement. Established in 1996, it joined with Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al in 2006 and later became a part of the Joint List in 2015. The party is anti-Zionist, in favor of the two-state solution, and distinguishes itself from other Arab political parties by its social conservatism. It is particularly popular among the Bedouin community. 

On January 28, 2021, Ra’am officially split from the Joint List. This schism arose primarily due to Mansour Abbas’ willingness to work with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Abbas has called for greater cooperation with the Zionist parties in power, despite his own party’s staunchly anti-Zionist stance. Netanyahu, who used racist dog whistles in past elections, warned of Arabs coming “in droves” to the polls, and chided his rivals as being too pro-Arab, has exacerbated the dispute within the Joint List for his own political gain by showing willingness to work with Abbas. Ayman Odeh, leader of the Joint List, openly stated his opposition to Abbas’s “collaboration with the inciter [Netanyahu].” Ra’am also broke with the rest of the Joint List back in July 2020 when it opposed a bill outlawing LGBTQ conversion therapy. It remains to be seen whether the newly-independent Ra’am will make it into the twenty-fourth Knesset, with some polls showing it falling short of the electoral threshold and others projecting it just squeaking past the mandated 3.25%. 


Yisrael Beiteinu
Leader: Avigdor Liberman
Current seats in Knesset: 7
Ideology: Nationalism, Secularism, Center-Right
Position on two-state solution: Supports
Notable members:
Oded Forer
Evgeny Sova

Yisrael Beiteinu is a secularist, right-wing party that has historically represented Russian-speaking Israelis and Jews who made aliyah from the Soviet Union. Avigdor Liberman founded Yisrael Beiteinu in 1999 and the party has since enjoyed a semi-consistent base of support among Russian-speaking Israelis, although the party has sought to branch out beyond this narrow constituency. Like Likud, the party’s platform embraces the Revisionist school of Zionism associated with Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Liberman is known for his hawkishviews and supports instituting an oath of allegiance as a prerequisite for Israeli citizenship, particularly among the Haredi and Arab communities where anti-Zionist sentiments run deep. The party officially supports a two-state solution based on the so-called Liberman Plan, under 

which Israel would transfer the Triangle area, a predominantly Arab region adjacent to the Green Line, to the Palestinians. This plan has been opposed by many center-left and Israeli Arab leaders because it would deprive hundreds of thousands of Israeli Arabs of their citizenship, although it was notably incorporated into an early version of the Trump administration’s Peace to Prosperity plan. More recently, Liberman has called for repealing the Nation-State Law, an Israeli Basic Law that many Arabs and Druze opposed.

Yisrael Beiteinu is perhaps best distinguished from other right-wing parties by its opposition to the influence of religious authorities in the government. After serving as minister of defense in the Netanyahu-led government, Liberman withdrew Yisrael Beiteinu from the coalition ostensibly due to his opposition to a recent cease-fire in Gaza, an event that triggered the April 2019 elections. Liberman has since conditioned any future support for Netanyahu on him shunning the Haredi parties as coalition partners supporting a bill that would end the Haredi community’s exemption from the military draft. Simultaneously, however, he made it clear that he would not join a Kachol Lavan-led government that relied on the support of the Joint List. Thus, in the wake of the April 2019, September 2019, and March 2020 elections, Lieberman appeared poised to play the role of “kingmaker,” as his party’s seats had the power to bestow a 61-seat majority to either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu bloc, although the rise of new parties have somewhat diminished Liberman’s influence. This year, Liberman has made it clear that he will not join a Netanyahu-led government.