Leader – Avigdor Lieberman
Party’s Official Name: Yisrael Beiteinu
MKs in current Knesset – 15
Latest Haaretz poll (running in a joint list with Likud) – 34
In 1999, when Avigdor Lieberman announced he was founding a new party for Russian immigrants, it was unclear whether he was trying to challenge Benjamin Netanyahu, to whom he was a close aide for a decade, or setting up a “satellite party” that would collect voters Likud struggled to attract. Thirteen years have passed and the answer is still unknown, but Yisrael Beiteinu has now come full circle with the agreement to run in a joint list with Likud: Lieberman has gone back “home.” It isn’t clear yet, however, whether the two parties are planning a full merger down the line.
Over the years, Yisrael Beiteinu has tried to shed its ethnic image with a wider range of candidates (though about two-thirds of the party’s voters in the last election were still immigrants from the former Soviet Union). Today the party no longer focuses on the welfare of immigrants but rather on nationalistic issues such as a “loyalty pledge” for Israeli Arab citizens.
Yisrael Beiteinu also advocated a civil partnership law, though only for immigrants who aren’t recognized as Jews by the state’s Orthodox establishment, and a controversial plan to swap territory with a future Palestinian state, keeping settlements within Israel’s borders and ceding areas populated by Israeli Arabs. With such gimmicks Lieberman has tried to bolster Yisrael Beiteinu’s claim to be the most solidly right-wing party in Israel. Enjoying unprecedented popularity ahead of the 2009 elections, Yisrael Beiteinu became the third-largest party in the Knesset, and occupied influential cabinet and Knesset committee positions. But despite all this, the party failed to push through much of its proposed legislation.
There are no primaries in Yisrael Beiteinu and the party’s list of candidates is determined by a small committee chaired by Lieberman. This election, he has enlisted Yair Shamir, son of the late former Likud leader and Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir. Yisrael Beiteinu candidates will occupy a third of the spots on the joint list and their identity will be determined only after the Likud primaries.
Another political dowry Lieberman is bringing to the union with Likud is Yisrael Beiteinu’s campaign adviser, veteran GOP strategist Arthur Finkelstein (who had been hired by Netanyahu in the past). It was Finkelstein who urged the two party leaders to join forces asserting that they would poll better together. Most of the polls so far have Likud Beiteinu receiving fewer seats in the next Knesset than the number each party currently holds combined.