In Israeli Party Primaries, Money Talks

Chaim Levinson
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Chaim Levinson

A direct correlation exists between the sums candidates spend on their primary campaigns and their chances of reaching the Knesset, at least in the large parties, Haaretz has found.

Parties must submit their lists of Knesset candidates to the election committee by the beginning of December in the run-up to the January 22 vote. So members of large parties face a tense 40 days before they find out who will land high slots, ensuring a seat in parliament.

Likud's primary is the cruelest. Twenty-four ministers and MKs as well as Moshe Feiglin, Tzachi Hanegbi, Kati Sheetrit and Emmanuel Navon will vie for 20 places on the list.

In the previous Likud primary, 67 candidates ran, spending a total of NIS 8.1 million. Each vote cost an average of NIS 22.3. The 18 candidates who topped the list spent an average of NIS 234,651. The also-rans spent an average of NIS 82,925.

Feiglin and Yehiel Leiter each spent NIS 392,000 and did not win spots that gave them a good chance of getting into the Knesset. Eli Avidar, a businessman and diplomat, spent NIS 323,000 and merely reached the 43rd slot.

Of those who made the Knesset, the biggest spender was Gilad Erdan, who invested NIS 395,000. He was followed by Gideon Sa'ar, who spent NIS 394,000. Benny Begin and Michael Eitan spent NIS 96,000 and NIS 80,000 respectively.

Avidar spent the most per vote, NIS 135. Next came Ayala Stegman, who invested NIS 95,000 and received only 788 votes (NIS 120.5 per vote ). The thrifty ones were Zeev Elkin (NIS 1.7 per vote ) and Ayoob Kara (NIS 2.8 per vote ).

Statistically, candidates seeking a spot on their party's list will have to raise at least NIS 187,000.

Those aspiring for a place on the various regional lists, however, need far fewer votes to get in. Zion Pinyan, for example, was elected to the Knesset after winning in the Likud's Galilee region with a mere 1,018 votes. Spots are reserved for candidates representing regions and groups, such as women, Arabs and new immigrants.

Shimon Sarel, who ran in Likud's Haifa region, spent NIS 200,000 but received only 246 votes and was ranked last on the list. Sarel sued Likud, claiming that his photograph in the voting computers had been replaced, confusing voters. One way or another, the average expense for contestants in the regional lists was NIS 49,533, an average of NIS 82 per vote.

Statistically, a candidate who wants to land first place on his regional list will have to spend NIS 63,950.

Despite the statistical correlation, money doesn't always guarantee a high slot. Zalman Shoval, for example, spent the highest sum - NIS 440,000 - in Likud's 2008 primary, but he didn't make it into the Knesset. Kara, who spent only NIS 27,000, did.

In Labor, 18 candidates ran for the national list and 10 of them entered the Knesset. Einat Wilf, number 14 on the party's list, entered the Knesset after Ophir Pines-Paz quit. Today she belongs to Ehud Barak's Atzmaut faction.

Labor's lucre lost

Money played a major role in Labor's primary as well, but the connection between the expense and the slot is less pronounced than in Likud. Businessman Avi Shaked invested NIS 320,000 in his campaign and made 11th place, but he was pushed down to 29th place because of the spots earmarked for candidates from regions and groups.

Labor candidates spent an average of NIS 120,000 on their campaigns and about NIS 10 per vote. The greatest spender per voter was Wilf, who spent NIS 29 for each of her 10,425 votes. Nadia Hilo, who didn't make it into the Knesset, was the thriftiest candidate with less than a shekel per vote.

Labor is undergoing a renewal ahead of the elections. Surveys say it could achieve 20 to 22 Knesset seats.

The party's convention will meet on October 30 to determine the primary method and which slots to reserve for which groups. Assuming the candidates in the first 12 places on the national list enter the Knesset, each contender will need NIS 93,000 for his primary campaign, based on former primaries.

Meretz is also holding a primary, but in that left-wing party there is no correlation between candidates' spending and their rank on the Knesset list.

The Meretz list is elected by the 1,000 central committee members. The candidates spend an average of NIS 9,000. The biggest spender, Gavri Bargil, spent NIS 20,000 in the last campaign; Bargil joined Kadima in March 2011.

Kadima isn't holding a primary this time around, saving candidates about NIS 86,000 each - the average spent last time. Kadima held a primary only for a national list and later upgraded new immigrants and Arabs to improve their chances of entering the Knesset.

As with Likud and Labor, a clear correlation could be seen between the sum spent by Kadima candidates and their place on the list.

The Likud conventionCredit: Daniel Bar-On