From a ‘Love Hormone’ Expert to a Martial Arts Champ: Meet the New Faces in the 2019 Election Race

Some are already household names while others have taken a very scenic route into politics – regardless, these 17 wannabes are all fighting to get elected to the Knesset on April 9

Clockwise from upper left: Dr. Liat Yakir, Gadeer Mreeh, Ali Shalalha, and Alona Barkat.
Ohad Herches, Gadeer Mreeh's Facebook page, Tomer Appelbaum, ACK GUEZ / AFP

Israel’s mercurial parliament, with its constant rise of new affiliations and rapid decline of old ones, means that with every election a new batch of personalities debut on the national stage. They can come from the left or the right: 2013 brought us Labor’s Stav Shaffir; in 2015 we got Likud’s Oren Hazan.

Who are the new political personalities we’ll be talking about after the April 9 election? Here are some top prospects (and their number on their party’s election slate):

Haaretz Weekly Episode 17Haaretz

Kahol Lavan

Miki Haimovich (#7)

Lots of generals, not enough women. That’s been a common criticism of Benny Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael party (running on a joint ticket with Yesh Atid, as Kahol Lavan), which he has worked to blunt by recruiting recognizable female faces. There’s hardly a more familiar and friendly face than journalist Miki Haimovich, 56, who fronted news broadcasts on Israeli TV for decades. Haimovich brings an added bonus: Over the past decade, she has become a committed vegetarian and vegan activist – single-handedly bringing the concept of “Meatless Monday” to the Jewish state.

Meirav Cohen (#17)

Another familiar face to Israelis, Meirav Cohen, 35, was Jerusalem’s version of Stav Shaffir in 2011, leading that summer’s national social protest in the capital. Since then she has been visible and active in Jerusalem politics and the field of consumer protection as director of the organization Public Trust and co-founder of Crowd Action. TV viewers know her from a high-profile crusade on numerous news and magazine programs, acting as an avenging angel against swindlers who target the elderly. She previously gave national politics a try in Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah party, but didn’t make it to the Knesset. This time, she has a much better shot.  

Meirav Cohen
Eyal Toueg

Omer Yankelevich (#23)

This female Hosen L’Yisrael addition has never been a television news anchor – in fact, many in her community don’t even have a TV in their homes. Ultra-Orthodox activist Omer Yankelevich, 40, a British-Israeli attorney and mother of five from Beit Shemesh, is an unlikely addition to such a secular party. But her inclusion represents a statement of outreach. Yankelevich is not your typical feminist: While she is a strong legal advocate for women in her community, she is also outspoken when it comes to the right of Haredim to practice gender separation. She says imposing gender mixing can be “religious persecution under the guise of a murky and seemingly enlightened ideology.”

Omer Yankelevich.
Just Begun foundation's YouTube

Gadeer Mreeh (#25)  

Yet another female face from TV, Mreeh became the first non-Jewish woman to anchor Israel’s Hebrew news broadcast when she switched over from the Arabic desk at Kan public television. After breaking that glass ceiling, Mreeh was asked if, like other journalists, she might head into politics. “I never say never,” she said last November, adding prophetically that “sometimes things are predestined.” 

Kahol Lavan candidate Gadeer Mreeh, hoping to become the first female Druze lawmaker in Israel.
Sraya Diamant

Eitan Ginzburg (#32)

Eitan Ginzburg.
Ezra Levy

The most prominent LGBT member in Gantz’s party, Ginzburg, 42, became the country’s first openly gay mayor last March when he became acting head of Ra’anana – although he subsequently failed to win the mayoral race last fall. Ginzburg, who immigrated to Israel from Argentina as a young child, still serves on Ra’anana’s city council and has promised to make the Tel Aviv suburb “the most innovative city in Israel.” He has a young twin son and daughter with partner Yotam through a surrogate mother in Portland, Oregon.

Hayamin Hehadash

Alona Barkat (#3)

As the first female owner of a major-league soccer team in Israel, Alona Barkat, 49, knows the value of a good acquisition. This, time, though, the owner of reigning Israeli champion Hapoel Be’er Sheva hasn’t been trading players; she’s the new political player, vaulting to third spot on the new right-wing party headed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked. Wildly popular with her team’s supporters, Barkat’s move into politics isn’t surprising (German magazine Bild once called her the “Angela Merkel of soccer”) – but her choice of party is: She’s the sister-in-law of rising Likud star Nir Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem.   

Alona Barkat (center) with Hayamin Hehadash co-leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked during a press conference in Tel Aviv, February 7, 2019.
Jack Guez / AFP

Caroline Glick (#6)

The combative Jerusalem Post and Breitbart columnist, who security hawks love and left-wingers love to hate, was recruited almost immediately after Bennett and Shaked formed their breakaway party last December. A Chicago native who lives in the West Bank settlement of Efrat, Glick, 49, made aliyah in 1991, served in the Israeli army and as assistant foreign policy adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. She was close to entering Israeli politics four years ago with Likud, but looks a good bet for a seat with her new party.

Caroline Glick
Lev Radin / Alamy Stock Photo

Shirley Pinto (#10)

Should Shirley Pinto, 30, make it into the Knesset, she won’t just be another young female face in the parliament. She’ll also be a trailblazer as the first deaf Knesset member – a huge accomplishment for a woman who has made it her life’s work to advocate for those in her community. A role model for not allowing disability to stand in one’s way, Pinto served in the Israel Air Force as a volunteer and graduated from law school before co-founding the Israeli Center for Deaf Studies. She also lectured at Bar-Ilan University, training sign language interpreters.

Shirley Pinto.
Shirley Pinto's Facebook page

Ran Bar-Yoshafat  (#12)

If Hayamin Hehadash exceeds predictions and surges in the polls, for the first time there could be a former Israeli Mixed Martial Arts (MMA) champion in the Knesset. Bar-Yoshafat, who often shortens his name to Ran Bario, was Israel’s MMA champ back in 1999 and 2000, going on to serve in an elite unit in the Israeli army. He also engages in verbal combat as deputy director of the Kohelet Policy Forum, a right-wing and pro-free market think tank. He has a long résumé in pro-Israel advocacy, including with StandWithUs in the United States.  

Ran Bar-Yoshafat
Ran Bar-Yoshafat's Facebook page

Likud

Keren Barak (#25)

With a Likud list crowded with current MKs, high-powered transfers like Yoav Gallant (from Kulanu) and big names like former Jerusalem Mayor Barkat, the party primary left little room for fresh faces in slots high enough to make it into the Knesset.

One person who made it is Keren Barak, 46, a lobbyist (in professional parlance, “strategic consultant”) who previously ran in Likud’s 2009 and 2013 primaries. She is arguably best known for a run-in last year with Likud MK Yoav Kish, during a heated Knesset debate over child custody issues. Kish charged, in a formal complaint, that Barak pulled her hand across the front of her neck and told him “I’m going to eliminate you.” Barak later apologized in a letter, informing Kish that “I did not intend for you to feel your life is in danger.”

Keren Barak.
Tomer Appelbaum

May Golan (#33)

Though her slot on the slate makes her a long shot for a Knesset seat, the media-savvy, anti-immigrant activist – who gives fiery speeches against asylum seekers in south Tel Aviv – had an impressive showing in the party primary. Golan, 32, first attempted a Knesset run six years ago with the controversial Otzma Yehudit party (the Kahanists Netanyahu urged to unite with Habayit Hayehudi, eliciting much criticism from U.S. Jews). Golan told Haaretz’s Anshel Pfeffer recently, “I didn’t moderate my views to join Likud, they came to my position.”  

Gesher

Dr. Liat Yakir (#8)

Those who believe that what Israeli politics needs is less anger and more love should be rooting for the Gesher party. Orli Levi-Abekasis’ new Gesher party includes the only candidate who has delivered a TEDx Talk called “What is Love – Scientifically?” Dr. Liat Yakir is an expert on the “Wedding at First Sight” reality show, which seems an interesting job for a twice-divorced single mom.

Yakir’s research as a science communicator focuses on biochemistry, genetics and evolution, and she lectures on the evolutionary roots of human emotions and behavior. Will understanding “love hormones” help her navigate the Knesset? We’ll only know for sure if Gesher is far more successful in the election than currently predicted.

Hadash-Ta’al

Talal al-Krenawi (#9)

Talal al-Krenawi
Wikipedia

Though many Israeli Arabs have served in the Knesset, Bedouin representatives are still relatively rare, making the inclusion of the 65-year-old former mayor of Rahat on Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi’s joint slate notable. In 2015, he offered to help take in 1,000 Syrian refugees, promising them jobs at the local SodaStream plant. And on several occasions while serving as the head of Israel’s largest Bedouin city, Krenawi worked to calm the waters following terror attacks in and around his southern city. Following one such attack in 2017, he made a plea for calm and continued coexistence, stating that the Bedouin wanted to live in peace with their Jewish neighbors.

Meretz

Ali Shalalha (#5)

If a left-wing government ever made it into power, there probably wouldn’t be a better candidate for education minister than Ali Shalalha, 66. Under his guidance as principal, the low-income Druze village of Beit Jann has become the envy of the educational community. In 2000, when he took the reins of the Beit Jann Comprehensive School, where he had taught since 1979, only 12 percent of its seniors passed the bagrut matriculation exams that are required for higher education in Israel. Since then, his school has shot to the top of the national charts and become the country’s highest achieving school with a 100 percent pass rate. Meretz won’t be so lucky, but Shalalha has a chance of making it to the Knesset if the left-wing party repeats its 2015 performance.

Ali Shalalha
Tomer Appelbaum

Shas

Uriel Boso (#9)

This rising star of Shas, close to party leader Arye Dery and the deputy mayor of Petah Tikva, has not had a dull career. An explosive device was attached to his car and detonated in 2014, in what was widely viewed as a failed assassination attempt. The previous year, when the city’s mayor stepped down due to illness, he was the next in line, but his ascent was blocked because he was being investigated by police for bribery. Charges were never filed, however, and the case was closed: Boso’s power in his city has only grown ever since.

Uriel Boso
Moti Kimche

United Arab List-Balad

Heba Yazbak (#4)

Heba Yazbak
Heba Yazbak's Facebook page

Presuming both Arab slates manage to pass the electoral threshold, there will be two Arab women in the Knesset: Returning MK Aida Touma-Sliman and a newcomer – Heba Yazbak, a 33-year-old sociologist at Tel Aviv University who researches and teaches about Palestinian rights and society, with an emphasis on gender issues. She is second on Balad’s slate, ahead of the former mayor of Sakhnin, Mazen Ghanayem.

Yisrael Beiteinu

Evgeny Sova (#3)

Evgeny Sova
Yisrael Beiteinu spokesman

Benny Gantz isn’t the only party leader poaching talent from the world of television. So has Yisrael Beiteinu leader Avigdor Lieberman – and it isn’t the first time he has tapped talent from the ranks of Russian-language Channel 9 for his immigrant-based party. This time, he’s brought in Evgeny Sova, a popular host and political commentator on the channel, who has also been BBC News Russian’s correspondent in Israel. Sova is also known beyond the Russian-speaking sector: He regularly offers commentary on Russian affairs on Hebrew-language media and is a journalism lecturer at the West Bank’s Ariel University.