Israel Election Results: Fewer Women and LGBT People — but Lots of Ex-generals — in New Knesset

While there will be many ultra-Orthodox lawmakers, there are only nine religious-Zionist/Modern Orthodox legislators — though the Arab community and Russian-speaking Israelis are well represented

From left: Nitzan Horowitz, Revital Swid, Gadi Yevarkan and Orli Levi-Abekasis.
All photos by Tomer Appelbaum

It’s no mystery that the Knesset being sworn in on October 2 will resemble the one from last spring. After all, the party slates were nearly identical. The parties had little time or energy to rearrange their tickets as they rushed into a new campaign after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu failed to form a governing coalition.

As a result, only eight members of the 22nd Knesset will be entering the 120-seat chamber for the first time.

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That inauguration will take place despite the uncertainty about the makeup of the governing coalition and identity of the new premier. The composition of the Knesset is the one thing that was determined by last Tuesday’s vote; now come the negotiations just launched at the President’s Residence.

To recap, the 21st Knesset sat for a record short time. Sworn in on April 30 after the April 9 election — with a record 49 brand new legislators — the lawmakers were barely able to settle into their offices when Netanyahu announced he was moving to dissolve the legislature.

On May 30, the Knesset dissolved itself and called a new election for September 17. While the spring newcomers technically remain Knesset members through September, they’ve hardly had a chance to make their mark. For some, their biggest moment was voting for the dissolution.

For feminists, female representation in the Knesset is now even more disappointing than it was last spring. The 20th Knesset, elected in 2015, had a record 35 women at its peak; 29 were elected and the number grew over the next four years. Only 29 were elected in April, though, followed by 28 this month.

Some of the newly elected female lawmakers in April didn’t make it this time around. But others — like Labor-Gesher’s Merav Michaeli and Revital Swid — have made it back after upheaval in the Labor Party pushed them up the ticket.

Meanwhile, Gesher leader Orli Levi-Abekasis is back on the block (her Gesher party failed to top the 3.25-percent electoral threshold in April). Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is also back, this time as the leader of the right-wing Yamina alliance (or what will remain of it if, as expected, it now splinters) after her Hayamin Hehadash party didn’t cross the threshold last time around.

The number of LGBT Knesset members will also be down from April after two candidates low on the Kahol Lavan slate didn’t make the cut. Idan Roll and Yorai Lahav Herztzanu were 34th and 35th on the ticket, but Benny Gantz’s party won 33 seats.

That means there will be four LGBT legislators in the 22nd Knesset, including Eitan Ginzburg of Kahol Lavan, Itzik Shmuli of Labor-Gesher and the current justice minister, Amir Ohana of Likud. And the LGBT community can boast its first party leader: the head of the Democratic Union left-wing alliance, Nitzan Horowitz.

While the ultra-Orthodox community will be well represented after a strong showing by Shas and United Torah Judaism, there are only nine religious-Zionist/Modern Orthodox legislators, reflecting the weak showing by Yamina and the failure of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party to pass the electoral threshold.

With the Joint List of Arab parties back after its debut in 2015, the number of non-Jewish Israelis — Arabs and Druze — inches up to 13, from April’s 12. Still, in the 20th Knesset there were also Arab and Druze legislators in Likud, Labor, Meretz (now the core of Democratic Union) and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu, producing a record high of 16.

As in the previous Knesset, there will be no shortage of army generals — most prominently Gantz, a former Israel Defense Forces chief of staff. Back in 2016, after Moshe Ya’alon left the Knesset, there were no former IDF chiefs in parliament — for the first time since 1959, according to the Israel Democracy Institute. But in April and again in September we’ve had Kahol Lavan’s Gantz, Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. Had Democratic Union’s Ehud Barak made it in, there would have been four former chiefs of staff in the Knesset.

Kahol Lavan's three former IDF chiefs of staff — Moshe Ya'alon (seated), Gabi Ashkenazi (left) and Benny Gantz in the Knesset, April 30, 2019.
Olivier Fitoussi

In all, the September count includes those three retired lieutenant generals, two ex-brigadier generals (Rafi Peretz and Miri Regev) and a former Shin Bet security service chief (Avi Dichter).

The September success of Yisrael Beiteinu (eight seats, up from five in April)  has boosted the number of immigrants from the former Soviet Union in the Knesset, after a steady drop over the years. The number of Ethiopian Israelis has held steady from April now that Gadi Yevarkan, No. 33 on the Kahol Lavan list, has just got in. Higher up on the ticket at 24 is Pnina Tamano-Shata, who became the first female Ethiopian-Israeli MK when she was elected as a member of Yesh Atid in 2013 (Yair Lapid’s party is now part of Kahol Lavan).

The numbers, however, are highly likely to shift once a governing coalition is formed and ministers from various parties are named, thanks to the so-called Norwegian law passed in 2015. That controversial legislation made it possible for cabinet members and deputy ministers to resign their Knesset seats to open up places in parliament for other party members. It lets them return to the legislature if the government falls or if they resign their ministry position.