Israel's New Knesset: Fewer Women and Arabs, More Religious Lawmakers

The 21st Knesset will have more religiously observant lawmakers than before - but also more LGBTQ community members

File photo: The Knesset, Jerusalem.
Olivier Fitoussi

The election results published by the Central Elections Committee last Tuesday revealed the final makeup of the 21st Knesset, which will include fewer women, Arabs and new immigrants but more religious lawmakers, LGBTQ lawmakers and new faces than the previous Knesset.

Compared with the previous Knesset, which had 39 new legislators, 49 new Knesset members will join the ranks this time, with 24 of them coming from Kahol Lavan and 11 from the Likud. They will be joined by five MKs who already served earlier terms. These include Gideon Sa’ar and Boaz Toporovsky. This time around, seven new members have a background in municipal politics, including Nir Barkat and Alon Shuster, former mayor of Jerusalem and head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council, respectively. Two new members are journalists – Miki Haimovich and Gadeeer Mreeh of Kahol Lavan.

The outgoing Knesset set a new record for the number of female legislators serving at the same time – 35. Some started immediately after the election, while others joined after the resignation of other members during the Knesset’s term. The incoming Knesset will include 29 women, belonging to 9 of the 11 parties that won seats (the two ultra-Orthodox parties have no women).

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The number of female legislators may grow later on if some lawmakers resign. For example, Einav Kabla is in the 37th slot at Kahol Lavan, which received 35 slots only, while Orit Strock is in sixth place at the Union of Right-Wing Parties, which received five seats. Some prominent women who will not be in the incoming Knesset are Merav Ben Ari from Kulanu, Merav Michaeli from Labor and Shuli Moalem-Refaeli of the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

President Reuven Rivlin referred to the drop in female representation, telling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: “I hope that in the incoming Knesset and cabinet we’ll see women in meaningful roles and as heads of committees, ensuring that women’s voices are heard loud and clear.”

The number of non-Jewish MKs is also expected to fall, with ten Arabs and two Druze legislators – Patin Mula of Likud and Gadeer Mreeh of Kahol Lavan. In the previous (20th) Knesset, there were 13 Arab and five Druze lawmakers. That Knesset included 12 Arab members from the Joint List and Esawi Freige from Meretz. In this Knesset, the Arab population of Israel will be represented by Freige, four members of United Arab List-Balad and five members of Hadash-Ta’al.

The new Knesset will include 15 former members of the defense establishment: Eight were senior military officers, including three chiefs of staff at the top of the Kahol Lavan list, as well as five major-generals (res.), including Orna Barbivai, Tal Rousso and Uzi Dayan. The Knesset will also have two brigadier generals (res.), Rafi Peretz and Miri Regev, as well as Col. (res.) Moti Yogev from the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

Other branches of the defense establishment are also represented in the Knesset: Avi Dichter, a former head of the Shin Bet, Ram Ben Barak, a former deputy Mossad chief and two retired police major generals, Mickey Levy and Yoav Segalovitz.

The new Knesset will include 21 lawmakers from religious parties, the same as in the outgoing Knesset, but if one counts Eli Ben Dahan, who was elected as a Likud member but is expected to move to the Union of Right-Wing Parties, there will be 22 members from religious parties.

Alongside the 22 legislators from religious parties there will be 10 other ultra-Orthodox or national–religious legislators elected to non-religious parties. These include seven Likud members, other than Ben Dahan - including new members Shlomo Karhi and Kathy Sheetrit. Kahol Lavan has four, including ultra-Orthodox Omer Yankelevich. All told, there will be 33 Orthodox MKs in the new Knesset.

The new Knesset will have a record number of LGBTQ community members. Amir Ohana and Itzik Shmuli have been joined by Eitan Ginzburg, Idan Roll and Yorai Lahav Hertzanu, coming from the bottom of Kahol Lavan’s slate, bringing the total to five legislators.

Immigrants will have eight representatives. There will be two Ethiopian legislators like at the onset of the 20th Knesset. Pnina Tamano-Shata and Gadi Yevarkan are both from Kahol Lavan. The Knesset will have six members from the former Soviet Union - three from Yisrael Beiteinu (Avigdor Lieberman, Evgeny Sova and Yulia Malinovsky) two from Likud (Zeev Elkin and Yuli Edelstein) and one from Kahol Lavan (Yoel Razvozov). The previous Knesset included 12 immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.