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Can Herut Pass the Threshold?

There is considerable speculation in the Israeli press regarding whether the far-right-wing Herut party will sap critical strength from other right-wing parties in a futile attempt to retain their Knesset representation. The fear is that Herut will waste valuable votes that would otherwise be cast for parties of similar outlook that have realistic chances of winning seats in the Knesset. Accordingly, they want Herut to bow out now.

The National Union bloc (three parties including Yisrael Beitenu under Avigdor Lieberman and Moledet under Benny Elon), and the other right-leaning parties in Israel claim voting for Herut is a waste and are calling on the party to pull out of the elections.

Although current opinion polls predict that Herut is unlikely to reach the 50,000 vote threshold needed to win a Knesset seat, party leaders claim that tens of thousands of Herut supporters do not show up on pollsters’ radar screens. They claim to have evidence that masses of traditional United Torah Judaism supporters will abandon the “Ultra-orthodox” party in their favor in the belief that Herut is more dynamic and far more likely to make an impact in the government. Others, they argue, will not tell pollsters that they will vote for a party headed by a non-religious candidate such as Michael Kleiner. Still others hesitate to express support for Herut’s number two candidate, Baruch Marzel: a controversial figure who has been arrested numerous times by security forces and who was a follower of the late Meir Kahane, who was banned from the Knesset under charges of racism.

While Kleiner himself is careful to distance Herut from the Kach party, it is precisely that link that the party believes will provide the support Herut needs to win a seat. It’s precisely the reason that such support will not show up in the polls and surveys. A report published in the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, written by Nadav Shagrai, claims that 33% of Likud party voters, 52% of Shas voters, 50% of Yisrael Beitenu and 24% of National Religious Party Voters would vote for a Kahane list.

The struggle for seats on the right is one indication that the days of small parties wielding disproportionate influence might not be over. Twenty-six parties are competing for a total of 120 Knesset seats. Although Herut’s political agenda is similar to that of both the National Union and National Religious parties, the three are running on separate lists, increasing the vulnerability of each and placing their collective influence in the next government at risk.