Binyamin Netanyahu: chairman of the Likud party and a chess player who managed to win a draw with chess master Natan Sharansky.
Part of his childhood was spent in the United States, and his fluent English frustrates Israeli and foreign mainstream media who hate him because his communication skills are better than theirs.
Shaul Mofaz: chairman of the Kadima party, which he joined the day after he said he would never leave the Likud. He ousted Tzipi Livni as party chair and inherited a party crippled by lack of leadership, internal dissension and a trail of corruption.
A successful former IDF Chief of Staff and arguably a less-than-successful politician, he is trying to turn the hareidi-religious draft issue into a one-issue campaign to topple Netanyahu. So far, his efforts have resulted in a fractured party, which was on the verge of a split-up Monday morning. A total mutiny was averted, but he told four Knesset Members to get lost.
Avigdor Lieberman: chairman of the Yisrael Beytenu party and a Russian immigrant who once worked as a bouncer in a bar. He was named by Voice of Israel government radio political analyst Hanan Kristal as one of Israel’s savviest politicians.
Lieberman has matter-of-factly said he will be Prime Minister one day. He might succeed unless police, who have been harassing him for 12 years, manage to convince government prosecutors to indict him for anything from breach of trust to bribery, or at least a traffic violation.
His ministers’ success in running their offices and minding their own business, unlike other undisciplined party Cabinet officers who have something to say about everything, has given Yisrael Beytenu a strong reputation among the public. It also has aroused jealousy in mainstream media people, who hate Lieberman because he says what he thinks, which is usually not in accord with the media’s center-left agenda.
Shelly Yechimovich: chairman of the Labor party and a former television and radio journalist. She is considered one of the hardest-working Knesset Members and is relatively honest intellectually. Yechimovich last year agreed to be interviewed by Arutz Sheva but only on questions concerning women’s rights and labor issues and not on the status of Judea and Samaria. Although she opposes Jewish outpost communities, she has been above politics in statements that express understanding of residents in Judea and Samaria.
Lately, buoyed by poll results showing her party within striking distance of the Likud, she has begun to take herself too seriously and really believes she can become the next Prime Minister. Her former employer, Voice of Israel, interviews her favorably on radio news broadcasts at least once a week.
Eli Yishai: Chairman of the Shas Sephardi religious party, which for years has been an enigma on the Israel political scene, and has managed to be part of a left-wing Labor coalition government and a nationalist Likud government. It has strongly supported a Jewish presence in Judea and Samaria but also backed former Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin during the age of Oslo Accords. Funding for yeshivas and social programs for low-incomes families, which are among its supporters, are the main planks of its platform.
Ehud Barak: chairman of his self-proclaimed Independence party after he quit the Labor party. Like Mofaz, he is a former IDF Chief of Staff but has proven to be a much worse politician than soldier. He swept into power after the first government of Binyamin Netanyahu fell in 1999. He enjoyed a commanding majority in his coalition government but blew it after only 18 months.
He offered then-PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat almost everything he wanted, was refused and was left with the Oslo War, otherwise known as the Second Intifada, as his less than crowning achievement. Barak then retired from politics, worked in the private business sector with strong connections in the military-industrial complex, vowed never to return to politics and then did exactly the opposite, narrowly winning the Labor party leadership in 2007.
After Netanyahu was given the nod to form the current government, Barak said he would remain in the Opposition. The next day, he accepted a position as Defense Minister. Last year, he duplicated his failure as party leader when he was Prime Minister in 2000 and split the party to create his own. Polls give him a narrow chance of entering the next Knesset.
Jewish Home: This is the party that succeeded the National Religious Party, which for years has conceded almost every ideological principle in order to maintain the political principle that it can “cause change from within.” Can it really? The jury has been out for years on that question.
Yaakov (Ketzaleh) Katz: Head of the National Union party, which stayed out of the coalition in order to maintain ideological nationalist principles rather than maintain the political principle of being unable to change from within.
His party is comprised of other strongly nationalist MKs who can freely say what they think since they have no political axe to grind within the coalition.
Meretz: This is the left-wing mirror image of the National Union. Its leadership has changed twice in the past thee years. Its strength has decreased slowly over the past several years, reflecting what even mainstream media have termed “intellectual bankruptcy" of the left, which generally demands freedom and tolerance on condition that the same rights do not apply to right-wing elements.
Yehadut HaTorah: The Ashkenazi version of Shas, it has maintained its party strength at 5-6 MKs and champions funds for yeshivas. Keeping true to its ideology, one of its MKs often runs a ministry but only as “deputy” minister in order not to give the impression that it identifies too much with the government. It is more powerful when there is a narrow coalition majority that is dependent on its MKs.
Arab parties: This is a bit of a misnomer because it includes the Hadash party, whose Jewish MK Dov Kheinin is a leader. The other parties have included an MK who fled the country after being indicted for helping Hizbullah in the Second Lebanon War. Ahmed Tibi had been the most prominent Arab MK, but his spot has been taken over by firebrand Hanin Zubai, who almost never disappoints journalists with anti-Israeli hate messages. Two weeks ago, she told students in Germany that the Israeli government is fascist.
When Jewish students arrived to counter her statements, she called them fascists, too.