The February 10, 2009 Israeli elections brought several major themes in Israeli politics to the forefront.
The emergence of Yisrael Beiteinu and its right-wing agenda indicates that conservative politics will dominate for some time to come. Additionally, dwindling Palestinian participation in the political system is a challenge to claims of liberal democracy.
EXISTING POLITICAL PARTIES
The parties dominating Israeli politics have changed since a split in the center-right Likud ("Consolidation") party over Israelzzz*zs withdrawal from Gaza in 2005. The Kadima party emerged as a result of former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s decision to withdraw from Gaza - a decision that was supported by some Likud members. These members joined Sharon in the newly-constituted Kadima party, along with some representatives of other parties. Ehud Olmert led the Kadima Party after Ariel Sharon suffered a stroke in January 2006. Tzipi Livni presently heads this party.
The remaining Likud party, led by Benyamin Netanyahu who served as prime minister from 1996 to 1999, has since moved further to the right in its political ideology. "Avoda" or the Labor party, considered center-left, is led by the present defense minister, Ehud Barak, who also served as prime minister from 1999 to 2001.
The other prevalent Jewish parties include the secular non-partisan parties of Meretz ("Vitality") which is leftist, Yarokim (the Green party, an environmentalist party), and Hadash ("HaHazit Democratit le Shalom" in Hebrew, "Democratic Front for Peace" in Arabic), which is considered the descendant of Israelzzz*zs Communist party.
Some Israeli parties have adopted secular nationalist claims that reflect the wider Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Yisrael Beitenu ("Israel is Our Home) has far right, neo-fascist views. Taal (United Arab List) supports Arab minority rights and Balad (National Democratic Alliance) is considered an Arab nationalist party.
Virtually all of the religious parties in Israel are Jewish-partisan and tend to be right-wing on foreign policy. They also espouse welfare rights since many of their constituencies depend on government subsidies. (In Israel, religious Jews are offered exemption from military service and subsidies that allow them to pursue religious learning.)
These groups are mainly led by the National Religious Party, United Torah Judaism, and Shas (predominantly non-European Jewish, or Sephardic). Finally, there is one special interest party in the government named the Good Way, ("HaDerekh HaTova"), which advocates for the rights of senior citizens.
PUBLIC PARTICIPATION & MEDIA
Israeli media presents a substantial platform for political debate and discussion. However, self-censorship often inhibits the Israeli mediazzz*zs role as a democratic check on governmentzzz*zs performance and accountability. The media has been criticized by the public for portraying conflict situations and crises as "disaster marathons" thereby turning tragedies into spectacles. State media uses biased or language considered insulting by Palestinians and Israelzzz*zs Arab citizens.
In 1993, when non-state television media entered the market, media presentations of Arabs began to shift, describing them as "other" rather than "the enemy". Print media is more diverse in Israel than television and radio, and the internet provides international perspectives. Israelzzz*zs military censor restricts the publication of some information considered too sensitive, but the proliferation of international satellite channels in the region has made these restrictions somewhat redundant.
BASIC RIGHTS & FREEDOM
The right to freedom of speech and association in Israel includes the right to demonstrate peacefully for political causes, pending municipality approval. Israelzzz*zs Supreme Court upheld this right in 2005 when it allowed an annual gay and lesbian rights parade to take place in Jerusalem.
However, events related to religious-national rights are often restricted by local authorities. On March 24, 2009, right-wing Jewish activists finally held a march in the Arab-Israeli town of Um al-Fahm after police originally barred the event due to security concerns. Clashes broke out at the event between Palestinian protesters and 2,500 riot police deployed to protect the marchers.