A Year to Kahol Lavan’s Founding: How Israel’s Party of Generals Became an Effective Political Force

A group of party activists gathered outside the Kahol Lavan headquarters – a glass-fronted restaurant that went out of business recently – on a cold night in Jerusalem earlier this week. A passerby, planning to vote for the Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance, challenged them on the increasingly right-wing positions their party has taken in recent weeks. “It’s all OK,” one of the activists told him, smiling. “We’re all on the same side, voting for the same camp.”

– Haaretz Weekly Ep. 60

Netanyahu’s ‘annexation nation’ is ready to strike again. ListenHaaretz Weekly Ep. 60

Nine months ago, on the eve of the first election it contested, Kahol Lavan’s frantic message was that it needed to be the largest party. That was the only way to beat Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud. The strategy worked so well, it nearly pushed left-wing parties Labor and Meretz beneath the electoral threshold. Had that happened, Netanyahu’s majority would have been ensured.

Now, a few weeks before the third election in less than a year, Kahol Lavan is playing a much savvier game. Instead of cannibalizing its partners, it is finally aiming for Likud’s soft underbelly: Right-wingers who are fed up with Netanyahu. Its leaders have finally understood that the priority is growing the anti-Netanyahu coalition, even if it means losing seats to the left.

A year after it was formed as a merger of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem parties, Kahol Lavan has transformed what was an unwieldy and uncoordinated list of haphazardly selected candidates into an effective campaign unit.

The polls are healthy. Despite the expectation that a stronger alternative to its left in the form of the Labor-Meretz slate, coupled with Kahol Lavan’s pivot to the right, would likely push former Labor voters back home, it is currently polling at about 35 seats – two more than it won in last September’s do-over election.

It may not be enough of a base on which to build a Gantz-led governing coalition, but it is at least beginning to look like a realistic government-in-waiting.

Things are working at Kahol Lavan. You can hear it in the voices of party members, who are at once more optimistic of their prospects of winning and, simultaneously, afraid to speak on-the-record as the party leadership exerts greater and more effective control.