Ever further to the right
In the Knesset election campaign, writes Tony Greenstein, the main parties are arguing about who will be more successful in getting rid of the Palestinians
In most western countries, political parties compete in general elections over issues such as taxation, nationalisation/privatisation, poverty, etc. Those in most European countries, with the exception of avowedly racist parties of the far right, are inclusive of ethnic minorities and supporters of different religions and faiths. It is unknown in Europe, with the exception of the fascists, for parties to frame their arguments in terms of maintaining the demographic majority of one section of the population.
However, in Israel - the self-styled ‘only democracy in the Middle East’ - politics are entirely different. You have Jewish parties and Arab parties. Only the Communist Party, the left coalition it heads, Hadash, and to a lesser extent the left-Zionist Meretz, have a mixed membership.
The other feature of Israeli politics is its political instability. Parties come and go at virtually every election and so it is with the forthcoming elections to the Knesset (parliament): Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah (an offshoot of Kadima, which in 2009 was the largest party in the Knesset, latterly in alliance with the Israeli Labor Party) is set to disappear after the April 9 vote. There have been a plethora of ‘centrist’ parties (though in the Israeli context labels like ‘left’, ‘right’ and ‘centrist’ are largely meaningless), from the old General Zionists, to Shinui, to Yesh Atid - each more rightwing than its predecessor.
And now, springing up out of nowhere, we have the ‘Blue and White’ alliance of the right-centrist Yesh Atid and Resilience. The latter is a new party formed by former general Benny Gantz, together with two other former chiefs of staff, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. Not for nothing is it known as the Generals’ Party.
As Elizabeth Tsurkov of the liberal-Zionist Forward observed, “Campaign ads seem to be competing over which candidate has killed the most Palestinians.”1 This is what Labour politicians such as Emily Thornberry and Barry Gardiner call a “beacon of democracy”2 - presumably “democracy” means competing before voters over who can slaughter the most Arabs!
Likud’s Avi Dichter - a former director of Shin Bet, Israel’s equivalent of MI5 - put out a video which ends with: “A thousand mothers of terrorists will cry and my mother won’t” (in the minds of most Israelis every Palestinian is a terrorist). As for Gantz, he distributed an ad boasting of how many Palestinian militants had been killed in Gaza in 2014. Tsurkov correctly stated that these campaign statements “demonise, ridicule and belittle Palestinians, who are presented as a people without history, pathological liars and terrorists”. This is Israel today.
A video put out by Likud’s deputy foreign minister, Tzipi Hotovely, shows her speaking in the Knesset, where she displayed a book filled with empty pages, which, she said, represented the history of the Palestinian people. An ad produced by culture minister Miri Regev, who once stated she is “happy to be a fascist”, refers to Palestinian citizens of Israel as a “Trojan horse”, and to the Joint List uniting several Arab parties as a “fifth column”. Those with a sense of history will remember that accusations of being a fifth column were a favourite in the days of McCarthyism.
During ‘Operation Protective Edge’ in 2014, Gantz boasted of sending Gaza back into “the Stone Age” (a boast that is not without foundation). But incredibly the current prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu of Likud, who is playing the Arab card for all its worth, has accused Gantz and his party of being “leftists”.
In 2013 Yesh Atid obtained the second largest number of seats - 19 - and entered into coalition with Netanyahu. In the 2015 election it fell back to 11 seats. It had been engaged in protracted negotiations with Benny Gantz regarding an electoral coalition until Netanyahu pressurised the far-right Jewish Home party into allying with the neo-Nazi Otzma Yehudit. This resulted in the formation of the Blue and White party.3
Jewish Home’s central committee agreed to an electoral pact with Otzma Yehudit, which was given the fifth and eighth places on the joint slate, making it almost certain that one of its candidates, Michael Ben-Ari, would be elected. However, the high court put a spanner in the works by banning Ari! But the party itself has not been banned and another of its candidates, Itamar Ben-Gvir, has been allowed to stand.
The actions of Netanyahu in seeking to unify the ultra-right with Otzma Yehudit has led to a backlash amongst diaspora Zionist organisations. As Phillip Weiss and Yossi Gurvitz note, “The outrage at Netanyahu over the move has been unprecedented.”4 Even the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) has condemned this alliance,5 as has the American Jewish Committee, though this has not stopped Aipac from inviting Netanyahu to its forthcoming conference.
Netanyahu’s rationale was that Otzma Yehudit might, as in the 2013 and 2015 elections, ‘waste’ votes by standing and thus imperil the election of a Likud government. His solution was for Jewish Home to form an electoral pact with Otzma Yehudit, because a party now needs 3.25% to enter the Knesset.
Jewish Home is already in an electoral alliance with Bezalel Smotrich’s Tkuma party. Smotrich describes himself as a “proud homophobe” and openly supports the segregation of Israel’s Arab citizens. He has defended the common practice of Israeli hospitals of separating Jewish and Arab women in maternity wards.
Another new party that is tipped to gain four seats in the Knesset is Zehut, led by a former far-right member of Likud, Moshe Feiglin. Zehut combines free-market policies, such as the privatisation of hospitals, with a libertarian attitude to the legalisation of cannabis. Feiglin was even too rightwing for Netanyahu - giving some indication of his politics, which verge on the genocidal.
Israel’s general election is impossible to call at the moment, because there are a number of variables - not least the impact of Netanyahu’s indictment for corruption. The police long ago recommended that Netanyahu be charged, but, now that attorney general Avichai Mendelblit has done so, we cannot be certain how the electorate will react. In Israel nothing is guaranteed. In most countries this would be a death sentence for a candidate, but Israel is not most countries, and it would seem that Likud is only going to be marginally affected - recent polls have shown Netanyahu increasing his lead over Blue and White.
It is clear, however, that the Labor Party is heading for disaster - it is projected to win only eight seats. It formed every single government between 1948 and 1977, and also the 1992 and 1999 administrations. It was last in a coalition government in 2011. Since then Netanyahu has been in charge.
In 2017 Labor elected a new leader, Avi Gabbay, a former minister in Netanyahu’s government, who immediately succeeded in shifting Labor further to the right. Gabbay, who was chief executive of Israel’s largest company - the telecommunications giant, Bezeq International - from 2007 to 2014, supported Netanyahu’s attempt to deport Israel’s 40,000 black African refugees on the grounds that they were neither white nor Jewish. This is the pathetic level that Labor has sunk to - a party which now seems to have no purpose and no social base.
Gabbay at the beginning of the election campaign, in front of the TV cameras, publicly humiliated Tzipi Livni by announcing that their electoral pact was over. Livni, although a horrendous racist and a war criminal in her own right, is nonetheless seen as leftwing in Israeli terms - an indication of just how far to the right Israeli politics have shifted. But, if Gabbay thought he would receive an electoral boost from this, he was soon to be disappointed. The Labor ‘strategy’ of moving further and further to the right simply alienates Israelis with any kind of leftwing thinking without appeasing those on the right. He has yet to learn that, however far he shifts rightward, Netanyahu will do so even faster.
Netanyahu could well lead the next government. Gantz’s Blue and White, even if it receives the support of Labor and Meretz, will have only 47 seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Netanyahu is likely to be able to form a coalition with the religious parties (estimated seats - 10) and the far right (17), giving him a clear majority.
Meanwhile the Zionist left is nowhere. Meretz, which originates in Ratz, the Civil Rights Party, and Mapam, the United Workers Party, had 12 seats between them in 1992. Today they have five and seem to be heading for around the same number this time. Mapam once talked of socialism, but it practised segregation. Its kibbutzim were Jewish-only and were established on the ruins of destroyed Arab villages.
In March 2018 Tamar Zandberg replaced Zehava Gal-On as leader of Meretz and since then it has focused mainly on peripheral topics, such as the environment, cannabis legalisation, and civil and gay marriage, to the exclusion of the major issue in Israel - the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and the racism and discrimination against Israel’s Palestinian citizens.
Zandberg is on record as stating that she would join a government coalition with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu (if it clears the 3.25% threshold for election under the proportional election system). Lieberman is an open advocate of the expulsion of Israel’s Arab population and the imposition of a loyalty oath on the non-Jewish population.
Gal-On called this “flushing ideology down the toilet” - though, to be fair, Meretz has long ago dispensed with anything by way of ideology.
The other major development is the splitting of the Arab-Jewish Joint List into two. Previously the Arab parties had run separately, but in 2014 the threshold was raised from 2% to 3.25%. The intention was to eliminate the Arab parties from the Knesset, but they responded by forming the Joint List. However, this time around there are two separate electoral alliances. Both have been projected to win seats, although it is possible that the new Balad-Ra’am alliance will not break through the 3.25% barrier.
The communist-led Hadash has always had a Jewish member of the Knesset, even though it receives very few Jewish votes. The days have long since gone when Jewish voters elected communists. However, Ofer Cassif, Hadash’s current leader, is a far more dynamic than Dov Kheinin, his predecessor. He has had no hesitation in describing Israel today as politically similar to Nazi Germany in the 1930s.
In a lecture to his students, which was secretly recorded, he stated: “Those who refuse to see the similarities between what is happening in Israel, specifically in the past two years, and Germany in the 1930s have a problem and will be responsible for the potential situation of the state.”
Cassif has also called Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s ‘justice minister’ and a member of Jewish Home (now the United Right) a “filthy neo-Nazi” - which is about right.
Shaked has declared that Israel should abandon universal values of human rights in favour of “Jewish values” and that the Torah and halachah (religious laws) should form part of the jurisprudence of the legal system. She also called for the genocide of Palestinians in Gaza in a (now deleted) Facebook post,6 where she quoted the late Uri Elitzur, a close advisor of Netanyahu, who had said:
What’s so horrifying about understanding that the entire Palestinian people is the enemy? Every war is between two peoples, and in every war the people who started the war, that whole people, is the enemy ...
They are all enemy combatants, and their blood shall be on all their heads. Now this also includes the mothers of the martyrs, who send them to hell with flowers and kisses. They should follow their sons - nothing would be more just. They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there ...
There is nothing more just, and probably nothing more efficient. Every suicide attacker should know that he takes with him also his parents and his house and some of the neighbours. Every brave Um-Jihad who sends her son to hell should know she’s going with him, along with the house and everything inside it.7
Despite this, no doubt if Cassif had been a member of the Labour Party in Britain, he would have been suspended for ‘anti-Semitism’ - by pointing to the “similarities” between Israel and “Germany in the 1930s”, and by accusing the justice minister of being a “filthy neo-Nazi”, he was surely comparing Israel to Nazi Germany!