House built on sand
The only common factor in the aspiring eight-party coalition is an aversion to Binyamin Netanyahu. Tony Greenstein thinks it cannot last long
On Sunday June 13 - assuming the coalition of eight parties holds together and there are no defections - the hard-line former settler leader, Naftali Bennett, will be sworn in as the new prime minister. However, if anyone believes that this coalition will put an end to the run of four general elections in two years, then they are likely to be disappointed. It would be a brave person who gave this government even a year before it breaks up.
Binyamin Netanyahu - the original Donald Trump, whose incitement is widely believed to have led to the assassination of Israeli Labor prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995 - is not going quietly.1 With his imminent departure from office, Netanyahu can hear the sound of prison doors clanging behind him. Currently he is facing three charges - of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.
On June 3 Netanyahu tweeted that “Bennett sold the Negev to RAAM! All rightwing Knesset members must oppose this dangerous leftwing [!] government.” RAAM is a reference to the one Arab party in the coalition: the United Arab List, a conservative Islamist party, headed by Mansour Abbas, which broke away from the leftwing and nationalist Joint List, which is dominated by Hadash, the Israeli Communist Party.
Speaking to the rightwing Channel 20, Netanyahu called Bennett “a habitual liar” and claimed that the emergent government was “more dangerous than the [2005 Gaza] disengagement and Oslo [accords]”. It has to be said, however, that for Netanyahu to call anyone a “liar” is a case of the pot calling the kettle black.
Netanyahu accused Bennett of engaging in a “liquidation sale” of the whole country and claimed the incoming government was in league with the so-called “deep state”. This represents all the paranoid racism and conspiracy theories of Trump rolled into one by the master thief himself.
When his back is against the wall then, Netanyahu has no hesitation in playing the ‘Arab card’ - as he did six years ago, when on his Facebook page he warned in a video that “The rightwing government is in danger. Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Leftwing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”2 None of it was true and in fact the turnout by Jews was higher than that by Arabs, but his nonsense did the trick. It was rightwing voters who came out “in droves” and they voted for Likud.
Bennett has responded by asserting that the government he hopes to lead is “10 degrees to the right of the current one”, whilst appealing to Netanyahu to “let go”. After all, “People are allowed to vote for a government even if you do not lead it” (Netanyahu is Israel’s longest serving prime minister at more than 15 years).
Israel is a Jewish supremacist state and it is natural for political leaders to argue as to who is the most anti-Arab. In Israel this is what ‘rightwing’ means. All parties, including the Israeli Labor Party, do it. Isaac Herzog, the new president of Israel, when previously leader of the ILP was a past master at dog whistling. He told Labor MKs: “A false impression exists that we take the needs of Palestinians into account before the needs of the state of Israel.”
He also told Labor activists that
his faction’s MKs needed to correct an impression that they are always “Arab lovers …. god forbid, and without giving the impression - from what I have heard after meeting with the Israel public - that we always like Arabs”.3
Of course, this was true. Labor was the original party of anti-Arab incitement and responsible for the Nakba - the expulsion of three quarters of a million Palestinians in 1947-48. The ILP was the party that instituted military rule over Israeli Palestinians until 1966.
But what is the situation? Is Bennett about to lead the Tel Aviv Soviet? Is he preparing to storm Israel’s equivalent of the Winter Palace?
The new Israeli government, if it comes to power, is no less rightwing than Netanyahu’s putative coalition government (with the exception of the neo-Nazi Jewish Power, led by Itamar Ben-Gvir, a disciple of rabbi Meir Kahane, who believed in the expulsion of all Palestinians from Israel and the occupied territories.
What has infuriated Netanyahu and the Israeli right is that, for the first time in its history, an Arab party will be a formal part of a government coalition, even though it will not be taking ministerial posts. The irony is that Netanyahu also held talks with Mansour Abbas, in order to persuade him to support his coalition, whilst remaining outside the government. This, however, was vetoed by Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionism bloc, which includes Jewish Power. It refused to have ‘terrorists’ (for which read Arabs) associated with the government.
Netanyahu and Likud have therefore focused on ‘persuading’ individual MKs from Yamina, the party that Bennett heads, to refuse to support the new government. For Netanyahu, ‘persuasion’ should be interpreted in the same sense as the mafia would use the term when convincing their clients to hand over ‘protection money’.
Bennett has already been depicted in an Arab kaffiyeh head cover, along with a swastika, and his picture has been burned.4 Social media is full of death threats against him and his family. He is being called a traitor and at least four members of Yamina have been provided with extra security by Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service.
Six leading religious-Zionist rabbis have issued a letter calling on the public to do everything in their power to prevent the new government taking power, as the religious right and the ultra-orthodox parties - Shas and United Torah Judaism - try to come to terms with the fact that they will not be in government for the first time in a generation.
‘Everything in their power’ should be interpreted as meaning just that. There is no doubt that Yigal Amir, Rabin’s assassin, had received authorisation from unnamed rabbis, as well as the declaration that he was a din rodef (traitor).
Idit Silman MK cannot even send her son to school because of the threats. Silman complained that a car with a loudspeaker on the roof had followed her around. The Army Radio reported that her children had been “banned” from attending their youth movements. For Zionism attacking children is seen as a legitimate way of getting at their parents. Not for nothing is Israel known as ‘the only democracy in the Middle East’!
Those who think I am exaggerating should recall Richard Goldstone, the South Africa Jewish judge who chaired the UN inquiry which issued a report accusing Israel of war crimes in Operation Cast Lead in 2008-09. He was banned from attending his grandson’s bar mitzvah. It was only after an outcry that South Africa’s Zionists backed off and Goldstone was allowed to attend. But one result of all this was that Goldstone attempted to have the report withdrawn, although the other two members of the inquiry refused to support him.
The head of Shin Bet, Nadav Argaman, issued a rare warning this week that Netanyahu’s campaign of incitement could lead to political violence. “This discourse may be interpreted among certain groups or individuals as one that allows violent and illegal activity and could even lead to harm to individuals.”
It is a measure of how far to the racist right the Israeli state has gone that what is in effect a choice between two far-right coalitions is subject to such tactics. When it comes to anti-Arab comments Bennett, the former head of the Yesha Settlers’ Council, can outdo anything that Netanyahu has to offer. In 2013 he said that Palestinian “terrorists should be killed, not released”,5 and in 2018 - the same year that Israeli snipers were murdering unarmed Palestinian demonstrators at the Gaza fence - Bennett said that Israeli troops should have a “shoot to kill” policy, including for minors. Asked about the army targeting children, he replied: “They are not children. They are terrorists. We are fooling ourselves.”6 Bennett is also famous for saying: “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.”7
Gideon Saar’s New Hope - a breakaway from Likud - has six seats and is to the right of Netanyahu, while Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beteinu has seven seats. A secular party of the far right, it depends mainly on Russian voters. Lieberman can only be described as a fascist - he is on record as saying that Israeli Palestinians who do not take a loyalty oath should be either expelled or beheaded. He has also said that it would be better to drown thousands of Palestinian prisoners in the Dead Sea if possible, “since that’s the lowest point in the world”.8
Yesh Atid with 17 seats is headed by Yair Lapid. In Israeli terms it is described as a ‘centrist’ party, but in Britain it would be on the Tory right. Lapid - in the unlikely event that the coalition lasts that long - is scheduled to take over as prime minister in two years time.
The Zionist left, or what remains of it, has had no compunction in entering the coalition with the sole purpose of removing Netanyahu. The Labor Party - now led by Merav Michaeli, the granddaughter of the notorious Zionist collaborator with the Nazis in Hungary, Rudolf Kasztner - has seven seats.
Meretz, led by Nitzan Horowitz - which is seen in Zionist terms as ‘far-left’, but in Britain would be seen as rightwing Labour at best - has six seats. It too has agreed to go into coalition, even though gay rights are supposed to be its hot issue and the coalition includes anti-gay parties.
It says everything about the Zionist ‘left’ that it is prepared to enter a coalition of the far right - under a hard-right former settler leader who has no intention of agreeing to any peace deal with the Palestinians and who is on record as favouring the annexation of the West Bank.
Mansour Abbas of the United Arab List, which just scraped into the Knesset with four seats, has signed the coalition agreement, but he is effectively supporting the government from the outside. It is, after all, too much to expect an Israeli Arab party to actually hold ministerial posts. Abbas will instead accept the chairmanship of two Knesset committees.
What he hopes to gain is extra funding for Israel’s Palestinian communities, the legitimisation of three ‘unrecognised’ Bedouin villages in the Negev, which means they will then receive basic facilities, such as electricity, schools and running water, and a repeal of a law which heavily penalises illegal construction in Arab towns. Since land is so scarce in Palestinian Israeli towns, and since building permits are hard to come by, people build homes regardless and the authorities regularly demolish them. Whether or not he manages to secure these concessions remains to be seen.
I have little doubt that, if Bennett manages to survive to the weekend and no further Yamina MKs are peeled off, the government is not likely to last. The pressure from those even further to the right will be immense. Abbas too is likely to come under massive pressure from Israeli Palestinians, especially if there are further attacks on worshippers at the Al Aqsa mosque.
Already Netanyahu has supported a new ‘March of the Flags’ by thousands of settler youths through Arab East Jerusalem. The march has been rerouted away from the Arab quarter for the time being, but there will be pressure for the right to demonstrate that they have ‘every right’ to hold a pogrom in Arab Jerusalem.
Also the question of the evictions at the largely Palestinian neighbourhood of Sheikh Jarrah in East Jerusalem is looming. Already attorney general Avichai Mendelbit has announced that the government will not be opposing the evictions, as the racist laws which allow the ethnic cleansing of East Jerusalem are quite clear. Which is true. Jews can reclaim houses they once owned in East Jerusalem before Jerusalem was partitioned between east and west in 1948. However, Palestinians are not able to reclaim homes they abandoned in West Jerusalem. The justice of evicting Arabs for the crime of not being Jewish poses no problem for Israel’s Supreme Court.
Whether the new governing coalition will step in seems doubtful, but, if Jerusalem explodes as a result, then Abbas may yet be forced to pull his support for the coalition.