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Ultra-nationalists join forces ahead of Israeli elections as liberal and Palestinian blocs splinter

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Yesterday night was the deadline for Israeli parties to present their slates towards the April 9th parliamentary elections.

In order to strengthen their blocs, several leaders worked hectically this week to join forces with those they perceived as possible allies in prospect of creating future government coalitions.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu worked hard at having the ‘David Dukes’ of Israeli politics – the Jewish Power party – join with the Jewish Home party and secure a far-right bloc that would be part of his future coalition (the fear was that votes would be lost under the 3.25% electoral threshold).

Netanyahu’s main rival contender, centrist Benny Gantz, chided him for it, using the occasion to tarnish a Palestinian party that promotes equality in a secular state, as equal to Jewish Power (positing that he would have nothing to do with either).

As news was coming out about the Netanyahu lobbying to the right, Gantz called upon centrist leader of Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid, to meet with him immediately – “tonight” (Tuesday), even though they had already announced their separate lists. They met, and created a new centrist party, called “Kahol Lavan” – “Blue and White” (referring to the colors of the Israeli, and earlier Zionist, flag). The militaristic aspect was bolstered by featuring two former military chiefs of staff in the leadership profile – Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashenazi. Allison Kaplan Sommer of Haaretz points out:

The political landscape of 2019 is looking very military, very male and really puts the ‘general’ in ‘general election’.

The centrist Blue and White party is now the main contender against Netanayhu’s Likud. Various polls suggest that Blue and White hold a significant lead over Likud: Channel 12’s poll showed the party would get 36 seats in the next Knesset, while Likud would receive 30; Channel 13’s poll predicted it would get 36 seats, compared to 26 for Likud; public broadcaster Kan’s poll predicted 35 seats, Likud following up with 32.

In Israeli politics, the leader of the largest party can have a first go at creating a ruling coalition, and that becomes the existential matter – because the coalition needs to have a minimum 61-seat majority in the 120-seat Knesset. That’s why securing potential coalition partners, like Netanyahu did with Jewish Power, is crucial for political survival. But the counter-move from the center seems to have forged a real possibility of unseating Netanyahu. Yossi Verter of Haaretz believes that unseating Netanyahu is the one and only goal of this alliance.

Challenge from the Zionist left?

On the left of the centrist Blue and White party are parties like Labor, which has now lost many votes (especially to Gantz’s center party), and has been hovering dangerously close to the electoral threshold. Its leader Avi Gabbay shamed his centrist ally, and one time Zionist Union coalition partner, Tzipi Livni by severing ties with her without warning, nearly two months ago. Livni, who was once the great hope of liberal Zionists, recently announced her exit from politics.

Further left is Meretz, which attempted to form an alliance with Labor in response to the move by Likud to bring Jewish Power in. Meretz chair Tamar Zandberg said the two parties had a “historical opportunity to build a large left-wing party against the Likud-Kahanist government” (Referring to Meir Kahane, whom the Jewish Power leaders are adherents of). Zandberg also noted the danger of the new centrist bloc:

In light of the union on the center, it’s time for a union on the left in order to establish a center-left government. Meretz will turn every stone to make this happen. We have 12 hours and we’re inviting Avi Gabbay to the discussion table immediately.

Zandberg’s fear is clearly also about losing votes to a level of erasure. If Meretz and Labor do not merge, they could both fall below the electoral threshold.

But Labor leader Avi Gabbay would not have the alliance, and instead opted to acquire a General as his second slot: Tal Russo. Gabbay unveiled the new star on Wednesday. Meretz leader Zandberg bemoaned Gabbay’s decision: “We did everything we could to unite and create a significant force in the left opposite the joining of the Likud and the Kahanists. Gabbay refused,” she said.

It is yet to be seen whether Gabbay’s bet on the more exclusively militaristic direction will bear fruit, or perhaps lead what remains of the Israeli Labor Party into oblivion. 

Palestinian parties and the end of the Joint List

And then there’s the Palestinian parties, which are known as the Arab parties, which are always left out of governing coalitions. Their presence is also relatively little noted in Israeli press.

In the last elections in 2015, they joined together in order to ensure their survival above the electoral threshold and won an impressive 13 seats in the Knesset. But there have been tensions there, as the alliance represents very different ideologies, from Islamic to Communist. In early January, Ahmed Tibi of Ta’al decided to split from the coalition, to the chagrin of Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh (also head of Hadash), who said:

More than anyone, (Prime Minister Benjamin) Netanyahu wishes to see the disintegration of the Joint List. The radical right wing wants to divide and conquer the Arabs and I am proud to be part of a party that knows how to put ideology ahead of personal interest.”

Tibi’s departure threatened to bring a complete dissolution of this alliance. The other three parties considered running separately, but at the last minute created a dual union: a joint ticket of Hadash with Ta’al, and a union of Balad with the United Arab List. Yet even this partial union contains a risk, especially if many Palestinian voters decide to boycott the elections altogether, in response to last year’s passing of the racist Nation State Law. Hadash-Ta’al is polling relatively well, around 10 seats, while Balad-UAL is around the electoral threshold.

Clash of the ultra-nationalists

In the overall political spectrum, the situation to the left of Blue and White is not looking very stable: Meretz and Labor are not strong. Although Ta’al Hadash is polled relatively well, it is questionable whether Gantz and Lapid would really consider an alliance with them as viable, even though Netanayhu is chiding them for counting on the ‘Arab parties’ to create a blocking majority. Even if this unlikely union were to happen, it’s not enough for a majority. The centrist Kulanu could potentially make it a majority, but it, too, is hovering just at the electoral threshold. To the right of Likud, is Avigdor Liberman’s Israel Beitenu (Israel is our home), Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett’s New Right, the Union of Right Wing Parties (that’s the recent merger with Jewish Power), and the religious parties Shas and United Torah Judaism. Even a collation of all these, with a centrist Kulanu, would apparently bring to a similar majority as the former mentioned center-left potential bloc.   

How this will end is thus not clear. It bears additional mentioning, that Gantz has not completely ruled out a possibility of a partnering with Netanayhu, if the latter is not indicted. There are many unknown factors here. But with all these details and polls, there seems to be a one general constant that we can count on: That Palestinians will be marginalized.

Ben White reminds us, in his excellent coverage for Al Jazeera titled “Israeli ‘centrism’ and what it means for Palestinians”, of Gantz’s speech where he laid out his politics:

“The Jordan Valley will remain our eastern security border,” Gantz declared. “We will maintain security in the entire Land of Israel, but we will not allow the millions of Palestinians living beyond the separation fence to endanger our security and our identity as a Jewish state.” Such a vision – one where Israel remains in effective control of the entirety of the occupied West Bank but without granting its Palestinian inhabitants Israeli citizenship – sounds not only similar to the status quo, but also like Netanyahu’s own proposal for a Palestinian “state-minus”.

Gantz’s Zionist status-quo vision has now been coupled by Yair Lapid, the ‘liberal’ whose principle is “maximum Jews on maximum land with maximum security and with minimum Palestinians”.

Indeed, none of this suggests any agency for Palestinians – whether it’s the more overtly racist Zionists who are elected, or the slightly less overtly racist ones.

Gantz and Lapid, with their accompanying generals, may possibly succeed in unseating Netanyahu – but they will not unseat Zionist ultra-nationalism. They are running on that ticket too.

H/t Ofer Neiman

Jonathan Ofir

Israeli musician, conductor and blogger / writer based in Denmark.

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15 Responses

  1. just on February 22, 2019, 6:59 pm

    “Indeed, none of this suggests any agency for Palestinians – whether it’s the more overtly racist Zionists who are elected, or the slightly less overtly racist ones.”

    And so it goes… The entire Zionist project has been to strip all Palestinians of any and all “agency”. Ayman Odeh just had another (right, left, centrist) Israeli projectile hit his head. So did Hanin Zoabi. So did all of the Palestinians of Israel and beyond.

    There won’t be enough bandages to cover these newest wounds. The world must encircle with compassion and unwavering support those that Israel continues to violently oppress and occupy and murder. BDS, BDS, BDS and don’t stop. Don’t let your anti- Palestinian, Zio- first ‘leaders’ shut it down or shut you up! Look at the Israeli terrorists pictured above~~~ sickening.

    Thanks, Jonathan.

  2. Kay24 on February 22, 2019, 7:53 pm

    It is frightening to see Israel turning even more hard rightwing, and it is ironic that the US Congress is not uttering a word of criticism about the direction Netanyahu, their good buddy, is taking the country. Imagine if an Iranian political party had formed an alliance with an Iranian terrorist party (condemned by US State Dept), Israel and the US would have been outraged. It looks like America is willing to accept any Israeli government, even one without those democratic policies.

  3. Jejasalo on February 23, 2019, 9:54 am

    In her eagerness to claim some Native American ancestry, Elizabeth Warren ignores the historical significance of settler colonialism. All her professed enlightenment views – like those claimed by most of her colleagues- go out the window when Israel is brought up for conversation. Of course it’s all about the Benjamin’s… and, let’s face it, the babies, perhaps even more so. Palestinians are the savages of the Holy Land & we can’t tolerate having a majority of their babies in the land. Think about it – and about how well that fits into our Western colonial/imperial history.

    Warren, and many others, could use some close scrutiny of their ideas. If they find nothing illogical in them where Israel comes in they should at least admit to being hypocrites…If not something a lot worse. Our most illiberal values kick in whenever we find an “exception” to the rules.

  4. jrg on February 23, 2019, 11:39 am

    Here’s an interesting development. It could be a silver lining if it means that mainstream U.S. Zionists are beginning to distance themselves from Israel:

    • amigo on February 23, 2019, 1:39 pm

      jrg ,
      You seem to suggesting that because AJC (American Jewish Congress ) is ostracising a few racist kahanist bigots that there is a silver lining up in the sky.

      AJC is an obstructionist and racist entity and has no desire for any form of resolution that includes a Palestinian State.AJC just pretends to support this concept.

      Read the nonsense that AJC puts out about the P/I Conflict and I use the term loosely as Israel has all the power .

      AJC gives a stage to bigots like Caroline Glick who opposes either a 2SS or a Bi National state —to huge standing ovations at the annual AJC conference.

      You are at best naive or perhaps brainwashed .

      • jrg on February 23, 2019, 8:20 pm

        The links you supplied simply contained standard Zionist boilerplate of the kind that I’m sure we’ve all encountered before; I don’t see how they address my point, which involves future prospects for U.S. Zionism: AIPAC’s action may be a straw in the wind, if only because it could be feeling pressure from younger Jewish Americans, its prospective future support base, and from progressives in this country generally, as shown by the election of two Muslim women to the Congress.

        BTW, the Times of Israel subscription was from my cousin, not my brother, whose opinions on this subject are much closer to my own. I can assure you that when I read it, I know where it’s coming from.

        “You are at best naive or perhaps brainwashed.” I ask that you refrain from personal aspersions such as these, as they do nothing to facilitate communication and mutual understanding between us, and as ad hominem attacks do not establish the validity of the arguments one wishes to advance.

      • amigo on February 24, 2019, 1:52 pm

        ” I ask that you refrain from personal aspersions such as these, as they do nothing to facilitate communication and mutual understanding between us, and as ad hominem attacks do not establish the validity of the arguments one wishes to advance.” jrg


        “This post raises a larger concern about Mondoweiss that I have developed since I began reading it regularly a few months ago: A large number of those who comment regularly (and I’ll name a few: ElJay, Keith, Amigo, Citizen, Annie, JWWalters, Maximus et al) seem to proceed on the premise, usually not explicitly stated, that the Jewish populations of North America, Europe and Israel alike as such are to be regarded as adversarial in the main and that therefore it is useless to attempt any productive communication with the latter” jrg

        I don,t seem to recall you apologising for accusing me and others of lumping all jews into the same basket–ie Israeli Jews from US Jews.

        Remember, I stated “Most Israeli Jews.”Not all.

        You then added in North American, Uk and Israeli Jews alike.

        You might take your own advice re aspersions and refrain from false accusations if as you claim you wish to engage in further productive communication.

        From where I sit , you sound just like a boilerplate zionist who try,s to give the impression you care about Palestinians but get your gander up when someone points out the facts about “Most Jews ” in Israel .

    • amigo on February 23, 2019, 2:45 pm

      erg , your brother,s gift of access to The Times of Israel is working nicely for him.

      David Horowitz is the editor in Chief of TTOI and is a notorious purveyor of zionist lies and hasbara.

      Here are a few examples.

      “At the moment of Israel’s birth, Palestinian Arabs lived on roughly 90 percent of the original Palestine Mandate – in Transjordan and in the UN partition area, but also in the new state of Israel itself. There were 800,000 Arabs living in Israel alongside 1.2 million Jews. At the same time, Jews were legally barred from settling in the 35,000 square miles of Palestinian Transjordan, which eventually was renamed simply “Jordan.”

      The Arab population in the slivers called Israel had actually more than tripled since the Zionists first began settling the region in significant numbers in the 1880s.The reason for this increase was that the Jewish settlers had brought industrial and agricultural development with them, which attracted Arab immigrants to what had previously been a sparsely settled and economically destitute area.

      If the Palestinian Arabs had been willing to accept this arrangement in which they received 90 percent of the land in the Palestine Mandate, and under which they benefited from the industry, enterprise and political democracy the Jews brought to the region, there would have been no Middle East conflict. But this was not to be.

      You will find more of his BS at the link provided below.

      • amigo on February 23, 2019, 3:33 pm

        jrg, more nonsense from Horowitx.

        “As a result of the annexation and the continuing state of war, the Arab refugees who had fled the Israeli slivers did not return. There was a refugee flow into Israel, but it was a flow of Jews who had been expelled from the Arab countries. All over the Middle East, Jews were forced to leave lands they had lived on for centuries. Although Israel was a tiny geographical area and a fledgling state, its government welcomed and resettled 600,000 Jewish refugees from the Arab countries.

        At the same time, the Jews resumed their work of creating a new nation in what was now a single sliver of land. Israel, had annexed a small amount of territory to make their state defensible, including a land bridge that included Jerusalem.

        In the years that followed, the Israelis made their desert bloom. They built the only industrialized economy in the entire Middle East. They built the only liberal democracy in the Middle East. They treated the Arabs who remained in Israel well. To this day the very large Arab minority, which lives inside the state of Israel, has more rights and privileges than any other Arab population in the entire Middle East.”

        Arab refugees who fled and did not return.

        The Jews made their desert bloom on slivers of land.

        They treated the Arabs who remained well.

        Oh Please mr Horowitz.

        Just think , this hasbara artist used to write for the Irish Times.

  5. Misterioso on February 23, 2019, 11:58 am

    This article brings to mind the following articles by Professor Zeev Sternhell.

    Jan. 19, 2018 – Haaretz
    Opinion: “In Israel, Growing Fascism and a Racism Akin to Early Nazism” by Zeev Sternhell.**

    “I frequently ask myself how a historian in 50 or 100 years will interpret our period. When, he will ask, did people in Israel start to realize that the state that was established in the War of Independence, on the ruins of European Jewry and at the cost of the blood of combatants some of whom were Holocaust survivors, had devolved into a true monstrosity for its non-Jewish inhabitants. When did some Israelis understand that their cruelty and ability to bully others, Palestinians or Africans, began eroding the moral legitimacy of their existence as a sovereign entity?”
    Opinion: “Gaza Border Killings Expose Israel’s True Mentality”

    “And Bezalel Smotrich, like the cynical face of Avigdor Lieberman, reflects our own face, the face of Netanyahu’s advance guard for the West.”
    Zeev Sternhell Apr 27, 2018 – Haaretz

    Opinion “Israel’s Suicidal Passion for Tribal Nationalism”
    “The fate of the Jews has been tied to the fate of liberal values, and yet the levels of racist tribal nationalism reached here are incomparable, even to those of the chauvinists in the West we increasingly treat as allies.” Nov 16, 2018, Haaretz – By Zeev Sternhell

    “Since the French Revolution, the fate of the Jews has been tied to the fate of liberal values. Wherever human rights and equality were preserved, life was better for the Jews. And wherever racist tribal nationalism, which began to develop in the late 19th century, arose, the danger for Jews increased. This nationalism became an inexhaustible source of vicious anti-Semitism and the greatest enemy the Jewish people had ever known. By the turn of the 20th century, the Jews understood (and they understand it today, too) that the politics of hate, hostility, fear and denial of the other advanced by the radical right poses a mortal danger.”

    ** Zeev Sternhell is a Polish-born Israeli historian, political scientist, commentator on the Israeli–Palestinian conflict, and writer. He is one of the world’s leading experts on fascism. Sternhell headed the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

  6. jrg on February 23, 2019, 8:23 pm

    A spot-on piece, Misterioso. This is a good illustration of how Zionism contradicts traditional Jewish progressivism, and also of how criticism of Israeli behavior that would be blackballed as “anti-Semitic” over here is routinely heard in Israel.

    • Keith on February 24, 2019, 12:51 am

      JRG- ” This is a good illustration of how Zionism contradicts traditional Jewish progressivism….”

      “Traditional” Jewish progressivism is a recent phenomenon. Classical (medieval) Judaism was anything but “progressive.” The notion that historically Jews have been “progressive is a myth and a meme. Reality is what it is. Time to deal with the real world as it actually is.

  7. jrg on February 24, 2019, 10:53 am

    “Traditional” Jewish progressivism is a recent phenomenon.” It goes back a century and a half or more, Keith. That’s long enough to amount to a tradition in modern terms.

    “Classical (medieval) Judaism was anything but “progressive.” ” Were Christianity or Islam any more so at the time? If not, why single out Judaism? And remember that the attitudes of individual Christians, Jews and Muslims are one thing and the teachings of the religions they were raised in were/are another.

    “The notion that historically Jews have been “progressive is a myth and a meme. ” Far from it. All historical evidence since shortly before the time of Karl Marx places the center of Jewish thought well to the left of the mainstream of the societies in which Jews lived.

    • Keith on February 24, 2019, 4:43 pm

      JRG- “If not, why single out Judaism?”

      I was responding to your comment about Zionism contradicting traditional Jewish progressivism. Your comment had nothing to do with Christianity or Islam. Yet you responded with a hackneyed Zionist meme about Jews and Judaism being unfairly singled out, even though your comment is ludicrous under the circumstances. You claim to be an anti-Zionist yet your comments are clearly informed by Zionist mythology and memes. Zionism without Zion. Kinship uber alles.

      JRG- “That’s long enough to amount to a tradition in modern terms.”

      Nonsense. That which can even remotely be considered “progressive” Judaism lies almost exclusively with Reform Judaism which was a recent development whose “progressivism” has recently been usurped by Zionism and Zionist memes. These Zionist memes are the secular equivalent of Classical Judaism’s mythology which existed before 1000 CE and lasted until about 1800 CE when industrialism and the enlightenment reshaped the political economies of the West. Two quotes for you.

      “It became apparent to me, as drawing on knowledge acquired in my youth, I began to study the Talmudic laws governing the relations between Jews and non-Jews, that neither Zionism, including its seemingly secular part, nor Israeli politics since the inception of the State of Israel, nor particularly the policies of the Jewish supporters of Israel in the diaspora, could be understood unless the deeper influence of these laws, and the worldview which they both create and express is taken into account.” (p1, “Jewish History, Jewish Religion,” Israel Shahak)

      “Just as the Judaic tradition had formerly told Jews what it meant to be Jewish – had supplied them with a considerable definition of their identity – so does Zionism in the modern age. Jews who lost hold of the mythic structure of the past were given a grasp on a new myth, one composed of the structural remnants of the old one.” (p176, “Stranger at Home: “The Holocaust”, Zionism, and American Judaism,” Jacob Neusner)

      JRG- “All historical evidence since shortly before the time of Karl Marx places the center of Jewish thought well to the left of the mainstream of the societies in which Jews lived.”

      Rubbish. The Jewish societies of Classical Judaism were closed societies which vilified the surrounding Gentile peasantry. Even now, Zionism is a reaction against universalism. You really should read Shahak and Neusner. I might add that Neusner was a Zionist theologian.

      Finally, is there some reason that you don’t respond under my comments? I almost missed you ludicrous comment about volumes of statistical data on anti-Semitism.

    • Mooser on February 24, 2019, 4:53 pm

      “the center of Jewish thought…”

      Is a lot like the North Magnetic Pole. (And the Mondo “reply” button) It shifts.

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