Regardless of the outcome of yesterday’s elections in Israel, Palestinians will most certainly lose.
While past elections focus on Iran or the economy, this campaign season the Israeli electorate is being fed a steady diet of anti-Palestinian toxicity. Historically Israelis have a tendency of voting for those with the most vile, intolerant and yet variedly repeated anti-Palestinians tropes.
Racism in the upper echelon of the Israeli government is a norm, however, embedded just as well deep within its institutional policies, the media, immigration rights, housing and legal policies. In fact, it all goes back to the time Israel was founded.
David Ben-Gurion, before becoming Israel’s very first prime minister was a member of Haganah, a Jewish paramilitary group which played a key role in the ethnic cleansing of an estimated 750,000 Palestinians from their homeland in during the 1948 war. Yet, he was elected not once but twice into office.
Menachem Begin, once described by Albert Einstein as a terrorist, was behind the July 1946 bombing of the King David Hotel, killing 91 people including 28 British citizens. Three decades later he was elected prime minister. Another former prime minister Yitzhak Shamir was also one of those jailed for the bombing, however Shamir’s two-year imprisonment also did not impede his chances of winning higher office exactly four decades later.
During the first Lebanon war Menachem Begin referred to the Palestinians as “beasts walking on two legs,” in a statement he delivered to the Knesset reported by the New Statesman in 1982, illustrating how state-sanctioned racism is evidently a mainstay at the highest level.
More recently in 2016, while visiting the construction site of a border fence between Gaza and Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the barrier was necessary because, “In our neighborhood, we need to protect ourselves from wild beasts,” in reference to both Palestinians living under siege in Gaza and Arabs in neighboring countries.
Like the air, land and sea blockade in Gaza which Israel today vehemently denies exist, Golda Meir during her time as prime minister also pushed the despicable idea that Palestinians don’t exist. In a recorded statement on 8 March 1969, Meir said, “It was not as if there was a Palestinian people in Palestine and we came and threw them out and took their country away from them. They did not exist”. She later claimed she was misquoted,writing in the New York Times, “My actual words were: ‘There is no Palestinian people. There are Palestinian refugees.’”
Then we have assassinated Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin who in April 1976, threw a banquet for John Vorster, the prime minister of Apartheid South Africa, expressing that in their “respective parts of the world,” he said speaking of the broader Arab World in comparison to sub-Saharan Africa, both countries face “foreign-inspired instability and recklessness”, heaping praise towards apartheid South Africa while chillingly hailing “the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa”. Nevertheless Rabin too, found his way to higher office 16 years later.
It is of course, one thing to openly support apartheid states but quite another to transform into one.
Implementing zoning regulations, land seizures or expropriating Palestinian land essentially to achieve the same purpose as apartheid South Africa’s Group Areas Act, Israel has ensured that Israeli settlers and exploited Palestinians populations live in separate and unequal communities.
As an example, Israel’s Law of Return allows all Jews and persons with one Jewish grandparent to immigrate to Israel while Palestinian refugees who have been claiming a Right of Return for over 70 years are not eligible for citizenship.
Worse still, the Israeli government in 2018 passed a controversial nation-state law that egregiously states, “Israel is the historic homeland of the Jewish people and they have an exclusive right to national self-determination in it,“ further marginalizing Palestinian citizens. It also stipulates, “The state views the development of Jewish settlement as a national value and will act to encourage and promote its establishment,” allowing the state to deepen support the establishment of Jewish-only communities.
To this end and credited for laying the brickwork for apartheid in Israel, Shimon Peres, the former prime minister and president was responsible for sanctioning of the first illegal settlement in the West Bank, one of the key root causes of why every single peace roadmap whenever proposed is almost perpetually stonewalled.
One may argue all this, however, pales in comparison to what came soon after in the form of a “bulldozer,” as he was widely known in Israeli circles. Former prime minister and military general, Ariel Sharon was not only implicated for failing to prevent the September 1982 massacre by Christian Phalangists of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon but was forced to resign as minister of defense, as a result. Yet the right-wing hawk was ultimately elected Israel’s prime minister two decades later.
Sharon also once said, “Arabs may have the oil, but we have the matches” and was told an Israeli radio station in a 1998 interview, “Everybody has to move; run and grab as many hilltops as they can to enlarge the settlements, because everything we take now will stay ours. Everything we don’t grab will go to them,” illustrating how such a core expansionist belief may in fact be a key characteristic of almost every prime minister in Israel.
Therefore it should come to little surprise, Benny Gantz, the former Israeli army chief and the strongest contender against Netanyahu, in a series of election campaign videos featured tilted statistics such as “6,231 targets destroyed,” and “1,364 terrorists killed” during the 2014 Gaza bombings, wearing the death toll as a badge of honor. In fact, 2,251 Palestinians were killed, including 1,462 civilians, among them 551 children, according to Amnesty International.
Evidently indifferent to a missing moral compass, his political party partner, Lt. General Moshe Ya’alon speaking at a May 2015 conference in Jerusalem was quoted saying, “If we don’t intercept the rocket-launchers in advance, civilians will be hurt, if not killed. If we hit the launchers, it will hurt or kill Lebanese civilians.”
Among others aspiring to win higher office later, Ayelet Shaked, Israel’s Justice Minister in July 2014 re-published a quote she gave to a journalist who is a settler, advocating the Palestinian children of convicted terrorists should be killed because they are “little snakes.” Shaked is no stranger to stoking controversies and recently featured in a video that punned fascism, which caused a swift backlash. A Haaretz columnist, however, explains Shaked best, calling her a “representative of an ideology unembarrassed by its racism”.
These handful of statements above are only but in line with the tone and values of senior Israeli cabinet ministers and military officials, some of whom openly advocate racism, which they leveraged as a pathway to higher office.
Most frighteningly, none of these statements have ever been disowned by the official Israeli government let alone these dyed-in-the-wool hardliners aiming for higher office, as if being an ardent anti-Palestinian were a qualifying part of the job description.
In the end, some of these statements most frighteningly have either never been disowned, are sometimes disputed or whitewashing walk-backs issued. In either case, emboldening some of the most racist and expansionist members within Israel’s dysfunctional political system. A state that evidently rewards dyed-in-the-wool hardliners aiming for higher office, proving time and again the merit of being an ardent anti-Palestinian is incontrovertibly a qualifying part of the job description.
This article was updated on April 10, 2019.