Israelis are voting now, but a few things already are evident about this election:
–All the politicking between the two leading parties in recent weeks has been rightward. Benjamin Netanyahu promised to annex the Jordan Valley, to hell with the Palestinians who live there, and his campaign went in for explicit race-baiting against “Arabs.” And indications are that his Likud party is seeing a late surge.
–Likud’s chief rival, Blue and White, outdid Netanyahu on the right, declaring, We were first to call for annexing the Jordan Valley!
–The kingmaker in the election is again likely to be Avigdor Lieberman, whose secular rightwing party has grown. Lieberman doesn’t even live in Israel! He is a settler who has called for a Palestinian loyalty oath. Netanyahu says Lieberman is a leftist.
–The Israeli Jewish left is reduced to two small Jewish parties, Democratic Union and Labor/Gesher, and both are both in danger of falling below the 3.25 percent threshhold in the election, thereby losing any presence in the parliament. Only one party on the right is in that danger: the racist party Otzma Yehudit. Otzma’s predecessor party was banned but it is itself normalized, appealed to by Netanyahu.
These developments all underline the central truth about the “Jewish democracy” in Israel. It is rightwing and getting more right all the time. Blue and White is the reincarnation of the traditional Labor party of “generals and Kibbutzim,” former Laborite Einat Wilf said on i24 yesterday, and Blue and White is pro settler and runs on Netanyahu’s right on pulverizing Gaza. Not so different from the old Labor Party, which nursed the settlement enterprise.
Only one trend in this election smacks of real democracy: the Palestinian Joint List’s revival and its leader’s openness to participating in a centrist governing coalition. That has created an outside possibility that Palestinians could become the kingmakers for a center-left ruling bloc. At least these are real politics, not just Jewish democracy. Non Jews make up close to a quarter of Israel’s population.
But would the Jews even have Palestinian partners? Highly doubtful. Blue and White has maintained its chances by saying it will have nothing to do with the Arabs.
The odds are that this election will produce one of two outcomes: 1, a “unity” coalition of the two big rival parties, but only if Likud members betray Netanyahu and he is finally sidelined, or 2, a by-the-skin-of-Netanyahu’s teeth Likud/rightwing coalition in which Netanyahu stays king.
Either likelihood will only confirm the rightward tilt of Israel: toward annexing large portions of the West Bank, officially ending the idea of a Palestinian state.
As for the “left” building a coalition with the Palestinians, and not Likud, the numbers don’t look good. There are only a total of 43 parliamentary seats out of 120 on the center and left of Jewish politics (per the consistent polling). Palestinians would add another 10 or 11 seats. That’s still way short of a majority, unless Avigdor Lieberman joins the “left.”
The arithmetic is far more promising for Netanyahu. He is at 58 or 59 without Lieberman, assuming the hateful Otzma crosses the threshhold.
Let us be clear, this is what Jewish democracy has produced: A rightwing society that has no problem with apartheid. At last week’s speech promoting annexation, Netanyahu happily showed Jericho as a Palestinian island surrounded by Israeli sovereignty, in which Palestinians could only get in and out on a couple of roads.
American liberal Zionists are panicked that Blue and White and Likud parties are headed toward the “abyss” of annexation. The American liberals say the Israeli pols don’t really mean it, they are just being tactical, to get all those rightwing voters. Or, they lament that Israel’s desire for “the Jewish biblical homeland” is putting “Israel’s Jewish and democratic character at risk.”
Even Jewish “leftists” call for segregation of Jews and Palestinians. Stav Shaffir, the young face of the Democratic Union, says the only hope for Israel is “to have a border between us and the Palestinians,” while a liberal Israeli org appeals: “Say Yes to Separation.” And leaders of two supposed leftleaning parties have been accused of war crimes against Gaza.
That is Israel on election day. A rightwing society where almost all the action goes even further right.
The larger political challenge of this election is for American liberals to recognize what a Jewish democracy means, and to acknowledge that all this intolerance is the fulfillment of Zionism. Only outside pressure will reform Israel, and that pressure won’t come till Democrats give up their illusions about the “only democracy in the Middle East.”
H/t Scott Roth and James North.