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Israel’s election will show: the ‘Jewish democracy’ gets more rightwing every year

Opinion
on 23 Comments

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.

Netanyahu calls for annexing Jordan Valley and Jewish West Bank settlements, Sept. 10, 2019.

Netanyahu calls for annexing Jordan Valley and Jewish West Bank settlements, Sept. 10, 2019. The yellow area in the blue is Jericho and environs.

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. 

Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-06.

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23 Responses

  1. Jeff Klein on September 17, 2019, 10:15 am

    Of course it’s correct to put “Jewish Democracy” in quotes. . . 5 million Palestinians in occupied WB/East Jerusalem and Gaza who are under Israeli rule cannot vote at all!

    • mondonut on September 17, 2019, 12:37 pm

      @Jeff Klein

      Democracy is not defined as permitting non-citizens, non-residents to vote in national elections. And for what its worth, East Jerusalem residents were offered citizenship and full voting rights and they largely chose not to.

      • bcg on September 17, 2019, 1:35 pm

        @Mondonut: The point is that Israel controls the lives of millions of people who have no voice in the government that controls them – Israel is a democracy for the Jews but not for all those who live in the West Bank. In 1850 America was a democracy for the white folks but not the slaves. Is this so hard to understand?

      • annie on September 17, 2019, 1:43 pm

        democracy is not defined by only half the people ruled by a regime being able to vote.

      • Bumblebye on September 17, 2019, 1:58 pm

        Settlers in the NON-israeli territory of the West Bank (and the SYRIAN Golan Heights) should have the *same* status as Palestinians in the West Bank – ie *none*. They do NOT live in “israel”.
        Neither do “israelis” who live in East Jerusalem. It is NOT israel which is why the indigenous Palestinians, for the most part, declined israeli citizenship.

      • mondonut on September 17, 2019, 5:15 pm

        @annie democracy is not defined by only half the people ruled by a regime being able to vote.

        I guess our own democratic ideals were out of order by not permitting the Japanese to vote for Truman or Dewey in 1948.

      • mondonut on September 17, 2019, 5:26 pm

        @bcg The point is that Israel controls…

        No, that is not the point. All citizens of Israel get to vote in Israeli national elections, regardless of ethnicity or religion. Non-citizens do not. By and large entire world operates on the same principle.

        Palestinians would vote in their own elections if that were permitted by the kleptocrats, terrorists and petty dictators that make up their leadership.

      • Albert Westpy on September 18, 2019, 10:58 am

        At 77 I no longer even try with people like you. I will say this; if your comment is the best that you can do you really should just stay with Fox News.

      • MHughes976 on September 18, 2019, 11:31 am

        I think that Locke’s Second Treatise showed for ever – or at least pointed the way for us to see – that enfranchisement within a sovereign state is the logical counterpart to living in general, settled and permanent obedience to the laws and decrees that the sovereign makes and to the control that ‘he’ exercises over life and property. Thus it’s a breach of human right to be treated by the sovereign power as a ‘non-citizen’ with no vote despite being subject to that power and a legitimate resident by the the generality of the criteria – birth, parental residence, customary residence, no recognised citizenship elsewhere – that ‘everyone’ uses.
        Perhaps rights are not absolute and can be set aside for the general good – meaning not just for the good of some against others – or on grounds that are clearly temporary. Temporary British military government of some of Germany after 1945 might qualify as legitimate in Locke’s terms, But none of that can be said of the Palestinian situation.
        The relationship of Palestinians to non-sovereign powers, such as the PA, is another matter. It couldn’t be a substitute for enfranchisement under a sovereign.
        Locke takes a stronger view of the absolute and permanent illegitimacy of conquest (chapter 16) than I could manage.

      • mondonut on September 18, 2019, 6:13 pm

        @Albert Westpy At 77 I no longer even try with people like you.

        And yet you did nonetheless. However, given that your comment is nothing more than a cheap insult, it is pretty obvious that you have nothing valid or worthwhile to say.

    • Lillian Rosengarten on September 18, 2019, 1:20 pm

      “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.”

      Absolutely correct in my view!

  2. mondonut on September 17, 2019, 12:33 pm

    What cogent analysis:

    political opinion move to the right = less democracy
    political opinion move to the left = more democracy

  3. Ossinev on September 17, 2019, 1:23 pm

    In the lead up to the Israeli elections:

    “On Monday, Netanyahu announced that his annexation plan includes the settlement of Kiryat Arba and the Jewish enclaves in Hebron.

    The Jewish community in Hebron is made up of several enclaves located deep in the heart of the largest Palestinian city. The several hundred Jews there live under heavy military guard amid tens of thousands of Palestinians”
    https://www.timesofisrael.com/france-jordan-leaders-share-concern-over-netanyahu-annexation-plan/

    On the positive side though he has not ( yet )promised to annex Brooklyn or Golders Green.

  4. jon s on September 17, 2019, 2:25 pm

    What is at stake in these elections is the very survival of democracy in Israel. Netanyahu, in his desperation to avoid prosecution and jail has mounted an all-out assault on the legal system, on the media, even casting doubts on the elections themselves. So, in that respect at least, these elections are crucial.

    waiting for the exit polls…

    • Mooser on September 17, 2019, 3:55 pm

      “What is at stake in these elections is the very survival of democracy in Israel.”

      A loss of democracy which you welcome, and which will benefit you.
      At any rate, you aren’t going to give up on the Zionist dream over a little less democracy are you?

  5. wondering jew on September 17, 2019, 4:11 pm

    American liberal Jews must ” acknowledge that all this intolerance is the fulfillment of Zionism. ”
    Maybe. maybe not.

    This statement reads as if this intolerance is the inevitable result of Zionism, which is definitely not true. I would point to the following factors involved in Israel’s turn to the right that were not inevitable: 1. the settlement enterprise and its history, 2. the demographics of large families belonging to the ultra Orthodox and modern Orthodox camps, plus the influx of Russian Jews who have no liberal tradition and 3. the right wing tendencies of those Jews whose origins are in the Middle East and North Africa. None of these factors was inevitable (certainly not foreseeable in 1948, let alone in 1897 when the First Zionist Congress met in Basel Switzerland, let alone when Pinsker wrote “Auto Emancipation”.)

    Where do those who favor a more liberal Zionism go from here, given the strength of the right wing? Unclear. But to overstate the inevitability (even without using that term) is only helpful to those whose animus towards Jewish auto emancipation is self evident.

    • Mooser on September 18, 2019, 11:48 am

      “This statement reads as if this intolerance is the inevitable result of Zionism, which is definitely not true” “wj”

      Sure, there is always the alternate-history Zionism which exists only in your mind.
      Why you think you can sell that Zionist wet-dream-on-the-half-shell in the face of reality, I do not know.

    • Mooser on September 18, 2019, 12:14 pm

      “whose animus towards Jewish auto emancipation is self evident.”

      Don’t let it bother you, “Yonah”. You should drive whatever you want, whatever makes you feel happy and free. Buy a motorcycle or S900, so people can say “Look at him! What a honda!” when you drive past.

    • MHughes976 on September 18, 2019, 12:16 pm

      I would think, Yonah, that Z is meant to create a demonstration of Jewish generosity and that most Zs have a serious intention of showing that Jewish people could do for others what others had always failed to do for them, ie treat them, as minorities, with due regard and respect. Even the Palestinians would be more than tolerated, would even seem to be welcome if they would just reduce their numbers a bit and above all stop negating Z ideology by claiming an at least equal right to be there. But it can’t work. There’s a contradiction. Z claims rights for Jews uniquely and cannot get rid of a degree of uneasiness that others are staying around as if their rights were at least the same, which on the Z showing they just aren’t and can’t be.

    • genesto on September 18, 2019, 1:07 pm

      ‘This statement reads as if this intolerance is the inevitable result of Zionism, which is definitely not true.’

      It is absolutely true! Let me explain the following way. Zionism assumes that non Jews, particularly Palestinian Arabs, are either too dangerous, or too culturally inferior, to share real power in Israel. Otherwise, there would be no need for a Jewish state with its own Nation State law that memorializes the privileged status of Israeli Jews and the second, or third, class status of non Jews in Israel.(Note: Arabs holding 10-11 seats in the Knesset is certainly not sharing power – its tokenism at its finest!). This is the very definition of intolerance.

      Israel is certainly not the only country to privilege a certain group at the expense of all other groups in its country. But, it is the only one to receive about $4 billion per year in US aid to manage, and expand, its oppressive and illegal control over the Palestinian people. This is what has to come to an end, and the annexation of the West Bank just might be what does the trick.

    • Mooser on September 20, 2019, 2:50 pm

      “This statement reads as if this intolerance is the inevitable result of Zionism, which is definitely not true. I would point to the following factors involved in Israel’s turn to the right that were not inevitable: 1. the settlement enterprise and its history, 2. the demographics of large families belonging to the ultra Orthodox and modern Orthodox camps, plus the influx of Russian Jews who have no liberal tradition and 3. the right wing tendencies of those Jews whose origins are in the Middle East and North Africa.” “wj”

      So the problem with Zionism is that there are too many Jews involved in it?

  6. Misterioso on September 18, 2019, 8:52 am

    @wondering Jew, et al

    Regarding the First Zionist Congress in Basel:
    Its ultimate objective was made abundantly clear, i.e., the seizure and colonization of Palestine by foreign Jews:

    On 29 August 1897, Herzl convened a congress of like-minded Jews in Basel, Switzerland. It was attended by representatives from fifteen countries with a majority from Eastern Europe, including members of the militant Lovers of Zion (Hovavei Zion) who had already decided that the Jewish state must be established in Palestine. As a result, the World Zionist Organization was formed with Herzl as its president. Several places were considered as possibilities for creating a Jewish homeland, including Uganda, but in the end the Basel Programme declared: “Zionism strives for the establishment of a publicly and legally secured home in Palestine for the Jewish people.” It further called for: “The appropriate promotion of colonization…. The organization and gathering of all Jews…The promotion of Jewish national feeling and consciousness [and]… the attainment of such Government consent as is necessary in order to achieve the aim of Zionism.” (Harvard Professor, Walid Khalidi, From Haven to Conquest, p. 89)

    It is important to note that in 1897 Jews were a small minority in Palestine. “At the time of the Basel Congress 95 per cent of the population of Palestine was Arab [i.e., Muslim, Christian and Druze] and 99 per cent of its land was Arab owned.” (Khalidi, ibid, p. xxii)

    Early political Zionists did not reveal that their ultimate objective was a Jewish state in Palestine. They referred to a Jewish “home” to avoid alarming the Ottoman Turks or alienating fellow Jews within the emancipated communities of Western Europe and the United States. Herzl’s diary entry for September 3, 1898, revealed the truth: “Were I to sum up the Basel Congress in a word which I shall guard against pronouncing publicly it would be this: at Basel I founded the Jewish state…. If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter. Perhaps in five years and certainly in fifty, everyone will know it.” (Quoted by David Hirst, The Gun and the Olive Branch, p. 20)

    At the turn of the century the Jewish community in what would become Mandatory Palestine numbered at the very most 34,000 or 5.7 per cent of the population. Of this total, about 23,662 were Ottoman (Arab) Jews and a maximum of 10,000 were foreign Jews. (Justin McCarthy, The Population of Palestine, New York: Columbia University Press, 1990, p. 23; cited by Prof. Walid Khalidi, “The Jewish-Ottoman Land Company,” Journal of Palestine Studies, #86, Vol. xxii, no. 2, 1993, p. 34). In 1900, Jewish land ownership totalled 220,700 dunams (about 55,000 acres) or 0.8 per cent of the country. (A Survey of Palestine, 2 vols. plus Supplement, Washington, D.C., The Institute for Palestine Studies, 1991, p. 372; cited by Khalidi ibid).

    The stage was set for tragedy. Zionists seemed unconcerned with the fact that Palestine was a well populated and vibrant land. “Its people lived in a score of cities and towns, and some eight hundred villages and hamlets, built of stone.” (Khalidi, Before Their Diaspora, p. 33)

  7. jon s on September 18, 2019, 4:25 pm

    The Uganda plan was not considered at the Basel Congress because it was proposed in 1903, while the Basel Congress took place in 1897.

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