In 11 days, on the 17th of September, Israelis will be going to elections. Again. The recent April elections failed to result in a governing coalition, the parliament was dispersed, and new elections were scheduled. But it’s not just a repetition in that sense – it’s also a monotonous repetition in the sense that it has happened 21 times since Israel was founded, and nothing has changed, really.
The picture is always the same. Parties who represent Palestinians are marginalized because they are not Jewish and Zionist. They are not wanted in any governing coalition and they never end up in government. It has been so from day 1: for Israel to remain “Jewish and democratic” it basically has to exclude Palestinians from any meaningful national representation.
This political paradigm is merely a reflection of the Zionist ethnic cleansing program, which sits at the heart of its settler-colonialist designs. As Richard Falk and Virginia Tilley put it in their UN report on Israeli Apartheid:
The first general policy of Israel has been one of demographic engineering, in order to establish and maintain an overwhelming Jewish majority in Israel. As in any racial democracy, such a majority allows the trappings of democracy — democratic elections, a strong legislature — without threatening any loss of hegemony by the dominant racial group.
That paragraph needs to be framed and hung on walls in all Israeli homes. That policy of “demographic engineering” is not only the first policy of Israel – it is its continuing, central, and primary policy. That’s what “Jewish and democratic” is really all about. That “overwhelming majority” was first created through ethnic cleansing, then enforced through Apartheid population separation policies. We see various aspects of these over the years in different locations of governance by the Israeli state, from Jerusalem to Jenin to Gaza. It’s actually all a one big Apartheid state.
So then the question becomes, why participate in such a sham, make-believe “democracy”? Why give it the legitimacy it does not deserve, why pretend that you’re going to make a difference if you’re not a member of the master-race? Or why pretend you’re making a difference if you’re a member of that master-race and are supposedly voting liberal? These are serious questions, and I cannot answer them for people who are not in my privileged Jewish stratum. I realize that for Palestinians this may often be about making the best of it. Some hope that one day, Israel may really become democratic, and not in a Jewish exclusivist way as it is today. I share those hopes. But it’s not just about the strategic goal, it’s about the tactic – is the tactic of taking part in elections, whether as lawmaker or voter, really the way to go?
Eitan Bronstein Aparicio, an Israeli Jewish activist who works for Nakba awareness in Israeli society, has advocated for avoiding the elections altogether, a “citizens’ movement to change the regime”. In 2015 he was featured in a video by Israel Social TV:
It seems we’ve reached a point at which citizens themselves, even the privileged Jews, recognize that peace is not on Israel’s horizon. The right-wing leaders have said this openly for years, and propose we live in a state of perpetual war. The Knesset cannot make things better. It can, at best, slow the descent to the next war. I’m not saying all Knesset members are worthless or corrupt (a claim sometimes made irresponsibly), but that they are bound by the logic of a regime opposed in principle to egalitarian democracy and peace. We need a new politics, extra-parliamentary, a citizens’ movement to change the regime. Such a call does not reflect a despair of politics or a search for refuge in Berlin. To the contrary – it seeks to identify a new way, a way of hope… We need, therefore, another kind of political participation, outside of the Zionist parliament, one that will influence the nature of the regime, will oppose its essential nature in order to replace it. Participation in elections strengthens the current regime; oppositional politics at a time like this must affect the regime, not be part of it.
This may seem revolutionary and extreme at first. But we need to consider what this is a response to: a reactionary, violent regime of Apartheid. If one plays along with Apartheid, one arguably becomes an extremist merely by being part of it.
Boycotting of this sort has long been a part of Palestinian culture. In occupied East Jerusalem for example, most residents have historically rejected the possibility offered to them by Israel to become citizens, and have sufficed with ‘permanent’ residency permits, under the notion that to become a citizen of the state which has unilaterally and illegally occupied and annexed you, would be to legitimize that criminal regime.
And it doesn’t really matter a damn thing, that another enlightened savior like Benny Gantz ostensibly comes to rescue Israeli ‘democracy’, nor that a supposedly leftist liberal-hero like Ehud Barak comes to do the same. These people are out for the same thing – maintaining Zionism, with all that it means.
I also recognize it’s easier to say these things from the privilege of the colonizer. When Palestinians apply resistance in any form that is not seen as subservient to the Zionist hegemony, they are demonized, subjected to regime violence, and further marginalized. For Zionists, Palestinians have always been a kind of ‘fifth column’ at best.
But the question becomes, for how long will the game of ‘democracy’ be subscribed to?
The movement for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) is essentially about affecting change from without, by applying pressure from without and not by engaging in dialogue with the oppressor, for such dialogue merely strengthens it. Of course, Israel fights this as a strategic threat, and seeks to demonize it internationally as anti-Semitic. But this is arguably the only thing we have left. Israel is too strong to be changed from within.