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The ugly joy of the Israeli election

Media Analysis
on 35 Comments

I must admit I never had as much fun watching Israeli politics as I did this week. I spent the week glued to i24 News television for the Israeli election and was laughing a lot of the time.

I’ve never seen such a display of out-and-out racism on TV, and all parading as the democratic process.

The display was so blatant that (I want to believe) it can’t be very long before Israel’s shadow catches up with its shining American image. I know I’m biased, but I felt I was watching the disintegration of Zionism, right before my eyes.

You see, the Palestinian parties were big winners Tuesday night, getting 13 seats, third behind Blue/White at 33 and Likud at 31, and no one in Israeli politics knows how to deal with this, except to say We don’t want anything to do with the Arabs!

Kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman, who came in fifth, with 8 seats, well behind the Palestinian parties, said it the night of the election, No way will I make a coalition with Arabs.

The sonofabitch got five seats less than the Palestinians, and came in two places behind them in the race, but he gets to condescend to them!

Netanyahu issued the same racist pronouncement at 3 a.m. on election night. A beaten man, Netanyahu pivoted from his call for a rightwing government to a call for a “strong, Zionist… government that is committed to Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people.” No Arabs, Netanyahu said explicitly– no “anti-Zionist Arab parties that oppose the very existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

Former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren echoed Netanyahu on i24. The new government should be a coalition of parliamentarians from the two main parties along with some parliamentarians from the religious parties Shas and UTJ.

The religious parties finished fourth and sixth, well behind the Palestinian parties. But Palestinians don’t count for Oren.

While another former ambassador, Daniel Shek, said Netanyahu had brought the Arab problem on himself by his ugly race-baiting during the campaign, but: “Honestly, no one wants them [Arabs] as part of a coalition.”

And today on i24, the messianic Islamophobic rightwinger Yehuda Glick called for a government that solidifies Israel’s hold on Jerusalem and strengthens the “unity” of Israeli society, i.e., its Jewishness.

Glick speaks with an American accent. Just like rightwing Israeli pundit Jeremy Saltan, who was using NFL analogies in the i24 studio today to explain why Netanyahu will come out on top.

And it all just makes you think, Who are these a******es who moved there from America to tell Palestinians they have no standing in the government of the country they live in?

Surely my favorite moment on i24 this week was when Dennis Ross was interviewed (at an election watch party held by the “Israel Forever Foundation” in Washington), and said it’s necessary for Israelis and Palestinians to “separate.” Otherwise Palestinians will demand equal rights! And the settler Yishai Fleisher, who was raised in New Jersey but now lives in occupied Hebron and is published by the New York Times, responded that Ross is a “segregationist,” but Israelis can be “creative” with Palestinians– and hand them over to Jordan.

It is really hard to say who the bigger scoundrel was! Do you want your apartheid hard or soft, and with sprinkles or dipped?

All the racist gerrymandering could result in another scary outcome for the Jewish state: The Palestinian parties become leaders of the official opposition in parliament, and thereby included in security briefings.

Not to worry. Danny Ayalon, former Cabinet official, and Oded Revivi, a settler leader, agreed on i24 that no Palestinian leader would be allowed to see Israeli defense documents. “He won’t get the full. Only diluted,” Ayalon said.

All of this is reminiscent of the Jim Crow era in the U.S., when the Democratic Party was on board with southern racists up into the 1960s, till the Democrats reformed. But as keen students of Israeli politics all agree, from Mike Wagenheim of i24 to Yossi Gurvitz and Jonathan Ofir, Israeli politics swung further right this election.

“This was an unprecedented right-wing victory,” Michael Koplow writes.

As the Jewish State gets older, it only gets more anachronistic. And its adherents get more embattled, seeing enemies on all sides.

Which brings us to the great showing of the Joint List. Both anti-Zionist and liberal Zionist Jews have celebrated the Joint List’s incredible results, with Einat Wilf, a former Labor parliamentarian, saying on i24 that Odeh should be Interior Minister and Ahmad Tibi minister of health.

Consider Ayman Odeh’s final campaign message (as reported by Harry Reis of New Israel Fund):

“I turn now to Israel’s Jewish citizens: friends, our interests are shared. The interests of 90% of Jews, of 90% of Arabs is to live in peace; to live in democracy, with social justice and equality. But it’s not just interests; it’s our values that we need to live by. This time, I want to talk to you about another direction. A direction of solidarity; of identification. Who better than the Jews can understand what it is to live as a minority–to be a persecuted minority? We — Arab citizens of Israel — are suffering from unrestrained incitement of the prime minister @netanyahu– and from a bold-faced lie: whether it’s Arabs ‘flocking to the polls in droves,’ or ‘Arabs are stealing our elections’ of last week;or ‘Arabs want to annihilate us’ of 3 days ago, we have gone from a persecuted minority in this country–to an endangered minority.”

Odeh frankly describes the racist politics that I observed on i24. His voice represents real leadership, far different from the religious national authoritarian demagoguery on display in Jewish politics.

American Jews have needed Palestinian partners to liberate themselves from Zionism. We could never have reached an understanding of the damage of Zionism on our own. The same goes for Israeli society. There is only one way out of the ugly place you have painted yourself into, democracy.

Philip Weiss

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

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35 Responses

  1. stephenFL on September 19, 2019, 4:01 pm

    The problem as I see it is that you called the Joint List “the Palestinian parties”. So the question is, are they Israeli Arabs, or are they Palestinians? I tend to think that more Israeli Jews would be more welcoming of their inclusion into the body politic if they were “Israeli Arab” parties, and not as you called them, “Palestinian parties”. Many Israeli’s have lurched rightward over the years as the result of violence. Remember, I’m not too old to remember when Labor party dominated Israeli politics. I think it was Ehud Barak who made the Palestinians a fair offer which they rejected and launched war instead. Things have not been the same since. I have almost always been a liberal, but the events of 9-11 and after caused me too to lurch rightward, for a short while at least. Most American Jews do not like Trump, or Netanyahu. So now there is a great divide. But maybe if the Israeli Arabs began to identify themselves as Israeli Arabs and not “Palestinian parties”, it could be helpful moving forward.

    • eljay on September 19, 2019, 4:37 pm

      || stephenFL: … But maybe if the Israeli Arabs began to identify themselves as Israeli Arabs and not “Palestinian parties”, it could be helpful moving forward. ||

      I agree with Palestinian / Arab Israelis identifying themselves as Palestinian / Arab Israeli.

      I think what would also be helpful moving forward is Israel identifying itself as an inclusive Israeli state and not a religion-supremacist “Jewish State”.

    • RoHa on September 19, 2019, 7:47 pm

      “I think it was Ehud Barak who made the Palestinians a fair offer”

      Do you think you could spell out the details of that offer, and what aspects made it anything less than grossly unjust?

      ” which they rejected and launched war instead.”


    • annie on September 19, 2019, 8:59 pm

      I tend to think that more Israeli Jews would be more welcoming of their inclusion into the body politic if they were “Israeli Arab” parties

      you’re wrong, it makes no difference whatsoever.

    • dgfincham on September 20, 2019, 12:44 pm

      The members of these parties are Israeli citizens whose first language is Arabic. That they are Israeli-Arabs is a factual matter. Whether they consider themselves to be Palestinians is a personal matter. If I remember remember correctly, there was once a poll in which 30% of Israeli Arabs put their Israeli identity above their Palestinian identity. Their political parties should be called Israel-Arab parties, which is the normal practice.

      • annie on September 20, 2019, 3:32 pm

        there was once a poll in which 30% of Israeli Arabs put their Israeli identity above their Palestinian identity.

        what about the other 70%?

        when you say Israeli Jews would be more welcoming, do you mean the joint list might be welcome to join a coalition government? because i don’t.

        and what about the jewish home party? I tend to think that more Palestinian-Israelis would be more welcoming of their inclusion into the body politic if they were called the “Israeli home” party.

      • Mooser on September 21, 2019, 8:38 pm

        The Palestinians are very lucky to have so many concerned people to tell them who they are.

    • genesto on September 20, 2019, 2:25 pm

      How about Jews in Israel identifying themselves as Palestinian Jews, which is what they were until the establishment of the state of Israel? Don’t like that idea, eh? Well, you might want to consider why not.

      The right wing is moving towards annexing the West Bank. I say, “Good”. It would make de jure what has been de facto for decades, i.e. that Israel IS an apartheid state. I’d love to see the Democrats finesse themselves around that! If, indeed, this comes to pass, why not go back to calling all of what is currently Israel and the West Bank Palestine again? Then we would have Palestinian Jews and Arabs, who might be able to co-exist peacefully as they did before the rise of Zionism. As my brand new red hat with white lettering says, “Make Israel Palestine Again.” MIPA.

      Just a thought.

      • echinococcus on September 21, 2019, 6:18 am

        Exactly, Genesto. Not “just a thought”, the obvious basic principle, the only solution since 1947.

  2. wondering jew on September 19, 2019, 7:43 pm

    Aspirations regarding a peace between the Palestinians and Israeli Jewish peoples seem forlorn. The nakba is a chasm between the two sides and the demographic assumptions that this act of exiling such a large population have cultural and societal consequences that are negative and quite entrenched.

    Yet I am devoted to the Jewish move towards self emancipation that has centered on the land near Jerusalem. Unable to imagine a birth that did not involve such an exiling, my differences with the prevailing Jewish attitudes are not sufficient to undo all the pain caused. For example: olmert spoke of 10,000 returning refugees and I think in terms of 500,000, insufficient for the mindset of millions of Palestinians, but way beyond the mindset of my fellow Jewish Zionists.

    The enmity regarding distrust of having Palestinians in the army is “self evident”. this is quite different from the drafting of the blacks into the american army. it is a different dynamic than jim crow. worse in many ways but better in other ways and very different, but i suppose analogies are necessary as a beginning of a comprehension.

    the democracy phil weiss talks about meaning one state will come at the hands of annexationists whose attitude towards the Palestinians is retrograde, to say the least. Jewish zionists in general are opposed to the two state solution for a variety of reasons. if it is going to be like hamas in gaza or hezbollah in lebanon there is nothing to see in the true sovereignty for palestinians three miles away from lod airport as anything but security folly. since the nakba is the real gripe in any case and jaffa and haifa not nablus and hebron, then the two state solution is only a marker on the road to jewish emancipation oblivion.

    if the settlement enterprise had been nipped in the bud by eshkol and if begin had never come to power, then the occupation of the west bank might have been predominantly military and the military decision to choose occupation rather than hezbollah near lod is understandable. but, once the occupation is turned into a settler occupation that which is created is so anti democratic as to be too blatant even ridiculous.

    As far as American politicians, I wonder when the attitude of the grass roots of the democratic party will filter up into their elected officials, this type of artificial gap between the roots and the politicos seems unprecedented. This is bound to be an ugly process. and there is zero good will between the antizionists and the zionists, so it will be very ugly.

    • hai_bar on September 20, 2019, 11:56 am

      Dear “wondering jew”,

      I logged in just to admire your capability of utilizing language in a nice way to produce a huge load of shit. This is a gift man.

      Salam, Shalom

    • Mooser on September 20, 2019, 1:52 pm

      “Yet I am devoted to the Jewish move towards self emancipation that has centered on the land near Jerusalem.”

      Don’t you mean “Zionism”. It’s just one word. Lot easier to say or write.

    • RoHa on September 21, 2019, 3:51 am

      What consenting Jews do in the privacy of their own homes is not my concern, but when they start doing auto-emancipation in the streets and frightening the horses, I feel obliged to comment.

      The term suggests Jews freeing themselves from slavery or some similar oppression. But for one (me!) who grew up in a world where Jews were doctors and lawyers and business executives, MPs and actors and academics, it is difficult to see what they need to be emancipated from.

      The whole idea seems to be that Jews are not ordinary Australians or Englishmen, but some special, separate, group who should give themselves, and perhaps deserve, some separate, special, treatment.

      I think this idea is flat-out wrong. I can see no justification for this discrimination between citizens. And so I condemn your auto-emancipation.

      • wondering jew on September 21, 2019, 11:34 am

        Roha- If history began today in 2019 and the only Jews in the world would be those living in free societies of the west, your statement would be sensible . But history began way back when and the history of Jewish self emancipation was not born in Australia or the US, but in czarist russia in the 1880’s and in central europe in the 1890’s and in a europe that was on the threshold of warfare which would wipe out more than half the Jews on that continent. To present the 2019 facts as the only consideration is dishonest, to say the least.

      • Mooser on September 21, 2019, 12:36 pm

        Sorry “wj”, time marches on. You got something which will change that?

      • eljay on September 21, 2019, 1:16 pm

        || wondering jew: … the history of Jewish self emancipation was not born in Australia or the US, but in czarist russia in the 1880’s and in central europe in the 1890’s and in a europe that was on the threshold of warfare … To present the 2019 facts as the only consideration is dishonest, to say the least. ||

        Hateful and immoral ideologies – including Jewish / “Jewish State” colonialism and supremacism – are neither validated nor justified simply because they were born in hard places and/or hard times.

        But according to your “logic”:
        – we should not present the 2019 facts as the only consideration (as that would be dishonest, to say the least); but, rather,
        – we should sympathize with early to mid-20th century Germans.

        You never cease to surprise.

      • RoHa on September 22, 2019, 1:20 am

        “If history began today in 2019 and the only Jews in the world would be those living in free societies of the west,”

        First, and most importantly, that should be:
        “If history began today in 2019 and the only Jews in the world were those living in free societies of the west,…”

        Second, perhaps you missed the phrase “ one (me!) who grew up in a world where Jews were doctors …”. I’m not just referring to 2019. I’m referring to the conditions of my lifetime. And I’m 73.

        But that was the situation even before I was born. That’s how it was in Australia, Britain, several countries of Western Europe, Canada, and the United States.
        There was some snooty anti-Semitism in Australia and Britain (perhaps more in other countries) but in general being known to be a Jew was less of a career handicap than being known to be a homosexual. Even among people who went to Eton.

        “the history of Jewish self emancipation was not born in Australia or the US, but in czarist russia in the 1880’s…”

        The Jews in Tsarist Russia were somewhat oppressed (unlike the Christian Russian peasants, who whiled away their days with folk dances and happy songs to the tune of the balalaika), and the idea of some sort of emancipation for Russian Jews would have made sense then.

        And emancipation for all Russians would have been a more moral idea.

        But even then, it did not apply to all Jews, and it does not apply now.

        Now it is just socially divisive.

      • wondering jew on September 22, 2019, 6:42 am

        An attempt to clarify:
        The reason I used the terminology of self emancipation was an echo of Pinsker’s Auto Emancipation. Pinsker had been devoted to the assimilation project: we will be accepted by our neighbors and the government if only we assimilate. the pogroms of 1881 (far less fatal than the pogroms after 1900) proved to Pinsker that his assimilation project was doomed to failure. (I don’t think it was really doomed to failure in the long run, but in the short run he was right, it was doomed to failure.) And thus he adopted the program of establishing statehood somewhere on the planet.
        The causes of the birth of Israel are certainly relevant to Israelis, and they should be relevant if one wishes to understand history. if one wishes to distort history, then many possibilities are open to the glib liars who choose such a path.
        The relevance of history is not total. the present tense of the post 1945 period is certainly important when considering how to proceed from here. but to reject pinsker based upon the successful modern democratic societies of the west is ahistorical.
        I approve of the impulse and its consequences of the Jews who chose self emancipation as the way of meeting the “challenges” of European modernity. Hitler might not have been inevitable, but he certainly occurred and not in a vacuum and prescient Jews should not be blamed for their prescience, they should be congratulated.
        There is a different issue of prescience and that is the treatment of the Palestinians, but that is not the discussion here, rather the impulse towards self emancipation. Erasing the history that occurred before your birth (call it B.R. Before Roha), erasing all pre Roha history, the Jews of the west would be slightly daft to begin investigating a project of self emancipation in 1950 or since. but it was not the Jews of the west who sought this idea it was the Jews of 1881 under the czar in a society that was still quite religious and anti Judaism, the nature of the polity of the czar is highly relevant, but the nature of the clash of cultures is relevant as well. So that’s where the impulse towards self emancipation arose and I approve it, as I approve a human eating food, sustenance for survival. the survival of the identity of the group is not as primary as the survival of the individual. the nature of groups in the life of humans on this planet deserves study and thought rather than utter reverence or silly dismissal. the jews under the czar were the vast majority of jews on the planet and the impulse to survive through a project of self emancipation was an impulse towards life and i approve.
        (how to harmonize or negotiate with others in the aftermath of this impulse is something which requires presence of mind, but the impulse seems quite clear, and distorting it serves some purpose, but not the purpose of truth.)

      • Mooser on September 22, 2019, 12:34 pm

        “An attempt to clarify”

        clar·i·fy, /ˈklerəˌfī/, verb
        make (a statement or situation) less confused and more clearly comprehensible.
        “the report managed to clarify the government’s position”
        melt (butter) in order to separate out the water and milk solids.
        “clarify the butter by using a spoon to skim off the foam”

        “Yonah”, don’t comment while cooking.

      • eljay on September 22, 2019, 1:06 pm

        || wondering jew: … So that’s where the impulse towards self emancipation arose and I approve it, as I approve a human eating food, sustenance for survival. … ||

        People who are starving steal enough to eat (“sustenance for survival”). They don’t organize and then develop and implement an ideology that grants to them and to all people who choose to share the same identity the “right”:
        – to claim for themselves as much as possible of the crops and farmland in a given region;
        – to establish a supremacist state for themselves; and
        – to do “necessary evil” unto others.

        It’s no surprise that every time you speechify – regardless of how verbose or anguished you make it – you arrive at the same Zionist conclusion.

      • RoHa on September 23, 2019, 12:23 am

        Well, we are making progress. At least you now recognise the basic division of the world’s timeline into History (before I was born) and Current Affairs (after I was born).

        Now, before I go any further, I have some sad news for you.

        The Tsar is gone.

        You might not have noticed, but they’ve been having some revolution-type upsets in Russia, and one of the consequences was that they decided to replace the poor dear Tsar with a succession of people whose names end with “-in”. So now the Romanovs are just another ex-royal family scattered around in disreputable places like Palm Beach, Paris, and Canada.

        I’ll give you a minute to digest that. Don’t be afraid to shed a tear.

        So while you might sympathise with Pinker’s ideas, at least where Russian Jews were concerned, it is time to recognise that the conditions they arose in no longer exist.

        Nor can you separate the impulse and its consequences. The decision to establish a state affects both the people in the territory and the people in the surrounding territories. If you approve of the impulse, you approve of the consequences for everyone else.

        Finally, as Eljay points out, the urge to survive gives no rights whatsoever.

      • Mooser on September 23, 2019, 4:26 pm

        “was that they decided to replace the poor dear Tsar with a succession of people whose names end with “-in”.”

        Very true. For a while Russia was Lenin on the everlasting arms, but finally quit Stalin.

  3. Kay24 on September 20, 2019, 4:35 am

    Tillerson reveals how Crooked Bibi manipulated Trump. Sounds ugly.

    “Former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said that Israeli officials “played” Donald Trump during talks, using “misinformation” to manipulate the president. He warned that a “healthy amount of skepticism” is necessary when dealing with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

    “They did that with the president on a couple of occasions, to persuade him that ‘we’re the good guys, they’re the bad guys,’” Tillerson said at a panel discussion Tuesday at Harvard University.”

  4. Misterioso on September 20, 2019, 9:34 am

    Short CNN Video:

    Voter: “Israel is not a democracy.” – Sept. 19, 2019
    “Palestinian entrepreneur, Adnan Jaber, and Israeli voter, Shaindy Ort speak to CNN’s Becky Anderson in Jerusalem following the Israel elections.”

  5. jon s on September 20, 2019, 9:51 am

    Phil asserts that “Israeli politics swung further right this election.”
    Let’s see:
    On the Right: Likud -31 -loss of 4 seats .If you add Kulanu, which united with Likud, it’s a loss of 8
    Yamina (far Right)-7 -gain of 2, compared with the union of the Right, actually a huge disappointment for them, because they joined forces with Shaked/Bennet
    Blue/white (Center-Right)-33-loss of 2
    Otzma Yehudit –(farther Right )- 0. Defeated in their attempt to gain seats .

    Haredi parties:
    Shas -9 -gain of 1
    Torah Judaism—8-no change

    On the Left:
    Joint List-13 -gain of 3
    Labour -6 -no change
    Democratic Front (Meretz)-5-gain of 1

    Wild Card : Yisrael Beitenu (Lieberman)-8-gain of 3

    I fail to see a” further swing to the Right”.

    • MHughes976 on September 20, 2019, 1:07 pm

      Thanks, Jon. I see that the Times of Israel is half-prophesying a third election. Do you think that plausible?

      • Mooser on September 20, 2019, 4:16 pm

        ” Times of Israel is half-prophesying a third election.”

        Nah, Israel can do better. From now on, Israel will be a permanent state of election. It’ll be the status quo.
        Until the IDF-religious-settler coup.

      • jon s on September 21, 2019, 4:54 pm

        No, I don’t think a third election is plausible. Of course, had you asked me in April, I would have said that a second election is inplausible…
        The most likely outcome in my opinion at this point is a “National Unity” government based on Blue-White and Likud. The major obstacle to that is Netanyahu himself and his legal woes. A problrm here is that Likudniks are always loyal to their leader. Consider that Likud has had only four leaders throughout its history (Begin, Shamir, Sharon, Netanyahu), while on the Left we have a tendency to change leaders more frequently than I change socks…So there has been talk today of some kind of plea bargain. Netanyahu would resign, face reduced charges,not do prison time, maybe a pardon from the President.
        I would have liked a more clear-cut result, but hopefully we’ll be rid of Netanyahu and his obnoxious family. At least that.

      • DaBakr on September 22, 2019, 12:05 am

        Definitely plausible. In fact, some pundits think this is the only logical outcome which I don’t completly agree with. But, Israeli politics are already pretty insane and now they are off the rails

    • Mooser on September 20, 2019, 1:55 pm

      “I fail to see a” further swing to the Right”.” the far-sighted “Jon s”

      Of course you do.

    • jon s on September 25, 2019, 3:39 am

      Update after the final count:
      Likud has one more – 32
      Torah Judaism one less – 7

      Doesn’t change the big picture.

  6. genesto on September 20, 2019, 2:31 pm

    Nice to know I wasn’t the only one laughing as I watched the Israeli elections unfold. The only one deserving of respect during this spectacle is Odeh.

    Too bad the mainstream press following American public won’t get a chance to see and appreciate this man.

  7. DaBakr on September 20, 2019, 2:49 pm

    Schadenfreude: Phil’s vocabulary word of the day.

  8. VQTilley on September 20, 2019, 7:58 pm

    I’m so glad all this racism is now so glaring. It’s harder to get people to understand the moral rot behind a smiling face. Jostling its racial paranoia and hysteria into public view and has allowed Israel’s real character to become plain.

    I’d just quibble with the suggestion that Israeli politics are moving to the right. In substance, I don’t think they’ve moved at all. They’ve just become more honest. Just as Israel has always planned to annex the West Bank and is finally saying so, Israel was always committed to excluding Arab citizens from real representation in the Knesset and is finally saying so. The Israeli leadership could be sweet-tongued about democracy and civil rights as long as Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel were weak, fearful, and securely marginalized. Now that that has changed, the Zionist parties have had to get explicit about what used to be tacit: their unyielding commitment to keeping those citizens from ever getting any real power that can ruffle Jewish statehood. That’s all we’re seeing – the glove coming off the iron fist.

    All healthy, in my view. At last the scales might fall from world eyes.

    • MHughes976 on September 23, 2019, 1:15 pm

      You want scales to fall from eyes – aha! This phrase is for ever associated with the conversion of Paul in Acts 9 and its symbolism of a Jew gaining true vision by becoming a Christian will never be forgotten. This is a stereotype-exploiting phrase and the IHRA and Mr. Seaton should be called in. Again I say ‘Aha!’

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