With Election Day in Israel less than two months away, parties are feeling more pressure than ever to garner support for the third election in less than a year.
It has been clear for a long time that there is no distinction between Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and his main challenger, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party. Indeed, when it comes to issues and policies regarding Palestinian, either citizens of Israel or those in the occupied Palestinian territory, the two were in complete agreement with each other. Gantz not only echoed and supported Netanyahu’s promise to annex parts of the West Bank last fall but in fact took credit for it, stating “We’re glad Netanyahu came to his senses and adopted Blue and White’s plan for recognition of the Jordan Valley, ”reflecting an overt Israeli consensus on a one-state solution. It was undeniable that Gantz’s image as a leader who will bring change and progress to the country was a fallacy. Gantz is nothing more than a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Furthermore, the recent merger of center-left party Meretz with Labor-Gesher signaled yet another change in the political map in the country. Meretz was the only Jewish party that took a position against the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem, a position that will surely be dropped in the deal. However, in a trend over the past decade or so, Meretz has consistently shifted closer to the center, a process that has been echoed across the board in Israel. The merger of Meretz with Labor-Gesher marked the official end of progressive, Jewish left-wing politics in Israel, leaving the Joint List, an alliance of Palestinian Arab parties, led by the joint Arab-Jewish Hadash party, as the sole voice for the progressive, left-wing base in the country.
Still, a recent development has trumped all others in cementing the Joint List’s status as the sole progressive, left-wing voice in Israel. Netanyahu has grown increasingly desperate in his efforts to maintain support. While a narrow majority of Israelis surveyed by the Israeli Democracy Institute said they want him to resign in the wake of his corruption indictment, his base has not budged. He outlasted an internal Likud election and his support and popularity remained steady among voters according to January polls from Channel 12 and 13. But to do so, he engaged in constant incitement and hate-filled rhetoric against Palestinians.
In a November “emergency rally” a month after the last election billed as “stopping the dangerous minority government that is reliant on terror supporters,” equated Arab parliamentarians to terrorists for no apparent reason other than being Arab. Netanyahu told supporters that Gantz was forming a government backed by the Joint List, described as those who want to “destroy the country.”
Netanyahu referred to the prospect of the Joint List backing his opponent as a “historic terror attack” against Israel.
Separately, Netanyahu has taken more extreme and frantic actions such as placing cameras in polls at Palestinian localities in order to suppress the Palestinian vote.
However, the latest action taken by the Likud may be the most drastic yet: appealing to the Central Elections Committee to ban the Joint List’s candidate for Knesset re-election, Heba Yazbak. While such a move by the Likud should not come as a shock to anyone, what is worrying is the response by other parties to it. All major parties running in the elections, with the exception of the Joint List, have supported the move to varying extents. Blue and White, Yisrael Beiteinu, and even members within the Labor-Gesher-Meretz supported barring Yazbak. A petition Likud circulated falsely accused Yazbak of supporting terrorism and claimed she violated Israeli candidacy laws, which prohibits, “support of armed struggle, by a hostile state or a terrorist organization, against the State of Israel.”
The row centers around a 2015 post she made to Facebook about Samir Kuntar after the Lebanese-Druze man was killed in an alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria. Kuntar was a member of the Palestine Liberation Front and Hezbollah and was convicted in 1979 of killing five Israelis. He was later released to Lebanon in a prison swap.
“It is uncomfortable for me to read Heba’s words on Facebook, but to disqualify a law-abiding civilian from running is like giving a prize to those slandering Israeli democracy,” Meretz Knesset member Yair Golan wrote on Twitter this week. “In a democracy, people are disqualified for their actions, not sharing outrageous things on Facebook.”
While a couple of members in Meretz have expressed their concerns with the proposal to sanction Yazbak, a vast majority of members in the newly formed Labor-Gesher-Meretz alliance do in fact support striking her from the roster, including some members of Meretz, further highlighting the end of left-wing Jewish parties in Israel.
It is also worth noting that there is no shortage of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and even Blue and White lawmakers who have made a plethora of bigoted and hostile comments and social media posts over the course of years, such as the former minister of justice Ayelet Shaked, who is notorious for her hateful posts and considers all Palestinians to be “the enemy.” Another incident involves current defense minister Naftali Bennet who, when he was minister of education, stated he would implement a “shoot to kill” policy against Palestinians from Gaza attempting to cross into Israel.
These are but a couple of examples of the hate-filled and racist atmosphere promoted by right-wing politicians in Israel, greatly endangering democratic values and institutions in the country. Hence, there are countless politicians currently serving under Netanyahu’s government who are more than noteworthy of being barred from running in the elections due to the threat they pose to democracy in the country. In fact, Facebook banned Netanyahu himself for 24 hours due to an extremely hate-filled and threatening post he made. A recent report published by 7amleh – The Arab Center for the Advancement of Social Media, details Israelis incite against Palestinians on social media every 66 seconds.
For over two decades, Netanyahu has shifted farther to the right, appealing to the extreme settler far-right agenda and implementing its policies. This has caused the Overton window to shift dramatically to the right. Today, the extreme right is a wholly acceptable idea in the Israeli mainstream. Supporting illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory has shifted to a centrist policy. Netanyahu has pushed it to the mainstream and still continues to shift further to the right.
The rise in incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel and the constantly expanding restrictions on their civil and democratic rights is nothing new. However, the eradication of progressive, Jewish parties is a prospect that threatens to expand such injustices to all those who oppose Netanyahu and his government’s extremist agenda. The Joint List, the sole voice of equality, justice, and peace in the country is the last hope for peace between Israelis and Palestinians.