Media Analysis

Israel is having its third election in a year because governments exclude Palestinian lawmakers

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The latest news from Israeli politics is that the leftwing Meretz Party is joining forces with the Labor Party in order to try to stay above the threshold of oblivion in the next election (3.25 percent) and the list of parliamentary candidates they’ve announced excludes Palestinians. The Palestinian member of Knesset Issawi Frej had fought for Meretz’s survival in the last two elections by campaigning in Palestinian areas. Now Frej is #11 on the merged list of the two parties. Experts say there’s no way he will get back into the Parliament.

The headlines in the liberal press are: “Israel’s Meretz party giving up on Arabs” and “Jewish-Arab partnership unwanted, activists charge.”

You don’t see such headlines in the American press. The discrimination against Palestinian citizens in “the only democracy in the Middle East” just doesn’t count as a story here.

So this is a good time to remind readers that the main reason Israeli politics are stalemated and the country is going to its third election inside a year is that Palestinians don’t really count in election totals. The two largest Jewish political parties are each stuck at 50-odd seats out of 120 in the parliament, but the more liberal one can’t forge a deal with the third largest party, the Joint List of Palestinian parties, because Israeli Jews would not accept it.

In any other country, everyone would be wooing the third largest party. In Israel it’s the opposite. Everyone shuns the third party and is wooing Avigdor Lieberman– the “Kingmaker” — though he came in a distant fourth to the Palestinian parties, because he’s Jewish.

And Lieberman calls the Arab parties’ leader a “terrorist” and refuses to meet with any Palestinian politician and refuses to sit in a coalition with Palestinians. Imagine an American politician expressing such racism, and still being in demand!! And of course Netanyahu is just as bad, warning that Arabs “want to annihilate” Jews. In Israeli politics, that’s ho-hum.

The last election cycle saw an unprecedented move by the Palestinian Joint List, offering to support Blue and White’s Benny Gantz in a coalition so as to end the Netanyahu era. The offer was snubbed. Negotiations between Blue and White and the Joint List were insulting, the Palestinian leader Ayman Odeh told Haaretz:

“‘I think Kahol Lavan [Blue and White] wanted to treat us like a mistress. They wanted to use us for two or three months just to throw Bibi out and then form a unity government. [Kahol Lavan Member of Knesset] Ofer Shelah sat with us secretly and asked us not to tell anyone. I told him that first we’ll finish the recommendations, then we’ll reveal the negotiations. And they, like a man who doesn’t want anyone to know he’s having an affair, were very angry. I did it intentionally, to show everyone that we were talking and the sky didn’t fall. We sat, took pictures and talked together.’”

And by the way, when it was thought Netanyahu and Gantz might forge a “unity” deal, thus making the Joint List the official opposition, as the largest party not in the coalition– the big question was, How can we share intelligence data with Palestinians!?

Advocates for Israel will argue that the Palestinians don’t want to be in the government– it’s on the Palestinians. OK, but then you must ask why? Palestinians don’t want to be part of government so long as Israel calls itself the “nation-state of the Jewish people” and occupies Palestine and doesn’t give those people any rights at all.

“If I sit in a government that’s occupying the Palestinian people, if children in Gaza are harmed, I won’t be able to enter the restaurant where we’re sitting now,” Ayman Odeh told Haaretz. “If there’s a serious peace process and there are three or four social issues the government will commit to address, it will be possible to think about a bloc in a serious way.”

In sum, Israeli government politics are all Jewish, and the country’s claim to be a democracy that affords equal rights to all citizens is weak.

And though the spate of stories about the next Israeli election has already begun in the U.S., the fact that anti-Palestinian racism is causing this election won’t be covered in the American press. More than 20 percent of Israel’s population within the 1967 borders are not Jewish, and they’re second-class citizens, but they are invisible to the US mainstream media. Only the alternative media, such as Juan Cole, tells this story. “Israel’s Racism Cripples its Democracy as it Heads for 3rd Election under Indicted Caretaker PM Netanyahu.”

We are still waiting for the New York Times to profile Ayman Odeh, the charismatic leader of the Joint List. Though he continues to be an outsize figure in Israeli media.

Thanks to Scott Roth. 

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