Last night (Wednesday) was the deadline for submitting party lists ahead of the upcoming Israeli elections set for March 2nd – the third elections within a year. Israel is in a political gridlock, with none of the two major blocs managing to create a coalition of at least 61 seats out of the 120 Knesset seats. The right-wing bloc always lacks a few seats because Avigdor Lieberman with his Israel Beitenu party is adamant in his refusal to go with religious parties on the right, and seeks a unity government of the two major blocs as the “only option”.
Meanwhile the centrist Blue White party under Benny Gantz, often polling with a few more seats than Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud (recently 34 vs Likud’s 32), also can’t get to 61 without Lieberman. Gantz refuses to serve under Netanyahu, who is indicted for three counts of corruption, yet who was recently elected again to lead Likud and has consistently polled higher than Gantz as being suitable to be PM.
And although the third largest party is the Joint List that representing Palestinian citizens of Israel, Blue White deals with them “like a mistress” per Joint List leader Ayman Odeh, hiding negotiations and only seeking to exploit the Joint List’s support for political gain against the other bloc, without letting the Palestinians into government. Even if Blue White joined with the Joint List and all the rest on the left to form a bloc, polls don’t show they have a majority without Lieberman, and Lieberman won’t have the Joint List, whom he calls “terrorists”.
So that’s the gridlock. Israel wants to have a “Jewish democracy”, but it can’t get it to work. That’s what happens when you do “demographic engineering”, expelling the majority of the non-Jewish Palestinians, and then try to play “Jewish democracy”.
In recent days there was panic on both the right and the left, resulting from fear that the smaller parties might not pass the electoral threshold of 3.25% (4 seats). On the left, that fear caused the merging of the left-Zionist Meretz with Labor-Gesher (Labor’s earlier merge with Gesher was in itself an attempt by Labor to appeal further right). Both were seeing the abyss of oblivion looming in the near future.
So the Labor-Gesher-Meretz merger now polls at around 10 seats. It’s hard to see what they really stand for. Apparently, more “Jewish democracy” – Meretz has put away the Palestinian member of parliament Issawi Frej to 11th place on the combined list, and there’s hardly a chance he’d make it back into the Knesset.
The New Right
The big drama occurred last night, on the right. The New Right is now being led by Naftali Bennett, who has in the past boasted of killing “many Arabs.” Bennett leads the New Right with Ayelet Shaked, the former Justice Minister who is known for having incited genocide on social media, posting a text that called Palestinian children “little snakes”. Shaked has recently complained that a law meant to punish illegal construction is also targeting Jews, and that this was not the intention.
Amazingly, Bennett is now portraying himself as a liberal. He wanted to get Jewish Home to run together with him, but insisted on them dropping the merger with Jewish Power that they had recently made. Jewish Home is led by Rafi Peretz, the Education Minister who promoted gay conversion therapy and called intermarriage a “second Holocaust”. Jewish Home and Jewish Power had gotten together because they were both polling below the threshold, and Peretz was livid about Bennett’s insistence. So for Bennett, Peretz was kosher, but Jewish Power, the disciples of the Jewish terrorist Meir Kahane, were not.
Bennett elaborated on the reason for this yesterday in a massive Facebook post, in Hebrew. The post reveals a desperation to explain why he sees Jewish Power as beyond the pale, and why Rafi Peretz should ditch Jewish Power and join him. It starts out like this:
As the chairman of the New Right party now running for Knesset, and as a former education minister of the State of Israel, I won’t include on my slate someone who keeps a photograph in his living room of a man who murdered 29 innocent people.
Bennett was referring to Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of Jewish Power, who has a picture of the Jewish terrorist Baruch Goldstein in his living room. Goldstein murdered 29 Palestinian Muslim worshippers at the Al-Ibrahimi Mosque in Al-Khalil (Hebron) in 1994.
Having thrown such a bomb into the further-right flank of the religious-Zionist camp, Bennett apparently felt compelled to spell out his ultra-Zionist zeal, so that people won’t start calling him a peacenik:
I’m a Jew. Israeli. Right-wing. My parents ascended to Israel from choice, from ideals. From Zionism. They educated us, the three sons, to love of the land, the nation and the Torah. They educated us to deep love of the State of Israel. They inculcated in us the understanding that a Jewish state is certainly not to be taken for granted, and that one needs to defend it arduously. They were appalled by the Oslo agreements for the division of the land, and they went out to demonstrate every Friday, in sun and rain, in the Ahuza center in Haifa. Also when they were scoffed at and despised. Everything in order to avoid passing on a centimeter of the land to the enemy.
Bennett, who is Defense Minister, has also been strengthening his annexationist credo yesterday, with the Ministry’s announcement that it had approved the creation of seven new Israeli nature reserves in Area C of the occupied West Bank, together with the expansion of 12 existing nature reserves. This is the first time since the Oslo Accords that an approval of its kind has been issued.
So Bennett’s Facebook post went on and on like this, about how he was a Zionist but didn’t want Jewish Power. He called on Netanyahu to press Peretz to join the New Right. Bennett pointed out the “political gridlock”:
Indeed, there is a political gridlock. Yet this has a simple and immediate solution: That the Prime Minister invite my friend rabbi Rafi Peretz, aid him in joining us, and that he call upon Ben Gvir to remove his candidacy to the Knesset.
In the last year’s April elections, Netanyahu worked hard to get Jewish Power in a right-wing grouping. It didn’t work out, and in the last election in September, Jewish Power went it alone and fell well below the threshold, thus wasting votes. Now Bennett wants them completely out, so that the votes won’t be lost. Bennett mocked Netanyahu’s interest in getting Jewish Power into his own fold:
The appeal by Likud to me to include Ben Gvir in a list under my leadership is not worthy. My friends in the Likud – if you so want him, secure him on your own!
Thus Bennett was making Likud look even more extreme than New Right, if they were so insistent on Jewish Power putting up a list.
And so, yesterday evening Netanyahu did invite Bennett and Peretz to his Jerusalem office along with prominent national religious rabbi Chaim Druckman. The result: Jewish Home merges with New Right, and Jewish Power is on its own.
Peretz got 2nd place in the combined list. Ayelet Shaked got 3rd. And Bezalel Smotrich, who was until recently politically homeless (his National Union was way below the threshold), is now in 4th place on the slate, because he had merged his National Right party with New Right a day earlier. Smotrich is known for having laid out plans for Palestinian surrender-or-expulsion, advocated separation of Jewish and Palestinian mothers in maternity wards, and last year simply suggested Israel should follow Torah law. Bennett claimed that his party represented an “ideological and liberal right-wing”.
So now this merger of the New Right-National Union-Jewish Home, is expected to have about 9 or 10 seats, if the votes from recent polls hold, and if not too many voters stick with Jewish Power and are lost.
Bennet’s supposedly “liberal” turn, using Jewish Power as proof of his liberalism, is reminiscent of Avigdor Liberman’s opposition to Netanyahu’s Likud last year. His refusal to support a coalition with the religious parties suddenly made him a liberal – the same man who had in the past advocated for the beheading of disloyal Palestinian citizens with an axe. Everything is relative.
Still, look at the polling: Likud with about 32, New Right (etc.) with 10, and the ultra-orthodox parties Shas and United Torah Judaism at about 8 each, only count to 58.
And thus, the gridlock continues, in the only “Jewish democracy”.