Netanyahu won the Israeli election in a last-minute reversal by scaring right and far-right blocs of voters back to their normal political base – his Likud party. But in doing so, he burnt his bridges with the international community and tore up the rules of democratic discourse.
Israeli Jewish Affairs
Tired, confused, desperate and paranoid are just a few of the epithets that have been hurled at Netanyahu in the last days of the campaign. Warning that the whole of the right will fall with him, if he is defeated, Netanyahu ascribed his difficulties not to personal failings but to a sinister plot by “foreign groups”. There was “a huge, worldwide effort to topple the Likud”, he warned.
The thrust of the right’s election campaign suggests a different reading of Avigdor Lieberman’s move to raise the threshold last year. Then, it was widely assumed he was trying to bar the Arab parties from parliament. Now it seems as if he may have had a more sinister goal in mind. In creating the Joint List, the Arab parties may – rather than foiling the right’s plan – have stepped into its trap.
Israel’s supreme court is to decide next week whether Dahmash village is wiped off the map. For decades officials have refused to recognise its 70 homes, just 20 minutes’ drive from Tel Aviv. Arafat Ismail said that while industrial parks, shopping malls and estates of luxury villas had sprung up all around them, Dahmash’s residents had been treated like “illegal squatters”. What distinguishes Dahmash from the communities around it is that it is Arab, an unwelcome relic from a time when the country was called Palestine.
The newly launched Joint List is facing a series of crises. Not least, if the bloc breaks up after polling day, as looks likely, it will suggest to the Arab public that it was simply an opportunistic vehicle for bypassing the obstacle of a raised Knesset threshold. Rather than reversing – as intended – the long-term decline in turnout among Palestinian voters, the list’s failure could dramatically accelerate it.
Israel’s Central Elections Committee on Thursday barred Haneen Zoabi, one of the most prominent Arab politicians in Israel, from running for the parliament in next month’s general election. Foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party had submitted a 50-page dossier of quotes it claimed proved Zoabi supported armed struggle by Israel’s enemies and opposed Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state.
The Paris killings have reinforced Israeli suspicions that Europe, with its rapidly growing Muslim population, is being dragged into a clash of civilisations it is ill-equipped to combat. And the targeting of a kosher supermarket that killed four Jews has heightened a belief that Jews outside Israel are in mortal danger. In Netanyahu’s conception, a Jew’s primary bond should be to their “true home”, the Jewish state of Israel. Paradoxically, that view is shared by Europe’s far-right.
Netanyahu was probably the least welcome of the 40 world leaders who participated in the rally in Paris on Sunday to demonstrate their outrage at last week’s attack that left 17 people dead, including four French Jews. According to Israeli media, President Francois Hollande’s advisers had urged Netanyahu not to come, concerned that he would exploit the visit – and the deaths – to increase divisions in French society. They had good grounds for concern.
While Europe is tentatively finding a voice in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, silence reigns across the Atlantic. The White House appears paralysed, afraid to appear out of sync with world opinion but more afraid still of upsetting Israel and its powerful allies in the US Congress. Now there is an additional complicating factor: the Israeli public, due to elect a new government in three months’ time, increasingly regards the US role as toxic.
The right needs a credible enemy, one that can be feared and that keeps the Jewish tribe from feuding too viciously. The occasional rocket from Gaza hardly qualifies. The role is instead being assigned to Palestinians with Israeli citizenship. They and Palestinians in Jerusalem are now likely to take centre stage in any future election campaign.
In bringing forward an election, Netanyahu can try to unmake a coalition he never really desired, and one he no longer needs after even the US appear to have given up on the diplomatic track since its implosion last April. Netanyahu chose this moment to collapse the government because Yair Lapid, his biggest potential challenger, was at his most vulnerable.
Haaretz warned this week that, if Netanyahu’s Jewish nation-state bill passed, it would remove Israel “from the community of democratic nations, and give it a place of honour instead beside those dark regimes in which minorities are persecuted”. But as human rights groups in Israel explain, Israel has long dwelt among such dark regimes. Netanyahu’s bill simply helps to shine a light on that fact.
Rauf Hamdan admitted to one small consolation as he sat in his mourning tent, nearly a week after his son was gunned down in the street by Israeli police. “At least his death was caught on camera. Otherwise the police would accuse me of lying when I said that he was executed in cold blood.”
The killing of a 22-year-old Arab youth by Israeli police has highlighted tensions that have been building rapidly between the Israeli authorities and the country’s 1.5 million Palestinian citizens. Their treatment as an enemy derives from an ideological viewpoint that regards the Palestinian minority as the state’s Achilles’ heel: an opening for Palestinians in the occupied territories to undermine the state’s Jewishness.
The Israeli parliament voted overwhelmingly last week to suspend Haneen Zoabi, a legislator representing the state’s large Palestinian minority, for six months as a campaign to silence political dissent intensified. But Zoabi is not the only Palestinian representative in the firing line. The Knesset raised the threshold for election to the parliament, in what has been widely interpreted as an attempt to exclude all three small parties representing the Palestinian minority.
Staff at Bir Zeit, the most prestigious of the Palestinian universities, ordered Amira Hass, a reporter for the Israeli Haaretz daily, to leave a public meeting. She was told it was for her own “safety” in case students protested against her presence. The decision has provoked a heated debate among Palestinian intellectuals, students and activists about how far refusal to cooperate with Israelis should extend.
A letter signed by 43 veterans of an elite Israeli military intelligence unit declaring their refusal to continue serving the occupation has sent shockwaves through Israeli society. The implication of their revelations is that the success of Israel’s near half-century of occupation depends on a vast machinery of surveillance and intimidation, while large numbers of Israelis benefit directly or indirectly from industrial-scale oppression.
Despite hailing as a victory the seven weeks of fighting that killed more than 2,100 Palestinians and destroyed large swathes of Gaza’s infrastructure, Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, appears to have emerged as the main political casualty of Operation Protective Edge. In late July, Netanyahu’s approval ratings stood at 82 per cent. Last week, as the ceasefire began, his popularity had plummeted to 32 per cent.
In Gaza, human rights organisations proved once again that they did not lead the opposition to Israel’s war crimes, as they should. They merely provided the excuse to seek a way out, but only after nearly everyone was agreed that it was time to bring things to an end. In short, human rights groups are not the voice of a global moral conscience; like the media, they are organisations keen to keep their access to, and credibility with, policy elites.
Israel’s large Palestinian minority is facing an unprecedented backlash of incitement and violent reprisals as Israeli Jews rally behind the military operation in Gaza, human rights groups have warned. Palestinian citizens have been accused of being “traitors” and a “fifth column” for criticising the attack on Gaza, in a surge of ethnic hatred by the Jewish majority not seen since the outbreak of the second intifada 14 years ago.