some belated thoughts/comments on Israel's recent elections.
by Kim Bullimore, 28 March 2015
March 17 saw Benjamin Netanyahu relected as Israel's Prime Minister, despite the exit polls the previous week indicating that he would be swept from power by the Zionist Union.
The electoral outcome was a smashing victory for Netanyahu, as the previous week exit polls had only predicted that he would win 20 seats. In reality, Likud only lost 1 seat, dropping from 31 to 30. Other centre right and hard right competitors did not fare as well.
The Joint Arab List (JAL) is comprised of Hadash, which is includes the Israeli Communist Party and its allies; Balad, a Palestinian based democratic national party; Taal - Islamic movement and the Arab Movement for Change. The impetus for the joint ticket came in the wake of changes passed in the Israeli Knesset last year which raised the electoral threshold for seats in the Knesset to 3.25 percent (approximately 4 seats). In past elections, the four so-called “Arab parties” won between 3 and 4 seats each.
So while the Palestinian vote was higher than in previous years, with overall 30 percent more voters voting for the Joint List as a group than had voted for the four parties individually, the voter turn out was still much lower than predicated.
This should come as no surprise, the raison d’etre of a settler-colonialist society is displacement of the Indigenous populationi and their replacement by settlers. Historically it was the Labor Zionist movement which brought Israel into existence, engaging fully with the settler colonial project and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians. With Likud in power, the only difference is that it appears that Israel's Zionist population prefers a version of Zionism which is unhindered by some of the ideological contortions of the Zionist Labor movement which sought to mystify the settler colonial nature of Zionism.
According to veteran Israeli journalist, Amira Hass in an interview with Democracy Now on the Israeli elections:
The apartheid nature of the Israeli state was exposed several times through out the election. One such time was when, for the second time, Israel's Central Election Committee banned Palestinian politician Hanen Zoabi (who is a member of Balad) from running in the election. While this was initiated by Avigador Lieberman's racist Yisrael Beiteniu party, it was support by Likud and all the rightwing Zionist parties running in the election, including the Zionist Union. However, just as with the 2013 election, the ban was overturned by the Israeli Supreme court.What Netanyahu has been offering for the past years continues to be a winning horse for most of the people. That means the non-existent welfare state in Israel proper now exists by the occupied territory in the forms of colonies, well-pampered colonies, so it is always an option for Israelis to move to the occupied territory to improve their conditions. Inside Israel, his policies guarantee that there will be continued the discriminated—the policy which discriminates Palestinians, Israeli citizens, from their—against the Israeli Jews.”
The apartheid nature of Israel was also on display the morning of the polls when Netanyahu posted a video declaring that “the rule of the right is in danger” as “Arab voters area advancing in large numbers towards voting places”, accusing the Left of “busing” them in.
Generally, an increase in voter participation is viewed as a good thing – at least this is supposedly the case in regard to liberal democracy under capitalism. But for Netanyahu and the vast majority of Israeli Zionists, it was something to be disdained, feared and treated as a Leftist plot to install a pro-Arab government in Israel.
Netanyahu was not the only one engaged in outright racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Avigador Lieberman, a Russian settler, who is also Israel's Foreign Minister and head of Yisrael Beiteniu called for the beheading of Palestinian citizens of Israel he accuses of disloyalty to Israel. In addition, in a debate on Israel's Channel Two with the heads of the representatives of all the political parties running in the election, Lieberman unabashedly referred to Ayman Odeh, Palestinians and the Joint List as a “fifth column”, stating that Odeh and other Palestinians were not wanted in Israel. Lieberman went onto declare that the Joint Arab List represented terrorists and should be put on trial for incitement and sedition.
What this revealed was not only the racism of Netanyahu, but also the racism ingrained in the Zionist state. Palestinian citizens of Israel, who are make up 20% of Israel population, are seen as little more than a fifth column and are thus an “enemy within” rather than equal citizens.
Systemic anti-Palestinian racism
All of this comes on the back of a raft of racist legislation, which has increased the last decade which has not only sought to disenfranchise Palestinian citizens electorally but also socially, economically and in the broader political sphere.Today, there exists 50 laws which actively discriminate against non-Jewish citizens not only in areas of electoral politics but land, housing, education, marriage.
Netanyahu also made clear, just days before the March 17 vote, that the USbacked “peace process” was dead in the water, declaring: “Anyone who is going to establish a Palestinian state, anyone who is going to evacuate territories today, is simply giving a base for attacks by radical Islam against Israel.
For anyone following Israeli and Palestinian politics, Netanyahu's declaration come as no surprise. Despite declaring in 2009 his support for a Palestinian state, like every other Israeli Prime Minister, this was all smoke and mirrors. His declaration barely caused a ripple in Israeli society. This is because the very idea of supporting the establishment of a Palestinian state is so politically toxic within Zionist politics that none of Israel's parties dared mention it for fear of losing votes.
As Gershom Gorenberg put it in Haaretz, what Netanyahu's declaration meant was that: “The Israeli prime minister sees the Green Line as the border between where Arabs can’t vote and where they shouldn’t.”
So while the subjugated position of Palestinians living inside Israel and in the occupied Palestinian Territories is not news to them, what Netanyahu’s declaration about a Palestinian state and his call to arms on voting day exposed was the deep racism within in the heart of the Israeli political system, at a time when the international spotlight was well and truly on it. Netanyahu's declaration and call to arms, once more stripped away the illusion surrounding the shame “peace process”.
As part of the deal, the USA has been seeking rigorous inspections, limits on the number of centrifuges with which Iran can enrich uranium, and the removal of most of Tehran’s stockpiles of existing fuel. Iran, however, is negotiating to retain nuclear capability in order to produce nuclear energy for power and medical purposes, and wants an end to sanctions that keep it from shipping oil or gaining access to global financial markets Obama and his military elite want the deal with Iran, not in order to avoid a bloodbath but because they want to advance the USA strategic interests in the region.
The tension between Israel and the US was further exacerbated by the Republicans inviting Netanyahu to give a speech to the US Congress without notifying the American President, something which is unprecedented. This resulted in not only the Republicans getting many in their own support base off side, it saw Netanyahu use the speech as little more than part of his election pitch.
Despite this recent tensions in the US-Israel alliance, the USA will not abandon Israel. It will not veto motions in the UN against the apartheid state and it will continue to fund its military and occupation of the Palestinians, turning a blind eye to Israel's atrocities. For example, at the height of the debate over the US nuclear deal with Iran last month, the Israeli Defence Ministry signed a deal with the US to purchase 14 more F-35 planes for the Israeli Air Force at US$110 million each, part of a deal worth US$2.8 billion.
This is because at its core, the US alliance with Israel is based on maintaining and furthering US geopolitical interests in the region. As a result, a fundamental break between the US and Israel remains very unlikely. However, this does not mean there will not be increasing tension, resulting in more cracks appearing in the alliance.
In the wake of Netanyahu's election victory, liberal Zionists in the US are in a tail spin, as it is more and more difficult for them to continue to deny that Israel is an apartheid state. According to at least one Zionist campus activist writing in Haaretz, the biggest victor out of the elections is the Palestinian BDS movement.
As Omar Barghouti, one of the founders of the Palestinian BDS movement has noted: “So many Palestinians welcomed Netanyahu’s win. The mask has fallen”. Barghouti went on to state: "The rift between the White House and Israel is opening up space for criticism of Israel that was not there before, and for calls for boycotts of Israel that were not tolerated before”. He noted: “BDS in the US is still controversial, but it is no longer taboo”.
Supporters of the Palestinian people and their struggle, of course, have no illusions that the US will ever be an “honest broker” in the Middle East or that Netanyahu wants real peace. However, the re-election of Netanyahu and the exposure of Israel's unvarnished racism and ethnic cleansing of Palestine means that it is harder for Israel and the US to pretend that the “peace process” is anything but a sham and that Israel want real peace. As such it will aid in the building of a movement in the West in support of the Palestinian people and Palestinian liberation.