Saturday, March 28, 2015

On Israel's 2015 Elections

Dear friends, 
some belated thoughts/comments on Israel's recent elections.
in solidarity, Kim



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. 

Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid lost 8 of its seats, while Naftali Bennet's Jewish Home lost 4 of its seats. Meretz, a so-called “left - liberal” Zionist party was squeezed between the Zionist Union and the Joint Arab List, dropping from 6 seats to 5 seats. While the parties contained within the Zionist Union increased their overall vote by 3 seats, while the newly formed Joint Arab List became the third biggest bloc in the Knesset.

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. 

For a more detailed outline of the JAL elected MKs
please click here to read Mondoweiss' summary


The previous two Israeli elections have seen barely more than half of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship turn out to vote. In the lead up to the election, the polls indicated that Palestinian turn out forthe election would be the highest ever. Polls predict the Joint Arab List could nudge its tally of seats from the current 11 shared across the parties to 15. However, in the end they were only able to increase their overall combined vote by two seats. 

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.

Occuption and apartheid ignored

Israel's occupation, its continuing colonisation and ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and its July 2014 50 day assault on Gaza were all but ignored in the campaign, except when it was convenient for candidates to do some sabre rattling. As numerous commentators on the Israeli elections have noted, Israel's occupation is no longer an issue to be solved or dealt with in Israel's election campaigns. 

As a result, there was little to differentiate between Likud and the Zionist Union on these key issues. The Zionist Union, which is a partnership of Labor, Livni’s Hatnuah and the Green Movement, ran on a platform for Israel to keep major settlement blocs in the occupied West Bank, keep Jerusalem as Israel’s "undivided" capital, and block the right of return for Palestinian refugees.

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:

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 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.

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. 


Israel Hayom, a paper owned and funded by US Zionist Multi-millionaire, Sheldon Adelson, without a skerric of irony also ran a headline (based on a quote from an interview with Netanyahu) declaring “Millions of Shekels from overseas – to raise voter participation for the Left and Arabs”. Adelson's paper is distributed free to approximately half a million Israelis. 

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
This of course is not news to the Palestinians inside the Israeli state. In the last year alone, the incitement against Palestinians inside Israel had reached new heights, with Israeli government ministers and members of Knesset leading a campaign against them. 

In both the lead up too, during and in the aftermath of Israel's 50 day assault on Gaza, Palestinians in Israel were not only attacked in the street, with one 16 year old boy Mohammed Abu Khdeir was kidnapped,tortured and murdered by settlers, Palestinians Palestinians inside Israel fired from their jobs for speaking out against Israel's brutality in Gaza. They were also arrested in mass numbers during protests against Gaza operation, with well over 1000 Palestinians being jailed. At least 2 shot to death by Israeli police. All ofthis was because they were Palestinian. 

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”. 

US-Israel Alliance
While the Obama Administration in the USA is unhappy with Netanyahu's declaration and racism, it not the declaration that the two state solution is dead in the water or his overt racism during the election or even the mass murder of 2,000 Palestinians in Gaza as a result of Israel's 50 day bombing spree which has caused problems within the US-Israel “special relationship”. Instead it is the issue of Iran.

Netanyahu, along with Republican Tea partiers and the US arms lobby have been pushing for out and out war with Iran and have sought to undermine any possible US deal with Iran. in particular it has sought to undermine the Joint Plan of Action in regard to Iran's nuclear program, which would see a short term freeze in regard to portions of Iran's nuclear program in exchange for a decrease in economic sanctions on Iran.

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.

Netanyahu's victory and the Palestinian struggle

As most Palestine and pro-Palestine supporters have stated in the wake of the election, Netanyahu's victory was politically the best outcome for the Palestinian struggle. We can of course expect to see more racist legislation introduced into the Knesset, more ethnic cleansing on the ground in Palestine and a further grow of settlements and a deepening of Israel's occupation. This would have also happened even if Netanyahu had lost. The election of a centre-right or even centre-left part, would simply have resulted in the masking of the apartheid nature of the Israeli state. Netanyahu's victory, however, strips this mask away. 

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”.

Of course, Netanyahu has of course now tried to back track, saying in a series of US broadcasts he had not been trying to suppress the votes of Palestinian Israelis and had not abandoned the two state solution. Only that he had meant that it was impossible right now. However, the damage has been done.

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.


120 Knesset members - electoral breakdown:

Likud 30, Zionist Union 24; Joint Arab List 13; Yesh Atid 11; Kalunu 10; Jewish Home 8; Shas 7; Israeli Beiteniu 6; United Torah 6; Meretz 5.

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