Tag Archives: Likud

netanyahu

Wither Zionism? Israel’s ‘Rightward Shift’

Zionism is, and always has been, a rational product of liberal nationalist ideals. Though diaspora Jews for thousands of years mouthed prayers of divine redemption and ‘return’ to Jerusalem, it was the European enlightenment and the rise of egalitarian and socialist currents that inspired ideological young Jewish pioneers to ‘reclaim’ what is today the State of Israel.

The reality today is markedly different, as Israel’s General Elections loom on the 22nd of January. The incumbent right-wing administration is almost certain to return to power, with Benjamin Netanyahu set to become Israel’s longest-serving Prime Minister.

Frequently, this phenomenon is labelled Israel’s ‘rightward shift’; pundits often paint long-term reductionist portraits of the dwindling electoral fortunes of Israel’s left-of-centre parties.

The truth is more nuanced: Israel’s Jewish voters are not inherently right-wing nor overwhelmingly harbour annexationist desires vis-à-vis the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

The left-wing hegemony over Israel’s electoral politics was total for the first three decades of the young state’s life. In both 1993 and 1999, Israeli voters realised that a political, not military solution, was exigent and necessary to end spiralling violence.

In 2008, the last time Israelis went to the polls, the centre-left Kadima Party emerged as the largest political force in the Knesset, yet were outmanoeuvred by the savvy Netanyahu and sent packing to the opposition.

Today, Israel’s liberal-left is in disarray, with a myriad of parties jockeying for the centre ground, constrained and divided by egoism and Prime Ministerial ambitions, handing an increasingly radical right the keys to the Prime Minister’s Office.

This represents an incremental threat to the Zionist project. The only viable resolution to the Israel-Palestine conflict remains a two-state solution that will preserve Israel’s Jewish essence whilst simultaneously avoiding the creation of an apartheid system that annexation, with its demographic realities, would necessitate. This has consistently been the message of Israel’s Zionist left.

Despite Netanyahu’s endorsement of Palestinian statehood in 2009, senior lawmakers from the Prime Minister’s Likud Party have recently openly declared the party hostile to the two-state solution.

Based on the record of the outgoing administration, it is easy to believe their claims. The longer left-wing infighting continues, the further peaceful coexistence within a Zionist framework slips away. Israel’s left is down, but not out: divided, squabbling and disappointing, but retaining a monopoly over the only feasible, Zionist solution to a festering, existential conflict.

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Photo credit: IsraelinUSA

baruch goldstein

The Rise Of The Israeli Far Right

Several months ago, my two-piece article for this website offering an introduction to the upcoming Israeli elections of January 22nd devoted a scant one sentence to the potential merger of The Jewish Home and the National Union, two parties representing Israel’s radical right.

The Middle-East represents a taxing milieu for the clairvoyant and/or budding political pundit. Though the Jewish Home boasted a paltry three representatives in the previous Knesset, the party’s absorption of the National Union has sent shockwaves throughout the political system.

This is thanks to the elevation to the party’s leadership of Naftali Bennett: a risk-taking multi-millionaire venture capitalist with an indisputably patriotic record, having served with distinction in a Special Forces unit. If there is an Israeli answer to ‘The American Dream’, Bennett’s résumé embodies it.

The party’s platform presents a wish-list of nationalist-religious extremism: an increased role for Jewish law at the expense of Israel’s liberal-democratic moorings, a socially conservative agenda and, the icing on this terrifying cake, annexation of 60% of the West Bank.

A poll published this week predicted Bennett’s party becoming the second-largest in the Knesset, after the ruling Likud-Beitenu Party led by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, a fellow traveler of the political right.

The rise of Jewish Home has eclipsed an even more worrying development; the takeover of the Likud Party by an entryist, far-right group seeking to inject extremist rhetoric into the mainstream right-wing. This is perhaps embodied best by Moshe Feiglin, who will almost certainly represent the Likud in the next Knesset.

Feiglin stood on the ever-so-pragmatic platform of replacing the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third-holiest site in Islam, with a rebuilt Jewish Temple. Whereas previously his voice represented a minute segment of the centre-right big-tent, only a small  majority of Likud’s incoming Knesset Members have expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.

By betting on two horses, Israel’s far-right has this one in the bag. Whether The Jewish Home enter the cabinet or not, Netanyahu will have to mollify an unprecedented swing to the right amongst Israel’s already conservative electorate. If the world thought Netanyahu represents the unbridled face of Israeli intransigence, they may yet turn out to be as flabbergasted as those of us who follow Israel’s volatile electoral system.

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Image: The grave of Baruch Goldstein, the Cave of the Patriachs murderer.
Credit: Yoni Lerner

The Streets of Jerusalem

An Introduction To The Forthcoming Israeli Elections (Part Two)

With the recent announcement from Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli elections will be held approximately 8 months ahead of schedule (in early 2013), we thought an introduction to the domestic Israeli political landscape was in order. 

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The Streets of Jerusalem

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This is the second of a two part series. You can read the first half here.

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Yesh Atid: New Kids on the Block

Perhaps the most unpredictable ‘wild card’ in the 2013 Israeli elections is Yesh Atid, a new party chasing the oft-cherished chalice of Israel’s ‘secular middle-class’. Led by the charismatic journalist-turned-politician Yair Lapid, polls suggest the party will garner between 11 and 18 seats.

The party’s policy platform is deliberately vague, flitting from left to right with each of Lapid’s daily pronouncements. Yesh Atid is something of a populist ‘anti party’; Lapid frames his near-total lack of foreign policy, security or parliamentary experience as an asset, by labeling himself as ‘the outsider’.

Yesh Atid has successfully wooed pan-demographic, cross-party notables: Lapid made a national-religious rabbi his right hand man, whilst also co-opting popular mayors from as far afield as Meretz and Yisrael Beitenu.

Whilst ‘Yesh Atid’ translates from Hebrew to the optimistic assertion that ‘There is a Future’, questions persist as to the long-term survivability of the party, which is something of a one-man show. Does anyone remember Shinui, a secular, liberal middle-class party that disappeared from the electoral map just as quickly as it had risen? In case you were wondering (which you weren’t) it was headed by Yair’s father, Tommy Lapid. Thus, the barometer of Yesh Atid’s durability is not this election, but whether it still exists by the next one.

Wildcard #2: Shas

Shas are anything but newcomers: the party has maintained a near-constant presence in governments of both right and left since its appearance in 1984. Despite representing ‘traditional’ (orthodox, but not ultra-orthodox) Mizrahi voters, a cursory glance at Shas’ higher echelons betrays Charedi hegemony; its leaders are beholden to a ‘spiritual’ guide, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef.

The party is ‘flexible’ on the peace process, instead prioritising its domestic agenda: an unholy alliance of religious intolerance and welfare capitalism. Under leader Eli Yishai who recently claimed that ‘this country belongs to us, the white man’, the party has outshone even its own outstanding roll-call of bigotry.

Before the dawn of ‘Bieberman’, Shas’ continuation in government was almost a certainty, despite polls suggesting the party would continue to hover at around ten seats. However, Lieberman legitimised the merger through a call to limit the size of ‘small parties’, a thinly-veiled reference to the disproportionate power wielded by Shas, throwing the party’s future role into doubt.

Yishai’s authority now hangs in the balance due to the re-admittance of Aryeh Deri, a former party leader and convicted criminal. Deri is far more prone to working with the left and prioritising socio-economic concerns; expect an interesting and increasingly ugly power struggle to unfold.

The Zionist Fringe: The Far-Right and Meretz

Recent elections have not been kind to Meretz. The green/socialist/secular ingathering of the leftists has consistently staked its position as the most radical of all the Zionist parties and has languished in opposition since 2001, barely surviving the 2009 elections with just three seats.

However, thanks to Kadima’s downward spiral and Labor’s abandonment of the peace process, the party may double its representation to six seats. Whilst Meretz leader Zehava Gal-On is busy creating clear red water between the party and Labor, she has also ruled out sitting in government with Likud. Resultantly, Meretz is likely to remain in opposition, arguably its natural home as the party of the non-conformist left.

By contrast, the fate of the far-right is anyone’s guess. Exemplified by the fringe religious Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union parties, talk is afoot of a merger between the two groups.

Throwing a spanner in the works, the National Union’s Michael Ben-Ari has called for the formation of a new party- inspired by the deceased racist Rabbi Meir Kahane. Because Ben-Ari openly admires a leader who spawned a proscribed terrorist organisation, all signs point to a life sentence in opposition and a splintered radical right; the least explicitly racist elements of which may wrangle their way into government if Yesh Atid and Likud-Beitenu can’t cobble a coalition together that is spared the demands of fringe parties.

Left/right in the Cold? United Torah Judaism and the Arab Parties

Whilst Shas may stand to gain Likudnik Mizrahi voters who object to Yisrael Beitenu’s secularism, the same cannot be said for United Torah Judaism (UTJ). UTJ’s electorate is almost entirely Charedi; the party doesn’t try and ‘reach out’ to other demographics, instead relying on staking a place in multi-party coalition governments to retain its authority.

Followers of Israeli politics will remember party leader Yaakov Litzman attempted to make Swine Flu ‘Kosher’ (renaming it from to Mexican Flu, causing a diplomatic spat), and refused to shake the hand of the Belgian Health Minister, on account of her being a woman.

UTJ approach the election from their most disadvantageous position in years: if the newly-formed Likud-Beitenu alliance wins enough seats, narrow religious interest parties, traditional ‘king makers’ of coalition governments, may find themselves out in the cold.

Whilst the fate of the Jewish parties is anyone’s guess, the chances of the ‘Arab parties’ gaining a seat at the cabinet table are negligible. Of the four parties currently representing Israel’s Arab population in the Knesset, none have ever entered government. This is the result of a bizarre unspoken status-quo agreement: the Arab parties generally refuse to ‘prop up’ Zionist governments, whilst being perceived as reliant on the non-Zionist Arab parties would be the kiss of death for any Israeli administration.

Until the Arab parties learn to emulate Shas and UTJ and serve as kingmakers and powerful community representatives, voter turnout amongst Arab communities will remain low, whilst representatives’ influence will be negligible.

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Photo credit: dmitrysumin

The Streets of Jerusalem

An Introduction To The Forthcoming Israeli Elections (Part One)

With the recent announcement from Benjamin Netanyahu that Israeli elections will be held approximately 8 months ahead of schedule (in early 2013), we thought an introduction to the domestic Israeli political landscape was in order. 

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The Streets of Jerusalem

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The government of the 18th Knesset was one of the most stable in the topsy-turvy world of Israeli politics: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now the second-longest serving premier in Israel’s history of squabbling, multi-party coalition governments. This represents a rare achievement in the fickle world of Israeli politics, where internal wrangling and ego-fuelled disputes are daily occurrences.

With the Israeli elections scheduled for 22nd January 2013, all of the Knesset’s 120 seats are up for grabs. Below, I attempt to navigate the obfuscated, irascible and often irrational nature of Israeli politics, by providing an outline of the ‘major’ parties vying for representation in the 19th Knesset.

Likud Squared

‘Likud’- Hebrew for ‘Consolidation’, constitutes a merger of a disparate band of right-wing parliamentary parties. The 2013 elections have wrought the ‘consolidation of the consolidation’ in the ‘nationalist camp’: the merging of Likud with Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu. Shocked political commentators compensated for being caught off-guard by coining the new slur towards this government-in-waiting: ‘Bieberman’.

The ideological incongruity between these parties contextualises cross-party shock at the news. Yisrael Beitenu is a ‘special interest’ party of Israel’s Russian-born population. Branded ‘The Russians’, Lieberman supporters are unique for their espousing of both secularism (Yisrael Beitenu are often called ‘The Pork Party’) and right-wing ‘ultranationalism’.

By contrast, Likud rose to power in 1977 on the backs of ‘Mizrahim’: orthodox Jews from Arab countries alienated by the Europeanised, socialist secularism of the Labor-led administration. Whilst Lieberman’s pronouncements during his current tenure as Foreign Minister were crass and peppered with nationalist bombast, the American-educated Netanyahu represents the Western-media savvy, ‘silver tongue’ of the Israeli right, taking the Likud to its current 27 seats.

At a glance, one can discern the underlying fundamental precipitants of the merger. Representing but one section of Israeli society and holding only 15 Knesset seats, Lieberman’s lofty Prime Ministerial ambitions would indubitably be rendered unlikely. By co-opting the rising star of the right, Netanyahu neutralised a potential Prime Ministerial contender, positioning Lieberman as an heir, not an opponent. Both leaders have, naturally, denied that a power-sharing deal was cemented.

Though polls had previously been kind to both parties, snap post-merger polling has painted a less rosy picture. Likud may lose both Mizrahi voters put off by Lieberman’s secularism and centre-right voters who eschew Yisrael Beitenu’s apathy towards the international community. The merger has also engendered discomfort from Likudniks who considered themselves Prime Ministers in waiting. Whilst the happy couple are enjoying the honeymoon, inter-party acrimony is already fermenting. 

Yalla (Bye?) Kadima

Kadima is a name rooted in Israeli slang: ‘Yalla Kadima’- ‘let’s go: forward’- is ubiquitous during rush-hour traffic jams. Thus, it is ironic that ‘Yalla Kadima’, a centrist party founded in 2005, is at risk of becoming ‘Yalla Bye’- a streetwise idiom denoting decampment.

Since Ariel Sharon, Kadima’s founder, suffered a stroke in 2006, the party was led by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and then by former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni. The loss of government to Likud in the 2009 elections led to Livni being displaced as leader by her rival, Shaul Mofaz. The latter’s bumbling has not endeared the party to skeptical Israeli voters: despite joining Netanyahu’s coalition in May 2012, Mofaz backtracked, returning Kadima to opposition in mid-July. Polling has consistently shown the party plummeting from its current position of 28 Knesset seats to single-digit figures.

Despite being mired in sleaze and corruption, rumours abound about Olmert’s return to politics as head of a centre-left ‘mega-party’.  Livni is also the subject of speculation; will she found a centrist partyjoin Labor or ally with Olmert? Rather than stand as a testament to their survivability, the resurgence of previous washed-up leaders is demonstrative of a vacuum of electable talent on the centre-left.

The Redemption of Labor

Despite having led every Israeli government from 1948-1977, many pundits predicted the demise of the Labor Party throughout the 18th Knesset. The party enters the 2013 elections with its  lowest-ever mandate of eight Knesset seats, having been decimated by former Labor leader Ehud Barak’s decision to split from the party in 2011.

Barak, the highest-decorated soldier in Israeli history, was replaced by Shelly Yachimovich, a political neophyte with no security experience, often a necessity for Israeli electoral success. Unlike its European namesakes, Labor has failed to connect with working-class Israelis, many of whom are Russian or Mizrahi, due to the predominance of hawkish positions in these demographic groups vis-à-vis the Palestinians.

Starting from a low point, Labor is oddly well-placed to spin a lacklustre result as a positive gain. Buoyed by widespread societal dissatisfaction at the high cost of living, Labor strategists hope to broaden the party’s appeal by focusing on socio-economic issues, rather than the flaccid peace process: Yachimovich has successfully recruited the leaders of the cross-party social protest movement.  With Kadima faltering, opinion polls suggest Labor will supplant them as the official opposition.

Netanyahu’s government finally fell due to the unwillingness of his coalition to agree to a wide-ranging budget of austerity measures. When the cuts bite, Labor is banking upon the vindication of their social-democratic platform: if they under-perform electorally, expect them to play ‘the long game’ and sit out the next government in opposition.

This is the first of a two part series. You can read the second part here.

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 Photo credit: dmitrysumin

refugees israel

Israeli State Sponsored Xenophobia

The unjust treatment of both illegal immigrants and Arabs stems from the same racist values which are so pervasive in Israel’s public institutions.

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]ne of the most difficult questions for any policy maker today is how to deal with illegal immigration. This is especially a problem for countries whose economy is relatively decent and who border or are close to countries where the basic institutions needed to look after the needs of the population are dysfunctional or nonexistent.

One of the governments having to deal with this issue is Israel. Nearby Eritrea and Sudan have been inefficient towards their citizens for as long as one can remember and Sudan in particular has seen and is still seeing prolonged periods of violence. In the past few years Eritreans and Sudanese have been seeking refuge in close-by countries such as Egypt and Israel.

The Israeli government, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has recorded an influx of 60,000 refugees with 2,000 to 3,000 more every month. For a country with a population of 7.6 million it is a high number indeed. Many of these immigrants end up living in neighborhoods in south Tel Aviv. This has caused rising bitterness among locals who accuse the immigrants of all sorts of “dirty” deeds.

Slowly but steadily, and also due to the recent case of three Eritrean immigrants being accused of sexual assaulting a 19 year old girl, this bitterness has metamorphosed into hatred which has been manifested through a variety of attacks against the immigrant community. The incidents include the throwing of molotovs against a building housing immigrants, verbal abuse against Hotline for Migrant Workers, an aid organization, and, most importantly, an anti-immigrant protest which ended with the demonstrators attacking random immigrants on the street.

Such reactions on behalf of the local population, however heinous, are not irrational bouts. On the contrary, they have a logic of their own, that is, they are the result of specific circumstances. In Israel, these circumstances take the form of political and social institutions imbued with racist and xenophobic values.

In other words, what we are witnessing right now in Israel is the logical outcome of the racist ideology pervasive in its public institutions. The central principle of this ideology is that Israel is and has to remain a Jewish state and it needs to preserve its “Jewish character” by whatever means possible. This ideology can be observed by looking firstly at the statements made by top ranking politicians and secondly at the decisions taken by the political establishment as a whole.

Eli Yishai, Israel’s Interior Minister, commenting on the possible deportation of migrant workers from Israel in October 2009, asked rhetorically ‘Do [the workers] not threaten the Zionist project in the State of Israel?’. Netanyahu has explicitly declared that the influx of immigrants is jeopardising Israel’s Jewish character. At the anti-immigrant rally held in south Tel Aviv, several Members of Knesset (MK), Israel’s parliament, were present. One of them, Likud MK Danny Dannon, called for deportation. Another, Likud MK Miri Regev, shouted “the Sudanese [are] a cancer in our body”. Notice that these remarks, and the first two in particular, do not mention economic difficulties as obstacles for absorbing immigrants but the preservation of the Jewish character of the state.

The measures the government has taken against the influx of immigrants also manifest xenophobic values. Firstly, the biggest detention centre in the world is being built in the Negev desert, capable of housing up to 11,000 immigrants. Human Rights groups have criticised the construction of the detention centre pointing out at the inhumane conditions it will subject the inmates. Secondly, the government has resorted also in this case to building a wall on its southern border, just as it is doing in the north with Lebanon and in the occupied Palestinian territories. Thirdly, politicians have pledged to deport the immigrants against their will and knowing that they face severe consequences in their countries of origin. Fourthly, the Knesset passed a bill which defines anyone crossing the southern border of Israel illegally as an “infiltrator” who can be detained up to three years. Fifthly, the government is not recognising the immigrants’ status as refugees. Out of the 60,000 plus people who crossed illegally into Israel in the past few years, only six have been bestowed with a refugee status (and only 170 since 1949), meaning that all the others do not enjoy the rights accorded to refugees. The last of these measures violates the first article of the Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees adopted by the UN General Assembly and of which Israel is a signatory.

Moreover, the police have been accused of feeding the public incorrect data about immigrants. For instance, the media has quoted the police as stating that immigrants were responsible for 40% of crimes, a figure repeated by MK Danny Dannon. But at a meeting held by the Knesset Committee on Foreign Workers, police data showed that in 2011 immigrants were responsible only for 2.24% of crimes thus showing that much of the fear raised among locals was unnecessary and illogical.

To be sure, the social phenomenon where the local population resorts to extremist actions against immigrants is certainly not peculiar to Israel, far from it. What needs to be appreciated, though, is that the background structure of Israeli society is responsible for and supporting this  phenomenon. Although the government boasts of being the only democratic country in the region, it is actively inciting the population to such actions by both pronouncing inflammatory and racist remarks and taking concrete steps in maintaining the “Jewish character” of the nation, that is, getting rid of anything which threatens the “Jewish demographic”, as the native Arab population knows all too well. In fact, the unjust treatment of both illegal immigrants and Arabs stems from the same racist values which are so pervasive in Israel’s public institutions. And let us not forget the incentives the Israeli state has designed in order to attract Jews wishing to become citizens of Israel, starting with the Law of Return, which shows that influx itself is not the problem.

The sick irony in all of this is unmissable: while Israel points to the repeated persecution of the Jewish people and its culmination in the racist policies of Germany during the 30s and 40s, it turns away foreigners escaping very similar situations precisely in order to preserve its purity.