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Fake politics and false hopes in the Israeli elections

In Trumpian form, Netanyahu attacked leftists, the media, the police, the courts -- in other words, the foundations of democracy
Elections posters in Israel, April 2019
Elections posters in Israel, April 2019

The Israeli elections are over and guess what? The right-wing parties and the ultra-orthodox parties will form the coalition government again, led by none other than Benjamin Netanyahu (and his wife Sara and their son, Yair), with the full backing of Presidents Trump and Putin. This will be the most ultra-nationalist and ultra-orthodox government in the history of Israel.

Is anyone really surprised? Did people think that the Houdini of Israeli politics—who pulled out every punch again to get his loyal base out to vote for him in droves—could lose an election? In sickening Trumpian form, his attacks on “leftists” (i.e. “traitors”), the media, the police, the courts—in other words, the foundations of democracy—rallied his anti-democratic “base” to keep him in power, despite all the serious legal indictments against him. Emotions and evil inclinations overtook logic and sanity once again in the voting process. In other words, Netanyahu’s “fake politics”, devoid of almost any democratic impulses anymore and lacking any real positive program for the problems facing the people of Israel, won the day, just as the same politics win in America, Hungary, Brazil and other countries, where “populism” , i.e. right-wing extremism, is the order of the day.

For a while, citizens of Israel – and enlightened people around the world – had some hope that a new hodgepodge “center” party led by 4 white Ashkenazi men, 3 of whom are former generals, 2 of whom with no political experience, and another wishy-washy centrist leader, Yair Lapid, with mostly right-wing views, could pull off a miracle and unseat Netanyahu. But Bibi branded this group of mostly right-wing people as “leftists” and it worked, even though it was a total lie. Moreover, this new party called “Blue and White” – the colors of the Israeli flag, which had no clear ideology other than anti-Bibism (anti-corruption!) did not offer any ideological alternative to Likud except that they were not corrupt (yet), offered the citizens of Israel a false hope, since they had virtually no chance of forming a coalition.

There were two main reasons why it was almost impossible for “Blue and White,” led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, to form a governing coalition. The first and main reason was its refusal to recognize and cooperate with the Arab political parties in Israel, which had 13 seats in the last Knesset and will have 10 seats in the new one. This showed their real right-wing colors. This was an unforgivable mistake. The Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, who make up 20% of our population, participate in our democracy and are part of our political system. It is high time for them to be able to be part of the governing coalitions. And from a pragmatic point of view, the Center Left will never be able to form a coalition without them. Not realizing this was not only the big mistake of “Blue and White” but it was also the big lie, since they knew that they had no chance of forming a coalition.

The second reason was the ultra-orthodox parties, who absolutely refused to be in a government with Yair Lapid, whom they loathe. Lapid wanted to bring them more into Israeli society by drafting them into the army and giving them a better education. They rejected these two pragmatic ideas in their own anti-Zionist and anti-Modern ways because of their own extremists who prefer to be “separatists” while joining “Zionist” governments in order to get more money for their own institutions. The ultra-orthodox parties by now have essentially become right-wing nationalist parties, so much so that they are automatically counted by the media as being part of the “Right-wing bloc” in political terms.

After months of fake politics and false hopes, we are now faced with a right-wing government, which will be pushed farther and farther to the right, with several extremist and fanatical racist right-wing parties further to the right of Netanyahu setting the tone. It will be really scary.

And despite the “deal of the century” to be announced soon by Bibi’s pal in Washington, President Trump, there will be no peace process. The new ruling coalition will be anti-peace and pro-annexation. This is very clear. So when Trump announced yesterday that Bibi would be good for peace, I did not know whether to laugh or just to be nauseated once again.

This is not a good time for liberal Jews, in Israel and America, who will have no choice but to join the resistance or the opposition. The gap between a growing illiberal Israel and a mostly liberal American Jewry will grow by leaps and bounds. But resist we must, if we want to preserve essential Jewish and humanistic values and contain the anti-democratic drift in Israel. There is too much at state to just sit on the sidelines and shake our heads in horror and disbelief at what is happening in Israel (and America). Civil society—civil rights and human rights and pluralistic organizations all over Israel (and in the Diaspora) will have to rise to the occasion to preserve the foundations of our democracy and the humanistic Jewish ideals upon which this country was founded.

About the Author
Rabbi Dr Ron Kronish is the Founding Director the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI), which he directed for 25 years. Now retired, he is an independent educator, author, lecturer, writer, speaker, blogger and consultant. He is the editor of 5 books, including Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel--Voices for Interreligious Dialogue (Paulist Press, 2015). His new book, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem, was published by Hamilton Books, an imprint of Rowman and LIttlefield, in September 2017. He is currently working on a new book about peacebuilders in Israel and Palestine.
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