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The End of the Liberal Zionist Façade


Benjamin Netanyahu is truly a magician. Just this past Friday, most polls indicated that his Likud party would likely receive around 21 seats in the Israeli Knesset, four seats less than Yitzhak (Bougie) Herzog’s Zionist Camp (Labor Party’s new name). Revelations of corruption at the Prime Minister’s residence followed by a damning comptroller report about the real estate crisis, alongside industrial downsizing, union strikes, predictions of a weakening economy, a diplomatic stalemate, and increasing international isolation all seemed to indicate that Netanyahu was on his way out. But just when it seemed that the Zionist camp would replace the nationalist camp, the crafty campaigner began pulling rabbits out of his hat.

As if his decision to alienate the Obama Administration over the Iran negotiations was not enough, Netanyahu began pandering to the right by notifying the world that Palestinians were destined to remain stateless since he no longer believed in the creation of another Arab state alongside Israel. He presented the Likud party as the victims of a leftist media conspiracy aimed at ousting the right-wing government, while conveniently ignoring that his ally Sheldon Adelson owned Yisrael Hayom, Israel’s most widely circulated paper. He entreated his voters to return “home” promising to address their economic needs. And on Election Day itself, he frightened the Jews by declaring that Israel’s Palestinian citizens were rushing to the polls in droves, thus presenting Palestinians who cast votes for their own representatives as an existential threat.

Pandering and fear mongering together with hatred for Arabs and the left are the ingredients of Netanyahu’s secret potion, and it now appears that many voters were indeed seduced. Within a matter of a few days Netanyahu garnered almost ten additional seats for his party, cannibalizing two of his extreme right allies: Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinuand Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi. Owing to his magic, the Likud did much better than expected, and together with the ultra-Orthodox parties and a new party recently formed by a former Likud minister, Kulanu (All of US), an extreme right wing bloc with 67 out of 120 seats will almost certainly be created (and this even before the soldier’s votes have been calculated, which are usually right of center).

The outcome is clear: the people of Israel have voted for Apartheid.

It is now extremely likely that a spate of anti-democratic laws that had been shelved will soon resurface. These include laws that monitor and limit the financing of human rights NGOs, restrict freedom of the expression, reduce the authority of the Supreme Court, cancel the official status of Arabic, and, of course, bring to a vote the nation-state law. This bill, which was originally drafted by a Likud member, defines Jewishness as the state’s default in any instance, legal or legislative, in which the state’s Jewishness and its democratic aspirations clash‫. This means that Laws that provide equal rights to all citizens can be struck down on the pretense that they violate the state’s Jewish character. Moreover, this law reserves communal rights for Jews alone, thus denying Palestinian citizens any kind of national identity.

Alongside anti-democratic legislation, we can also expect an array of discriminatory policies to be enacted. The new government will likely implement some variation of the Prawer plan, which intends to forcefully relocate thousands of Palestinian Bedouins and take over their land. It will continue pouring billions of dollars on Israel’s settlement in the West Bank and Golan Heights and expropriate more houses and land in East Jerusalem. And it will probably imprison thousands of refugees and “illegal” migrant laborers from Africa currently workers in Israeli cities.

There is, however, one clear advantage to the election results: clarity. At least now there will be no liberal Zionist façade, camouflaging Israel’s unwillingness to dismantle its colonial project. The Israeli refrain that a diplomatic solution with the Palestinians cannot be achieved because the Palestinians lack leadership will ring even more hollow. Finally, the claim that Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East will exposed for what it is: a half truth. While Israel is a democracy for Jews it is a repressive regime for Palestinians.

We can also expect little resistance to the right-wing government, since Herzog’s Zionist Camp and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid are also Arabphobes and therefore less against the substance of such a government and more against Netanyahu’s blatant right wing style. After all it was a political pac associated with Herzog’s party that in the days leading to the elections paid for large billboards with a picture of (Bibi) Netanyahu and his extreme right contender Naftali Bennett warning the viewers that “With Bibibennet we will remain stuck with the Palestinians for eternity.”  The pac must have overlooked the fact that 20 percent of Israeli citizens are Palestinians.

And yet, during these elections there was one ray of light that shimmered through the darkness. The attempt by most of the Jewish parties to sideline the Palestinian citizens produced an unintended result. Creating a united front, the Palestinians garnered 14 seats, almost 25 percent more than they received in the previous elections, and they are now the third biggest faction in the Knesset. Unlike many of his counterparts, Ayman Odeh, the head of the new Joint Arab List, is a true leader. Extremely incisive, he often uses irony and wit to undermine his detractors while advancing an egalitarian vision for the future. In a moment of candor, a well-known Israeli commentator characterized his demeanor as a serious threat: “He’s really dangerous,” she said, “he projects something every Israeli can relate to.”

Will this threat be able to stop the imminent entrenchment of a tide of new Apartheid laws? I sincerely doubt it.

Neve Gordon is the author of Israel’s Occupation as well as ‘The Human Right to Dominate‘ (co-authored with Nicola Perugini, forthcoming June 2015).

This article originally appeared in Al-Jazeera.

Neve Gordon is the co-author (with Nicola Perugini) of the newly released The Human Right to Dominate.

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