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Fast reading into the campaign and results of the 2015 Knesset elections

I didn’t expect any good from the elections to the Israeli Knesset. Its results are decided a priori by the definition of the voters’ register.

Who has the vote in the Jewish state?

Between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River live about the same number of Arab Palestinians and Israeli Jews. But while all Jews, in all of Palestine, enjoy full citizenships and full rights, including voting rights, the Palestinians are divided.

Gaza is an open-air prison, where people can’t get in or out, and are subject to repeated massacres by the Israeli army.

Palestinians in the West Bank live under direct military occupation and are subject to the robbery of their lands and to daily harassment by the army and the settlers. The fake “peace process”, the illusion of “an independent Palestine alongside Israel” and the “Palestinian Authority” that has no real power except to oppress the Palestinians are giving an air of legitimacy to this occupation.

Palestinians in the 1948 occupied parts of Palestine are formally recognized as citizens but are subject to systematic racist discrimination, including land confiscation and house demolition that amount to crawling ethnic cleansing. They suffer political oppression. They are allowed to vote in the Knesset elections, but only to parties that promise to preserve the “Jewish Democratic” character of the state. Israel’s propaganda machine uses their vote as a PR bonanza, while they have no real influence in the Zionist Parliament.

The Israeli elections are first and foremost about the fate of the Arab Palestinians, which have no say in these elections. The Knesset is the source of legitimacy of all Israeli governments that not only torture millions of Palestinians in Palestine but also block millions of Palestinian refugees from returning to their homes, towns and villages. Giving the vote to the colonizers at the expense of the voiceless colonized native population defines the elections’ agenda of splitting the spoils of ethnic cleansing, occupation and settlements. It could not produce any result but a new racist government of war and Apartheid.

Why did the 3rd Netanyahu government fall?

Why did Netanyahu call early elections, just two years after his coalition won elections in January 2013? The reasons go back to the summer of 2011, when, under the influence of the Arab Spring, Israel had its own middle-class mass social protest movement. In Israeli terms being “social” means to ask to improve the lives of the Jewish public, while speaking about the discrimination against the Arabs is “political” and “extremist”. Speaking against the occupation is almost “terrorism”.

The winds of change brought into the Knesset new parties and leaderships and enabled Netanyahu to build a relatively wide coalition, which, unlike most Israeli governments, excluded the Orthodox religious parties.

Meanwhile, in the spring of 2014, the illusionary negotiations between the Israeli occupiers and the Palestine Authority collapsed as a result of an Israeli deliberate decision to break an agreement to release a group of old Palestinian prisoners that were imprisoned before the Oslo agreement and already served very long periods in prison. In June 2014 the Palestinians established a government of national unity, bringing together for the first time their two main movements: Fatah and Hamas. As a response, the Israeli government and army staged a bloody onslaught, first against the Palestinians in the West Bank and later against Gaza.

The brave resistance of the people of Gaza prevented Israel from translating its military might and its readiness to perform endless massacres into a political victory. Already at the time of the war on Gaza, while the “left” Zionist opposition consistently supported the war, the demagogues at the head of the coalition parties competed in out-posing each other with proposals to escalate the war in more and more criminal ways. In the end the war left the government divided and scarred and with a big hole in its budget that made it harder to fulfill its promises to the Jewish middle classes to improve their standard of living.

To hide their weakness after the war, the government parties started another racist competition to out-bid each other in promoting racist laws against the Arab population, the most conspicuous being the “Jewish State” law designed to enshrine the racist character of the state. In the end the government collapsed, eroded and exhausted by its own orgy of demagogy.

The Election Spins

With the collapse of the government, Netanyahu’s rivals sensed a rare chance to get rid of him. What remained of the old “Mapai”, or “Israeli Labor Party”, headed by Hertzog, united with “Ha-Tnu’a” (The Movement”, some remnants of Sharon’s split from Likud), which just came out of Netanyahu’s falling coalition, to form “The Zionist Camp” to compete the elections.

Netanyahu is despised by many in the established Israeli elite. Much of the election campaign rolled around petty corruption in the prime minister’s private (but publicly financed) houses, like the budget for ice-cream and who stole the money that is received for recycled bottles.

The development of Israel into full-featured banana republic may be symbolized by the role of the Casino mogul, Sheldon Adelson, which established a freely-distributed daily, “Israel Today”, to praise Netanyahu and promote a rightist agenda. It undermined the economic base of much of Israel’s media, and won Netanyahu many enemies. During the elections some stories about this special relationship emerged, like Netanyahu going to meet Japan’s PM to promote casino licenses for Adelson.

Through all this period of sharp adversary, the Zionist Camp never even try to promote itself as the party that may bring peace or reconciliation with the Palestinians. It was attacking Netanyahu for going soft on Gaza and not putting an end to Hamas. Its PM candidate, Hertzog, was displayed in a special promotion video, by members of his unit in the Israeli army’s 8200 unit (intelligence services), as somebody that “knows Arabic”, understand the Arabs and is used to look at them through the sights of the gun (or of remote-control missiles). If they spoke about reconciliation, it was reconciliation with the US administration, as they blamed Netanyahu of destroying relations with Israel’s main source of strategic support.

Just as the campaign to discredit Netanyahu came to its peak in much of the mass media, it began to backfire. The old “Labor” and its new ally “Yesh ‘Atid” (there is a future) led by Ya’ir Lapid, are identified in Israel’s internal ethnic divide with the “Ashkenazi” elite, well-to-do upper and middle class from European origins that used to control the whole state and still dominates most of the economy and much of the bureaucracy, academy, legal system, established culture and more.

In a typical lapse, in the main pre-election mass rally of the Zionist camp, Yair Garboz attacked not only Netanyahu but the “Pagans” that “kiss mascots” – what immediately arouse a wave of resentment among religious and oriental Jews.

The most talented politician, that knew to express the spirit of the time, was again Ariyeh Der’i from Shas, the religious-social movement of Oriental Jews. He waged the election campaign under the slogan “Ha-Shkufim” (the Transparent) – claiming to represent all those people that are suffering but are not even seen or counted by the elite. Those transparent people are so much ignored that they were not even counted in the election polls, leading all pollsters to predict a knot or a victory to the “Zionist Camp”.

The victory of unapologizing racism

The “dramatic story” of the election night was what happened between the exit polls, that predicted the same share of votes to the Zionist Camp and to Likud, and the real results that gave Likud a clear lead. But it is a false drama. The main last-minute movements of votes was within each “camp” – from the right wing “Ha-Bayit Ha-Yehudi” (Jewish Home) to Likud and from Meretz (the Israeli “Left”) to the Zionist Camp – as the contest became polarized between the perceived contenders to lead the next government. And there were many more votes to grab on the extreme right anyway.

What made the Zionist Camp’s bid for power almost impossible, even before the results came in, is the Zionist racist attitude that de-legitimizes Arab participation in government and in making political decisions. With all his enthusiasm to be the next Israeli PM, Hertzog didn’t even consider bringing in the (mostly Arab) “Common List” that received 14 mandates. To save face and not appear as outright racist, he said that “they do not want to be included” in his government. His potential partners in government were even more open about their aversion from partnership with the Arab parties.

On the other side, Netanyahu over-played the Arab card during elections day, hysterically turning to the Jewish voters and warning them that Arab voters are thronging to the polling stations. There is no doubt that his call, published in all the Israel media as well as streamed in “private” telephone calls to voters, increased the motivation of Arab voters, as well as helped the openly racist parties to rally their supporters. It was one more element that tilted the vote Netanyahu’s way.

Netanyahu’s even more blatantly racist partners, Benet’s “Jewish Home” and Lieberman’s “Israel Beitenu”, both suffered electoral bleeding. Benet got the spirit of the right by using the slogan “we do not apologize”. Lieberman, which lost much of the leadership of his opportunistic party due to police investigation of wide bribery network, was hysterically promising to kill Palestinians Prisoners of War, to avoid prisoners’ exchange.

But, getting rid of the anti-clerical Yesh ’Atid, Netanyahu can easily build a coalition with the two Jewish religious parties, one Ashkenazi and one Mizrahi (Oriental).

He will also have to bring in the “social” new “Kulanu” (All of Us) party led by Kahalon, who departed from Likud mostly on personal animosity with Netanyahu. “Social”, in his case, is not simply for Jews only, but is mainly the promotion of free market competition to bring down prices. It could work in some sectors of the Israeli economy, which is mostly divided between a few super-rich families, but is hardly “social” in the way that people are used to think about it in the world…

The Arab “Common List” and the Boycott Campaign

The Arab participation in the elections and the boycott campaign deserve a separate article.

I will mention here that in the previous elections there were three Arab lists: The United Arab List (including some Islamic figures and the telegenic Dr. Ahmad Tibi), The Democratic Front (led by the Israeli Communist Party) and The National Democratic Alliance (Democratic Nationalist party, previously led by the now exiled Azmi Bishara).  All three parties together held 11 sits in the Knesset between them.

The biggest political movement in the ’48 territories is the “Northern” Islamic Movement, which doesn’t take part in the elections. In fact, the Islamic Movement educates its cadres against participation in the Knesset, even if it doesn’t openly call for Boycott.

The leftist Abna Al-Balad movement is traditionally boycotting the Knesset elections – at least since 1984. Since 1999 it actively campaigns for Boycott, and since 2003 it is organizing the boycott through “a popular campaign”.

Over the last period the percentage of Arab participation in the Knesset election was in consistent decline, both because of rising Palestinian national consciousness and because of the filling that the Arab MKs have no influence and can’t get any significant achievements in the openly racist Knesset.

The last Knesset raised the minimum share of votes that is required for representation to 3.25%, what threatened all three parties. To face the danger they formed a common list… This unity was widely welcomed by the public. According to initial reading of the result, voting in the Arab areas increased from 56% in 2013 to around 60%. It will probably give the “Common List” 14 seats in the Knesset.

The Boycott campaign called for Boycott as the most effective protest to expose the fake nature of “The Jewish Democracy”. But it also warned that the campaign of the “Common List”, which called the elections “crucial” and called for “toppling Netanyahu”, might lead to an Arab support of a government by the Zionist Camp that will continue the policies of occupation, war and racial discrimination.

With the real results coming in, this last danger is unlikely in the current session of the Knesset. Now the great effort the “Common List” put into the elections, and the great hopes that they aroused among the local Palestinians for change through the Knesset, have all crashed on the rocks of another openly racist Knesset.

Many Palestinian voters may be disappointed as they tried to play by the Israeli rules and were rejected. It may make us stronger to remember the clear voice of the boycott campaign: The racist Knesset could not be the tool for dismantling occupation and Apartheid and bringing back the refugees. Only elections in which all the residents of Palestine and all its refugees will be allowed to participate will be able to establish democracy. “One man, one vote”. “One Woman, One Vote”. Don’t go for anything less than that.

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