Dana Mills considers Israel’s election results.
For hundreds of Palestinians in the neighbourhood of Silwan in East Jerusalem, the Israeli election of 2021 holds existential significance. They could not however vote in this election nor in any other Israeli elections. In Silwan, eviction lawsuits were filed by settlers against about 60 other families. If the government will not intervene and stop the evictions, an entire community of some 700 Palestinians in Batan Al-Hawa stands to be displaced and replaced by Israeli settlers. A combination of an unequal legal system and continual shifting of it to the right has allowed these processes to go unchecked. And so, when Israel went to the polls this week, for the fourth time in two years, millions of people who depend on the voting vagaries and political manoeuvring that will determine the outcome of this election could not participate in them.
Israel is experiencing a prolonged period of political instability. The political system of proportional representation allows the leader of the largest party to become Prime Minister if he is able to create a coalition of more than 61 Members of Knesset. Yair Lapid, the head of centre-right Yesh Atid seems poised to form a broad coalition with the ‘anything but Netnayhau’ block which comprises many parties from right-wing anti-Netanyahu parties and anti-Zionist parties. There is also the possibility of a fifth election. The Israeli political map is always in flux.
The last two years have shown unprecedented uncertainty influenced by many factors.
First, Israel is emerging from the global COVID crisis. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s handling of the pandemic, which included populist statements, disinformation and erratic decision making, with very little economic support, has thrown the country into economic and social disarray. At the same time, Israel is leading the world in its vaccination rates, no doubt contributing to Netanyahu’s survival in this election despite his handling of the pandemic. The vaccination operation relied on the historic network of ‘Kupat Holim’—a national health service that predates the country’s founding and is indebted to the historical Labour Party which created it. When Israel is boasting huge and undisputed success of the vaccine program, it is important to recall that once again, it did not supply Palestinians who are not citizens of the country with vaccines, despite being obligated to do so morally and legally.
Second, Israel has been increasingly moving to the right during Netanyahu’s premiership. This process has accelerated during Trump’s presidency while Netanyahu forged alliances with a variety of authoritarian leaders, from Narendra Modi to Viktor Orban. Right-wing extremists, Jewish supremacists and homophobic religious zealots have shifted from the illegitimate margins of the Zionist right into the Knesset. Attacks on liberal values, on LGBTI+ rights, on gender equality, civil and human rights have become mainstream within political discourse. Notable in this context is Itamar Ben Gvir, an heir of Meir Kanahe’s legacy, who calls for the explicit transfer of Palestinians and openly supports racist violence. In his living room famously, hangs a portrait of Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians in Hebron in 1994. Ben Gvir is now a member of Knesset.
Conversely, the election results suggest a better evening for the Jewish left than had been predicted in pre-election polls, with the Meretz party receiving six seats and the traditional Labour party, British Labour Party’s sister party arriving in seven seats. Labour’s achievement is much due to the work of Merav Michaeli, a feminist leader who invigorated the party after it had been predicted to barely pass the threshold necessary to enter the Knesset. The Joint Arab list, now separated into two parties, suffered a big hit from its previous 15 seats into six and four seats for both its comprising parties partially caused by a low turnout within its electorate. Despite the relative success of the left-wing parties, the losses in the Arab parties make a move away from a right-wing Knesset with racist right-wing leaders, unlikely.
Another issue that has been hanging over this election is Netanyahu’s corruption trials and allegations of misconduct and bribery. Over the past year, mass protests against his lack of cooperation with his own lawyers together with simultaneous attacks on Israel’s legal system.
These protests, known as Balfour protests (after the street where Netanyahu’s official residence is located), created a surge of dissent not seen in the country for a long time. There is a large part of Israeli citizenship, including on the right, which is tired of Netanyahu’s disrespect for the rule of law. Many of us who campaign for peace and against the Occupation joined this unusual wave of anti- Netanyahu protests to remind the country that it is not enough to unseat Netanyahu. On the 6th of February, Peace Now initiated a solidarity march from Silwan to Jerusalem under the heading ‘from Balfour to Silwan, Jerusalem is for everyone’. The main being to ensure the structural injustice and corruption of the legal system caused by the Occupation is discussed at a time when the rule of law takes this central position in the public agenda.
However, despite the many challenges ahead, there are strong reasons for optimism. A recent survey conducted by the Geneva Initiative has shown that there is an overwhelming majority for the two-state solution, including among voters who are affiliated with centre-right parties; they just don’t think it is possible within the near future.
The question on everyone’s lips should be not simply how to unseat Netanyahu but how to end the Occupation and to create two democracies, side by side, in which all citizens have control over their political lives living together in peace. While Netanyahu has been marketing peace agreements with countries with which Israel has had no war such as the UAE and Bahrain, the true move to a real peace – working towards ending the Occupation – is necessary more than ever.
So, this Passover, let’s continue our work for justice, freedom for all and peace.