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Israel's sham elections

Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week announced plans to hold fresh elections in March. The last election, resulting in the current hard-right coalition government, was held in January 2013.

Internal schisms within Netanyahu's coalition led to him calling this election early. Essentially, Netanyahu wants rid of ostensibly (by Israeli standards) "centrist" elements in the coalition. In fact, the politics of former TV anchor Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid faction and Tzipi Livni's vanity grouplet are right-wing Zionist.

But that is still not enough for Netanyahu, and the next election looks set to bring to power the most extreme right-wing government in Israeli history.

Although it is far too soon to call, and there are a couple of wild cards to consider, the likely winners of the election will be Netanyahu's hard-right Likud party, and economy minister Naftali Bennett's ultra-right "Jewish Home" (Habayit Hayehudi) party – essentially an interest party for Israeli settlers. The "Israel Our Home" (Yisrael Beiteinu) party of foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman is also likely to do well (having success in 2013 on a joint list with Likud).

Netanyahu will be hoping for the largest possible vote for this hard-right bloc so that a stable government can be formed on the back of a solid coalition. But the first opinion poll suggests that Netanyahu (as a long time incumbent) is fairly unpopular, so this seems unlikely. Having said that, March is a long way away in political terms and a lot could change between now and then.

If Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu and Jewish Home (natural coalition partners in many ways) cannot win enough seats to the Knesset to win control of the government they will likely have to rely on some kind of awkward coalition support from the ultra-Orthodox parties (who would likely condition any such support on repeal of a recent law conscripting Orthodox Jews into the military).

But focus on this sort of wrangling avoids facing simple fact about Israel's elections: they are a sham sort of democracy. With proportional representation, coalition politics, a largely symbolic president and regular elections, Israel's system of party politics may look quite democratic on the surface. But look closer.

The fact is that Israel is in reality a sort of ethnocracy: that is, a democracy for one ethnic/identity group only: in this case Jews. The state in law and in practice systematically undermines and restricts the freedoms of its Palestinians citizens (some 1.5 million people). The state, in law and in practice, represents and stands for the rights of, not its citizens, but all the Jews of the world (whether or not they have any familial or historical connections to the country).

The "Jewish nation-state" bill that was recently introduced at the Knesset would consolidate this already-existing system of institutional injustice. As Ben White recently pointed out, "missing in most of the international [press] coverage [of the bill] is the extent to which Israel already defines itself as a Jewish state".

And one of the latest bricks in the edifice of this institutional racism against Palestinian citizens of Israel has been various moves this year to drive their political representation out of the Knesset.

Palestinian Arab (non-Zionist) parties in Israel's parliament are represented by three factions: the communists, the National Democratic Assembly (known as Tajamu' in Arabic or Balad in Hebrew) and a coalition of Islamist and Arab nationalist figures.

These parties usually manage to get three to five seats each in parliament. But earlier this year, the law was changed raising the elections threshold, meaning all three parties are likely to be wiped out. Although the law did not explicitly name the Arab parties, it seems clear to most observers that it was primarily aimed at them. As Jonathan Cook has reported, the move is only one part of a wider campaign targeting the political leadership of the Palestinians of '48 (Palestinians with Israeli citizenship), which has also included hate, legal and propaganda campaigns against such renowned figures as Haneen Zoabi and Raed Salah.

Cook, who lives in and reports from the Arab-majority town of Nazareth (in the north of current-day Israel), is a veteran observer of the plight of Israel's Palestinian minority. And he is already sounding warnings that the Palestinian citizens are likely to be the "scapegoat" of these Israeli elections – as they have been in the past.

Lieberman came to power in elections under the slogan "No loyalty, no citizenship" and proposing a plan in which Palestinians in several regions of current-day Israel would be expelled to the West Bank under any "peace" deal with the Palestinian Authority.

And with Bennett arguing that the majority of the West Bank should be at some point be formally annexed to Israel, the reality of the already-existing one-state of apartheid is becoming more and more clear and brazen.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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