In the aftermath of Israel’s latest elections there has been much wailing and gnashing of teeth in liberal Zionist circles.
Despite momentarily high-hopes that the Zionist Union, led by Israel’s Labor party, could poll strongly, perhaps even coming out of top, the far-right ruling Likud party won convincingly.
Incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu still has several weeks of negotiations ahead of him before he can form a government. He will have to strike deals with several different right wing parties in order to form the coalition he will need to rule. The Zionist Union will sit in opposition.
Opinion polls throughout March put the Zionist Union neck-a-neck with Likud, right up until the exit polls. Some of the polls even put the Zionist Union ahead. In the end though, Netanyahu won handily, with his party winning 30 seats in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, to the Zionist Union’s 24.
The polls meant that liberal Zionists in the West briefly had some hope that their ideological soul-mates inside Israel could return to power, after years in the political wilderness.
In The Guardian, executive editor of opinion Jonathan Freedland lamented Netanyahu’s win at length. “The result [of the election] is despair – in liberal Tel Aviv, where Bibi’s Labor challenger, Isaac Herzog, topped the poll; in foreign capitals [too],” he wrote.
In seeking at all costs to preserve Israel as a “Jewish state” Freedland is advocating apartheid privileges for Israeli Jewish citizens and denying at all costs the right of return of millions of Palestinian refugees who live around the world and in surrounding countries after they or their ancestors were expelled by Zionist militias in 1948 or by the Israeli army in successive wars and acts of ethnic cleansing since.
In despairing that Netanyahu won, liberal Zionists like Freeland, and in the US Peter Beinart, are not opposed to the policies so much as the loss of international reputation Israel will now suffer from. Netanyahu rubs even the most pro-Israel world leaders up the wrong way, it seems.
In reality, the election of the Zionist “left” to power instead of the Zionist “right” would have meant little, if any, substantive difference in policy when it comes to Israel’s aggressive, violent and racist policies and actions towards the Palestinian people.
As my colleague Ben White has detailed, the Zionist Union had a detailed plan to continue Israel’s decades-long takeover and slow annexation of the West Bank. These policies have continued unabated over the decades under both Labor- and Likud-led governments.
As Ali Abunimah, my colleague at The Electronic Intifada, has argued however, perhaps the only substantive difference between Likud and the pro- “peace-process” Zionist Union was that the latter have a better public relations team.
The Zionist “left” coming to power would have meant that there was a danger that Israel may have been able to regain some of its lost reputation in international forums, but without, of course, changing any of its policies on the ground. The façade of a “peace process” with the Palestinians could have meant less pressure on Israel to change its policies.
But Netanyahu’s utter rejection of an even the pretence of any negotiations or engagement with the Palestinians means that it is now far easier for supporters of Palestinian rights to argue for Israel to be boycotted, divested from and sanctioned.
This is the real reason that liberal Zionists like Freedland are despairing. One young American pro-Israel activist even made it explicit. University of California at Los Angeles student body president Avinoam Baral wrote in Haaretz that Netanyahu’s win was a “victory for BDS,” the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel which aims to pressure it into conceding Palestine rights to equality and return.
He continued: “I have spent thousands of hours directly or indirectly fighting BDS on my campus … One of the greatest obstacles I face as a pro-Israel leader is the answer to the question, ‘What should we do instead of BDS?’ … No one on campus believes there will be a positive change to the status quo under [Netanyahu],” Baral says.
But none of these hypocrites care that racism in Israel goes across the board.
Netanyahu shamefully used the worst form of blatant anti-Arab racism to rally support at the end of the election, when it looked like Herzog could come out on top.
In a video message posted to Facebook he warned, in explicitly military language, that “The right-wing government is in danger. Arabs are advancing on the ballot boxes in droves … we have Order Number Eight.” This was a reference to the order that calls Israeli citizens up for army duty.
This anti-Palestinian incitement was criticized by Freedland – but he ignored the fact that Tzipi Livni (“leftist” Labor leader Herzog’s coalition partner) has expressed the same view, that Palestinian Arab citizens (the historical indigenous population) do not belong in Israel.
A brilliant and incisive post-election analysis published this week by Adalah, a civil rights group run for Palestinian citizens of Israel, shows that such racist views went right across the political spectrum in this election, with the exception of the non- and anti-Zionist Joint List of mostly-Arab political parties (which came in third place).
This include even Freedland’s great liberal-Zionist hope, Herzog. In an election video released by his party, his comrades from the time of his military service were interviewed, and one grotesquely comments that “Herzog understands the Arab mentality including
through the cross-hairs [of a sniper rifle].”
In Israel’s elections, all the Zionist parties compete on who can be the most racist. Anti-Palestinian racism is an election-winning policy, as Adalah shows in its analysis. For this reason, there can never be any hope of achieving Palestinian human rights from within Israel.
Israel must instead be compelled from outside to respect them. Since no US president will ever do this, it is down to us, ordinary citizens so contribute toward forcing change via BDS.
An associate editor with The Electronic Intifada, Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist who lives in London.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.