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Racism, radicalism and incitement fuel Israel’s election campaign

Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid seen on stage during the announcement of the new Blue and White Alliance on 21 February 2019 in Tel Aviv, Isreal. [Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images]
Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid seen on stage during the announcement of the new Blue and White Alliance on 21 February 2019 in Tel Aviv, Isreal. [Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images]

Weeks of polarisation in Israel’s General Election campaign have ended with surprising mergers and the parties submitting final candidate lists to the Central Elections Committee. From left to right, Israeli politicians are aiming for the Knesset with various manifestos which have a common factor of incitement of hatred towards the Palestinians alongside pledges to suppress them violently while undermining their rights.

Commenting on the merger between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud and other right-wing groups, the Jewish Israeli writer Dror Liba wrote in Ynet News, “A dynasty of racism and provocation is on its way to the Israeli parliament after the joint Jewish Home-National Union Party has agreed to run together with Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) in the upcoming 9 April race for the 21st Knesset.”

Liba referred to the history of the right wingers who merged with Likud, pointing out that they have deep roots with the banned Kach Party, which was founded by extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane in the 1970s. Kach, noted Liba, “was a radical and racist right-wing movement with fascist characteristics; it called to expel Arab citizens from Israeli territory and promoted racist legislation against all non-Jews.” One of its members, extremist settler Baruch Goldstein, murdered 29 Palestinians at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron 25 years ago today.

READ: At home and abroad, Netanyahu faces backlash for far-right alliance 

Netanyahu — “the leader who corrupted his country’s soul to stay in power” —  slammed the merger between Hosen L’Yisrael of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid because he expects their alliance to attract the support of Arab MKs, improving their chance of ousting him or, at least, to provide strong opposition in the Knesset. In his “hysterical speech” on Thursday, the incumbent Prime Minister alleged that Gantz and Lapid “are relying on a blocking majority [with the help] of Arab parties acting to destroy Israel.”

This is not the first time that Netanyahu has shown his total disdain for Israel’s Palestinian Arab citizens. During the 2015 elections, he was shocked that the Arab turnout was high in support of the Joint List of candidates. “The right-wing government is in danger,” he declared. “Arab voters are heading to the polling stations in droves. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.” He called for more right-wing voters to turn out in order to prevent the mainly Arab Joint List from increasing its presence in the Knesset.

The veteran Likud leader has poured scorn on former General Gantz, who has no political experience, and ex-TV presenter Lapid, who has failed to make any significant impact since he left his post as a TV journalist-presenter and got involved in politics in 2012. According to opposition leader Shelly Yachimovich, the Gantz-Lapid alliance has an ideological deficiency. “Israeli politics has never seen such a vague party lacking in ideology,” she said. “[It is] a hybrid created in PR offices. What is their stance on the two-state solution? Are they social democrats or capitalists? Would they sit in a Netanyahu-led government?”

An election billboard by Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party, showing a handshake with US' Donald Trump, with the Hebrew caption: "Netanyahu. In another league", seen in Tel Aviv, Israel on February 03, 2019 [bharianmy / Twitter]

An election billboard by Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, showing a handshake with US’ Donald Trump, with the Hebrew caption: “Netanyahu. In another league”, seen in Tel Aviv, Israel on February 03, 2019 [bharianmy / Twitter]

Nevertheless, the popularity surge of Gantz-Lapid, is predicted to bring in 35-36 seats to Likud’s 26-32, according to a survey conducted by Israeli Channel 13 TV. The Israeli public broadcaster Kan predicted 35 seats for the new alliance and 32 for Likud, while the Israeli News Company gave 36 seats to the former and 30 to the latter. Both of these main coalitions are competing to demonstrate how hard they are going to be against the Palestinians and their legitimate rights.

Israeli voters love Gantz because of his military record as the Chief of Staff during the offensive against the civilians of Gaza in 2014 when more than 2,500 Palestinians were killed. He launched his election campaign with a video bragging about the assassination of Ahmad Al-Jaabari, even while the Palestinian official was engaged in truce talks. Lapid is popular now because he called recently for another attack on Gaza, the population of which has been under an Israeli-led siege since 2007. He has also called for a return of the policy to assassinate Palestinian leaders and wants to legalise Israeli settlements in the occupied territories. All of Israel’s colonial settlements are illegal in international law.

Former Defence Minister Moshe Ya’alon and another ex-Chief of Staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, have joined Gantz and Lapid on a united ticket. Both have dark histories with the Palestinian. Ashkenazi was the director general of the Israeli Defence Ministry during the 2006 invasion of Lebanon, and Chief of Staff during Israel’s 2008/9 military offensive against Gaza during which more than 1,400 Palestinians were killed and thousands more were wounded. In Lebanon and in Gaza, he used internationally-banned weapons, including white phosphorus and cluster bombs, in Lebanon.

READ: The Palestinian Authority must change if it is not to collapse 

Meanwhile, Ya’alon oversaw the notorious 2002 Operation Defensive Shield in the occupied West Bank during which the Israeli army killed 497 Palestinians and wounded 1,447 according to a UN investigation, causing over $361 million worth of damage to basic infrastructure in the process. He objected to the unilateral Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and was accused of committing war crimes when he gave the green light to the assassination of Hamas leader Salah Shehada in 2002 in an operation which also killed 14 civilians.

Even election candidates without a military background of atrocities against the Palestinians are not known for their love of the indigenous population. Itamar Ben-Gvir, for example, has for the past few years, reports Ynet, “been working as a lawyer representing Jewish terror suspects and Jews accused of ‘price tag’ vandalism. Among his clients are the two main suspects in the murder of the Dawabsheh family in the Palestinian village of Duma.”

Interestingly, one senior Israeli politician who served as a communications minister for Likud, Ayoub Kara, opted last Wednesday to describe his colleagues as “Nazis” and “mafia”. If he said that in the West, he would face charges of “anti-Semitism” from the pro-Israel lobbyists who cannot see the right-wing extremism and blood-stained hands of their favoured state and politicians.

For 83-year-old Ismail Lutfi, who was born in occupied Haifa, this is all too much. “Labour, Likud, right or left all have Palestinian blood in their hands,” he pointed out. “All that we want is to end the occupation and live in peace.” Sadly, his wish is unlikely to come true as long as anti-Arab racism, radicalism and incitement to hatred continue to fuel Israel’s election campaign.

READ: Ultra-right Jewish Power to compete in Israel elections with Jewish Home 

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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