Benjamin Netanyahu won the elections in Israel by appealing to people’s fears. He is more than a cynical populist, argues Tessa Szyszkowitz. The right wing prime minister is the product of a society which cannot bridge the contradictions of its existence any longer. A few of the birth defects of Israel have grown into life threatening diseases – at least if one is interested in Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish identity.

Benjamin Netanyahu only needed half a minute to get his message across: „The Arab voters come out in droves to the polls“, he said in a video lasting 28 seconds which was posted on his Facebook site on election day. This unmasked racist message was effective. The vision of being undermined by the Palestinians in Israel was enough to swing votes from the extreme right to Netanyahu’s party. With 30 of 120 seats Likud is by far the biggest party in Israel’s parliament and Israel’s popular leader is now looking at his fourth term as prime minister.

Israeli columnists labeled his last minute attempt to win a „Gewalt!“-campaign. This old Jiddish expression is generally used when someone experiences a moment of violent fear. And this is what it was all about: Netanyahu wanted to shock voters from the extreme right wing parties „HaBait HaYehudi“ („Jewish House“) and „Israel Beitenu“ („Our house Israel“) into voting for him.

It worked. Israel is now stumbling down into an ever-darker future. The moderate, more open minded and socialist vision of the „Zionist Union“ under the leadership of the centre left Labour party was rejected by voters.

In Netanyahu’s mind the enemies hide not only in occupied territories and in Arab villages, but in towns and city districts in Israel itself. They also gang up against Israel in Teheran – and even in Washington DC. „American money lures the Arabs to the voting booth“ a text message informed Likud voters. There is no love lost between democratic US-President Barack Obama and Netanyahu. If Hilary Clinton succeeds Obama the relations will not get much better: As foreign minister Clinton openly propagated a Two-State solution for Israelis and Palestinians and negotiations with Iran. Both subjects have become red flags for Netanyahu.

The big question in the aftermath of the elections are: Did Benjamin Netanyahu only use the people’s furor to get elected? Did he believe what he said or is he a populist cynic who will govern completely differently than he promised?

The rhetoric of the prime minister reflects the thinking of the majority of Israelis and the realities in the country. A few of the birth defects of Israel have grown into life threating diseases – at least if one is interested in Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish identity.

The Palestinians in Israel today represent 20 percent of the population. Founding father David Ben-Gurion promised „full and equal citizenship and adequate representation in all institutions“ to the Arabs who stayed in Israel after its creation in 1948.

This is not what they got today. Muslim and Christian Palestinians are at best a tolerated minority. „During the Gaza war last summer the incitement against the Arab public has reached new heights. Palestinians were kicked out of their jobs, were attacked on the streets, only because they were Arabs“, writes Israeli activist Yael Marom of the grassroots movement „Just Vision“.

The last government fell over the „nationality“ law that foresaw a strengthening of the Jewish character of Israel. Centrist parties „Jesh Atid“ („There is a future“) and „Ha Tnuah“ („The movement“) left Netanyahu’s coalition in protest against axing Arabic as official language. Netanyahu plans to establish his next coalition without these centrist parties.

His partner will be Avigdor Lieberman of „Our house Israel“. His favourite plan is a population exchange with territorial integrity. The Arab villages in Israel’s Galilee could be handed over to Palestine in a Two-State solution. The Israeli settler blocks would, in exchange, be annexed to Israel. „All who identify with Palestinian ideas will be invited to move to a Palestinian land“, he explained in an interview.

At the same time the „United list“ of the Arab parties won ten percent of the Israeli vote and are the third strongest force in the new parliament. The Israeli Arabs have therefore become a factor, which can be no longer ignored. Still, none of the Zionist parties seriously consider inviting them into a coalition.

The tension between zionists and non-zionists is by far not the only problem in Israeli politics. The deep gap between religious and non-religious Israeli Jews is another. The birth rate among the ultraorthodox community is around 6 children. When Ben-Gurion gave the hyper religious „Haredim“ special rights as they carried the banner of Jewish tradition, Israel only had 400 such families. Today the utraorthodox number one million people. That’s about 12 percent of eight million Israelis.

After long debate the Knesset passed a law in 2014 that was supposed to bring more ultraorthodox young men into the Israeli army. This law will be jeopardized in Netanyahu’s new coalition, in which the centrist parties will be replaced by two ultrareligious parties: the party of the oriental religious jews called „Shas“ and the ultraorthodox „United Thora Judaism“ – both parties want to see this law changed and will work hard to bring their boys back from the army barracks to the Talmud schools. „It is after all an important duty for the people of Israel to study Thora“, said Shas politician Yitzhak Vaknin.

A third group in Israel provides the country with extreme tension: the settlers. Since 1967 around 400,000 Israelis moved to newly built settlements in the West Bank and 300,000 into Israeli-annexed Arab East Jerusalem. Settler leader Naftali Bennett of „The Jewish Home“ did loose seats at these last elections, but will still join a coalition with his eight mandates. His credo: A Palestinian state accounts for „suicide for Israel“.

Bennett’s fans did not defect to Netanyahu because Bennett was too radical for them, but because Netanyahu moved towards Bennett’s radical positions: „When I am prime minister there will not be an independent Palestinian state“, he promised in the last phase of his „Gewalt!“ campaign.

His views towards Palestinians and the peace process were known before. The Likud leader reluctantly accepted the Oslo accords which the leftist prime minister Yitzhak Rabin negotiated with the Palestinian leadership at the beginning of the 90s. But partition was never part of Netanyahu’s world view; shaped by his father Benzion, a prominent and respected conservative historian, he learned that the traditional Israeli right always saw the idea of Greater Israel as central to its thinking.

Netanyahu is not only a cynical populist who sold his soul for votes. He is also the product of a society which cannot bridge the extreme conditions of its existence anymore and is loosing its mind over it. The only thing to expect from Netanyahu now are a few attempts to moderate the right radical camp. This will be extremely difficult because it just got a new mandate for more extreme policies.

What did Netanyahu ask God for when he went to pray at the Western Wall in Jerusalem on the day after the elections? Did he ask him for the power to tame the racist and radical spirits he has stirred up in this campaign?

Or did he ask for the energy he will need to clean up the mess he made for his country?

Bleib auf dem Laufenden!

© 2018 Tessa Szyszkowitz