It was British prime minister Harold Wilson who, in the 1960s, said: “A week is a long time in politics.” Last week, an hour was a long time in Israeli politics, and the hours between when the exit polls were announced and when the real election results started to emerge felt like an eternity; no more so than for Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
His elation as the exit polls indicated increased support for his Likud party and the right-wing bloc was soon replaced by desperation when it emerged that those who oppose him now have a majority, and with this the end of Netanyahu’s destructive era has become a real possibility.
And Netanyahu, staying true to his style of gutter politics, now fearful of his failing and divisive premiership coming to an end and, worse, of the ignominy of spending the foreseeable future defending himself in court on corruption charges, duly embarked on an uninhibited attack on his political rivals, with special venom reserved for the Joint Arab List. In the unofficial public court of cynical exploitation of patriotism, or more accurately nationalist-racist chauvinism, Netanyahu was “convicted” a long time ago. His unchecked and despicable attack on the Palestinian Arab minority in Israel and its elected representatives shows his innate ideological racism deployed for a particular purpose — used to sickening effect to consolidate his support base and to deter other parties from including the Arab parties in a coalition government.
Long before his indictment on charges of fraud, bribery and breach of trust, Netanyahu had stepped up his attacks on the country’s Arab-Palestinian minority. His infamous 2015 election day last-ditch Facebook post urged his supporters to rush to the polling stations and vote, warning them that the right-wing government was in danger. Deliberately misleading, he claimed then that Arab voters were heading to the polling stations “in droves,” and — without a shred of proof — that “left-wing NGOs are bringing them in buses.”
Not only was this a complete and utter fabrication, it was also a significant watershed; he was finally outing himself as a full-blown racist. This was followed by his active support of the Nation State Bill, which to all intents and purposes would relegate a fifth of the population to the status of second-class citizens, and in the process add insult to injury by making Arabic no longer an official language, as it has been from the very foundation of the Jewish state.
The combination of a police investigation that led to an indictment unprecedented in its severity, and Netanyahu’s failure to win three consecutive elections in less than a year, have led him, his family and their political allies to lose any restraint in their campaign to delegitimize Israel’s Arab-Palestinian population, who (until the Nation State Law was passed) were officially equal citizens of the country.
Only a fortnight ago, 577,335 Israeli citizens voted for the Joint Arab List. It is estimated that 87 percent of Arab Israelis, and about 20,000 Jews, cast their vote in support of this political alliance. For the Right in Israel to behave like a lynch mob and suggest that these votes should not count toward forming a government, whether their representatives join the coalition or support it from the outside, is disgraceful and undermines Israel’s already badly wounded democracy. For Foreign Minister Israel Katz to call the Knesset members from the Arab Joint List “terrorists in suits” is not only shameful, but also a sign that Katz and his allies in Israeli politics are ready to lead the country down the dangerous path of fascism — and I do not use that term lightly — for the sake of hanging on to power.
It has been my life-long, strong belief that one should refrain from using emotive terms that provoke antagonism from political rivals rather than encourage constructive engagement with them. Needless to say, fascism is one of these highly charged terms. However, as defined by the Oxford Dictionary, fascism is an ideology of “aggressively promoting your own country or race above others, and that does not allow any opposition.” Netanyahu is increasingly being treated by his followers as an irreplaceable cult leader, and his campaign to delegitimize the Arab-Palestinian minority and those who may ally with them has all the hallmarks of fascism, even if for now it is not fully fledged.
Admittedly, there are some statements and posts on social media by one or two Knesset members from the Arab Joint List in support of acts of terrorism, and these should be condemned outright, even if made before they were elected. However, such statements in no way represent the views of the party or its leaders. They are one of the tragic facets of the unresolved Israel-Palestinian conflict, in which there are politicians on both sides who support intercommunal violence.
For the Jewish population it is worth remembering that it is equally difficult for many Arab-Israeli citizens to support an Israeli government that includes politicians and former senior generals who were responsible for the killing of many of their Palestinian brothers and sisters, or instrumental in perpetuating their displacement and dispossession. It is exactly the Rubicon that Israeli society must cross, by recognizing each other’s sensitivities, and making a joint effort to bring an end to both the Israel-Palestinian conflict and the discrimination against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
It will be for the judges to decide Netanyahu’s fate when it comes to his alleged corrupt abuse of power. However, his hate campaign against the Arab minority in Israel is a far worse crime than taking cigars, champagne and jewelry in exchange for favors, as he is accused of doing. But Netanyahu no longer cares about the scorched earth he will leave behind when he finally departs from office. It will be for his successors to mend fences and somehow cope with his legacy of hatred and division among the Jewish population, and even worse relations with the Arab one.
There is, though, something of a silver lining to Netanyahu’s hate campaign against Israel’s Arabs; it is that they rallied together, and they are increasingly “heading in droves” to the polling stations, election after election, and now enjoy unprecedented representation in the Knesset. This might give them a say in Israeli politics, if not because of a belated recognition by Jewish society of the importance of including them in the social-political discourse, then at least out of the necessity of building a coalition government.
Yossi Mekelberg is professor of international relations at Regent’s University London, where he is head of the International Relations and Social Sciences Program. He is also an associate fellow of the MENA Program at Chatham House. He is a regular contributor to the international written and electronic media. Twitter: @YMekelberg
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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