The result of Israel's most recent election was predictable; it doesn't make it any less frightening. For three years, the Israeli political system has been in turmoil, with what many simplistically called "pro-Netanyahu" and "anti-Netanyahu" camps emerging within Israeli political parties. But this month's election was not about camps. Instead, it was about how the entire Israeli political landscape has become immune to, if not supportive of, Israeli policies against Palestinians.
I, like other Palestinians, have grown accustomed to being the punching bag of Israeli politicians who get votes and support by flexing their muscles against us. For example, Avigdor Lieberman, the settler and former foreign minister, threatened to "chop off the heads" of Palestinians and called for "transferring" (a euphemism for ethnic cleansing) Palestinian citizens of Israel like me, while Naftali Bennett, the former prime minister, bragged that he killed many Arabs. And yet, as all these politicians continued to attack and threaten Palestinians, Israelis remained largely silent, as did the international community.
In this election, the biggest winner was Itamar Ben-Gvir, an Israeli settler whose far-right, ultranationalist Jewish Power party openly advocates racist policies against Palestinians. Ben-Gvir went from not being able to garner enough votes to pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold just three years ago, to being head of the third-largest party in the Knesset today. He has been indicted more than 50 times by Israeli courts for incitement to violence or hate speech, with most of the charges being dismissed. But in 2007, he was convicted of supporting a terrorist organization and inciting racism for promoting the ideology of the radical American-Israeli rabbi Meir Kahane, after carrying signs reading "Expel the Arab enemy" and "Rabbi Kahane was right: The Arab MKs [parliamentarians] are a fifth column." He has professed that Baruch Goldstein, the man who massacred 29 Palestinians in the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron in 1994, is his "hero."
November's election was not about "pro-Netanyahu" and "anti-Netanyahu" camps. It was about how the entire Israeli political landscape has become immune to, if not supportive of, Israeli policies against Palestinians.
- Diana Buttu
This isn't just Ben-Gvir's past, either. Throughout his electoral campaign, he made clear his racist views, for example by calling for a "migration ministry" to expel Palestinians with Israeli citizenship who he deems "disloyal" to the state. And yet Israelis still voted for him.
Ben-Gvir is a disciple of the Brooklyn-born Kahane, who founded the militant Jewish Defense League and espoused the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians both from Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Kahane used his hate speech to steadily garner votes and win a seat in the Knesset in the mid-1980s, stating to Israeli voters, "I say what you think." In 1986, he was barred from running for re-election purportedly for his racist views, but more likely due to internal Israeli politics. But while Kahane's Kach party was outlawed, his views remained and gained popularity. Rather than fight this growing tide of fascism and racism, many Israelis have embraced it, with Ben-Gvir's support increasingly coming from young Israelis.
In the aftermath of this election, critics of Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir have placed blame, of course, on Palestinians, particularly Palestinian citizens of Israel for not running on one unified electoral slate or for not turning out to vote in the same numbers as Jewish Israelis. In short, as in typical "left-wing" fashion in Israel, supposedly liberal Israelis are blaming Palestinians for Israel's embrace of Kahanism, rather than blaming themselves. Underlying this sentiment is a perverse theory that Palestinians—those who will suffer most from an Israel governed by the likes of Netanyahu and Ben-Gvir—are the ones obligated to stop them.
To be clear, whether Israel has been led by the right or the so-called left, Palestinians have lived under the same regime: one that supports Jewish supremacy and seeks perpetual control over dispossessed Palestinians. Take the previous composition of the Knesset, which included supposedly left-wing and "anti-Netanyahu" parties. These same parties voted in favor of an endless military occupation, theft of Palestinian land, construction of illegal settlements, bombing of Gaza, destruction of Palestinian homes and inequality for citizens inside Israel. Consider the vote they took in the Knesset this past summer over a law entrenching Israel's apartheid system. The "emergency" regulation extends Israeli law to settlers in the West Bank, establishing two separate legal systems under Israel's occupation—one for Palestinians and one for Israelis. It has been renewed every five years since 1967. This is, in contrast, to the Israeli military law that Palestinians have been subjected to over these same 55 years.
Whether Israel has been led by the right or the so-called left, Palestinians have lived under the same regime: one that supports Jewish supremacy and seeks perpetual control over them.
- Diana Buttu
Last passed in 2017, the law giving Israeli settlers special legal status was set to expire at the end of June—when the so-called left showed its true colors. Rather than vote against the measure, Meretz, the only Israeli political party that has ever formally proclaimed its opposition to the occupation and settlements, voted to support it, under the guise of needing to keep the governing coalition intact. With six seats in the Knesset, Meretz had joined Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett's coalition, returning the party to government for the first time since 2000. "There's no doubt that this continues the status quo," one member of Meretz, Michal Rozin, said in support of the settler law. "But regarding anything with the territories, on the one hand we don't advance diplomatically, and on the other hand we don't advance annexation. What was will be."
In short, Meretz conveniently cast Palestinian freedom aside in order to maintain a coalition government. The same so-called left paved the way for the passage of one of the most racist laws in Israel's history earlier this year by failing to vote against the "family reunification law" that bars Palestinians from the occupied territories who marry Israelis from living with them in Israel or obtaining Israeli citizenship. Meretz lost all its seats in this month's election.
The latest composition of the Knesset, after the fifth Israeli election in four years, is hardly any different. Out of 120 seats, 110 are held by parties that stand in support of Jewish supremacy from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea and Israel's continued apartheid regime. The only 10 members of the Knesset who do not hold these views are representatives on non-Zionist parties, including the only three Arab parties in Israel with seats in parliament.
Herein lies the problem. There is no "left wing" in Israel, and there hasn't been for a while. A disservice is done to Palestinians when Israeli elections are cast as "camps" or as left versus right. In Israel, there is only settler colonialism and the extent to which each citizen either accepts it outright, as Ben-Gvir's far-right supporters have done, or ignores or excuses it, like everyone else.