In my capacity as the Director of B’Tselem’s US Office, I’ve been asked frequently of late about the Israeli elections that are winding down as I write this. In general, B’Tselem stays away from matters of politics. Our credibility is dependent on our being focused on human rights, no matter what the shape of the Israeli, or any other, government may be.
But this time, I could answer honestly: It really doesn’t matter. Historically, Israel’s observance of international legal standards regarding the Palestinians, while having its peaks and valleys, has moved independently of the party or Prime Minister in power. And in this case, none of the candidates has offered any hint that they are different from the others.
The exception is not one of the contenders for Prime Minister, and that is Avigdor Lieberman. And all that signifies is how much of a threat Israeli democracy is really facing.
Settlement expansion, lack of law enforcement on the West Bank, ongoing house demolitions, the effects of the Separation Barrier, the massive proliferation of roadblocks…and many other issues, all of them get the silent treatment from all of the major candidates.
Oh, there are certainly differences in what Bibi Netanyahu, Tzipi Livni and Ehud Barak say in terms of negotiations with the Palestinians. Various people will debate and discuss the sincerity of their statements. But when it comes to ending practices that are unduly burdening millions of innocent Palestinians, that place Israel outside of International Humanitarian Law and contradict Israel’s basic democratic principles, there is not a peep.
The Gaza Strip has become a matter of the past in the context of the election. For all three major candidates, the “Gaza issue” reflects only their actions and positions during the war and with regard to its ending. Beyond a uniform steadfastness not to talk with Hamas, none of the candidates has mentioned what might be done now to address the massive crisis the civilian population of Gaza is suffering. B’Tselem has issued a preliminary report on Gaza, outlining the questions that need to be investigated by Israel. But not a hint of this in the campaign.
The fact that none of the candidates represents a choice on the issue of human rights at least means that the work on that issue goes on as before, whatever the result. But with Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beiteinu party coming
out with the biggest gains in this election, it is clear that Israel’s democratic character is more tenuous and under greater threat than ever before. One can only hope that Israelis and those who care about Israel’s future will recognize the threat and take action.