No Good Choices In Israel’s Election

With elections in Israel looming in six weeks, Israelis are watching Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who is expected to announce his decision on whether he is

Benny Gantz

going to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust. Similar—and less serious—charges brought down Netanyahu’s predecessor, Ehud Olmert, from the prime minister’s perch and landed him in jail. But Netanyahu’s situation is different, and he will likely continue to lead Likud into this election. Despite his legal troubles and his trailing in the polls, Netanyahu remains the favorite in this race because the math continues to work in his favor.

That’s why, earlier this week, the co-leader of the newly formed Blue and White coalition, Yair Lapid, announced that if his party won the election, its first call would be to the head of Likud, as long as it isn’t Netanyahu. If this new “coalition of the generals”—of its four leading candidates, three are former chiefs of staff of the Israel Defense Forces—does win a plurality of seats in the next Knesset, as it is currently on pace to do, it will not be able to form a government without Likud. Read more at LobeLog

Policing Democrats For Israel

On Wednesday, after days of cajoling and political arm-twisting from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the Jewish Home party agreed to enter into coalition with an extremist party, Otzma Yehudit, or “Jewish Power.” As the name implies, Otzma Yehudit is an explicitly racist party, comfortably akin to the Ku Klux Klan in the United States. It is led by former members of Kach, the party founded by avowed racist Meir Kahane that the Knesset banned in 1988.

The open embrace of such a blatantly racist party elicited anger and dismay from a wide range of Israelis and their supporters, while critics noted that this was the logical result of Israel’s years of rightward drift and Netanyahu’s open embrace in recent years of authoritarians and authoritarianism. That increasing authoritarianism is certainly a major factor in Israel’s severely diminished standing in the United States among liberals, progressives, younger voters, and, crucially, Democrats.

The growing debate among Democrats has been an increasingly hot topic since the 2016 presidential election. It presents a particular problem for Democratic leaders who identify closely with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and similar groups that work to pressure elected officials to support Israeli policies. The decline in Israel’s appeal to Democrats is directly related to the wider awareness of the country’s increasingly authoritarian nature, its treatment of Palestinians, and its reluctance to take substantive steps toward peace. Pro-Israel liberals face a fundamental paradox trying to reconcile Israel’s illiberalism with their political values.

Republicans have a simpler task. There is much less sympathy for things like human rights, international law, and for Arabs in general among their voters. Lobbying and campaign financing are not as crucial for Republicans to secure lock-step support of Israel, as that support is there based on their faith, their view of security, and their view of race and culture.

On the Democratic side, the effort to secure unconditional support for Israel depends much more on spin, marketing, and money. That is the basis on which a new pro-Israel group, the so-called Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI), operates. Read more at LobeLog

Drama Starts Early In Israeli Elections

Israeli elections always feature a lot of political drama. But when the Knesset was dissolved on December 24, it set off a flurry of action that was furious even by Israeli standards. The drama is likely to increase between now and election day on April 9 even though the winner is almost certainly a foregone conclusion.

Soon after the new elections were announced, political bombshells went off in parties on the right and in the center. It started with Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked bolting their party, HaBayit HaYehudi (The Jewish Home). Soon after, the head of the Labor party, Avi Gabbay, publicly humiliated former foreign minister Tzipi Livni, thereby eliminating the Zionist Union coalition his party had formed with Livni’s Hatnuah party.

From the point of view of all Israeli politicians—except Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—this election is really about positioning for the next one. Netanyahu is going to win, but it’s very likely to be his final term as prime minister. A fight is now taking place over the succession, amid the ongoing collapse of the center and center-left of Israeli politics. Read more at LobeLog

 

Nine Thoughts On The Latest Gaza Flare-Up

Now that the latest flare-up of fighting between Israel and Gaza has subsided, at least for the moment, here are nine thoughts on the clash, the outcomes, and the implications.

  1. Although the timing is suspicious, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu probably did not launch an operation in Gaza to forestall a developing accommodation with Hamas. The Israeli incursion that sparked the latest conflagration in Gaza was of a kind that Israel carries out on a routine basis. It was, from all appearances, a routine intelligence operation gone awry. Gaza has been a steady source of political losses for Netanyahu, this time as well. His willingness to consent to Qatari cash coming into the Strip was unpopular in Israel, as was his quick agreement to a ceasefire. There was no good reason for Netanyahu to have intentionally gone down this path. Read more at LobeLog

New Poll Offers False Hope in Israeli Elections

Many people in the United States are keeping a close eye on the Israeli elections, due to take place on March 17. The Herzoglatest, and last, poll by the Knesset Channel in Israel came out yesterday, and it may open a lot of eyes.

The poll shows the Zionist Camp coalition—Isaac Herzog’s Labor Party and Tzipi Livni’s Hatnuah— garnering 24 seats, while Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud party come in second at 21. The report inHa’aretz analyzes those numbers even further to show that 56 elected Knesset members would likely recommend Herzog to form the next government, while Netanyahu would have the backing of 55. Read more at LobeLog

Livni Joining With Labor: Not A Game-Changer

The media in Israel is abuzz with the news that Tzipi Livni will bring her Ha’Tnuah party into a joint ticket with the 675px-Kalpi_israel_18much larger Labor party. Now there is a tandem that can outpoll Likud, they are saying. The Israeli center just might be able to assert itself in this election.

Permit me to throw some cold water on this excitement. Livni, who has been the lone voice in the current government who has actively supported talks with the Palestinians, is doing this because if she doesn’t, there is a very strong possibility that her party will not get enough votes to remain in the Knesset. Labor leader Isaac Herzog, who has very little international experience, ran for the party leadership based on his commitment to resolving the long-standing conflict with the Palestinians. As the prospective Number Two, Livni gives Herzog some credibility in this regard. Read more at LobeLog

Nationalist Extremism: The Real Threat to Israel

An edited version of this article appeared first at LobeLog.

They were dueling op-eds, one in the New York Times and the other in the Jewish communal magazine, Tablet. The question being

Nationalistic signs at Salute to Israel Day in New York, July 2006 Photo by Rabih/Public Domain

Nationalistic signs at Salute to Israel Day in New York, July 2006
Photo by Rabih/Public Domain

bandied between them was whether Israel is becoming a theocracy. Not surprisingly, both pieces missed the mark. It’s not theocracy but unbridled nationalism that is the threat in Israel.

The Times piece was authored by Abbas Milani, who heads the Iranian Studies program at Stanford University and Israel Waismel-Manor, a lecturer at Haifa University who is currently a visiting associate professor of Political Science at Stanford. Their thesis is that Iran and Israel are moving in opposite directions on a democratic-theocratic scale, and that they might at some point in the future pass each other. Milani and Waismel-Manor are certainly correct about the strengthening forces of secularism and democracy in Iran, along with a good dose of disillusionment and frustration with the revolutionary, Islamic government that Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini ushered in thirty-five years ago. But on Israel, they miss the mark by a pretty wide margin.

Waismel-Manor and MIlani posit that the thirty seats currently held in Israel’s Knesset by religious parties shows growing religious influence on Israeli policies. But, as Yair Rosenberg at Tablet correctly points out, not all the religious parties have the same attitude about separation of religion and the state. Where Rosenberg, unsurprisingly, goes way off course is his complete eliding of the fact that the threat is not Israel’s tilt toward religion, but it’s increasingly radical shift toward right-wing policies, which are often severely discriminatory and militant. Continue reading