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Low Expectations; High Stakes

i24news.tv

On November first, the citizens of Israel will go to the polls to choose their members of the Knesset, and by extension the next government. The expectations are low, and turn out not expected to be high, because these will be the fifth such elections in the country in less than four years. The previous four cycles of elections produced no clear winner, but two so-called unity governments that didn’t last long. Expectations are low, as well, since all the polls—which were pretty accurate last time—predict a stalemate again.

But the stakes are high, and not due to any external enemies of the state, even taking into considerations Hamas in the south, Hezbollah in the north, and Iran in the east. It looks now as if Israel was successful (I thought they would be)—together with Iran’s leadership, one must admit—in curtailing the chances, limited as they were, of achieving a nuclear agreement. Not that I see Iran’s nuclear threat as an existential threat to the state of Israel. Rather, it helps all its governments to deflect other issues and pressures, mainly the need to solve, once and for all, the conflict with the Palestinians.

As long as we’re at it, a word about it. To his credit, the caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid, who’s doing a relatively good job in his limited time in power, had mentioned recently in the General Assembly of the United Nations the need to solve the conflict on the basis of the old two-state solution idea. That statement created a short-lived firestorm back home in Israel, and favorable responses here in America. A major new candidate for the next Knesset, an admired former IDF chief of staff,  Gadi Eisenkot, who joined Benny Gantz’s party, had also voiced the need to solve the Palestinian conflict along the lines of the two-state solution. However, there’s no chance of it becoming a reality any time soon, if ever. I don’t see it being much discussed, even, in the next government and Knesset.

For that matter too, it’s worth mentioning here that what currently is happening in East Jerusalem and the West Bank, is akin to a low-simmering, semi-Intifada. On the one hand, young Palestinians, desperate of the oppression of the occupying Israeli army on the one hand, and the useless corrupt leadership of the Palestinian Authority on the other, are determined to resist and inflict some suicidal pain on the Israelis. Who, in turn, seem determined to kill as many young—and not so young—Palestinians as possible, daily and persistently, almost as if Israel has decided that this is the best way for it to eliminate, eventually, the Palestinian problem.

Of course, it will not. This brings me back to the ‘high stakes’ of the headline. Unfortunately, the high stakes have nothing to do with the possibility of solving the Palestinian conflict, or with any other threat facing Israel externally. But it is all internal. It is the threat to Israel as a democratic state. While it being a Jewish state is not, currently under threat; the Jewishness of its character, though, may overrun its democratic character and values. The chief instigator of this threat is none other than Benjamin Netanyahu. Yes, he, the longest serving Israeli Prime Minister, twelve years and counting, before this latest, short-lived attempt at a unity government. Since he, sometimes only his lawyers, appears almost daily in a Jerusalem court, fighting his indictment on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust, determined to return to power and, Trump-like, put an end to the Israeli judiciary system and democracy as we know it.

It is not surprising to learn, therefore, that way back during the Obama administration, it had come to light lately that former president Obama characterized Netanyahu as an Orban-like leader. (See under Hungary.) And while right now, as mentioned above, the polls are indicating that no candidate will be able to form the next government, two things are still working in Netanyahu’s favor. One, his Likud party no doubt would come on top, as the largest party in the Knesset, based mainly on Netanyahu’s traditional stronghold on the large Mizrachi, Sephardic population of Israel, with other elements of society—American immigrants, Russians immigrants—helping his cause. But mostly, his chances are improving due to the emergence of a new party, and a new force in this elections cycle: Itamar Ben Gvir.

A far-right religious zealot, Ben Gvir is a disciple of “rabbi and former MK Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned and declared a terror group in both Israel and America,” (TOI). He previously was convicted on terror charges, and like his ‘prophet’ had espoused the idea of expelling all Arabs from the land of Israel. Though he’s now backtracking on that notion I, for one, do not believe him. Together with another extremist, Bezalel Smotrich’s, their Religious Zionist Party is projected now to be the third largest party in the next Knesset. This means that in order to form the new government, it would not only be Netanyahu’s natural partner—its anti-democratic tendencies align squarely with Netanyahu—but an absolute necessity for Netanyahu in order to form the next government.

No wonder some high-ranking US politicians—Senator Robert Menendez, chair of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, and California Congressman Brad Sherman—issued strong warnings already to Netanyahu regarding such an alliance with those far-right extremists, and the damage it may inflict on the US-Israel relationship. So that you’ll understand clearly what we’re talking about here, the favorite chant of their supporters is “death to the Arabs.” Such a probable outcome would not only endanger the Israeli democracy, as envisioned by Herzl and put into practice by Ben-Gurion and other leaders and generations, but would shred whatever credit Israel still possesses in terms of human rights, and regard to it as a peace-seeking nation around the world. It will undoubtedly add fuel to the fire of anti-Semitic rhetoric and threat, and thus, I’m sorry to say, endanger the lives of Jews worldwide, not the least here in America.

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