“A dark day for Israeli democracy”
On Sunday, November 13, during a ceremony in Jerusalem, Israeli President Isaac Herzog handed Binyamin Netanyahu a mandate to form a government coalition. The leader of the right has 28 days to propose a government. After this period, he will have to hand over his mandate to the president. But the task is within his reach, because with the new Knesset formed after the elections of November 1, a majority of 64 deputies out of 120 support the leader of the Likud. Among them, the deputies of the Likud, which maintains as the first force in the Parliament but registers a fall in the number of votes, the deputies of the religious parties Shas and Judaism united of the Torah who have scores higher than what the polls predicted. , and the far-right deputies of the Zionist-religious party which marks a historic breakthrough. For Yair Lapid’s centrist Yesh Atid party, which leads the anti-Netanyahu bloc, “this is a dark day for Israeli democracy, in which the new prime minister may be blackmailed by his partners [de la coalition], whose only common goal is to save him from his trial and turn back time in Israel. »
“Save his trial”, because Benyamin Netanyahu risks prison in several corruption cases. To escape justice, he seeks to stay in power as Prime Minister and pass a law on immunity, known as “French law”, which would prevent the head of government from being the subject of legal proceedings. Escaping justice, at all costs, at the risk of favoring the extreme right formerly banished from Israeli political life. By winning 14 seats, the Jewish supremacist extreme right has established itself, with the support of Netanyahu, as the third force in Parliament with the Zionist-Religious Party. An unprecedented victory. These results mark a new reality, the State of Israel is changing its face, because the far right won three times more votes than the Labor Party, which had founded the country.
This success is the result of a combination of two forces. On the one hand, the leader of the Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish force” in English) party, a politician represented by the heir to the racist Kahanist movement, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Known for his violent provocations, this Jewish supremacist has in the past been the hero of the terrorist Baroukh Goldstein, who murdered twenty-nine Palestinians at the tomb of the Patriarchs of Hebron in 1994. Fervent critic of the Oslo agreements, support for colonization in the Palestinian Territories, he calls for the annexation of the entire West Bank, a territory occupied by Israel since 1967 which is home to 2.9 million Palestinians and 475,000 Jewish settlers. He also called for the expulsion of Arab citizens deemed “disloyal” to Israel, while criticizing the army and police for not using adequate force against the Palestinians. At his side, his ally Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Zionist-Religious Party. More experienced in Israeli political life (former Minister of Transport), he supports a policy of active colonization of the Palestinian Territories, also representing the most radical Israeli settlers, and actively militates against the construction of dwellings without Israeli permits by Palestinians. in Israel and the Occupied Territories. Also known for his anti-Arab statements, he has made homophobic remarks in the past.
For this new government, Itamar Ben-Gvir would demand the Ministry of Internal Security, and Bezalel Smotrich, Defense. The ministerial portfolios will only be announced after the negotiations currently under way, and these may prove to be stormy. But it is already possible to imagine the areas in which the Zionist-Religious Party will seek to influence government policy. The independence of the Israeli judiciary could be reduced because the adoption of the notwithstanding clause – which would give the Knesset the power to override the decisions of the High Court of Justice – will make it possible to circumvent sensitive issues such as the initiative of the far right to enact a regularization law to legalize the status of illegal settler outposts in the West Bank. We can also imagine that each measure for which Netanyahu will receive the support of his far-right partners will have a price, and a large part of the required counterpart will be paid in the Palestinian Territories.
In a small alley in the northern districts of Tel Aviv, around 200 Otzma Yehudit activists await the leader of their party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, in an electric atmosphere. We are one week away from the election. “Jerusalem is ours! the ultra-nationalist slogans fuse in the air. The activists are young, in their early twenties, and they are mostly men. In the crowd, the activists interviewed say they live in the modest neighborhoods of southern Tel Aviv or on the outskirts of the expensive capital. They “fear for their safety”, and want the “protection of their Jewish identity.” Ben-Gvir responds to a desire for firmness on security issues and the protection of supposedly threatened Jewish identity, in a context of fear of downgrading for his electorate. If Itamar Ben-Gvir attracts and fascinates so much, especially among Israeli youth, it is also because his voters see in him a leader who “speaks the truth.” His provocations and simple and shocking formulas attract. But what will happen when Ben-Gvir knows the experience of power with the necessary concessions that accompany it?
In addition to the attraction that this provocative figure exerts around part of Israeli society, the meteoric rise of the far right can be explained by several factors, according to political scientist Samy Cohen, director of research emeritus at CERI (Center for Research Sciences Po) and author in particular of “Israel and its doves. Investigation of the peace camp”: “First, by the action of Binyamin Netanyahu who favored the rise of Itamar Ben-Gvir during the March 2021 elections, by pushing Otzma Yehudit to join to the party of Bezalel Smotrich to ensure that their formation, the Zionist-Religious Party, obtains a maximum of seats and helps it to form a government coalition. It was therefore Benyamin Netanyahu who allowed Itamar Ben-Gvir to enter Parliament as a deputy and gave him an honor he did not have. Then Naftali Bennett, who represents the nationalist and religious right, lost many voters by forming a government coalition in June 2021 with the left and an Arab party. His disappointed electorate turned to the Zionist-Religious Party of Smotrich and Ben-Gvir. And finally, we cannot understand this rise of the extreme right without taking into account the security context. In the spring of 2022, several terrorist attacks took place in Tel Aviv, Hadera, Beer Sheva, causing many deaths. In the West Bank, violence is daily today. And many Israelis still remember the May 2021 riots in mixed Jewish-Arab towns. However, the more the security situation is tense, the more the Israelis turn to the right because according to them, the center and the left are unable to manage this problem effectively”.
The November 1 elections are the fifth election in less than four years. This electoral overdose reveals the dysfunctions of this proportional parliamentary system, which, although solid and meets the demands of the electorate, does not seem adapted to the current state of Israeli society. The bipartisanship (although relative) between the left and the right which punctuated the first decades of political life in the Hebrew state intertwined well with this electoral system. But now, the rise of small parties making kings leads to repeated elections and testifies to the powerful fractures that run through Israeli society around major issues such as the place of religion in society, the Palestinian question or the independence of the justice. As a result, within each block, there are formations that do not necessarily share the same projects or the same values around essential subjects and risk breaking up their block with each difficulty. These repeated polls also testify to Binyamin Netanyhou’s ability to continue to personify political life. The deep divisions divide the country in two between the anti and the pro-Bibi. The leader of the Likud, “King bibi” (nickname given by his supporters), by his person, still rhythms, for this election, the Israeli political life.
On the side of the block united around Yair Lapid, this defeat is a failure, but not as bitter as one might claim. Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid (“there is a future” in French) is progressing with 180,000 votes more than in the previous election in March 2021. But the centrist left with a weak point. Unlike Benyamin Netanyahu, he had to rely on a multitude of small parties to form a coalition. However, one of its allies, Meretz, did not cross the electoral threshold to sit in Parliament. A major failure for the Zionist radical left embodied by this small party, whose ideals have run out of steam over the years.
On the side of the Arab parties, this election was marked by divisions because the four parties presented themselves in dispersed order. Last spring, the Islamist Ra’am party joined the government coalition led by Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett in exchange for increased funding for Arab localities and a tougher fight against insecurity among the Arab sector- Israeli. Participation in a Zionist coalition is the fracture point that punctuates relations between Arab parties today. Because the three other parties, Ta’al and Hadash (which both presented themselves together and entered Parliament) and Balad (which did not pass the electoral threshold), oppose such an alliance.
A government around the right, the extreme right and the religious parties led by Benyamin Netanyahu should soon see the light of day. It certainly seems less heterogeneous than the bloc gathered around Lapid, which brought together formations from the center, the radical right, the left and an Arab party. However, its long-term survival is not assured. The return of a certain political stability will depend on relations between Binyamin Netanyahu and the leaders of the Zionist-religious Party. Bibi, a veritable “political animal”, has a head start on his far-right allies who are less prepared for the exercise of power. But he has to deal with politicians hungry for provocations and fueled by an extreme and dangerous ideology, who can escape his control.
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The return of “King Bibi” and the shadow of the far right
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