Patience and perseverance pay in politics. After a 42-month political pariahdom and indictment for fraud in 2019, Binyamin Netanyahu, aka Bibi, is returning to Israeli politics. Bibi’s comeback marks a new watershed in the topsy-turvy terrain of Israeli politics. Bibi, the leader of the right-wing Likud, may be getting closer to delivering his promise of a stable coalition and a strong government. In a land pockmarked by a series of polls, stability had become a thirst, a rare political feature. The former prime minister of Israel promised political stability and he is back now.
The Three Jewish Supremacists
Bibi could well deliver on his promise of political stability. More than this, the real concern in Israel today is not stability, but keeping the flames of democracy alive and burning. Corruption is no longer an issue now, sustaining liberty and inclusivity, fairness and freedom are. The worries are becoming more pronounced among secular liberalists after Bibi declared he is forming his government with right-wing partners. Neighbours and national governments elsewhere are turning apprehensive.
The apprehension is growing because Bibi has boomed back riding on a high horse of absolute majority, made possible by the resounding win of his Religious Zionism allies. The Zionist group has three ultraright and orthodox religious zealots as its members – the Jewish Power, the National Union and the Noam. These three are Jewish supremacists, notorious for their anti-democratic, anti-Arab and homophobic proclivities. Now, they make up the third largest group with 14 seats in the 120-member Israeli Knesset and the second largest partner in Bibi’s coalition. The Zionist left-wing liberal Meretz is down to zilch and stands wiped out of the Knesset lock, stock and barrel. https://www.middleeasteye.net/news/israel-far-right-religiouszionism-party-new-knesset-members
Underscores the Lurking Fear
Liquidation of Meretz has opened the doors for Bibi’s Likud and his ultra-orthodox allies to form Israel’s right-most, ultra-nationalist and religious-supremacist coalition. Bibi will helm this coalition, which looks misogynistic too, with no more than 11 women in the Knesset and the cabinet put together. There were 30 before. The group’s right leaning was confirmed by Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orban, who was the first to congratulate Bibi. https://www.jpost.com/israelelections/article-721288
Though there could be more logic behind likening Bibi to Orban or Putin, the comparison underscores the lurking fear of Israelis outright. On Bibi’s win, the Hebrew social media oozed with anguish and anxiety, replete with declarations of wanting to quit Israel for good. Memes mocking the Zionist group were going viral. Search results for quit-Israel terms, including foreign passport and relocation, peaked.
The Guiding Light of Bibi
Bibi is unflustered. He plans to shape a future he thinks is right for Israel. With a large Knesset majority, Bibi can now get the crimes against him expunged from the criminal code. The unhesitating Religious Zionism Slate, Bibi’s coalition partners, is sure to lend total support to this move. Expect Bibi to enact a law to deprive the courts of their power to appoint judges. The idea will be to end judicial checks and balances by appropriating the power to appoint judges.
These scenarios are quite probable with Itamar Ben-Gvir backing Bibi. Ben-Gvir is the guiding light of Bibi’s coalition, the leader of the farright Jewish Power Party and the kingmaker. Ben-Gvir has a strong autocratic streak in him. He is an Arabophobe, a Jewish supremacist and a rank racist, rolled into one. Ben-Gvir clamours for deportation of disloyal Israelis. Bezalel Smotrich, the coalition’s other leader, too is a homophobe and an Arabophobe who issues routine calls for isolating Arabs in Israel. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/11/1/far-rightben-gvir-emerge-as-key-player-in-israel-election
Horrific and Lopsided Proposals
Centrist-Liberals in Israel have more reasons to fear Ben-Gvir. He is an ardent admirer of the outlawed terrorist party Kach and its founder Meir Kahane. Ben-Gvir doubles up as an agent provocateur, who loves to fan violence in Palestine and elevate those with a bloody record of Arab butchering to iconism. He is an extremist and not long ago the Israeli army declined to draft him for his terror links. Pining for alliances with like-minded groups, he is adept at roping homophobic and Arabophobic parties in.
Ample reasons why minority liberals in Israel shudder at Ben-Gvir’s rightist proposals. The proposals are horrific enough to include deportation of Israelis failing a loyalty test, lax norms for opening fire and legalised capital punishment for Palestinians, while bestowing immunity on Israelis killing Palestinians. As these proposals are lopsided outright, centrist-liberals fear the Bibi coalition cracking down on Palestinians in Israel. https://www.timesofisrael.com/bengvirs-policy-goals-going-to-extremes-even-europes-far-right-wonttouch/
Selective in Enforcing Law
Events of the past confirm the fears. Arab-Jew riots broke out in May 2021 in the heterogeneous Israeli city of Lod, which spilled over fast into other cities. Ben-Gvir had a role to play in this unrest. Ben-Gvir’s voters cited the riots as the primary reason for backing him. Ben-Gvir gloated over Israeli media reports painting the Arabs as instigators and the Israelis as the instigated-against. A handful of Jews were rounded up by the Israeli police, while truckfuls of Arabs landed behind the bars. Ben-Gvir’s police minions were selective in enforcing law.
As if these biases were not enough, Ben-Gvir and his fellow rightwingers exploited the riots to paint the Palestinians of Israel as the enemy within and thus deserving attack. Ben-Gvir went further ahead and liberalised firearm-licensing norms for Israeli Jews. The overwhelming fear now is this: Ben-Gvir could become the Minister of Public Security with the Israeli police at his beck and call. https://www.timesofisrael.com/netanyahu-says-ben-gvir-could-bepolice-minister-vows-to-neutralize-lebanon-deal/
Children Face Wholesale Punishment
Peace-loving Israeli centrist-liberals are asking today the most pertinent questions. How can Ben-Gvir, who rejoiced over the assassination of the peacenik prime minister Yitzhak Rabin 27 years ago, be trusted with peace in Israel? How can Ben-Gvir, who hailed the murder of Rabin for his peace process leading to the creation of an independent Palestinian state, be expected to uphold the liberal and centrist values in Israel? Bibi and his other allies have no answers.
Compounding the fears of liberals and centrists, Palestinian children too are turning targets for the Israeli police. Many children of liberals have been detained on the pretext of maintaining law and order. Many of those children are beaten and wounded. Alongside, Israeli forces are intensifying night raids in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem. In the name of a crack-down on militant Palestinians, Israeli forces are forcing both adults and children to face wholesale punishment. https://abcnews.go.com/International/wireStory/palestinians-israeliforces-kill-young-woman-raid-93248925
Political Analysts Confounded
Nearly 130 Palestinian minors are behind bars now, suffering physical violence. The United Nations has billed 2022 as the deadliest year for Palestinians. To date, lives of 28 Palestinian minors have been snuffed out and more than 800 hurt in blatant violation of international laws on treatment of minors in detention. As Bibi gets set to take over with his rightwing allies, Palestinian minors have more to fear about. https://www.nbcnews.com/news/world/israel-west-bank-palestiniansdeadliest-year-united-nations-report-rcna54643
Will the Israeli liberals root for a corrupt Bibi now to make him stay away from Ben-Gvir and his religious extremism? Will a Bibi, accused of forgery and fraud, and facing trial now, respond to such an overture? Will backing a law-breaking Bibi put an end to right-wing extremism in Israel? With Ben-Gvir as the inspiration behind the coalition, will the outgoing Yair Lapid’s struggles to keep Bibi and his right-wing allies at bay go in vain? More such questions are keeping political analysts in Israel confounded.
Not difficult to woo Bibi away from Ben-Gvir and his far-right friends. In Israel, so notorious for horse-trades, democracy-loving Knesset men need to extend unwavering support to centrists. This may tempt Bibi to forsake his far-right partners for left-of-centre allies and centrist-liberals. If the democratic Lapid and his liberal supporters opt out of the coalition, the field will be open for Bibi’s far-right friends to consolidate. The choice is thus simple. Either the liberals and the centrists join Bibi’s coalition government, strengthen his hands and lead him away from Ben-Gvir, or stay out and see the far-right steer ahead with Bibi as the puppet prime minister. Hope the liberals and the centrists make the right choice.