I use the term “post-mortem” deliberately, because the results of Israel’s election have been a sort of death for many Diaspora Jews and even Israelis who hoped finally to be rid of Bibi Netanyahu. There is a sense that Bibi, with his last minute racist pyrotechnics in effect stole the election, or at least manipulated it in a way that was truly horrifying. He invoked IDF Order 8, under which Israelis are mobilized to fight wars, in likening this election to a Israeli Jewish jihad against “Arabs” and “leftists.” In effect, Order 8 was like a dog whistle or Pavlov’s bell, summoning the masses to feed at the trough of hate.
In shreying about the Arab masses running to polling places and foreign governments funneling shovels-full of cash to topple him, he appealed to the worst devils of Israel’s nature, to turn Lincoln’s quotation on his head.
The results cannot but worsen the growing rancidness of the Likud vision of contemporary Israel in the noses of many Israelis, Diaspora Jews and the world at large. There is a growing sense that Israel cannot get itself out of the mess it’s in. The only way to do this is by beginning a process of gradual outside intervention. One way for this to commence is for the Obama administration to re-evaluate its relations with Netanyahu’s government (but not with Israel). A carefully calibrated set of UN Security Council resolutions that ratchet up pressure could pressure Israel internally into a process of soul-searching about its future.
Major media outlets have bruited the possibility of the U.S. either supporting or refusing to veto a UN statehood resolution. We could also support a resolution we opposed only recently, to condemn Israeli settlements in Palestine. All we would have to do is whisper that we no longer look unfavorably on referring Israel to the ICC on a number of potential counts. Not to mention, the expected Iran nuclear deal. If there is such a deal and it is presented to the American public successfully, Obama will have another arrow in his quiver to use against Bibi.
How this process goes is dependent on Barack Obama. For six years, he’s done nothing useful regarding Israel because he wasn’t willing to go to the mat for what was right. But now, Netanyahu has smeared his face in dogs(&t after the Congressional speech and the robo-calls warning that “Hussein Obama” would force Israel to capitulate to its enemies. The question is: is Obama riled enough to give Netanyahu the full treatment?
Today’s “congratulatory” phone call (which was more of a spanking) from Obama to Netanyahu bodes well in beginning this process of “reassessment:”
According to a senior White House official, Obama told Netanyahu that the U.S. will need to reassess its options regarding the Israeli-Palestinian peace process in light of the prime minister’s new position rejecting Palestinian statehood.
Such terminology is usually a code-word for: we’re rethinking, as the lyrics of a country song might say, everything we once held as true regarding you. This coincides with such a process:
On Thursday, the Obama White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, hinted at the practical implications of the current U.S.-Israel crises, making it clear that the U.S. will reassess the diplomatic support it gives to Israel. “Steps that the United States has taken at the United Nations had been predicated on this idea that the two-state solution is the best outcome,” said Earnest. “Now our ally…has said that they are no longer committed to that solution. That means we need to reevaluate our position in this matter, and that is what we will do moving forward.”
So far, as Bibi’s tried to backtrack from his rejection of the two-state solution the day before the election to his interview yesterday with NPR in which he pretended to re-endorse the concept (with significant caveats), Obama hasn’t bitten. He’s made clear that given the choice between Bibi, the pre-election rejectionist and Bibi, the post-election [re] convert, they choose pre-Bibi. This entire charade reminds me of the charge against John Kerry in 2004: that he was for the Iraq war before he opposed it–or was it the other way around?
The difference is: everyone knows who Bibi is and where he really stands on the issue. He’s ag’in it. Obama too knows who this guy is. But is he willing to go head to head against him? Is he willing to bring him down?
As the President contemplates these questions, he should consider Shibley Telhami’s Brookings poll of U.S. public opinion from December 2014. Then, 39% of Americans said they favored a two-state solution and a shocking 34% said they favored a one-state solution. In addition, 71% said that if Israel had to make a choice between its Jewishness and its democratic principles, they preferred democracy. This will only continue on an arc trending toward BDS, toward one-state, and toward an insistence on democracy over Jewish supremacy. There must be a collision between Israel’s conception of its future and the world’s and Israel must be brought to its senses before it’s too late.
Let’s correct a few misconception about election coverage: the media is hailing this as a great Netanyahu victory. It isn’t. He didn’t, as Barack Obama did in 2008, draws masses of votes from centrist Americans, independents and even Republicans, to signal a great mandate for change (largely squandered, but that’s another story). What Netanyahu did was rearrange the deck chairs on the Israeli election cruise ship. There was no massive switch from left or center to right among the voters. The ideological divide remains as strong as ever. Israel is about one-third right-wing nationalist; one-third secular liberal; and the rest a combination of Orthodox, Palestinian, and left-wing. And that hasn’t changed. Because no party or candidate has come along to persuade people, as Obama did, to nudge their principles in one direction or another.
Here is what Netanyahu did do: he cried out to that 30% of Israel’s right-wing voters to save him from disaster–and they did. He commanded them to return from the other right-wing parties with which they were flirting (mainly Bayit Yehudi and Yisrael Beitenu) and return home to Likud. And they did. Bayit Yehudi sunk from 12 seats in the most recent Knesset to 8 in the upcoming one. Yisrael Beitenu sank from 15 seats two elections ago, to 11 seats in the last election, to 6 seats in the coming Knesset. Likud won 20 seats in the last election and will have 30 in the coming Knesset. Essentially, those two parties lost those nine seats to the Likud.
Speaking of Bibi as Magician in the accompanying Biderman cartoon, a good Israeli friend of this blog likens Bibi to the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz:
“Making believe!” cried Dorothy. “Are you not a Great Wizard?”
“Hush, my dear,” he said. “Don’t speak so loud, or you will be overheard–and I should be ruined. I’m supposed to be a Great Wizard.”
“And aren’t you?” she asked.
“Not a bit of it, my dear; I’m just a common man.”
“You’re more than that,” said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; “you’re a humbug.”
“Exactly so!” declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. “I am a humbug.”
…”Doesn’t anyone else know you’re a humbug?” asked Dorothy.
“No one knows it but you four–and myself,” replied Oz. “I have fooled everyone so long that I thought I should never be found out. It was a great mistake my ever letting you into the Throne Room. Usually I will not see even my subjects, and so they believe I am something terrible.”
Returning to the election, the results hold true as well for the center-left coalition, the Zionist Camp, for which liberals the world over held out so much hope. In the past Knesset, Labor had 19 seats and Livni’s Ha’Tenuah held 6. In the next Knesset, the combined Zionist Camp will hold 24 seats. That’s actually a net loss for them of one seat.
The other major loser was Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, which went from 19 seats in the past Knesset to 11 in the upcoming one. Many of those lost seats went to the new Flavor of the Month, Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu Party.
That’s why I alluded above to Bibi rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic. He will move from a governing coalition consisting of far-right nationalists and center-right “moderates” to one shorn of virtually all the moderates (Lapid and Livni’s parties will be gone). Instead, he will probably have to turn to the religious parties like Shas or United Torah Judaism, whom he spurned in the last coalition. What’s the difference?
The other option is a “national unity” government as advocated strongly by President Rivlin. This would be an abomination and betray the votes of both those on the left and right who supported their parties based on the ideological platforms. But as we know from the past, Israel politicians barter their principles as often as they trade stocks on the Tel Aviv stock exchange.
Finally, and in league with what I wrote above: those who put their faith in Israeli electoral politics to bring the changes needed in Israeli society and its foreign policy are deluding themselves. Even had the Zionist Camp won, there would’ve been little real change inside Israel: possibly some new economic reforms and a few bones thrown to the moderate left and maybe even some to Israeli Palestinians. There’d be a few less evictions from Bedouin villages in the Negev, a few less illegal settlements (perhaps), maybe a shorter war with Hamas or Hezbollah than under Bibi. But the changes would’ve been nibbling around the edges of the real problems. A centrist government would’ve been no more able to sign a peace deal with the Palestinians than Bibi has been. And it would have little interest in making the fundamental changes needed to transform Israel into a truly democratic society. Changes which will be necessary to ensure its long-term survival as a democratic state.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.