UPDATE: Latest exit polls show resounding victory for Netanyahu’s far-right coalition: aywhere from 61 to 62 seats. He will form the most extremist government in Israeli history. This means that his most violent allies, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir will demand ministerial posts. They will be angling for security portfolios which will enable them to expand settlements, theft of Palestinian land, and use an iron fist in dealing with any unrest in Palestinian communities. The result also constitutes a blow to what little remains of the Israeli left, and even of the center.
One of the most shocking results, aside from the huge increase in seats by the most extremist Jewish party, is the decline in the Palestinian parties. When they ran as the Joint List in 2020 they won the largest number of seats (15) ever for the Palestinian vote. However, they could not agree on how to form their candidate list and ran separately. The result, four seats, has been disastrous and is a significant part of the reason for the defeat of the current centrist government coalition.
The only faintly positive thing that can be said is that Netanyahu will have a very slim majority of one to two seats. This means that if any MK deserts him for whatever reason, his government would fall. However, Bibi has been exceedingly successful at keeping his members in line, and this appears somewhat unlikely.
Another perverse positive outcome is that the triumph of Judeo-fascist further discredits this toxic regime and hastens the day the world will wake up and force a transformation. Judeo-fascism will fall. The only question is if it will take years or decades.
A Netanyahu victory also will further erode Israel’s stature within American society. Anyone who previously viewed it as a liberal democratic state will no longer be able to hold such an illusion. It should embolden Democrats who have been critical of Israel’s policies. We should see figures like Bernie Sanders, Ilan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib take even stronger positions opposing US aid to Israel (for example) than they have heretofore. I doubt we will be hearing Pres. Biden waxing rhapsodic about relations with Israel as he has recently.
This will, unfortunately, not change the position of the Israel Lobby. It will be even more desperate to maintain what support Americans offer to Israel. It will be sailing into the wind, and they will blow strongly against them.
Israeli opinion polls conducted this week in the run-up to the November 1st election give former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu an excellent chance to win. The most recent survey on October 25th shows him one seat shy of a 61-vote majority. Reaching this threshold would give him an unprecedented sixth term in the country’s top job. He already has been prime minister longer than any previous Israeli leader.
Haaretz features comprehensive coverage of the election here. But at the time I’m publishing this (10pm Israel), there are no definitive vote tallies available. Results will become clearer about four hours after polls close.
That being said, there are alarming trends pointing to a defeat of the ruling center-right (Anyone But Bibi) coalition. As Haaretz reports:
It’s hard to overstate the sense of doom hanging over the center-left camp on the eve of the election. The recent week, accompanied by a wave of security-related incidents, has bolstered the positive momentum of the Netanyahu bloc which before our eyes is rapidly and alarmingly turning into the Ben-Gvir bloc.
…The simple truth is that nothing good is looming over us.
So far, the one likely piece of news is that the ’48 Palestinian parties are not faring well. Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising considering the racism prevalent in Israeli society. Including the regular arrest of Palestinian MKs and slurs calling them “traitors,” etc. Further, a Palestinian attack two days ago which killed a settler along with subsequent calls for vengeance against “Arabs,” may have discouraged voters from going to the polls. The Likud has also engaged in dirty tricks by directly its supporters to film at Palestinian polling places. This further intimidates voters and suppresses turnout.
While turnout among Palestinians at the same level as the last election, the turnout in the Jewish population is more than 5% higher. This means that at least one of the four parties in the Joint List (Balad) likely will not pass the threshold and may not have any seats in the next Knesset. As Balad is the most nationalist and supportive of a one-state solution among these parties, this bodes poorly for representation of its point of view. Further, decline in the Palestinian vote makes it easier for the far-right parties to increase their number of seats, adding to the likelihood of a far-right/Netanyahu victory.
This will also be the fifth national election in the past three years. In none of them, did voters give either the far-right or center-right parties a clear majority. As a result, the country has been in a state of limbo during this entire period. It resulted in a stymied Knesset which cannot pass any substantive legislation on any major issue, for fear of angering one party or another in the teetering coalition.
To win, Netanyahu needs to cobble together a far-right coalition of parties which runs the gamut from nationalist extremists to the ultra-Orthodox. Meanwhile, the current center-right, “Anyone but Bibi” government limps along without any clear direction. Its term in office has offered nothing of any substance. Stasis has been the only constant. As a result, polls show it winning only 54 seats, well short of what is needed to form a government.
Even if this coalition were able to cobble together enough votes to win a majority, it would offer no substantive changes from the Likud camp. In fact, the past eight months during which the center-right ruled, has marked over 100 Palestinians murdered by security forces. In fact, with nightly raids, hundreds of arrests (including children), and victims murdered every night, the West Bank is a simmering cauldron waiting to explode.
The biggest surprise of this election cycle has been the rocketing rise in popularity of the right-wing firebrand, Itamar Ben Gvir. Israelis are tired of political stagnation. Like voters in Italy and the UK, they are frustrated by the squabbling among politicians. Instead, they are turning to a fierce authoritarian leader who offers the promise of knowing how to deal with the nation’s problems, especially the Palestinians. He and his far right allies may double their representation in the current Knesset and gain 14 seats.
He began his political career as a devout disciple of Rabbi Meir Kahane, the ideological father of today’s ultra-right movement. The former is a scrappy lawyer and provocateur, who made his name defending Israeli settlers accused of terror attacks on Palestinians. He has been called a Nazi and compared to them, a designation he detests.. Now, polls predict his Jewish Power party (in English it goes by the tamer name, Religious Zionism) will become the third largest party in the Knesset.
Ben Gvir is an Orthodox Jew and ardent supporter of the colonial settlement enterprise. He is the most violent of all Israeli politicians. Some have likened his militant followers to the Nazi Brownshirts. He regularly brandishes his pistol in confrontations with Palestinians and advocates the destruction of Haram al-Sharif and the rebuilding of the Third Temple. He and his followers believe there must be a climactic battle between Jews and Muslims. in which Islamic sites and Islam itself will be eradicated from Israel.
He favors the murder of Palestinians, even for the crime of rock-throwing. One of his closest followers who turned against him, said his disciples carried out some of the most deadly terror attacks on Palestinians, including the arson attack on the Dawashe family. It killed the parents and their little baby, leaving their young child an orphan. The ex-follower accused him of inciting the attacks themselves. When she went to the police to report this, they said they could do nothing because of his political status.
If Ben Gvir gives Netanyahu the seats he needs to form the next government, the former will wield enormous power in determining Israel’s future. During the ex-prime minister’s last 15 years in power, he consistently weakened the judiciary, civil society and press, because they stood in the way of his ultra-nationalist political program. With Ben Gvir now pressuring him from the right, Netanyahu can hollow out these checks on his power and turn Israel into a fascist state.
Not to mention, that Netanyahu’s stalled trial on four corruption charges will likely be canceled by a proposed new law permitting Netanyahu to skate free. Further strengthening the impressions of Israel as a state in which the wealthy, well-connected and powerful can fix the system to their advantage. Israel is a corrupt state and about to become even moreso.
Haaretz offers its own depressing post-mortem predicting the triumph of the fascist state:
Large portions of the Jewish public are unashamedly embracing Kahanism, the open and latent one, affirming the dismantling of the foundations of the rule of law, the entrenching of Jewish supremacy at the expense of trampling democratic values, the imposition of apartheid within Israel and the criminalization of Arab political representatives.
…The left’s sadness, deep and dense, now being felt more intensely…derives from a deep knowledge that is shared by Ben-Gvir and Smotrich. Demography has decided the fate of this place, and if it hasn’t done so quite yet, it will in the near future.
Israeli foreign policy under Netanyahu
Netanyahu considers himself the consummate promoter of Israel abroad. Wherever he goes he makes sure weapons sales follow, along with sales of Israeli spyware. One of those clients was Saudi Arabia. Media reports suggest that NSO Group’s Pegasus hacking tool played a key role in monitoring Jamal Khashoggi’s movements up until he entered the Saudi embassy, just before he was murdered.
The rallying cry of past Netanyahu governments has been a crusade against Iran. During his terms, Israel began sabotaging its nuclear facilities, blowing up its missile bases, and murdering its nuclear scientists.
He also engineered the Abraham Accords, which cemented the alliance between Israel and the Gulf States. Though the Accords have been portrayed as a milestone in Israel-Arab relations, it’s more apt to call them an alliance of convenience against Iran and a boon for businessmen and Israeli weapons merchants seeking new markets.
Another element of past Netanyahu governments has been a bromance with Vladimir Putin. The Israeli leader has often expressed admiration for the Russian. He has also been remarkably silent about the Russian invasion of Ukraine, which isn’t surprising considering how intimate they’ve been for years.
Netanyahu has had a notoriously prickly relationship with several Democratic presidents, including Barack Obama and Joe Biden. While he enjoyed close ties with former-Pres. Donald Trump, who moved the US embassy to Jerusalem; ended US funding for the UN refugee NGO, UNWRA; canceled funding for the Palestinian Authority; and closed the Palestinian mission in Washington. If he returns to power, he will be persona non grata during Biden’s term.
That suits Israel just fine since it preserves the status quo, characterized by frigid relations with the PA, refusal of negotiations, and continuing settlement-building and theft of Palestinian lands, including in Al Quds.
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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.