The significance of Israeli voters’ shift to the right

Some observers said Netanyahu succeeded in using the “cry wolf” strategy to rally voters, just as he had done in previous elections.
Sunday 14/04/2019
A supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party waves flags as the crowd reacts to exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel April 10, 2019. (Reuters)
A supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud party waves flags as the crowd reacts to exit polls in Israel's parliamentary election at the party headquarters in Tel Aviv, Israel April 10, 2019. (Reuters)

Between the constant and the variable in the results of the Israeli elections and their implications, observers will find that the balance that had governed Israeli politics for decades has shifted in favour of more extreme right-wing elements.

Parliamentary elections in Israel paved the way for Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu to serve for a fifth term after his Likud party formed a coalition with small, right-wing parties to secure a majority in the Knesset.

The Israelis are leaning towards a populist right-wing government that adopts generally extremist rhetoric. With a hard-line programme with promises such as permanently hoisting the Israeli flag on the dome of al-Aqsa Mosque and building a temple in its sanctuary, the Netanyahu bloc successfully wooed voters.

Other indicators point to a different attitude among Israeli citizens towards officials suspected of corruption. Accusations of corruption against Netanyahu and his close associates to end his time as prime minister obviously failed.

This is a change in the mood of Israeli society. Israelis seem to be willing to live with a suspect government if it implements ideas and projects that strengthen Israel’s grip on the ground. This was exactly what Netanyahu had in mind.

Observers expect Netanyahu will not waste much time in getting a law passed that would protect him from continued legal investigations even if more evidence and witnesses come to light. He campaigned hard and fiercely because he realises that being in the political arena and prime minister for 13 years might allow him to obtain immunity from prosecution and give him an advantage over prosecution witnesses — and even over the entire system.

Some observers said Netanyahu succeeded in using the “cry wolf” strategy to rally voters, just as he had done in previous elections. He sounds the alarm about Arab voters taking ballot boxes by storm to elect a leftist prime minister who would trade off the rights of Israelis for Palestinian rights.

What the election results revealed also was the continuing meltdown of the Israeli left. The Israeli Labour Party and the Meretz party finished with humiliating results — six seats in the Knesset for the former and four for the latter. Labour was the ruling party in Israel until the coming of Menachem Begin as the first right-wing prime minister in 1977. Through the 1980s and 1990s, power switched between the left and the right.

Gamal al-Refa’i, professor of Zionist thought at Ain Shams University in Cairo, said Israel is witnessing a marked increase in the strength of the right-wingers, especially religious ones, which signals further extremism in society and political trends and, consequently, implies the impossibility of arriving at fair solutions in the region.

Refa’i pointed out the developments are related to security because every time security conditions deteriorated, the leftist camp in Israel became stronger since it was the most likely to go for a comprehensive peace treaty that could provide stability. However, while security exists on the ground, there is no need for the left, according to the logic of the Israeli street.

The right can exploit the absence of the Palestinian and Arab camp due to other priorities to reap more political gains and expand territorially.

The waning of Arab voices in the Knesset is the natural and predictable result of the failure of the 1948 Arabs to stop the racist Israeli nationality law or any of Israel’s other expansionist settlement moves in Jerusalem, as well as their failure to obtain equal rights and budgets.

This was translated in a call for an election boycott and a split of votes between two lists that succeeded by a narrow margin, rather than reach the 24 seats in the Knesset in proportion to the population and the right to vote.

The dramatic decline of the third most powerful party in Israel in the previous elections shocked many Arab analysts, especially since no rival bloc has coordinated with the Arab parties.

There has been no project for a possible coalition that would benefit from support of Arab voters. Haaretz newspaper attributed the fear of reaching towards Arab voters to Netanyahu’s fiery anti-Arab incitements in the 2015 elections and the sense of exclusion and despair that has gripped a large segment of the 1948 Palestinians who have the right to vote.

The calls for boycott greatly affected voter turnout and results. It would have been more efficient to have had a total boycott of the elections or at least a united list but that did not happen.

Despite the Likud’s decisive victory, the growing strength of the ultra-Orthodox parties will permit more blackmail and the possibility of having power shift at any time to Netanyahu’s rival camp.

The chances of the new government’s downfall are there right from the start, on the backdrop of divergent views regarding the military draft law or authorising religious authorities and religious courts to conclude marriages and divorces and many other controversial issues that relate only to the opinions of the rabbis and not to a fixed election programme.

All these considerations impose new parameters that will make negotiations with any Israeli government contingent on the ideas and opinions of a faction of the religious camp, which is competing with a rival current at the expense of vital Arab interests that focus and depend on negotiating with secularists. Given the rising birth rate among the religious camp in Israel, one should expect a similar increase in the religious Knesset members in the future.

12