Israel is due to hold a general election on April 9th, and polls are indicating that there might be a chance that Bibi Netanyahu and the Likud will not be forming the next government. I’ll probably be annoying a few readers by saying that it’s high time that Israel saw a change of government from the right-wing groups that have been running the country for more than a decade. For the first time in ages it looks as if a new centrist concatenation of politicians and former military commanders has a chance of unseating the cabal that has been running the country for far too long. Other polls show that this optimistic view may have been unfounded, however. We’ll have to wait until the actual election day (or night) to find out.
Each day fresh opinion polls upset the apple-cart, giving us new figures and ratios over which to puzzle out what any future coalition might look like. Over forty parties have registered to stand for election, and Israel’s proportional representation system of elections means that however the Knesset is formed it will always be necessary to set up combinations of parties in order to be able to gain a majority in the House. This means that all manner of fringe groups will be able to serve in the government, demanding positions of power involving budgets, appointments and various favours. This has created the stranglehold that the ultra-orthodox have managed to obtain in their alliance with the Likud, leading to the severe misallocation of funds, neglect of the national health system and the unequal burden of taxation and military service that is rampant in Israel today.
Bibi is under threat of legal proceedings for bribery and corruption and, like a cornered animal, he retaliates by lashing out at anyone and everyone he considers a threat to his continued control of power. So he has attacked the Attorney-General, the media, and above all the only party, the newly-formed ‘Blue and White,’ that seems to stand a chance of toppling him. Anyone holding views which in any normal country would be considered a legitimate political stance, namely, being on the left, is maligned by Bibi and his followers as a traitor. The people at the head of Blue and White are condemned on those grounds as well as being accused of having the nefarious intent of ‘overthrowing the government.’ But what could be more legitimate than having that as their aim?
Then, of course, there are the Arabs. They make up over twenty-percent of Israel’s population, are represented in the Knesset and have the right to vote. In the last general election Bibi wielded their perfectly legitimate participation in the election as a threat to Israel’s democracy, using it as his trump card in getting Likud voters to go and vote. This time, too, he is using the Arab vote as a weapon with which to threaten Israel’s electorate. What Bibi’s intentions are with regard to the Arab population, both within Israel and in the Territories, are unclear, though the fact that he has allied the Likud with the extremist ‘Power to Israel’ party of followers of Meir Kahane, who advocated the forcible expulsion of the Arabs, does not bode well for Israel’s democratic tradition.
The Labour party, which once dominated the elections, has been steadily losing support to Likud and today is expected to barely scrape into the Knesset. Although its aims and message have remained unchanged, and its candidates are experienced and accomplished parliamentarians, the fact that it does not have a charismatic leader means that it is unable to attract votes as it once did. This is a tragedy for those of us who still believe in its ideals and remember the seminal role it played in establishing the State of Israel and creating its democratic institutions. The seductive tones of right-wing rhetoric seem to have drowned out what I believe to be the voice of reason.