The triumph of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his far-right allies threatens dramatic changes that will lead to measures that have been held back by the judiciary until now. Voters chose a number of representatives of extremist settler gangs. Itamar Ben Gvir, the extremist who in 1995 showed journalists and the public a trophy piece of Premier Yitzhak Rabin’s car and said, “We got to his car, we will get to him, too,” is more sophisticated today. He is the avowed leader of discriminatory racism, a faithful follower of the doctrine of the racist Rabbi Kahane.
In 1984, the latter came to the Knesset; at that time, Likud members walked out of the plenary session in protest when he spoke. Today, Ben Gvir is perhaps a key politician for understanding what is happening in Israel. In Sweden or Italy, the heirs of old fascism are perhaps only “moderates” compared to the extreme right accompanying Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu’s return to government.
Professor Yeshayau Leibovitz, a well-respected Jewish cleric whose views have been much discussed, warned shortly after the Six Day War that it would result in a state of “secret agents and Nazi-Jewish elements.” Now, no less than 55 years of ruthless domination of millions of Palestinians have come to their logical conclusion. More than 400,000 Israeli settlers are part of the reality Palestinians face: land expropriation and the construction of new settlements are the daily norm. Settlers and the army are brutally ensuring “order” in the occupied territories.
Accustomed to a system in which democracy is only a fiction that does not apply to millions of Palestinians, Israelis have reacted with violence to the inevitable outcome of this situation: the history of repression is not new; all peoples rise up in the face of brutal repression, which does not secure any kind of future. In recent months, the brutal repression by Israeli forces has mostly escaped public opinion outside Israel, on account of the war in Ukraine. Let us not forget: the core of the far-right’s project is Jewish supremacy, and now racism has no more qualms.
Minister Benny Ganz and his generals, with the support of PM Yair Lapid, had to prove to public opinion that they were as strong as Netanyahu and the right wing, and they went above and beyond. But that was not enough for the far right, which was able to incite more and more hatred, more and more violence. Settlers showed up at demonstrations and provoked violence on a daily basis, with the army accompanying them.
The increase in violence was gradual, and suddenly figures from groups that in the very near past were considered outside the democratic mainstream became the new heroes. Young people voting for the first time preferred Ben Gvir and his ally Smotrich, considering them better suited to deal with “terrorism” than the old generals who had already killed or sent many Palestinians to their deaths.
Fourteen or 15 deputies (out of 120) of the coalition of 62 to 65 that Netanyahu will be able to count on have pledged to be faithful enforcers of far-right ideology. Gangs of young settlers are already persecuting Palestinians daily and attacking the few leftist Israelis who come to support them, but now the right wants even more. The United States itself is already expressing concern about the extremist character these groups will impart to the new government. Netanyahu fears for his government’s image, but he is seeking legal reforms that could lead to having his trial dismissed.
However, Ben Gvir and Smotrich want more, and it will be difficult to do enough to please them. Death penalty for Palestinians, special laws for Palestinians, expulsion from the country of those who incite or provoke anything – or for those who are simply Palestinians, or even Israeli Jews who sympathize with the “enemy.” All kinds of racist proposals can already be heard. Votes are still being counted but Netanyahu’s possible coalition is set to begin a neo-fascist chapter (that is the right word) in Israel, a very dark one. Now it will be clearer that the so-called “only democracy in the Middle East” is no better than the fascist dangers that are worrying us in Europe. Now racism and the enforcement of apartheid will become much easier and more unrestrained.
Only a few thousand votes made the difference between Netanyahu’s right wing and the slightly more moderate camp, but the result could be disastrous. There is only one bright spot in this election story: the election result could help expose the violence of these days. The silence of European public opinion on the crimes of the occupation could perhaps change.
In the final hours, the counting of votes may bring some relief to moderates: Meretz, the liberal party that did not reach the minimum threshold to enter Parliament, might be saved by the recount.
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