As Prime Minister Netanyahu announced early elections for March 2015, after less than two years in office, political analysts in the major newspapers said that he made a dire mistake and will lose his seat. Netanyahu proved that he understands Israeli society and political situation better than all of the analysts, and not only did he win the elections, but also achieved a comfortable majority that will ensure his stable coalition until the next political crisis.
The Israeli government rules not only over 8 million Israeli citizens, but also over 4.5 million occupied Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, who do not have the right to vote. The right to participate in the election process has become a treasured privilege in the “only democracy in the Middle East,” but it seems that no one but Netanyahu really wanted to win this election.
The reason that the prime minister’s seat has become so unattractive is that Israeli politicians can see what is coming in the next couple of years. The global boycott movement against Israel is gaining speed and affecting every aspect of the Israeli economy. Israel’s economy is hanging by a thread, with every social service stretched to the limit and with the Ministry of Defense swallowing up more and more resources. The Palestinian government has signed the Rome Convention and joined the International Criminal Court, so it is just a matter of time until Israeli officers and even politicians might find themselves unable to travel freely in the world without getting arrested. Israel’s relations with the U.S are in decline, with Qatar and Saudi Arabia making a claim to becoming the major U.S allies in the Middle East. If this is what’s coming, who would want to be prime minister?
The other Zionist parties have competed with each other with racist and warmongering remarks, fighting for the best seats in the future government of Netanyahu. The so-called left rallied behind the slogan “anyone but Bibi” (anyone but Netanyahu), but the only candidate with any chance of defeating Netanyahu, Herzog, refused to offer any alternative. Herzog commented to his advisors that he shouldn’t attack Netanyahu too hard, because he might find himself as a minister in Netanyahu’s government later on.
Only Netanyhau made a real effort to win. He seemed to have lost his cool as his party was trailing in the polls, and many Israeli activists (mostly from the elites) were talking about a “smell of change in the air” and that “Netanyahu’s era will finally come to an end.” Most Israelis already see Netanyahu as corrupt, power-hungry and dishonest. When the polls showed the gap against “Likud” growing bigger and bigger, Netanyahu waited until election day itself. He sent an SMS to the general public, and warned that “the Arabs are moving in droves to vote.” That did the trick, and all the polls couldn’t predict the last-minute change people went to vote for the man they dislike so much, just to keep the “Arabs” from increasing their influence in the parliament. Netanyahu knew, that for Israelis the racism against Palestinians is stronger than their dislike of his personal failures.
During the very intensive elections campaign, there were many funny moments (for those whose sense of humor favors the ridiculous, at least) but there were certain topics that no party wanted to discuss. The invasion of Gaza last summer, in which over two thousand Palestinians were killed, was barely mentioned at all. Not a single party had any suggestion about what should Israel’s future policy towards Gaza be. The economic crisis in Israel is deepening, and Netanyahu’s opponents tried to shift the political discourse from security to the economy. Netanyahu replied in August that “life comes before the quality of life.” He launched a senseless attack in Syria, and provoked the White House by attacking the negotiations between the U.S and Iran in Congress – and that was enough to put security back in the headlines, and the economy in the sidelines.
With Netanyahu as prime minister, Israel’s racist policies are exposed for all to see. He certainly didn’t invent the apartheid system, but his policies in the nine years in which he reigned as prime minister were marked by intensifying the racist policies not only against Palestinians, but against Jews as well. Netanyahu has joined the European anti-Semites in calling on European Jews to leave their homes and go to Israel. He gave the anti-Semites the present of drawing fire away from them by calling any human-right activist who supports the boycott campaign against Israel an “anti-Semite.” He authorized and promoted laws restricting the freedom of speech inside Israel. This has helped nudge many Jewish communities around the world to join the boycott movement, to clarify that the Zionist government in Israel does not speak in their names.
Shir Hever is a member of the Board of the Jüdische Stimme.