Israeli election roundup

The final results of Israel’s Knesset election are as follows: Kadima, the party created by Sharon and now led by Ehud Olmert has 29 seats, a disappointment considering polls had projected up to 43 seats at one point. Labor, led by Moroccan-born Amir Peretz, has 20. The Mizrahi Orthodox party Shas and Likud have 12 each. Yisrael Beiteinu, the party led by Moldovan-born xenophobe Avigdor Lieberman, who once threatened to blow up the Aswan dam, won 11. The transferist National Union-National Religious Party won nine; the Pensioners’ Party, led by Jonathan Pollard’s control agent Rafi Eitan, won seven; the non-Zionist United Torah Judaism won six; the increasingly moribund Zio-leftist Meretz won five; the Palestinian Israeli Ra’am-Ta’al party, led by Sheik Sarsur of the more moderate southern wing of the Israeli Islamic movement, won three; the Arab-Jewish communist faction Hadash led by Mohammed Barekeh, won three; and the Balad party led by Palestinian nationalist Azmi Bishara won three. The lowest voter turnout in Israeli history was advantageous for the smaller parties as it lowered the amount of votes needed to pass the 2% threshold to enter the Knesset. Likud also suffered as a result of a voter backlash against the neo-liberal policies of current party leader and former finance minister Benyamin Netanyahu. The pro-marijuana Green Leaf party did not make it past the threshold. (Haaretz, March 31)

What did not seem to affect the vote was policy regarding the Palestinians. The only difference between the major parties vis-a-vis “peace” policy is over how much occupied Palestinian land to steal. The following grim view was written by Gideon Levy before the election:

One Racist Nation
March 26

Contrary to appearances, the elections this week are important, because they will expose the true face of Israeli society and its hidden ambitions. More than 100 elected candidates will be sent to the Knesset on the basis of one ticket – the racism ticket. If we used to think that every two Israelis have three opinions, now it will be evident that nearly every Israeli has one opinion – racism. Elections 2006 will make this much clearer than ever before. An absolute majority of the MKs in the 17th Knesset will hold a position based on a lie: that Israel does not have a partner for peace. An absolute majority of MKs in the next Knesset do not believe in peace, nor do they even want it – just like their voters – and worse than that, don’t regard Palestinians as equal human beings. Racism has never had so many open supporters. It’s the real hit of this election campaign.

One does not have to be Avigdor Lieberman to be a racist. The “peace” proposed by Ehud Olmert is no less racist. Lieberman wants to distance them from our borders, Olmert and his ilk want to distance them from out consciousness. Nobody is speaking about peace with them, nobody really wants it. Only one ambition unites everyone – to get rid of them, one way or another. Transfer or wall, “disengagement” or “convergence” – the point is that they should get out of our sight. The only game in town, the ‘unilateral arrangement,” is not only based on the lie that there is no partner, is not only based exclusively on our “needs” because of a sense of superiority, but also leads to a dangerous pattern of behavior that totally ignores the existence of the other nation.

The problem is that this feeling is based entirely on an illusory assumption. The Palestinians are here, just like us. They will, therefore, be forced to continue to remind us of their existence in the one way they and we both know, through violence and terror.

This gloomy chapter in the history of Israel began at Camp David, when Ehud Barak succeeded in planting the untruth that there is nobody to talk to on the Palestinian side, that we offered them the sky and they responded with violence. Then came the major terror attacks and Israeli society withdrew into a sickness of apathy never before known to it. While it used to demonstrate complete indifference toward Palestinian suffering, that apathy spread and intensified to include weak Israelis – Arabs, the poor, the ailing. From that aspect the current election campaign, more boring than ever, seems almost like an expression of the state of public caring. Nothing can awaken the Israelis from their coma – not the imprisonment of the nation next door, not the killing and destruction that we sow in their society and not the suffering of the weak among us.

Who would have believed that in Israel of 2006, the killing of an 8-year-old girl at short range, as happened last week in Yamoun, would barely be mentioned; that the ruthless attempt to expel an Ethiopian with AIDS who is married to an Israeli, just because he is not Jewish, would not raise hue and cry; and that the results of a poll showing that a majority of Israelis – 68 percent – don’t want to live next to an Arab, did not raise a stink. If in 1981, tomatoes were being thrown at Shimon Peres and in 1995, there was incitement against Yitzhak Rabin, now there are no tomatoes, no incitement and not even any election rallies.

Nothing can get the Israelis out to the streets, nothing can enrage them. An election without involvement and interest is more dangerous to democracy than any tomato. It is a demonstration of apathy and indifference, which the regime can exploit to do whatever it wants. The fact that there are no real differences between the three main parties, with this one saying nearly the entire country is mine, and that one saying nearly the entire country is mine, is bad news for democracy. The coming elections have been decided already. A massive majority will cast its vote for the racist arrangement that ignores the Palestinians, as proposed by Kadima, Likud and, to a large extent, Labor. None of them tried to propose a just peace; their leaders never said a word about the war crimes and suffering caused by Israel. They’ll be joined by the extreme right and the ultra-Orthodox, and there you have it: a nation in which racism is the real common denominator uniting us all. Nearly everyone will say no to peace, yes to the continuing occupation (even if it is in new camouflage) and yes to the total focusing on ourselves.

Morality has become a dirty work, and the worst corruption in the country’s history, the occupation, was never mentioned. Only one-sided maps, similar to one another, all including the humongous “settlement blocs,” a withdrawal based on “our needs,” with a separation wall and the frightening air of indifference hovering above it all.

See our last poston Israel/Palestine.

  1. Questions
    What does he mean by “convergence”?

    What does he mean by ” Lieberman wants to distance them from our borders, Olmert and his ilk want to distance them from out [our?] consciousness”?

    1. maybe this’ll answer your questions
      “convergence” is just the new buzzword for land theft. 70,000 settlers outside the wall will be evacuated to settlements inside the wall.

      The real winner in Israel
      – Saree Makdisi
      Friday, March 31, 2006
      San Francisco Chronicle

      Everyone is talking about the successful — albeit lackluster — performance of Ehud Olmert’s Kadima Party in Tuesday’s Israeli elections. Kadima won a marginal victory, gaining 28 seats in the Knesset, and giving Olmert the opportunity to form a government.

      But, in a sense, the real winner of the elections was Avigdor Lieberman, leader of Yisrael Beiteinu, which pushed past Likud to become one of Israel’s major political parties — turning Lieberman into a potential kingmaker. This is a remarkable development because Lieberman’s party stands for one thing: an Israel finally cleansed of the remainder of the indigenous Palestinian population.

      Lieberman was born in Moldova in 1958. In 1978, he moved to Israel. Because he is Jewish, he was eligible for instant citizenship under Israel’s law of return.

      It was evidently not enough for Lieberman that, as a Russian-speaking immigrant fresh off the plane, he was instantaneously granted rights and privileges denied to Palestinians born in the very country to which he had just moved (not to mention those expelled during the creation of Israel in 1948). The very presence of an indigenous non-Jewish population in Israel was, in effect, unacceptable to him. In 1999, he formed a party called Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel our Home”), made up largely of other Russian immigrants for whom the presence of Palestinians is also unacceptable. Lieberman’s party believes what all Israelis believe: that Israel is a Jewish state. Unlike the more respectable Israeli parties, however, Lieberman’s party is willing to add that because Israel is a Jewish state, non-Jews are not welcome. Even if they were born there.

      Because Israel has — somewhat conveniently — never declared its own borders, Lieberman proposes that the state’s borders be drawn in such a way that Jews are placed on one side of it, and as many Arabs as possible on the other. Ethnic purity is the operative ideal. The mainstream Israeli parties, and even right-wing politicians such as Moshe Arens, denounce what they regard as Lieberman’s racism.

      The difference between Lieberman and mainstream Israeli politicians, however, is not that they believe in cultural heterogeneity and he does not: for they are as committed to Israel’s Jewishness as he is.

      The difference, rather, is one of degree. Mainstream Israeli politicians agree that a line of concrete and steel ought to be drawn with Jews on one side of it and as many Arabs as possible on the other. But they argue that it is OK to have a few Arabs on the inside, as long as they behave themselves, and don’t contribute too heavily to what Israelis refer to ominously as “the demographic problem.” Contenting themselves with the platitude that Israel is a democracy, mainstream Israeli politicians ignore the fact that, in matters of access to land, questions of marriage and family unification, and many of the other normal rights and duties associated with citizenship, Israel’s Palestinian minority faces forms of discrimination not faced by Jewish citizens of the state. This is hardly surprising.

      As the state of the Jewish people, Israel is, after all, the only country in the world that expressly claims not to be the state of its actual citizens (one-fifth of whom are non-Jews), let alone that of the people whom it governs (half of whom are Palestinian). Non-Jews have always been, at best, an impediment to Israel’s Jewishness. The only question has been what to do about them.

      The point, however, is that — as the Israeli journalist Gideon Levy points out — Zeevi and Lieberman are no more racist than mainstream politicians such as Ehud Olmert. The difference is simply one of modalities. “Lieberman wants to distance [Palestinians] from our borders,” writes Levy; “Olmert and his ilk want to distance them from our consciousness.” Racism, Levy concludes, is the real winner of the 2006 elections.

      The question is whether this represents some new development, or merely a sign that Israeli politics are becoming truer to the nature of Israel itself — a reminder that the quest for ethnic purity, no matter how it’s dressed up, is inherently ugly.

      Saree Makdisi is a professor of English and Comparative Literature at UCLA and a frequent commentator on the Middle East.