Israeli government crumbles (again) on Apartheid vote — as its ‘Arab experiment’ comes apart

A scuffle in the Knesset (screenshot)

Jonathan Ofer

Mondoweiss  /  June 7, 2022

The Israeli parliament yesterday failed to pass extension of an Apartheid law that gives civil governance to Israeli settlers and military law to the Palestinians alongside them.

Yesterday was a dramatic day for the Israeli parliament. The parliament was set to vote on an Apartheid law, the extension of an emergency order that affords Jewish Israeli settlers in the West Bank civil governance, while Palestinians in the same area are governed by military rule. This is one of the most blatant Apartheid laws, regularly renewed every five years since Israel began its 1967 occupation. The government lost the vote: 58 against extension, and 52 for it. The opposition was led by Benjamin Netanyahu, whose coalition voted against the extension simply in order to see the government fall on this one.

Nonetheless, the government theoretically has until the 1st of July to pass the order, since that is the temporary order’s expiry date. And regardless of the current outcome, what’s really interesting about it is the story that the drama tells about the Israeli zeitgeist as well as its Apartheid reality and mindset.

The reason why Israel at all needs such a law, is, ironically enough, to window-dress another grim reality – that despite all of Israel’s hasbara claims that the occupied Palestinian territory is “disputed”, it is very clearly under the status of what is called Belligerent Occupation. And Israel doesn’t want to change that in a way that would afford the millions of Palestinians under occupation citizenship. However, Israeli Jewish settlers would fall under military rule if there weren’t special regulations governing them, and only them, so that they can live in islands of Israeli governance – islands which are actually an interconnected web of settlement territories surrounding 165 Palestinian Bantustan-like enclaves.

Now we have to remember that this is a just-not-Netanyahu government, but still the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. Yet it also contains elements that are bound to challenge its Zionism, particularly among its few, Palestinian constituents.     

Two months ago, the government lost its razor-thin majority of 61 out of 120, when fundamentalist Jewish lawmaker Idit Silman from Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina (‘Rightwards’) party, left the coalition because of a proclaimed lack of “Jewish identity”. The Bennett government somehow kept going, by avoiding officially labelling Silman a renegade. In yesterday’s vote, Silman simply abstained, thus lending silent power to the opposition led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

There were a couple who voted against the extension of the order from within the governing coalition – Ghaida Rinawi-Zoabi, a Palestinian lawmaker with the Meretz party, and Mazen Ghanaim from the Ra’am (United Arab List), a conservative Palestinian party that broke from the Palestinian-representative Joint List in pragmatic attempt to play ball in Zionist politics.

Jewish leaders from the left-Zionist Meretz voted for the Apartheid law. Haaretz journalist Noa Landau on Twitter:

[Meretz lawmakers] Gabi Lasky, Mossi Raz and Michal Rosin voted for Apartheid. Interesting days indeed.  

Rinawi-Zoabi has been tolerated in Meretz, but unnamed officials in Meretz expressed their anger with her, saying that she was “unpredictable and unwanted” (per Ynet).

As for the Joint List’s six lawmakers, they all voted against the order.

When it came to Ghanaim’s vote against, he was nearly physically attacked by Yamina lawmaker Nir Orbach, who charged at him and shouted that “the experiment with you has failed”. “You” is of course Palestinians in general, Palestinians in government. This government is the first to include a Palestinian party. The rest of the Ra’am members simply abstained. That’s what’s behind Orbach’s claim to an “experiment”.

The idea to include a small Palestinian party was actually not this government’s – it was Netanyahu’s, when he sought ways out of the forever-elections deadlock a year and a half ago. But this government took it up for the first time last year. The message from Orbach is that Palestinians are tolerated as long as they can be subservient to Apartheid. If they go directly against it, they are the enemy.  

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar, who broke from Likud two years ago and established his “New Hope” party and then joined Bennett’s coalition, threatened in advance of the vote that if it didn’t pass, he would bust the coalition. “Any coalition member who doesn’t vote for this law that is so central is an active participant in its demise,” Sa’ar said ahead of the vote. He claimed that failure to pass the extension would mean “legal chaos” – for the West Bank settlers. Sa’ar has now reportedly called a party meeting for the end of the week to discuss next moves.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said:

We have less than a month to make sure the West Bank doesn’t turn into the Wild West because of political interests.

Gantz called upon parliament members to “put Israel before everything.”

The latter is a repeat of his motto from when he entered politics 3.5 years ago, where his party, then named ”Resilience to Israel” claimed “Israel before everything”. That’s also when he boasted of having “returned Gaza to the stone age”.

We have to understand Sa’ar’s and Gantz’s proclamations as ultranationalist, Apartheid calls. Sa’ar doesn’t mind that the West Bank is a lawless place for occupied Palestinians – he minds that it might, God forbid, turn into that for settlers. Gantz doesn’t mind that it is a “wild west” for Palestinians – it’s long been that anyway. When Gantz says “Israel before everything”, he doesn’t mean Palestinians, he means Jewish settlers (it’s kind of like with “America first”). At least Gantz is dispensing with the illusion that Israel and the occupied territories are separate regimes.

These centrist Zionists are offering themselves as the purveyors of law, order and stability, but it is all Apartheid stability – all of it. When we observe the dramas that occur within the parliament, we must never forget that overall paradigm: Israel is a state of Jewish supremacy from the river to the sea, just like the Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem said.