Mondoweiss / September 22, 2022
The news is that former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening to make a comeback in the November election and recapture his old job.
Experts cite a few reasons things are looking good for Netanyahu. 1, Israeli politics are very rightwing; and Netanyahu is the most popular candidate, and his bloc is polling at close to 60 seats, half the Knesset. 2, The left-center is splintered, including the Palestinian parties and the liberal Zionist ones, and there is a good chance of one of these four parties falling below the election threshold (3.25 percent of the vote) and their votes disappearing, a boon to the right.
A rightwing racist party, Religious Zionism/Jewish Power, is surging, attracting 30 to 40 percent of young Jews. Shockingly, this party is likely to be the third largest vote-getter after Netanyahu’s Likud party and Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party.
The head of the Jewish Power party, Itamar Ben Gvir, is now so acceptable in Israeli society that he is being invited to kibbutzes to make his appeals, Tal Schneider of the Times of Israel told Americans for Peace Now yesterday. She said this is “unbelievable.”
Even Israeli kibbutzes these days is hosting Ben Gvir. Some of the kibbutzes–not all of them– are hosting Ben Gvir for a political panel or like a Sunday show where you discuss the situation. He is invited to speak at the kibbutzim. Unbelievable.
This is unbelievable because Ben-Gvir’s political forbear party was banned from the Knesset in the 1980s. Now the rightwing racist politician is being welcome at communities that were once the heart of socialist Israel. Chomsky worked on a kibbutz, so did Bernie Sanders. So did Tony Judt.
Schneider said that if Netanyahu wins, Ben Gvir is likely to be a senior minister in the next government, the minister of homeland security.
“I can’t even begin to explain how big the crisis is here,” Schneider said of the Israeli political stalemate.
Schneider said that Ben Gvir’s Kahanist party became normalized over the last few years largely through the efforts of Benjamin Netanyahu. Two elections ago, Netanyahu actively brokered the joining of Religious Zionism and Jewish Power by making political promises, sealing the deal by taking one of Religious Zionism’s candidates into his own Likud party, so as to give the party the “present of one seat.”
That’s a turnaround from 30 years ago.
“If you look at the Likud in the 80s or 90s, the Likud was opposing Kahane, and every time the leader of Kahane, Meir Kahane, went up to the podium to make a speech, all of the Likud members including the prime minister left the plenum. Now in 2022, the Likud is having a full force campaign saying how Ben Gvir is a nice person, how he changed over the years, and Ben Gvir himself is going from high school to high school and other places and saying, I have changed. ‘When I was making threats against [Yitzhak] Rabin, I was a teenager. I am not doing this anymore. This was wrong.’ He is doing a full apologizing campaign. I don’t buy it.”
Explaining why she did not believe Ben Gvir, Schneider reviewed a famous incident. A few years ago a TV broadcast showed that Ben Gvir had a photograph of racist mass-murderer Baruch Goldstein in his living room. Ben Gvir said that Goldstein was a model to his children because he’d been a good doctor to the Jewish settlement in Hebron/Al-Khalil, and a friend of the Ben Gvir family.
Though later Ben Gvir tried to appease critics by saying he had taken the photo down.
“Then a month ago Ben Gvir’s wife was on Israeli radio and she said, oh we still have the photograph of Kahane in our living room,” Schneider said.
Schneider predicted that if Netanyahu’s bloc wins 58 to 60 seats, and he gets the first nod to form a government after November 1, there will be “huge” pressure on Defense Minister Benny Gantz of the National Unity party to abandon the governing coalition he is now in with Yair Lapid and join up with Netanyahu so as to prevent Ben Gvir from getting into the government.
The pressure will build because Ben Gvir’s other partner, the Noam party, is anti-gay rights and antifeminist. People will say to Gantz: “Save the country, let Bibi be the prime minister, so long as you are the defense minister, and Ben Gvir is staying out.”
Schneider’s view of Ben Gvir’s strength is widely held among liberal Zionists. Haaretz called Ben Gvir “a rock star, a fascist and a racist”, a very charismatic figure in a rascally boyish manner.
J Street today warned of Ben Gvir’s threat:
Then, in another show of right-wing unity, the Religious Zionist and Jewish Power alliance merged with the notoriously homophobic Noam party at the very last minute. While Netanyahu has faced heavy criticism for the ongoing normalization of such hateful and extremist parties, he continues to make clear that he will doggedly pursue his own political interests at all costs.
Michael Koplow of Israel Policy Forum also wrote today of the odds in favor of Netanyahu. “If Ra’am or Hadash-Ta’al [the two leading Palestinians parties] do not make the Knesset threshold, that means a nearly automatic restoration of Netanyahu to Balfour Street.”
Philip Weiss is senior editor of Mondoweiss.net and founded the site in 2005-2006