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Netanyahu’s gutter politics may lead to Jewish fascism

Feb 26,2019 - Last updated at Feb 26,2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is so determined to win another term in the country’s upcoming elections that he is willing to ally himself with the devil! Last week, he shocked even his like-minded politicians by joining forces with an openly racist party, the far-right Otzma Yehudit Party, which prides itself in tracing its roots to the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, considered the father of militant far-right Jewish groups. Never in the history of Israeli politics has the leader of a major party align himself with an extremist group that calls for, among other things, the expulsion of Israel’s Arab minority and the total annexation of Palestinian land.

To increase his chances of winning, the leader of the Likud also joined forces with the religious-Zionist Habayit Hayehudi Party; a move which critics saw as taking politics in Israel to the gutter.

So outrageous were Netanyahu’s actions that Israel’s strongest lobby in the US, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), was forced to support a statement by the American Jewish Committee (AJC), which described the alliance with Otzma Yehudit as “reprehensible”. AIPAC said that it agrees with the AJC, adding that it has a long-standing policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party.

This was the first time that AIPAC and other groups supporting Israel had publicly rebuked a sitting prime minister. Netanyahu’s critics saw the event as an unprecedented crisis between Israel and the US Jewish community. By late last week, those condemning the new alliance included Jewish-American rabbis, organisations and donors.

By joining forces with the Kahanists, Netanyahu is revealing his true colours. He has never embraced a just political settlement with the Palestinians, and since he first emerged on the scene in the mid-1990s, he has consistently relied on divisive and polarising tactics. His incitements against Yitzhak Rabin, following the signing of the Oslo Accords, are believed to have encouraged a militant Jewish youth to assassinate the prime minister at a peace rally in Tel Aviv in 1995.

His last cabinet was described as the most far-right government in Israel’s history. But now, he appears to be ready to cross an even more extreme threshold by endorsing what the Haaretz newspaper described as Jewish fascism.

But his chances of winning have been weakened by the emergence of what observers have described as a centre-left alliance. Last week, Hosen L’Yisrael Chairman Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid have agreed to run on a joint ticket to be called “Blue and White”. Gantz is a former general who is well respected in Israel and is believed to pose a real threat to Netanyahu’s chances. A recent poll found that the “Blue and White” Party has the edge in a tight race with Netanyahu’s Likud ahead of the April 9 elections.

But Netanyahu is fighting back by attacking Gantz and Lapid, and inciting the public against Arab parties, which, in his view, are working to destroy Israel. He has also described AIPAC’s condemnation of the Otzma Yehudit merger as “hypocritical” and warned that his leftist critics in Israel want “extreme Islamists in the Knesset”.

In a speech last week, Netanyahu said that “whoever votes for Lapid and Gantz votes for the left... They talk about unity but in reality, they are planning to introduce left-wing policies and left-wing plans”. He added that “in 1992, we got Yitzhak Rabin and the Oslo disaster, in 1999, Ehud Barak and the intifada, with exploding buses and more than 1,000 dead”.

Not since 1977, when Likud founder Menachem Begin won a historic victory and dislodged Labour from government has Israeli politics been so polarising and poisonous.

What happens in Israel on April 9 is important for the region and beyond. If Netanyahu’s coalition wins, then any talk of peace, the two-state solution and a just settlement to the Arab-Israeli conflict will be redundant. We can expect an open and official policy of racism and fascism that would target not only the Arabs, but also all of Israel’s ethnic and religious minorities. In addition, Israel’s far-right government will unleash a massive campaign to expropriate Palestinian land and may even resort to expelling Palestinians from their ancestral homes. On the other hand, Netanyahu’s policies will isolate Israel internationally and may even break the shaky bond with America’s Jewish communities and organisations. The ramifications on the region will be unsettling to say the least.

A victory by his opponents may bring hope that a political settlement is still possible; one that could start a long and arduous healing process for Israel and the Palestinians. But more importantly, perhaps, is that Netanyahu’s loss would save Israel from morphing into a fascist state and irreparably destroying its image as a democracy.

 

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman

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