The following piece was first published in Hebrew on April 15, 2019, a few days after the elections in Israel.
Benjamin Netanyahu is set to serve a fifth term as Israel’s prime minister. His government will be like the previous one. Using the Right Wing Playbook and existing algorithms, Netanyahu won easily. He energized his million-voter base to get out and vote. All he had to do was to pour NIS 50 million into social networking, jump in front of a camera, and scream “Gewalt!” He knew he could count on the Arabs to stay home, thanks to the fact that their parties had done nothing for them in the last Knesset.
The results of the election do not lie. The people of Israel is not stampeding toward right-wing extremists—not toward our former Justice Minister, who spritzed herself in a campaign ad with a perfume labeled “Fascism” (no joking, and she will not be in the next Knesset), nor toward far-right Moshe Feiglin, who dangled visions of legalized cannabis before the noses of young voters (he didn’t enter either). On the other hand, the people of Israel doesn’t much like the Left, which shrunk so badly that it might not cross the electoral threshold next time. The people of Israel loves entertainment, online shopping, trips abroad, new cars, appliances, and Bibi knows how to supply these aplenty. Therefore, if the situation stays as it is, whether or not Bibi is indicted on criminal charges, Israel will continue to float along on the right-wing nationalist surge that is presently flooding the world. This—at a time when the shrunken Left, swimming against the current, is floundering for a straw to save it from drowning. True, the Israeli Left initially tried in every way it could to bypass the Arab voters, but it finally understood that they were the only straw it had.
Tamar Zandberg, the head of Meretz, crossed the electoral threshold thanks to Arab voters. She then declared her desire to forge political bonds including “Labor, Meretz and a significant Arab factor, such as all or part of Hadash” (the former Communist Party). Hadash quickly announced that it isn’t considering such bonds, even going on to say why. MK Yousef Jabareen recalled that two Meretz MKs had opposed a bill he’d put forward in the Knesset to define Israel as a “democratic, egalitarian state.”
Former Labor Party minister Uzi Baram penned an article in Haaretz on April 15 entitled “No way without the Arabs.” He wrote that in recent years he had taken part “in gatherings between Jews and Arabs, to try to reach a formula for running together in elections. All these attempts failed because of differences over the concept ‘Jewish and democratic state.'” To Baram, running together would require agreement on changing the national anthem, revoking the Law of Return, and reducing the space that Zionism occupies as a guiding structural value in the life of the state.
Baram’s participation in such meetings did not stem from a love for Arabs, but rather revulsion against ultra-Orthodox Jews. As an experienced politician, Baram identifies a clear demographic trend that gives the Right an automatic majority. “We don’t need scholarly articles to know that the demographic trends favor the Right, the religious Zionists, and the ultra-Orthodox. Their power is growing from election to election. This fact strengthens the claim that the Center and the Left will not turn the situation around except by working with the Arabs.”
It is, then, a case of ultra-Orthodox on the one hand, Arabs on the other. Both sectors suffer from unemployment and poverty, and both have the demographic force to shift the political balance right or left. Both have become a demographic threat to the Jewish and democratic character of the state. The ultra-Orthodox favor Jewish law over democracy, while the Arabs reject the state’s Jewishness and demand more democracy. The Left maneuvers in the middle, trying to persuade the Arabs to “accept the definition of Israel as a democratic state with a Jewish majority,” as Baram puts it.
It turns out that the problem lies with neither the ultra-Orthodox nor the Arabs, but with the Left, which does not understand that the demographic trends and the political changes have brought about a situation where a Jewish and democratic Israel no longer exists. Even annulling the Nation-State Law would not change this fact. It was demonstrated in the elections that most voters are willing to sacrifice democracy to maintain the Israel’s Jewish character.
The burial of Israel as “Jewish and democratic” goes hand-in-hand with the burial of the two-state solution. This is the case because the rise of right-wing power is tied not only to demographic trends but more essentially to political ones—the result of ruling for fifty years over another people. In these elections, the Right had the final word. Netanyahu vowed to annex the settlements, while the Left continued to garble unfeasible solutions.
To be fair, it is not just Israel’s opposition to a Palestinian state has prevented it. The Palestinians themselves have proved incapable of building one. The current challenge, therefore, is not to fight the battle of Arab versus Ultra-orthodox demography, but to find a political formula that will enable a bond between Jews and Arabs on a democratic basis. The Arabs will never accept the perverse principle that prioritizes the “Jewish majority,” because that principle is discriminatory, undemocratic, and racist. There is no democratic state in the world where the law favors one national group over another.
Perhaps this is the place to remind the left-wing parties of a forgotten fact that has gone unmentioned. Bibi was re-elected not only because of the ultra-Orthodox turnout or the economic stability that serves the middle class. What helped Bibi above all was the stability of the security-relationship guaranteed by the Palestinian Authority—and yes, even by Hamas. Netanyahu sees Hamas as a governmental authority in every respect, and he avoids any step that would cause its downfall. Negotiations with Hamas have continued without interruption, even amid flare-ups, and the suitcases of dollars from Qatar—which Israel allows into Gaza—promise relative tranquility.
As for the West Bank, the security cooperation with Abu Mazen (Mahmoud Abbas), and the 200,000 West Bankers who commute into Israel each day for work, enable Bibi to supply Israeli citizens with a sense of security while Gazans undergo a humanitarian disaster and two million West Bankers are shut behind the Separation Barrier. However, between Trump’s “deal of the century” and Netanyahu’s promise to annex, the days of stability are numbered, and the “soft” Occupation, bolstered by security cooperation with the Palestinian Authority, will come to an end.
It is an illusion to think you can establish an Arab-Jewish bloc in Israel while denying the civil rights of almost five million Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank. We must have the courage to admit that we cannot turn the clock back to pre-‘67 Israel or to pre-‘48 Palestine. While the Right sees a one-state reality—an apartheid regime with American backing—the Left is torn between democracy and the Arab demographic threat. When push comes to shove, the Left will favor Judaism over democracy, in which case it will not find an Arab partner.
Real security and economic stability are unattainable. Israel is booming thanks to high-tech entrepreneurship despite economic concepts that fit the 1990s better than the 21st century. Natural gas was discovered after the world had already moved to renewable energy. The automobile remains a status symbol here even as the world is traveling toward shared and green transportation. Education is tilted toward religion instead of science and innovation. Private housing is built instead of public. Taxation burdens the middle class and gives generous write-offs to large companies. The defense budget grows while strategic risks are decreasing. As long as the Israeli Left is conservative in its political and economic thinking, it is without vision or tidings. No wonder it’s shrinking.
In sum: Netanyahu has won a fifth term despite the likelihood of three criminal indictments, the Left has dwindled, and voter turnout in the Arab sector has declined. For our political party, Da’am (the Organization for Democratic Action), all this is proof that the time is ripe for fundamental change. Our creed “Green Economy – One State” is the only formula that can bring about a principled and genuine connection between Jews and Arabs. Anyone who deals with demographic considerations, aiming to preserve the Jewish majority at all costs, plays directly into the hand of fascists who support apartheid. Leftists of Israel, it is time to wake up from demographic slumbers!
- Translated from the Hebrew by Robert Goldman