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Change in Israel has proved impossible over the decades

Feb 27,2019 - Last updated at Feb 27,2019

A leftist Israeli singer warned during a performance last weekend that the next Israeli leader could be Yigal Amir, the man serving a life sentence for killing prime minister Yitzak Rabin in 1995. Aviv Geffen pointed to the merger forged by incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu between the racist Otzma Yehudit, Jewish Power, and the rightist Jewish Home and National Union parties in exchange for two ministerial posts and a spot on the Likud list. Due to the presence of the Jewish Home and National Union parties in Netanyahu’s current government, it is seen as the most right-wing in Israel’s history. The addition of Jewish Power would carry the Likud and its allies towards the radical right.

Jewish Power is a new political party established by followers of Meir Kahane, a rabidly anti-Palestinian rabbi born in Brooklyn who founded the hard-right Kach Party in Israel and served one term in parliament before Kach was banned for being racist and anti-democratic. Kach advocates stripping non-Jews of Israeli citizenship, annexing the West Bank and expelling Palestinians.

Kahane called for Israeli occupation of Sinai to Al Arish and a wide band of Jordanian territory on the East Bank of the Jordan River. Kahane was assassinated in the US by an Egyptian-born gunman in 1990. Among his ardent followers was Baruch Goldstein, another former US citizen who massacred 29 Muslims at the mosque in Hebron in 1994, after which Kach was banned in Israel and branded a “terrorist” organisation by the US. Recently, US Kahanists have aligned themselves with US white supremacists who have been given a clean bill of health by US President Donald Trump.

The pro-Israel lobby group, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League condemned Netanyahu’s move which, the latter, said “legitimised” the outlawed Kahanists.

As could be expected, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the Trump administration is not going to get involved in the Israeli election and promised that the outcome would not damage that country’s “deep relationship with Israel”. Ironically, Netanyahu did involve himself in recent US elections, making his preferences clear.

While lobbying for the merger, Netanyahu has also attempted to stave off indictment in three criminal cases ahead of the April 9 general election. If his Likud is the largest party, he could escape trial and prison. As prime minister, he would have immunity from prosecution. He is, therefore, fighting for his freedom by taking the Likud further to the right than ever before.

The Likud was established in 1973 by Menachem Begin and Ariel Sharon in 1973 as a secular, right-wing party and won power by a landslide in 1977. The Likud victory initiated the right’s rise to power. This came about due to the decline of the left following the failure of Labour and progressives to meet the expectations of Iraqi and Yemeni Jews who migrated to Israel in the 1950s, the influx of anti-leftist Russian Jews who arrived in the 1990s and the growing clout of the settler/colonist movement.

While Netanyahu manoeuvred, former Israeli army chiefs Benny Gantz, Gabby Ashkenazi and Moshe Ya’alon joined with Yair Lapid, a longstanding political opponent of Netanyahu, to form the Blue and White Party. Israeli media called this a “game changer”, an “earthquake” and the “big bang”. Instant polls showed the party could win 36 seats in the 120-seat Knesset, while Likud could secure 26-30.

While Netanyahu says Israeli voters must now choose between his right-wing Likud bloc and its allies and the “leftists” of Blue and White, this amounts to a false claim. Blue and White is not left or even centrist. It is rightist but not radical or ultra-right, which Netanyahu’s Likud has become.

Ya’alon was defence minister and Gantz was chief of staff of Israeli forces during the 2014 Gaza war, during which 1,440 Palestinians were killed. Ya’alon has referred to Palestinians as “cancer” which has to be eliminated and was dismissive of the peace process. Ashkenazi was director general of the defence ministry during Israel’s 2006 war on Lebanon. There are no peaceniks in this party which, experts contend, may be more progressive on the issue of religion in politics but not on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict or Israel as the “nation state of the Jews”.

Furthermore, Lapid announced that if Blue and White wins the election, the party will seek to form a national unity government with Likud, as long as Netanyahu is not head of the party. He said that Blue and White would not form a coalition with or join Arab parties to block Netanyahu from establishing his own government if Likud wins a plurality of seats in the Knesset. Lapid justified his stance by staying the “Likud is, after all, an important Zionist party.”

Greatly diminished Labour, also a Zionist party, responded by arguing Blue and White is not an “alternative, but is content with what we currently have... not to bring about change”.

Change in Israel has proved impossible over the decades. Labour’s Rabin, who had served as minister of defence before being elected prime minister in 1992 on a peace platform, did not fulfil Israel’s commitments under the 1993 Oslo Accords. If he had, he would have withdrawn from Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and presided over the emergence of the mini-Palestinian state. Instead, he did everything in his power to obstruct the Oslo agenda and promote Israeli colonisation. Although assassinated by an extremist because it appeared he was ready to settle with the Palestinians, Rabin was always, and remained until his last day, a Zionist committed to the Zionist project: the cause of Greater Israel in all the territories conquered by Israel since 1948.

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