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Nine Remarks on the Israeli Elections

Friday 20 February 2009, by Michel WARSCHAWSKI

A polling station in Jerusalem during the most recent national elections in Israel. 1. Less than a month after the Gaza massacre, Israeli democracy worked as if nothing had happened; Right and Left were arguing for and against the killings while Israeli citizens were doing their civic duty with the ballot. With one hand massacring, the other voting: several of us felt that it was somehow obscene, yet went to vote like all the others.

2. The election campaign was, without a doubt, the most empty and boring in the last four decades: no tension, no fights, and no debate. The three big political parties advocated for exactly the same program, both in domestic and economic policies—classic neo-liberalism, as if the international economic crisis doesn’t concern the Jewish state—and in all issues concerning the Arab world and the Palestinians in particular. It’s no wonder that public interest in these elections was extremely low.

3. The Likud doubled the number of votes it got, but this was not a surprise either: its catastrophic results in the last elections, reflected a conjuncture and exceptional situation (the split led by Ariel Sharon) that ended with the departure of Sharon. For Netanyahu’s party, it is a return to its normal size.

4. On the other side, the collapse of the Zionist Left is a historical defeat: from 23 seats (which was already very low) to 15, less than a third of the seats they had ten years ago. As Gideon Levy notes (Haaretz, February 12, 2009): after having adopted the political discourse of the Right and having implemented its policies, the Israeli public doesn’t understand anymore why it should support the clone of the Right, and decided to wipe it out of the political scene. Forever. End of story and a huge responsibility for the non-Zionist Left to build a credible alternative for former Meretz supporters that are left today without a political home.

5. The racist far-Right Israel Beiteinu, led by Avigdor Lieberman, got 15 seats (in addition to the religious far-Right that maintained its past representation): Lieberman will play a central in Israeli politics in the coming years, something that frightens every Israeli democrat.

6. Despite the success of Lieberman, the Jewish religious parties—that today should be considered as far-Right—didn’t lose votes. In other words the ultra-Right is today even stronger than in the last Knesset.

7. The three Arab parties (Democratic Front, National Democratic Alliance and the United Arab List) added one Knesset member to the 9 they received in the last elections, a confirmation of the Palestinian population’s general will to prefer having their own representatives rather than to abstain.

8. The Right has a clear majority (65/120) even without Ehud Barak who will always be ready to desert with a few Labor members to a coalition led by Netanyahu, and can easily form a right-wing government. Everything indicates, however, that due to the lack of differences amongst the three main parties, there will be a national unity government. As has been the case most of the time since 1967.

9. It is time to say it loud and clear: as a result of the political suicide of the Zionist Left, the Right has won the battle for the souls and values of the Israeli population. In front of us lies a long and slow process to build an alternative that, if it wants to be perceived as an alternative, will have to develop a real alternative vision. An anti-Zionist (or at least a non-Zionist) Jewish-Arab Left or the monopoly of the Right for at least one generation.

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