This most recent Israeli election, the fifth in the current cycle, proved to be quite different from the previous four, not only in producing a definitive result but with the campaign itself.
It began the same, however, along the way expanded into not only a ‘for or anti-Bibi’ tussle, but for the first time in many years, it was the internal issues in Israel that came to the fore, rather than the external.
There was almost zero mention of Iran, Hamas or even the gas deal with Lebanon and certainly no real debate on matters pertaining to the Palestinians.
Indeed, the more emphasis there was by a party on such things as ‘two states’ – to whit Labor and Meretz – the more irrelevant they were to the electorate.
Not so much because of the theory but because of the reality of Palestinian rejectionism.
A blindness to reality, which has caused Labor in particular, whilst they continue to focus on ‘two states’, to have ever-decreasing support over the past two decades.
Although Netanyahu remained the dominant factor, three other intimately intertwined issues were significant and continue to reverberate.
1 – The Jewish State.
It is a strong positive, despite the discomfort the topic may raise in certain circles, that after so many years, the question of what a Jewish State should actually mean and how she should look, is being discussed.
It has been the elephant in the room for so long, generally overshadowed by external security concerns.
Discussions about and around this topic are long overdue.
It is interesting to note that the two parties that raised questions about or directly opposed the concept of Israel as a Jewish State at all, Meretz and Balad, both fell below the threshold.
A curiosity, but in a similar vein, was that Labor under Meirav Michaeli when speaking about internal issues, campaigned on providing public transportation on shabbat. Labor just scraped in with four seats, almost completely ignored by a largely secular public.
2 – Relations between Jews and Arabs – and Arabs and Jews.
A theme running through the campaign was how to manage the relationship between the approximately Jewish 80% of the population and the mostly Arab 20% minority.
Itamar Ben Gvir in particular focused on this aspect and as extreme as his initial policies were, he has refined his views on Israeli Arabs in general, at least somewhat.
Just as Israeli Jews were debating their visions on Israel as a Jewish State, Arab citizens of Israel were similarly considering their own relationship to the State and attempting to define, in their eyes, whether they see themselves more as Israeli Arabs, or Palestinian Israelis.
Of the three Arab parties that ran and with a much higher Arab Israeli turnout for the election than anticipated – 53.25% – Balad, the only party completely opposed to Israel as a Jewish State, fell below the threshold and wasted all of their votes.
Ayman Odeh and his Hadash-Ta’al party support a Palestinian state alongside an Israel that is not a Jewish State per se. Whilst they oppose joining any ‘Zionist’ government, they do not oppose working with a ‘Zionist’ government. They received five seats.
Mansour Abbas’ Ra’am, was part of the outgoing Israeli coalition government and had made the landmark statement previously in both Hebrew and importantly also in Arabic, that Israel is a Jewish state and will remain a Jewish state. He focused on the practical issues that Israeli Arabs face within that construct, regarding resources and Arab on Arab crime.
Ra’am went up from four to five seats.
3 – Personal security
Although, as already mentioned, national security played a minimal role in these elections there was a big rise in individual or personal insecurity, with over 2,000 terrorist attempts this year alone and now tragically 30 plus deaths after today’s outrage.
People simply going about their daily lives in the streets, on the buses and in supermarkets, were and continue to be, deeply affected.
This began with the riots in the mixed Jewish/Arab towns during the 11-day war with Hamas and continues on, tragically even today, as numerous incidents of terrorism occur.
Ben Gvir in particular, highlighted this, with the resultant electoral gains to his party.
Importantly it is not just Jewish insecurity. The average Israeli Arab also feels it, albeit in their case it is from Arab criminal gangs, leading to a shocking number of deaths either directly, or by collateral damage
Outside observers should note that there is much more that Ben Gvir has in common with large sections of the Arab sector, than many people realise.
For a start, the parties led by Smotrich and Ben Gvir and Abbas’ Ra’am, are deeply religious and very conservative, they have many similar values.
Just, by the way, as Abbas also has good relationships with the Haredi (Ultra-Orthodox) parties.
Some sectors of diaspora Jewry fear for Jewish/Arab relationships in Israel because of Ben Gvir. Time will tell if they will be right or wrong.
Both Itamar Ben Gvir and Mansour Abbas have to make up large credibility deficits when claiming they have reformed their past ideals.
However, it is worth listening to what the Bedouin Mayor of Rahat, the largest Bedouin town in the south, has to say.
The Jerusalem Post reported that “Mayor Fayez Abu Sahiban called on Otzma Yehudit chief MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who at the time of writing was proposed to be the Public Security minister, to tackle soaring crime and violence in Israel’s Arab sector, especially in the Negev, in a Channel 13 interview on Sunday afternoon.
Maybe [Ben-Gvir] will do things other people couldn’t, Abu Sahiban said, stating he refuses to pre-emptively judge the radical right-wing lawmaker before he takes up his first post in government and likely the cabinet. Everybody speaks about Ben-Gvir because of his threats before the election but let’s judge him after he is sworn in as a minister.”
A general observation.
We should remember that to Israel’s detractors, it is Israel’s existence that is the root cause of the issue, not her policies.
They see no difference between Lapid or Netanyahu.
What is actually more important today are that relationships with Israel’s allies and with world Jewry remain on an even keel.
The responsibility for this will fall on Netanyahu’s shoulders.
He is having more difficulty than he probably expected in actually settling his coalition and the various ministries, as Smotrich and Ben Gvir are playing hardball.
Some, and by that I mean quite a few, Israeli left-wing commentators who have heavily criticised Netanyahu for years and years in the past, now observe that actually he is a calm and cautious hand, a centrist, not generally seeking war, nor radical change, most often steering the middle course and following as much as possible, the status quo.
What a delicious irony that they now put their faith in him.
If only they had been more vocal about these traits of Netanyahu’s in the past.
Since it was known that Netanyahu won the election, countries around the world have come forward to acknowledge the result and to say that the relationship with Israel continues as normal.
They understand full well that the Israeli people will judge the new government and will deliver their own verdict on its performance when voting again at the next Israeli election.