Benjamin Netanyahu's outgoing government caused serious damage to Israel over its four-year term. Its foreign policy focused on expanding the settlements, avoiding negotiations with the Palestinians and reviving the idea of annexing the occupied territories. The result was intense international isolation, a rift in the relationship with the United States and a terrifying vision of Israel's future. Its domestic policies were characterized by pure nationalism, harassment of the Arab minority, politicization and militarism in the education system, and bringing initiatives to destroy the Supreme Court and weaken the free press.
Isolationism, nationalism and threats to democracy and civil rights are the banners of the right-wing parties, which are running in the elections with their most radical lists of candidates ever. The Likud has united with Avigdor Lieberman and thrown out such liberals from its ranks as Dan Meridor and Benny Begin to make room for Moshe Feiglin. Naftali Bennett was chosen to head Habayit Hayehudi, which preached the annexation of Area C in the West Bank and cleansing the media of left-wing journalists.
The dangerous direction in which the right has turned requires all supporters of democracy and openness to the world to go to the polls and vote for parties that will stand in opposition to Netanyahu and his "natural partners." The choice is not simple. The camp that opposes the right has failed to join ranks and pick a candidate for prime minister. Among center and left-wing voters there are voices of despair saying "there is no one to vote for," but they must not be heeded. There is no more important commandment than to vote on election day in 2013.
Meretz has presented the most suitable platform, with uncompromising support for ending the occupation, dividing the Land of Israel into two nations, separating religion from state and strengthening civil rights, including those of the Arab minority. Moreover, Meretz will not join a Netanyahu government, and the polls forecast the party doubling its strength. The Labor Party has strengthened in the polls and has a refreshing list of candidates, but Shelly Yacimovich's leadership does not present an alternative to the Likud. Her evasion of issues and support of the settlers, Haredim and the wasteful defense budget is worrisome. Her test will be in keeping her promise not to join a right-wing government.
Those who don't want to vote for opposition parties can choose between Tzipi Livni's Hatnuah, Yair Lapid's Yesh Atid and Kadima, headed by Shaul Mofaz, in the hope they will join with Netanyahu and moderate the influence of the extreme right and Haredim. Out of all of them, Livni has stood out in her exhortations for an agreement with the Palestinians and rebuilding the relationship with the United States. Israeli democracy will be better off if Arab voters vote in high numbers and strengthen Hadash, Balad and the United Arab List-Ta'al against right-wing persecution. As opposed to the two "sectoral" Arab parties, Hadash is also competing with Meretz for left-wing Jewish voters. Its platform is much more radical, but its importance is in strengthening the struggle of Jews and Arabs for common goals.
The undecided voter has quite a lot of alternatives, but the principle that must guide his or her vote is clear: Weakening the right-wing parties and the Haredim in order to halt Israel's slide into political isolation, fascism and apartheid.
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