Benny Gantz was an imperfect candidate, his campaign was off-key, Avi Gabbay outmaneuvered himself, Meretz fell short of its potential, the Arabs stayed home and Benjamin Netanyahu, of course, is a sorcerer. Even if it’s all true, the bottom line remains the same: Last week’s election was indeed a referendum about Netanyahu, but also about us. And we lost, badly.
The absence of any substantive agenda, economic, social or security-related, only highlighted the unequivocal outcome. In his war against the rest of the world, Netanyahu won. In its battle against the Declaration of Independence, the Nation-State Law triumphed. In its clash with the state, religion emerged victorious. In the World Series against Israel, the State of Judah was crowned champion.
The unambiguous verdict intensified the center-left’s bitterness and depression, above and beyond its disappointing losses in recent elections. The writing on the wall is crystal clear and therefore harder to ignore.
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One could certainly insist that in a proportional election system, an alliance between Netanyahu’s Likud and Gantz’s Kahol Lavan is a valid representation of the will of the people, except for the fact that the question of a national unity government was never raised in the election campaign. Israelis were asked whether they want a fundamentalist right-wing government headed by criminal suspect Netanyahu, and they responded with a resounding yes.
The only consolation for anyone who voted for Gantz, or the parties to his left, was the sense of “What was will be,” as Ecclesiastes notes, “And nothing is new under the sun.”
The incoming coalition seems like an exact copy of its predecessor, which we somehow survived, grieving patriots reassured themselves. We will learn lessons, buckle down, close ranks, sharpen the message, make new inroads among minorities, prepare for the next elections, reignite hope and ignore the possibility that last week’s elections, under the circumstances they were held, leave no room for doubt: The right will rule forever.
Two imminent developments, however, could create critical junctures way before Israelis head to the polls again. The first is the annexation that Netanyahu promised on the eve of the elections, which increasingly seems like the only possible objective and outcome of Donald Trump’s so-called “deal of the century”. Annexation would not only terminate the two-state solution, spark international protests and possibly foment Palestinian violence, it will vaporize the illusion of “temporariness” which has shielded center-left voters from confronting what is essentially an apartheid regime, which Israel has maintained for 52 years on their behalf and in their name.
The second, and probably more immediate, event will be the extrication of Netanyahu from the long arms of the law, by hook, crook, legislation or immunity. Granting Netanyahu personal and retrospective indemnity, a minute before his indictments are due to be handed down, would inflict fatal blows on the principles of legality and equality before the law. It will transform democratic Israel into a banana republic, in which its leader is its only essence. It will still be possible to pretend that nothing’s changed, because the same Netanyahu will still be heading the same right-wing government, but only if one ignores the fact that Israel itself has been mutilated and mutated beyond recognition, possibly forever.
A black flag of immorality and illegitimacy flutters over both annexation and immunity. If they come to pass, the center-left may be forced to do some soul-searching: How is a conscientious citizen supposed to react when his or her country betrays its values and its legacy. Patriotic Israelis will find themselves approaching the T-junction they have somehow succeeded in ignoring, despite their electoral defeat. They will have to decide whether to be or not to be, stay silent or raise their voices, desert or stay and fight, to die, as the Revisionist Betar anthem puts it, or to try and conquer the mountain anew, any way they can.
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