Elections for No Reason

The coming election, just like most of previous elections, have become another internal ritual, lacking any great significance, in the fictitious rite of Israeli democracy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the Knesset, October 21, 2018.
Emil Salman

Everyone knew that the clouds of suspicion are hovering over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has run the economy into a deficit and has not solved the housing problems; that Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked is torching democracy; that Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev is damaging culture and inciting against the arts; that Education Minister Naftali Bennett is bringing religion and nationalism into the schools; that Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is conducting a ridiculous war, with outrageous means, against the BDS movement; and that the situation is not good and it will be even worse.

So, for what reason is this government falling? Because Gaza has not been hit hard enough. Because the army did not spill enough blood. Because the bully did not smack the waif as he should have. Israel is ready to forgive everything – except for restraint. That, too, is what will feature in the election campaign: Who dealt a blow and who didn’t. Who is a hero and who is soft. Who is Rambo and who is a namby-pamby.

This is how the coming election, just like most of previous elections, have become another internal ritual, lacking any great significance, in the fictitious rite of Israeli democracy. In essence, what has been is what will be. The identity of the next prime minister is much less important than what will be claimed in the election campaign.

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The elections, in principle, will be over nothing. Gaza brought down the government, but none of the candidates have anything to offer on the issue of Gaza, except for hollow words and a bandage. A survey conducted by Israel Television News over the weekend among the heads of the parties revealed the naked truth: Except for Meretz and the Joint List, which propose lifting the blockade on Gaza – the only solution that exists – no other party has anything to say.

Avi Gabbay of Labor said: “We will return to taking the initiative and making decisions.” Yair Lapid promised: “Deterrence and economic leverage.” Blah, blah, blah, or in short: Nothing. When it comes to the most fateful topic, the occupation, yes, the occupation, there is no “polarization” or “brotherly hatred” in Israel – the opinions barely differ. The center-left will talk about Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and do nothing, the right will not talk – try to find the difference. And when there are no differences on the most important matter of all, the elections are over nothing at all.

The rest of the issues are less important. It is clear that another right-wing government will continue to damage the fabric of democracy, that freedom and human rights will be even more limited. Abuse of the asylum seekers will get worse, left-wing organizations will be ostracized and even outlawed. Freedom of expression will also be curbed. It will be forbidden to criticize Israel Defense Forces soldiers – this is far from being far-fetched. As for public support for BDS, there is nothing to even talk about.

A right wing that is confident in itself is a more dangerous right wing. Nonetheless, it will not dare to do what it is obligated to do: annex the West Bank, or at least Area C. It will only continue to lay the legal groundwork for an apartheid state, a move that began with the nation-state law, but it will not dare to establish such a state officially.

The attack by another right-wing government on democracy will be bad, but in a country in which half of its natives live without any rights (the Palestinians) or under severe conditions of discrimination (Israeli Arabs), this is less important damage, to the privileged. No foreseeable alternative government will change the basic situation of half-democracy for half its residents. So, elections in Israel are not really elections, as long as there is no real democracy and no real ideological differences.

A center-left government will improve the atmosphere and stop the deterioration. With Gabbay, Lapid, Tzipi Livni, Ehud Barak or Benny Gantz at heading the government, fewer human rights activists will be stopped at Ben-Gurion Airport and fewer artistic institutions will be closed. There will be an end to attacks on the legal system and Western Europe will once again show its affection. Important, but not critical. We will not have fewer wars, or fewer settlements. So, what will we have accomplished?

We must not despair. But elections now cannot inspire great hope, even if they lead to an upheaval. No promising replacement is warming up on the sidelines. A lot of slogans and promises will be bandied about, parties will join together and split, journalists will celebrate and everything will spin in neutral, just another futile effort. A futile election.