Opinion

Neither Fateful, nor Important: Israel's Third Election Will Decide Little, if Anything

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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A banner depicting Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming election, in Tel Aviv, February 17, 2020.
A banner depicting Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu ahead of the upcoming election, in Tel Aviv, February 17, 2020.Credit: AMMAR AWAD/ REUTERS
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Give the bombastic pathos and drama a rest: The election tomorrow is not fateful, and probably not even important. Like its two predecessors, it too will decide little, if anything about Israel’s image, and not only because the result will apparently be a tie. That’s the way it is when there is sweeping agreement over the fateful issues, and the controversial ones are marginal. That’s the way it is when the line separating the camps is almost entirely personal – Netanyahu, yes or no – and the dispute between the camps is one of identities much more than ideas.

The anger accompanying this struggle does not attest to its importance; it actually shows the ideological vacuum behind the storm of emotion. The dispute over Benjamin Netanyahu has almost nothing to do with his policies, but mainly his personal conduct. There’s almost nothing to argue over about his policies because the opposition has no real alternative to offer. The Law of Return, the nation-state law, the closure of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank – on these fundamental issues there is accursed consensus. The discussion ranges from Netanyahu’s lifestyle and his indecent efforts to bend the legal system to evade justice. Contrary to the prophecies of doom, these issues will determine the image of Israel far less than what those who dare fight Netanyahu suggest. The face of Israeli democracy is shaped between Rafah and Jenin, much more than between the prime minister’s residence and the district court.

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Bibi went gunning for his only real rivalCredit: Haaretz Weekly Ep. 66

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The issue that defines Israel more than any other is one everyone agrees on. The superiority of the Jews and their privileges in this country are not up for discussion. Neither is its by-product, the state’s right to continue the occupation to its heart’s desire, a matter of any real dispute. Most people agree to that as well. Between right and left there is no argument. Except for the Joint List, everyone is Zionist: Everyone supports the continuation of Jewish superiority. The only thing left to fight about is the so-called French law, a bill to prevent Netanyahu’s indictment in the corruption cases against him. Such a law is unacceptable, but unlike the voices of doom and gloom, it won’t change our system of government.

Other than that, everything else is a matter of broad public consensus concerning a non-egalitarian Jewish state with Jewish privileges and Jewish superiority. From here also stems the undisputed right to rule over another people in the occupied territories. Netanyahu and Gantz have no argument over this. Netanyahu says annexation (and doesn’t annex), Gantz agrees to annexation (under certain conditions) while de facto annexation has existed here for decades with everyone’s consent, with no intention of putting an end to it. From right-wing extremist Itamar Ben-Gvir to Labor Party chairman MK Amir Peretz, to Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, no one really disagrees as to what Jews are allowed to do in the Land of Israel. Everyone is for Jewish and democratic, despite the unbridgeable contradiction between them, and the inevitable need to choose between them. Thus, the election tomorrow is less critical than it seems. Netanyahu’s Israel and Gantz’s Israel will look amazingly alike.

The anti-Netanyahu psychosis is a scarecrow intended to cover this up. The “fate of democracy,” the “future of the rule of law,” the “end of the state,” “the destruction of the temple” – all high-flown words, with nothing to back them up. If there is a deep ideological divide it is only between the Joint List and all the rest. Some 15 MKs in the face of 105, that’s the real story. The ultra-Orthodox also declare themselves anti-Zionist, but this is completely untrue: They are the greatest of the settlers.

It’s time for Netanyahu to go, it’s time for Gantz to replace him, but the darkness is much less dark and the light is much less light. In Britain, fateful elections were recently held between right and left. In the United States there may be a fateful election between President Donald Trump and Senator Bernie Sanders.

In Israel all that’s left to do is hope that May Golan, number 34 on the Likud Knesset roster, will not be elected, and Iman Khatib Yassin, number 15 on the Joint List roster, will be elected. Too little to be called a fateful election.

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