Netanyahu’s Doomsday Weapon Leaves Israel Bleeding and Riven

Twenty percent of Israel's citizens were depicted as illegitimate, as a force from whom the right needs to be saved.

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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Bedouin women wait to cast their votes at a polling station in the town of Rahat, Israel on Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2015
Bedouin women wait to cast their votes at a polling station in the town of Rahat, Israel on Tuesday, Mar. 17, 2015Credit: AP
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

Benjamin Netanyahu achieved a crushing victory in these elections. All the reservations being voiced now have no bearing on the huge margin of his victory. Netanyahu overcame the winds blowing against him, the polls and the surveys. After these elections, Israel will be more right-wing and less civic-minded.

Netanyahu didn’t win 30 Knesset seats just because he defeated Naftali Bennett or because Avigdor Lieberman failed. Yesh Atid and Meretz also did less well than predicted in the polls. Zionist Union didn’t increase by much. There is, therefore, no escaping the conclusion that some Yesh Atid and Zionist Union voters defected to Likud at the last minute.

This reminds me of a chilling comparison to the United States during World War II. At the end of its prolonged fighting with Japan, the United States saw no way of ending the war other than by using its doomsday weapon, and proceeded to drop atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945, which decided the outcome of the war. Can such a comparison be made? Then it was a weapon of mass destruction and here it was a surprising electoral victory by the incumbent prime minister. Though Netanyahu did not threaten Israelis with a bomb, he did not hesitate to use his own “doomsday weapon.”

First Netanyahu removed the safety pin from the doomsday weapon by disturbing the fragile equilibrium of Israeli society while inciting against half the population. In Netanyahu’s eyes, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni belong to the extreme left, working with Arabs to topple the Likud government. Voters for Zionist Union, Yesh Atid and especially Meretz were painted as potential conspirators with Arabs, the enemies of the state’s existence. We were supposed to believe that anyone voting for them would strengthen the link between the terrible left and the Arabs seeking Israel’s destruction.

On Election Day the weapon itself was trotted out. It wasn’t politicians to the right of Likud, like Lieberman or Baruch Marzel, but Netanyahu himself who began warning voters of massive Arab participation. His assistants talked of a three-fold increase in the number of Arab voters in comparison to previous elections. Twenty percent of Israel’s citizens were depicted by the prime minister as illegitimate, as a force from whom the right needs to be saved. Herzog, a Zionist with moderate positions, was portrayed as an extreme leftist who is collaborating with the Arabs to disrupt the Jewish-Zionist character of this country.

This weapon vanquished the enemy, but left the country bleeding and riven.

I don’t believe Netanyahu could have won these elections without this weapon, but its use doesn’t explain the deeper meaning of the results. Operation Protective Edge, and the frightening anti-left and anti-Arab atmosphere that accompanied it, took place less than a year ago. Since then, we believed we had shaken off the racist Israel that constantly portrays itself as a victim. But these attitudes lingered deep in people’s hearts. Then the weapon was brought out, signifying that Netanyahu would stop at nothing to defeat the treacherous left (Herzog?) and the Arabs — who, we are meant to belive, aren’t really legitimate citizens anyway, seeking only to annihilate us.

Now Likud’s Yariv Levin can prepare the list of laws he’s been conjured up and Lieberman can start thinking of cleansing the Supreme Court. Ultimately, racism won the day.

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