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Israel Election Results: Is It Kahanist Ben-Gvir That Bothers You?

Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy
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Itamar Ben Gvir celebrating his win following Election Day
Itamar Ben Gvir celebrating his win following Election Day Credit: Rami Shllush
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

A list that in Europe would have been classified straight away as neo-Nazi has just made it into the Knesset. There is no other way to describe the Religious Zionism party. Xenophobia, homophobia and nationalism, combined with religious fundamentalism and violence, with no restraint on any of this: What else can you call it? No Western European country would have the audacity to include such a faction in its government. In Europe, this fascism would be unacceptable. In Israel, it’s on the verge of being part of the next government.

But this isn’t the worst news from election night. Even worse is the fact that the right, as usual, won the election. Everyone is talking about Benjamin Netanyahu, but the real winner is the Israeli right. Once again, it has won big: More than 70 MKs in the next Knesset will be proud members of the cruel, hard right. A more solid majority than any possible coalition.

It ain't over yet for Bibi, and we may meet here again. LISTEN to Election Overdose podcast

Just because some on the right also despise Netanyahu doesn’t make them any less rightist. Before and after Netanyahu, they represent a violent, arrogant, insulated Israel that chooses to disregard the rest of the world. Among the opposite camp, too, there are rightists pretending to be centrists, but even without them, most of the Knesset is right-wing. Most Israelis voted for the right. Lost in the shuffle amid all the calculations about the blocs that could be for or against Bibi was the fact that Israel was once again shown to be a rightist country.

Religious Zionism’s entry into the Knesset, and the identity of its members, is causing something of an uproar among the defeated camp, but this is self-righteous and hypocritical. It’s good that this camp is waking up but, as usual, it is doing so belatedly. Yes, the thought of Itamar Ben-Gvir and Orit Strock being in the Knesset is horrifying, but it’s easy to focus on them and ascribe just to them what many others, who are perceived as much less ugly, actually think and say and do. What Ben-Gvir says is what many Israelis think, even if they didn’t vote for him.

Israel’s government and army are already realizing many of the goals of the 24th Knesset’s most nationalistic party. So Religious Zionism’s entry into the Knesset isn’t necessarily bad news. Because it will make hidden intentions very plain in their crudest form, and perhaps finally awaken opposition.

It’s very easy to be horrified by Ben-Gvir, the convicted thug, but he needn’t scare anyone anymore. What is truly scary is that Israel is executing his policy and has been dancing to his tune for quite some time. So it is hypocritical and self-righteous to be appalled by his election when we haven’t heard the same people expressing similar horror when the IDF shoots unarmed protesters in the head, as happened just last Friday.

No one is appalled when soldiers break into homes and yank people out of their beds each week. No one is appalled when settlers daily seize more and more private lands and attack shepherds and farmers with iron chains, ATVs, drones and live weapons, and no one charges them with any crime. And, of course, when Israel keeps 2.5 million people trapped in the prison of Gaza, in awful conditions, hardly anyone is upset.

Now the supporters of all these atrocities will be in the Knesset. It’s good that the Knesset will hear what they have to say, and that the world will hear it too. They didn’t gain legitimacy by being elected now – they were given that long ago by a majority of Israelis who silently support them. It will be quite unpleasant to hear talk about “transfer” in the Knesset, but that is what the state is already doing in the Jordan Valley, Silwan and southern Mount Hebron – a quieter transfer than what Ben-Gvir has in mind, but just as despicable.

It’s a good thing that the Hebrew letter tet – the first letter of the word transfer and Religious Zionism’s ballot symbol – will take its place in the Knesset alongside the picture of Theodor Herzl. This is just what the state he envisioned has been doing ever since 1948, sometimes far from view.

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