Just like the three previous elections, Tuesday’s election for the 24th Knesset will be a referendum on the continued tenure of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. But this time, Israel faces a greater danger than ever before. After the votes are counted, the country may end up being headed by a right-wing government reliant on Kahanist racists, ordinary racists, homophobes and opponents of the rule of law and human rights.
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Netanyahu has said throughout the campaign that he wants such a government (“totally right-wing,” as he put it), in the hope that it would save him from standing in the dock on corruption charges. In the absence of any clear opponent threatening his continued tenure, Netanyahu feels he’s within arm’s length of this goal.
As for his partners in the rightist bloc, they see a rare opportunity to destroy Israel’s democratic system and convert it into a nationalist theocracy. The erosion of individual rights and freedom of expression and the collapse of government institutions during the coronavirus pandemic were only a preview of what we can expect from the government of Netanyahu’s dreams.
Given the clear and present danger of a “totally right-wing” government, anyone who wants to preserve Israel’s democratic character, freedom of political expression and the independence of its justice system, as well as to promote civic equality and the chance of solving the conflict with the Palestinians, must show up to vote on Tuesday. And they must support one of the four parties that represent these values and weren’t tempted to enter the outgoing government, which was the worst in Israel’s history. Staying home would be a net contribution to the bloc of Netanyahu’s supporters.
The betrayal by Kahol Lavan chairman Benny Gantz and former Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz, both of whom joined Netanyahu’s government in violation of their promises to their voters, sowed disappointment and despair among the pro-change camp. During the current campaign, the impression was created that an alternative to Netanyahu could come from the rightists who have quarreled with him – New Hope chairman Gideon Sa’ar, Yamina chairman Naftali Bennett and Yisrael Beiteinu chairman Avigdor Lieberman, of whom the last has adopted an anti-Haredi stance. But their personal grudges against Netanyahu shouldn’t obscure their positions, which are deeply rooted in the ideological right, the occupation, the settlements and hatred of the justice system. Voting for them would only strengthen the right.
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There are only four parties running in the current election that represent proponents of democracy: Meretz, which has fearlessly upheld its principles over the years even at the price of long stretches in the opposition; the Joint List, which represents the aspiration for civic equality; Labor under its new chairwoman, Merav Michaeli, who refused to join Netanyahu’s government together with her party colleagues; and Yesh Atid, the largest party in the pro-change bloc, whose leader, Yair Lapid, has recanted his previous troubling statements about Arab politicians and demonstrated impressive staying power in the face of Netanyahu’s enticements and denunciations alike. They will bear responsibility for fighting the destructive plans of a “totally right-wing” government led by Netanyahu. Bolstering them is the best shield against the danger lying in wait for Israel.
The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.