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Are the Knesset elections of November 1, 2022, the end of the marathon of five rounds of elections in four years? Or are they the beginning of the horror of a shift to the right in the Jewish state? Those who want to realistically assess this latest round of elections in Israel should not ignore a few key points.

First, Israel is a democratic country. A turnout of more than 70 per cent does not indicate voter fatigue or a lack of interest among Israelis in their democracy. Therefore, an election result – whether it is convenient or not – must be taken seriously as a legitimate expression of the will of the people in the State of Israel.

Secondly, it is a simple fact: Benjamin Netanyahu is the most popular prime minister the state of Israel has ever had. He may be controversial, unpopular in some circles or even much hated. But a dictator he is not. A dictator cannot be voted out as easily as happened with Netanyahu in March 2021.

Already in his last term, Netanyahu surpassed David Ben Gurion as Israel’s longest-serving prime minister. His comeback speaks for itself. Netanyahu’s personal victory these days is indisputable. Those who have clearly spoken out in favour of him as head of government, even before coalition negotiations, constitute a majority of 64 MPs in a parliament that includes 120 Knesset members. Nothing seems to stand in the way of the formation of a government capable of acting this time.

A shift to the right in Israel always makes a good headline. However, the political evolution of Israeli society is not news. At the latest since the law professor Amnon Rubinstein noted the destruction of the Israeli left by Yasser Arafat in his book “From Herzl to Rabin: The Changing Image of Zionism.” No one in Israel believes in the “land for peace” formula anymore. Of all the land the Jewish state has given up, it has reaped nothing but hatred and rockets.

Already two decades ago simple German observer wondered where “right” and “left” belonged in Israel’s political landscape, when the Konrad Adenauer Foundation courted politicians like Shimon Peres in Israel as if the Christian Democratic Party had always belonged to the Socialist International – while politicians who were actually much closer ideologically to the conservative parties of the Federal Republic of Germany tended not to be considered natural partners.

If one wants to divide the 25th Knesset into “right” and “left”, then among the 57 MPs of the supposedly left-wing anti-Netanyahu bloc, 24 belong to the “Yesh Atid” (“There is a Future”) party of outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid. Remember: The journalist Lapid had once started his election campaign in the settler town of Ariel and was most recently prime minister alternating with the head of the settler party “New Right” of Naftali Bennet and Ayellet Shaked, who may hardly be coined “leftist”.

Another six MPs belong to the “Israel Beiteinu” (“Israel, our homeland”) of Avigdor Lieberman, who – as far as he was perceived in Europe – was also hardly described as a leftist or even moderate. What he has in common with Lapid is above all an almost aggressive anti-religiosity and, in the last legislative period, a firm determination to make a government under his former boss Netanyahu impossible at all costs.

Then, in the left spectrum of the 25th parliament of Israeli democracy, there are twelve MPs from the National Unity party of former Chief of General Staff Benny Gantz. When Netanyahu had once tweeted in one of the election campaigns of the past years: “If I am elected, I will annex the West Bank!” – Gantz had spontaneously replied: “Me too!” Although both would have had the authority to do so, neither of them did. And today, equal rights for all in the occupied territories is no longer an issue at all.

Finally, what remains for a left in the Knesset are four MPs from the social democratic Labor Party, after the Meretz Party failed the 3.25 per cent hurdle, and ten Arab Knesset members. Among these Israeli Arabs, however, the question arises whether one really wants to classify Mansour Abbas’ “Ra’am” party, which has so far been part of the government coalition and has now even won a seat with five MPs, as “left-wing”. By German standards, Abbas’ attitude would probably have to be described as Islamist.

Full-bodied but hollow promises by Israeli politicians are not made any more understandable by panicky exaggerations and polarisation by observers and journalists. On the most relevant political issues, the differences between the parties now represented in the Knesset are so marginal that they are hardly comprehensible to the ordinary man in the street.

They all enjoy the economic success of the Jewish state, or suffer from the fact that the cost of living is far too high, wages far too low, social differences far too great and the Israeli shekel far too strong.

In relation to the Palestinians, to the Arab neighbours, to the world in general and to Iran in particular, there is no discussion within Israel. The last time the Gaza Strip was bombed was when Islamists from the Ra’am party were in the government. In general, Sunni Arabs are united with Israel in their opposition to Shiite Iran. Any trepidation about the Jewish state’s fidelity to the treaty that may have been present among the partners of the so-called “Abraham Accords” is now unnecessary when the Israeli signatory to these agreements is back in power.

Itamar Ben Gvir or Bezalel Smotritch (“Religious Zionism”) are unquestionably the big winners of this election, with an increase of eight members of Knesset. How partly racist or homophobic statements are translated into Israeli daily politics will be interesting. The same applies to the weight of the ultra-Orthodox, who on the one hand question English and mathematics as compulsory school subjects, but whose women at the same time massively push into the IT industry as employees.

The past year and the anti-Netanyahu government have exposed all those as liars who have called Israel an apartheid state. That Mansour Abbas does not spontaneously and categorically rule out participation in a Netanyahu government speaks volumes. At the same time, this also puts the political weight and demands of Ben Gvir and Smotritch into perspective. The coalition negotiations in the coming weeks will definitely be exciting.

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By Published On: November 5, 20225.3 min read
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