Israeli elections are tomorrow and millions of people will vote for Israel’s right wing parties. Voting right wing in Israel is a bit different than voting for Republicans in the states. Some of these right wing politicans – people who will sit in the next Israeli Knesset, people who will hold and have held ministry positions have said things that even the most extreme Republican congressman wouldn’t dream of uttering. So without any further ado, let’s take a look at the Israeli right.
Leading the religious Shas party is Aryeh Deri, who is is expected to get somewhere around 7 (out of the Knesset’s 120) seats in the elections. Deri spent two years in prison for corruption charges in the early 2000’s. The story of Shas is a story of a party embroiled in embezzlement and corruption, but hell – what politician doesn’t get into a little financial trouble once in a while? Let’s turn then, to the poster-child of the religious right, Naftali Bennet, whose ‘Jewish Home’ party wants to annex 60% of the West Bank. In 2013, Bennet was put on the hot seat for saying (in reference to his army service) “I’ve killed lots of Arabs in my life – there’s nothing wrong with that.” His minions, almost exclusively middle and high school boys are out in full force these days, distributing flyers, posters, and stickers with caricatures of Bennet’s Bugs Bunny-like face on them. One can’t mention the ‘Jewish Home’ party without mentioning Bennet’s cohort Ayelet Shaked, who holds the third place on the party’s list. In July, Shaked published an article on her Facebook page which called Palestinian children “little snakes” and said that Israel wasn’t fighting a war against Hamas, but rather than against the entire Palestinian people.
Saving the worst of the religious parties for last, it’s time to look at Eli Yishai’s Yachad party, which recently splintered from Shas. Yishai should be remembered for such eloquent gems as “Muslims that arrive here do not even believe that this country belongs to us, to the white man” and “we must blow Gaza back to the Middle Ages, destroying all the infrastructure including roads and water.” Baruch Marzel (who looks a bit like Nick Offerman, if Offerman let himself go and donned a kippah) holds the fourth seat in Yahad, and is considered by many to be the most right wing politician running in these elections. Marzel has called for the assassination of 91 year old journalist Uri Avnery, advocated for a holy war against gays in Israel, and was recently indicted for battery for an event in 2013 when he attacked a Palestinian in Hebron, where Marzel lives in an illegal settlement.
Eli Yishai and Baruch Marzel
But these are the religious parties. These are the parties that believe that God promised the land to the Jewish patriarch Abraham and his descendants. There must be some more level-headed people in the Israeli secular-right, right?
Avigdor Lieberman is the head of Yisrael Beitanu, a secular right-wing party that caters towards Israel’s many Russian immigrants. He has served as Israel’s Foreign Minister since 2013 and lives in an isolated settlement deep in the West Bank but has said that he would leave his home under a future peace accord. Not so bad? Just wait – there’s more. Lieberman (who was once convicted of assaulting a 12 year old) referenced Israeli Arabs this week stating that “Whoever is against us… we must lift up an ax and remove his head.” Whenever there’s a security incident in Israel, Lieberman takes the most extreme stance, stating for instance, this August that there was no choice but for Israel to conquer the Gaza Strip and level Hamas. Thankfully, his party has faltered in the polls and if the stars align, he won’t have enough seats to be allowed in the next Knesset due to an electoral threshold law he himself introduced in an attempt to keep smaller Arab parties out of the Knesset.
And then there is the Prime Minster, Benjamin Netanyahu. What’s he done in the past 6 years? Everything and nothing. He’s strained ties with the Israel’s most important ally – the United States, expanded settlements in the West Bank, and while he used to pay lip service to the idea of a two state solution, today claimed “If I’m elected there will be no Palestinian state”. In the ‘non-action category’, you can put Netanyahu’s inability to fight rising housing and cost of living prices, the lack of any sort of peace plan promoted by his cabinet, and while he’s got no problem bursting into Congress to criticize those who are trying to create a nuclear deal with Iran, he doesn’t actually have any version of a deal to offer himself.
The right scares me. They are trying to lead this country in a very dangerous direction. Why do people vote for the right? A mixture of legitimate security fears, religious and nationalistic sentiment, Bibi’s fear-mongering, and to some extent President Reuven Rivlin’s recent statement that “Israeli society is sick”.
So that’s the right. And what is the left? The left is anemic and milquetoast (with a few exceptions: notably young guns from the Labor Party, Yitzhik Shmuli and Stav Shaffir). The left would get walloped if they weren’t running against the villainous clowns detailed above, but polls show that head of the Labor party, Isaac Herzog has a chance, albeit a small one, of beating Bibi. Herzog is a small and seemingly timid man, not anyone’s textbook idea of a prime minister. He’s not a war hero and he’s not beloved by the masses, he’s a lawyer from North Tel Aviv. Though he comes from a long line of Israeli leaders (his father was the President of Israel, and his grandfather was the first chief rabbi of the state), he’s often ribbed for his nasal-y voice and Israeli journalist Ari Shavit recently described him as looking like a bar mitzvah boy. He has said that if elected he would freeze settlement building outside the existing blocs and restart talks with the Palestinians, fly to Washington in an attempt to thaw relations with President Obama, and would present a housing plan prepared by his choice for finance minister, esteemed economist Manuel Trajtenberg.
While Herzog’s party is projected to draw somewhere between 22-25 seats, Israel’s true left wing party, Meretz, which advocates gay rights, marijuana legalization, and a two state solution, is also hovering around the electoral threshold. It will be a terrible blow to Israel’s vibrant democracy if Meretz does not sit in the next Knesset. The left is uninspiring and in Meretz’s case, on the precipice. And what else is the left? Israel’s best chance.