On April 9th Israel will hold a legislative election that will decide the makeup of the 21st Knesset, Israel’s parliament. For the first time since taking power, Netanyahu’s control of Israel’s PR government is significantly under thereat from a new political alliance, Blue and White, led by former IDF General Benny Gantz. It has been a murky campaign marred by mudslinging from Netanyahu’s Likud government.
Whilst Gantz has tried to make this campaign about defending Israel’s Democracy by fighting corruption, increasing public spending and amending the controversial nation state law, Likud have generally resorted to ad hominems about opposition leaders, accusing Gantz of mental illness and suggesting he is being blackmailed by Iranian intelligence. Likud are even being investigated by election authorities after it came out that hundreds of fake twitter accounts were part of a coordinated campaign to boost Netanyahu and has faced further accusations of hacking its opponents’ phones. This isn’t the first time Israel have resorted to such tactics however; last election they famously suggested voting for the opposition would lead to an ISIS invasion of Israel.
In the western media however this election is largely gaining fame as a result of a controversial faux perfume ad by right wing Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, making light of accusations of fascism to describe her attempted interventions into the independent judiciary. In it she melodramatically smells a bottle labels “fascism”, and remarks “smells like Democracy to me”.
Netanyahu has successfully made much of his support from Donald Trump during this campaign, a surefire indicator to the direction his government will take if reelected. Not only will an ever more radical Likud push for such a shift to the far right, but with his own freedom from prosecution on the line, Netanyahu will be desperate to form a government and will likely agree to any and all concession demands from his far right coalition partners.
Despite all this controversy however, recent polling has started to give Netanyahu’s party, and the nationalist right wing slate as a whole, a slender lead. In many ways, this election is a testament to the effective politicking of Netanyahu, who has somehow made his own corruption and embezzlement charges disappear from the discussion. Netanyahu was indicted by Israel’s Attorney-General on February 28 on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, becoming the first sitting PM in Israel’s history to face criminal charges. It is alleged he received gifts from prominent expats in return for promoting tax exemptions and a variety of illegal dealings with press magnates using his influence in government to receive softer coverage. Even the separate “submarine affair”, in which Netanyahu is accused of financially benefiting personally from the state’s purchase of submarines, has only partially played a role.
Something else has been remarkably absent throughout this campaign however: Palestine. Despite Trump’s supposed “Deal of the Century” being on the horizon and the long term struggle defining the debate at the last election, talk of Palestine is nowhere to be seen. Likud have suggested no overall policy on the country’s existential problem, whilst Gantz and co. have been unerringly vague. The internationally backed two state solution seems to be off the table, especially given Trump’s recognition of Jerusalem as capital and his cutting of hundreds of millions of dollars of aid to Palestine. One senior Palestinian official Ahmed Majdalani said: “The Palestinian cause is totally absent in the Israeli elections, and when it comes, it comes only in a negative context”. This all reflects a growing apathy for peace talks among Israelis, who feel cynical after several rejected peace proposals, most recently in 2008. With continued deaths in Gaza and the West Bank, including that of 17 year old volunteer medic Sajed Muzher on March 27, it seems the agonising situation for Palestinians will continue past April 9th.
Even if Gantz were to win, questions still remain about what this means for the people marginalised by the last decade of Likud’s rule. Indeed Gantz has remained open to the idea of forming a coalition with the same Orthodox and Nationalist partners Likud allies to, who have recently become more extreme on divisive issues like settlements, Jerusalem and the nation state law. Many have even suggested annexing the West Bank (whilst providing little to no rights for Palestinian residents). Gantz’s own policy on the occupied territories leaves much to be desired – whilst progressive compared to Likud, it still outlines several red lines on Jerusalem and the Jordan Valley that make it unlikely to be accepted by Palestinian leadership. His party’s line on the nation state bill, that ostracises from full citizenship non-Jewish Israelis like Israeli Arabs and Druize minorities, has been subject to change across the campaign, but would at best be to slightly amend the bill.
Blue and White is marred by several problems, not least that their 10 person party list (of candidates) contains juts two women, and one of its leaders, Yair Lapid, has repeatedly made misogynistic jokes and remarks at the expense of female colleagues. Indeed as a party led by four men, it very much encapsulates the hyper masculine atmosphere that has dominated much of Israeli politics for years – only 35 of the Knesset’s 120 members are women, a rather worse share than the UK. Maybe it’s these problems that have led to a last minute boost in the polls for Israeli Labor?
Fundamentally, as a political alliance formed out of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party, Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, both liberal and centrist, and Moshe Ya’alon’s right wing Telem party, this is a disparate grouping. Brought together to remove Netanyahu from power, it comprises of everyone from Trade Unionists to free market capitalists. In political terms this party offers very little unique or radical; it is more defined by what it is not – Likud. How it would stay together with such division, whether or not it achieves the goal of ousting Netanyahu, is still up in the air.
All in all, for those expecting a revolution, you’re sure to be disappointed. Whilst Netanyahu losing power would not only cause reverberations domestically and abroad but also mark a change in Israeli politics, it is worth remembering that change is only so sizeable. And for those in the West Bank and Gaza, little hope seems to be on the horizon for April 9th.
Andrew Kersley is Politics and Economics coeditor, Staff Writer at The Boar and a third year History student. He can be found on Twitter @AndrewKersley