Israel’s shift to the right will alienate those it needs most

Jonathan Freedland writes: In a week when the dead number 60,000 in Syria – a figure considered an underestimate by the UN body that produced it – it can seem like displacement activity to speak of any other topic in the region. It is Syria, surely, that matters most, a slaughter whose scale shames a world that does so little to stop it.

And yet there are other conflicts in the Middle East that cannot be ignored. Not one of the Arab-Israeli wars of 1948, 1956, 1967, 1973 or 1982 left a death toll of even half the current Syrian number, but Israel-Palestine still matters – to Israelis and Palestinians most of all, but also to the many millions around the world who feel bound up in their fate.

For now the focus is on the Israeli elections of 22 January. The polls suggest that a government ranked as one of the most rightwing in Israel’s history is set to be replaced by one even further to the right. Binyamin Netanyahu’s Likud – now merged with the party headed by his ultra-nationalist former foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman – is losing ground to the ultra-ultra-nationalist Jewish Home party. Even the more modest projections suggest Jewish Home will emerge as the third-largest party, one that Netanyahu will find very hard to exclude from his next coalition.

And what kind of outfit is Jewish Home? Take a look at its leader, Naftali Bennett, born of American parents and a champion of the West Bank settlers. He demands immediate annexation by Israel of 60% of the West Bank. In a 2010 TV debate he dismissed a Palestinian member of the Knesset in these terms: “When you were still climbing trees, we had a Jewish state here… We were here long before you.”

Even if Bennett is kept out of coalition, Netanyahu will still head a more rightist government. The Likud’s few remaining moderates were purged in recent internal elections, replaced by hardliners such as Moshe Feiglin. Here’s what he told a reporter from the New Yorker: “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic. You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers … The Arab destroys everything he touches.” Not for nothing was Feiglin banned from entry to the UK in 2008.

Yet far from being ostracised, such overt racists are set to gain new seats at Israel’s ruling table. [Continue reading...]

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