Israeli elections: turmoil at the top, no democracy in sight

Benjamin Gantz in military fatiugues, carrying a rifle, next to a photo of Benjamin Netanyahu sitting at a desk smiling while talking on a telephone.
Neither Benjamin Gantz (left) nor Benjamin Netanyahu (right) have been able to garner enough support to form a government. This could be because they represent the same pro-war, hard-right stance in Israel. PHOTOS: Israeli Defense Forces (Gantz); Ron Przysucha / State Department photo (Netanyahuy)
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For the first time in its history, Israel failed to form a government after elections — twice! The tangled results of the April and September 2019 legislative elections point to a flailing ruling class without stable political parties. They also shed light on a steady decline in international support for Israel.

An election stuck in the mire. Israelis vote in national elections not for candidates but for a party or bloc of parties, which are numerous and changeable. Whichever party or bloc wins the most votes must create a coalition that controls the majority of seats in the 120-member Knesset (parliament). The leader of the largest party becomes prime minister.

Parties or blocs with the most Knesset seats today are the Likud of Prime Minister Netanyahu; Blue and White, recently patched together by retired generals and led by Benny Gantz; and the Joint List, headed by Ayman Odeh.

The far-right politics of Likud and Blue and White are nearly indistinguishable. The two want to fortify illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories, formally annex the West Bank, and declare war on Gaza. The Joint List is an alliance of four Arab-led political parties that range from left to right.

The 2019 electoral mess was nothing if not complicated. But, briefly: Voting nationally would normally have taken place in November 2019. However, with government factions embroiled in a political dispute and corruption charges pending against Netanyahu, an early election was called for April.

Likud tied with Blue and White for seats. Netanyahu was charged with forming a coalition government but was unable to. With a few more twists and turns, this led to the election in September. Likud and Blue and White came out on top once again. Each was given the chance to pull together a coalition government, and both failed.

As of this writing, what happens next is up in the air.

The Joint List briefly offered to support war criminal Gantz, a former Israeli army chief, in order to oust Netanyahu. But this move was shut down when the Balad Party, one of the List’s four members, refused to go along. Balad cited Blue and White support for annexing Jerusalem and the Golan Heights, its threat of war in Gaza, and its unwillingness to annul the racist nation-state law.

That infamous 2018 legislation officially imposed apartheid as the law of the land. It crowned Hebrew as the only official language, dismissing Arabic and English, and it declared Israel the exclusive homeland of Jews.

“Regardless of which party wins, or whether a third election is called,” advises Amjad Iraqi, a Palestinian citizen of Israel, “the next Israeli government will oversee what is now a fully enshrined system of racial supremacy stretching from the river to the sea.”

Where’s the democracy? About eight and a half million people live in Israel. Nearly two million, or 21 percent, are Palestinian. A right-wing push is on to outlaw their current right to vote.

All Jewish immigrants automatically have citizenship and voting rights, as do Jewish settlers who have seized lands in the occupied territories of the West Bank, Gaza, Golan Heights and East Jerusalem. But the five million Palestinians living in these areas cannot vote.

Approximately 250,000 non-Jewish migrants also cannot vote, regardless of how long they have lived and worked in Israel. Among them are homecare, agrarian and construction workers from Asia, Africa, Mexico and South America. As is true in other Middle Eastern countries, these foreign workers are “bound” to their employers by the kafala system, capitalism’s modern version of serfdom or slavery. They have few protections from abuse, deportation, and separation from their children.

Global opinion shifts. The good news is the remarkable decline in uncritical international support for Israel.

Long before the nation-state law alarmed the world, global popular outrage over Israeli offenses was growing. Especially potent has been community organizing by the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), launched in 2005. Students, athletes, artists and political radicals from numerous countries are boycotting Israel and protesting on campuses and streets. Investors are withdrawing from Israeli companies. The crackdown on BDS by politicians in the U.S. and Germany who refuse to acknowledge Israeli government crimes is, in fact, a tribute to the success of BDS.

U.S. Jews who have served in the Israeli army have returned home with changed minds about Zionism and go on tour publicizing brutish civil rights abuses by the military.

They work closely with Breaking the Silence. This is an Israeli whistleblower organization founded in 2004 by courageous Lone Soldiers who have come to reject the army’s deplorable treatment of Arabs and are dedicated to ending the military occupation of Palestinian lands. Many Jews internationally have rejected or are questioning the legitimacy of Zionism, at the cost of having to stand up to false accusations of anti-Semitism.

In Israel, hundreds of students, parents and teachers recently marched against the deportation of Filipino students born and raised in Israel. But human rights groups and critics are increasingly being muzzled by courts and laws, as well as physically attacked by goons.

However the parliamentary elections are ultimately resolved, one thing is clear. Israel’s claim to be the premier democracy in the Middle East — backed up for decades by U.S. money, weapons, and international public relations — is entirely hollow. And the truth is catching up.

Send feedback and comments to writer Monica Hill at

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