Parliamentary elections in Israel: Elections without elections or “Only Bibi”?

The Left-Right Paradigm

The Israeli election campaign has reached its climax. February 21 marked the end of the submission of party and bloc electoral lists for the elections to the 21st Knesset. How important the last few days were, Benjamin Netanyahu showed. He postponed a diplomatic meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in order to form an electoral bloc of religious parties. Parties that belong to the right-wing political spectrum in Israel. The merger of the Jewish Home and Ihud Leumi parties with the far-right Jewish Power party. This process required significant coalition concessions from the prime minister. A coalition of right-wing parties could be formed in the 21st Knesset. And Rabbi Rafi Peretz, chairman of the Jewish Home Party, will receive the post of Minister of Education. Betsalel Smotrich, chairman of Ihud Leumi, as minister of construction. On the Likud list, a representative of the Jewish Home Party holds the most popular spot. For the first time in Israeli political history, the Likud is leading a member of another party to the Knesset.
This election is radicalizing Israeli society along the lines of “only Bibi” or “only not Bibi. Political programs are viewed only in terms of “They are for Netanyahu” or “Against him.

Vote, or you’ll lose.

The pre-election slogan “vote or you will lose” is traditional in electoral technology. Especially in countries where there is no limit on the length of time one may hold the highest public office. Prime Minister since 2009, Benjamin Netanyahu wants to celebrate his tenth year as prime minister this year. But this desire of his encounters the fierce resistance of his opponents.
A few hours before the Central Election Commission of Israel stopped accepting electoral lists, a new bloc was created. Three former IDF Chiefs of Staff and Yair Lapid announced their unification. The Kahol Lavan (Blue and White) party was founded by Beni Gantz, Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon and Gabi Ashkenazi. Yair Lapid, leader of the Yesh Atid party, agreed with the generals in order to remove Netanyahu.
How dangerous is the unification of the centrist parties for Israel’s leadership? This can be understood from Netanyahu’s own reaction. He says that after the unification of the Left it is dangerous to squander votes on parties which do not make it into the Knesset. One should only vote for the Likud.
In Israel’s political system, an important criterion for the “left”-“right” division is the attitude to the Palestinian question. Socio-economic aspects are not even in second place. In determining the left-right question, the Palestinian question is followed by the religious question. Religious and ultra-religious parties consider themselves to be right-wing. Netanyahu even held an urgent briefing with the leading Israeli media. On February 21, he said that the Kahol Lavan party relied on a bloc of Arab parties. “They will form a leftist government that will create a Palestinian state,” the prime minister said.
The press service of the Likud party also formulated the pre-election situation. They stated: “It is now very clear what choice the citizens of Israel face. A leftist Gantz-Lapid government supported by Arab parties, or a rightist government headed by Netanyahu.

Minority Language Parties

It should be noted that the Communists and the Arab parties also formed two blocs. The leftist Arab bloc of the TAAL and HADASH (Communist Party). There they have already reported on the joint nomination of candidates. The national-religious Arab bloc, which includes the BALAD and RAAM parties, is also ready for an electoral battle.
Netanyahu’s long-term partner Avigdor Lieberman, with his “Russian-speaking” “Our Home Israel” party. In this election he opposes Likud and the prime minister personally.
“Our Home Israel” positions itself as the party of the center. A party caught between right-wing extremists of the Likud and left-wing populists with generalist credentials. Nevertheless, the party states that their representatives will be included only in the right-wing government. Some sociological data are not very optimistic for Lieberman’s party. “Our Home Israel may not pass the electoral barrier and will not get into the 21st Knesset.
The slogans “only Bibi” or “only not Bibi” play a cruel joke on Israeli society. The traditional pre-election “consolidation of the electorate on hate” has become the main socio-political trend. The question then is how to quell the pre-election hatred of everyone against everyone. How strong is Israeli society enough not to exacerbate intersectional hatred after the election?

Diplomacy as an electoral tool

Since 2015, Netanyahu has been part-time foreign minister. Activism on the international stage is an important argument for the prime minister in the electoral dispute with his opponents. Indeed, the Israeli foreign minister seeks to give Israel the image of an important geopolitical player. And not just in the Middle East. The diplomat Netanyahu sees himself as the decider of the world. His ambition is one of the reasons that make the Knesset elections extremely important. And not just for Israeli politics, but for world politics as well.
Let us describe a few of the main areas of foreign policy activity of the Israeli Foreign Minister.

Iranian direction

Netanyahu seeks U.S. withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action with Iran. He constantly reinforces aggressive anti-Iranian rhetoric. It should also be noted that the EU is trying to find mechanisms to circumvent the sanctions against Iran. This threat increases the activity of Israeli diplomacy on the European track.
Both American and Israeli officials claim a possible military operation against Iran. In turn, the Iranian foreign minister claims that Israel is threatening Iran with its nuclear weapons. Increasing confrontation with Iran increases the possibility of a “small victorious war” with the United States. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo spoke quite eloquently about this idea. He spoke quite clearly at a conference on the Middle East held in Warsaw. “Without confrontation with Iran, we cannot achieve peace and stability in the Middle East.

Friendship with Sunni countries

Active visits of the Israeli leadership to Muslim countries are changing the traditional negativity of Islamic countries toward Israel. The restrained positivity is accompanied by joint projects in various spheres. These trips are also related to the creation of an anti-Iranian bloc of Israelis and Sunnis. As a result, there is a change of policy towards the Palestinians by the countries that traditionally support them. The issue of Palestinians and a Palestinian state is closely intertwined with Trump’s “deal of the century.” A deal that the White House decided to announce after the Israeli elections. As an advance for the “deal of the century,” Trump moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. He also tightened U.S. fiscal policy toward the Palestinian Authority. The U.S. State Department made the official announcement on August 31, 2018. It reported that the UN agency for Palestinian refugees UNRWA (UNRWA) was no longer funded.
At the same time, according to some sources, Netanyahu is compensating the money underpaid by the US. This is being done at the expense of Germany, which has been secretly asked to further fund this UN structure.

Interaction with the United States

On February 17, Amos Yadlin, head of the Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), “let it slip” about the U.S. plans. In an interview with a correspondent of one of the Israeli publications he formulated the intentions of the Americans. Yadlin confirmed that the Americans will influence the composition of the government in Israel after the elections. They will not allow the coalition to become extreme right-wing. Americans’ fear of the strengthening of extreme right-wing forces in Israel is understandable. Only compromises by the Israeli government will allow the “deal of the century”-Trump’s peace plan-to be realized. And the Arab-Israeli settlement, in turn, is an important argument for Trump. This includes the upcoming presidential election already in the United States. The growing confrontation between Republicans and Democrats in the U.S., an important factor in Israeli politics. In the run-up to the upcoming U.S. presidential election, the confrontation between left and right in Israel is escalating. Contradictions within the Prime Minister’s camp are also becoming more and more acute.
The Minister of Education in the Netanyahu government, Naftali Bennett, leader of the New Right, is threatening the “deal of the century. It is not only the leader of the party created for the Knesset elections who is threatened. His partner in the party, (Minister of Justice) Ayelet Shaked, is also threatened. They are ready to block Trump’s political plan for a Palestinian state.

Geopolitical games with Russia

The conflict with Iran also intensifies the confrontation with Russia, whose armed forces are located on the territory of Syria. This confrontation is intensified against the background of the creation by American politicians of various “axes of evil. Turkey and Russia and Syria occasionally fall into these “axes. Iran and North Korea are permanently on these axes. Although Trump’s desire for a Nobel Peace Prize might change that list a bit. For the sake of a peaceful settlement on the Korean Peninsula, Trump can remove the DPRK from the list.

There is an Israeli desire to squeeze Gazprom in the EU and to start supplying Israeli gas to Europe. This also does not help improve Israel’s relations with Russia. In December 2018, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Energy Francis Fannon stated this.

During the telephone briefing, they discussed EU energy security and countering Nord Stream 2.

The construction of the pipeline to Europe will bring economic and political dividends to Israel. Europeans are dependent on gas supplies. At the same time, trade between Russia and Israel is constantly growing. There are regular meetings at the highest level. Israel is actively negotiating for accession to the EAEU.

Impact on the EU

But there are other diplomatic tools besides the prospect of an Israeli gas needle for the EU. Israel is already actively influencing the situation in the EU through the instruments of soft power. Netanyahu exploits the contradictions and problems in the EU. The influx of refugees from Muslim countries has made Israeli counterterror technologies relevant to Europeans. For example, Rafael’s Drone Dome radar technology is used at Gethwick Airport in London. The system is designed to detect and shoot down drones.
Conservative right-wing regimes in Central and Eastern Europe, along with Israel, are splintering the EU. Israel is destroying European solidarity on issues relevant to itself. Especially on the Arab-Palestinian conflict and anti-Iranian policy.
In 2017, the Israeli Foreign Ministry, under the leadership of Foreign Minister Netanyahu, did not condemn Catalan separatism. And this despite Spain’s demand for an unequivocal condemnation of Catalan separatist sentiments. Spain stood out for its anti-Israeli sentiments among European countries. Catalan separatists, like many nationalist movements in the world, support Israel. They see him as a role model in the struggle for independence.

Fighting anti-Semitism as a tool of foreign policy

Combating anti-Semitism is one of Israel’s soft power tools. And Netanyago uses it like a stick and a carrot. A typical example is the summit of the Visegrad Four (Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary). The summit was to take place on February 18-19, 2019, in Jerusalem. The summit did not take place because of Netanyahu’s statement. He was then joined by Israel’s Minister of Transportation and Intelligence, Yisrael Katz. On February 17, 2019, he was appointed acting foreign minister. Katz stated that “Many Poles collaborated with the Nazis… Poles absorb anti-Semitism with their mother’s milk. This statement caused a diplomatic scandal and Poland’s refusal to participate in the meeting of the Visegrad Four. Poles were supported by Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš. He replaced his participation in the Visegrad summit with a personal meeting with Netanyahu. Interestingly, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also supported Poland’s position in the conflict with Israel. The U.S. Embassy in Poland urged Acting. Foreign Minister Katz to apologize to Poland. Words about the “innate anti-Semitism of Poles” demanded satisfaction.
But despite the fact that Poland refused to participate in the summit, it was informally held. Passed even with an increase in the level of representation. For example, from Hungary, instead of the foreign minister, Prime Minister Orban came. Representatives of the Czech Republic, Slovakia, and Hungary signed favorable agreements. According to some reports, these agreements are associated with plans for advanced technological development for these countries. Maybe that’s why these countries have opened offices in Jerusalem. Thus the Poles were “punished” for denying their anti-Semitism.

The Chinese alternative

The Chinese direction of Israel has long been a source of concern in the United States. President Trump sees China as the main threat to U.S. hegemony. Much of its efforts are aimed at countering Chinese expansion. The creation of the Israel-Sunni alliance and the unification of North and South Korea are also attempts to counter China. But Israel is actively developing its economic cooperation with China. It is trying to build itself into the global transport infrastructure it is creating and is attracting Chinese investment. This irritates American partners. In September 2018, the head of the Center for Maritime Policy and Strategy Studies at the University of Haifa spoke out. Major General of the reserve Shaul Horef stated that China’s presence in the port of Haifa. He said that it jeopardizes Israel’s cooperation with the United States.

These are just some of Netanyahu’s international activities. Its activity increases Israel’s prestige, but, on the other hand, increases the opposition of world players to Israeli policy. The question is, will the Jewish state have the economic and political strength to pay for these ambitious leadership plans?

Israeli Trump for local use

The election has entered an active stage. It is already clear that they will be the most “ruthless” in the history of Israel. The 21st Knesset elections concentrate both supporters and opponents around the person of Netanyahu. This is reminiscent of President Trump’s situation in his preparation for the next U.S. presidential election.
Trump is being investigated as part of the search for a “Russian trail. Netanyahu is under investigation in a number of corruption cases. The decision of Avihai Mandelblit, the government’s legal advisor, is very important now. Whether or not he will announce the charges before the election. The Prime Minister’s opinion of the legal advisor has been voiced many times. Netanyahu stated: “The legal advisor seems to have surrendered under pressure from the left and the media. The procedure for the most fateful decision in the history of Israeli jurisprudence was compressed into a few days“.
Like Trump, Netanyahu accuses the Israeli media of bias, partiality, and betrayal of national interests. In January 2019, billboards appeared in Tel Aviv with photos of four prominent Israeli journalists. The billboards read, “It’s not up to them. Reporters wrote extensively about corruption cases in which Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu could have been involved.
There is an old law on campaigning in Israel. The law does not extend to the Internet space numerous rules and restrictions. Restrictions provided for “traditional” media and outdoor advertising. The Knesset was going to approve the new law before it was dissolved. But Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu prevented its passage. Now the Russian media are criticizing the Kahol Lavan bloc on the rights of advertising. In the Hebrew-speaking Internet space, the audience of “fake news” reached two million people. Bots and trolls in Israel have a very clear political orientation. Many are campaigning for Binyamin Netanyahu. But Ayelet Shaked is not far behind the premier in the number of bots and trolls.

What’s next? Instead of an epilogue

In order to understand what will happen in Israel, we need to turn to the theory of techno-humanitarian balance. It describes the relationship between the economic and socio-cultural development of society. The development of technology increases the external resilience of society. But it also reinforces the feeling of omnipotence, impunity, and thirst for “small victorious wars. As a result, social confrontation between different social groups grows. Society depends on the fluctuating moods of the electorate and relies on the decisions of authoritative leaders. All this reduces the internal stability of society, leading to a pre-crisis syndrome. Such a technologically advanced society can be destroyed from within by archaic social institutions and intergroup relations.
Both the executive, judicial and representative authorities are gradually being discredited as part of the election campaign. Consolidating hatred reinforces the contradictions between different social groups in Israel. Religious vs. secular, Russian-speakers vs. religious and Arabs, religious vs. Russian-speakers, etc.
Time will tell whether Netanyahu will be elected or not. But the technological breakthroughs to which the prime minister constantly refers may play a cruel trick on him. “Breakthroughs,” which Netanyahu claims credit for, could destroy Israeli society.

Igor Kaminyk