Shortly after it became apparent that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party had survived a close election and would retain power over the nation’s government, the New York Times released a scathing editorial criticizing Netanyahu for going ugly and utilizing racism and anti-Palestine sentiment to energize far-right Israeli voters. In particular, the NYT editorial board took offense to Netanyahu stating on the eve of the election that he would never allow a separate Palestinian state as well as the Prime Minister stoking racist fears by claiming that Israeli right-wingers were in danger of losing power because Arab voters were mobilizing.
In the early hours Wednesday, with nearly all of the polls reporting, Netanyahu’s Likud Party had grabbed at least 29 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset. Meanwhile, the Zionist Union, a center-left party, obtained at least 24 seats. Isaac Herzog, the party’s leader and Netanyahu’s opponent for Prime Minister, called Netanyahu on Wednesday morning to concede defeat. Exit polls on Tuesday showed the race to be a toss-up.
A few weeks ago, it seemed like Netanyahu would cruise to an easy victory. However, that was before he accepted an invitation from Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-OH) to speak before Congress. The speech was seen as a slap in the face of President Obama, and dozens of Democrats refused to attend. The major issues surrounding the appearance is that Boehner and Bibi did an end-around and didn’t go through the White House. On top of that, the whole speech was just a way for conservatives to further undercut nuclear negotiations with Iran.
The bad press surrounding the speech, both there in the United States and abroad, presented an opening for opposition parties and put Netanyahu in real danger of losing the election. Rather than moderate his stance and acknowledge that it was probably a mistake to engage in partisan politics in another country, especially a huge ally like the United States, Netanyahu decided to go to the extreme right in order to energize and mobilize the most rabidly conservative voters.
The Times’ editorial slammed Netanyahu for going down that rabbit hole.
Mr. Netanyahu showed that he was desperate, and craven, enough to pull out all the stops. On Monday, he promised that if his Likud faction remained in power, he would never allow the creation of a Palestinian state, thus repudiating a position he had taken in 2009.
His behavior in the past six years — aggressively building Israeli homes on land that likely would be within the bounds of a Palestinian state and never engaging seriously in negotiations — has long convinced many people that he has no interest in a peace agreement. But his statement this week laid bare his duplicity, confirmed Palestinian suspicions and will make it even harder for him to repair his poisoned relations with President Obama, who has invested heavily in pushing a two-state solution.
Mr. Netanyahu added to the ugliness of the campaign when, during Tuesday’s voting, he said in a video on social media: “Right-wing rule is in danger. Arab voters are streaming in huge quantities to the polling stations.” This outrageous appeal to hard-line voters implied that only he could save Israel from its enemies, including the country’s Arab citizens, who represent 20 percent of the population and have long been discriminated against. There were signs that Arab Israelis were turning out in somewhat higher numbers, apparently to vote for the Joint Arab List, a coalition of four small parties.
Mr. Netanyahu’s demagogy further incites the rage that has torn the country apart. There were other inflammatory moments in recent days. Mr. Netanyahu claimed that nefarious foreign sources were trying to overthrow him and also promised to build more settlements, which most of the world consider to be illegal. Earlier this month, he made a subversive speech before Congress to castigate the Obama administration for seeking a nuclear deal with Iran, but that seems to have done little to enhance his support in Israel.
In order to win an election, Bibi increased the divide between Israelis and Palestinians, as well as Israel and the United States, while telling the Arab citizens of his country that he does not care about them. While he was able to retain the power he so desperately craves, his winning this most recent election further alienates Israel from the rest of the world, including the United States. He’s already proven that the only politicians he can work with in America are neo-cons and ideologically pure right-wingers.
Justin Baragona is the Managing Editor at Politicus Sports as well as Senior Editor at PoliticusUSA. He was a political writer for 411Mania.com before joining PoliticusUSA. Politically, Justin considers himself a liberal but also a realist and pragmatist. Currently, Justin lives in St. Louis, MO and is married. Besides writing, he also runs his own business after spending a number of years in the corporate world. You can follow Justin on Twitter either with his personal handle (@justinbaragona) or the Sports site’s (@PoliticusSports).