In the Arena

An Israeli Electoral Embarrassment?

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Arik Ben-Zvi has a piece in The New Republic warning about the apparent strength of Avigdor Lieberman’s demi-racist anti-Arab Yisrael Beitanu (“Israel is our  Home”) party in the coming elections:

 Lieberman has focused much of his campaign inciting public anger against Israel’s Arab minority. He accuses Israeli-Arab lawmakers of harboring Hamas sympathies, and has called for the parties to be banned from running in the election. His campaign ads show Israeli-Arab students demonstrating against the Gaza war as a narrator ominously intones, “We won’t forget that, during the Gaza conflict, there were those among us who stood with Hamas.” As for the Gaza operation itself, Lieberman has denounced the cease-fire as a sell-out of the military. His preferred strategy is total war against the Gazan population: “We must continue to fight Hamas just like the United States did with the Japanese in World War II.” 

If, as seems likely, Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud Party wins the election next Tuesday, this will be a real test. Netanyahu will have to build a coalition to govern–does he include Yisrael Beitanu? Or does he take a more centrist, and traditional path, by including Kadima (Ariel Sharon’s old party, led by Tzipi Livni) and Labor (led by Ehud Barak, who should remain as Defense Minister). If Netanyahu goes the radical route, it has to be seen as an extremely provocative, xenophobic (and perhaps racist) move. The U.S. should express deep concern and disapproval. In fact, the U.S. should be sending a clear message that no matter the makeup of the new government, the expansion of Israeli settlements in the West Bank has to end immediately. With no exceptions. 

Finally, I’m leaving for two weeks travel in Europe and the Middle East–including Israel for the elections–and I’ll try to keep you posted along the way.