For a moment, it seemed there was a light at the end of Israel’s political tunnel. Although Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party won fewer Knesset seats in the March 3 election than Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, sheer hatred of Netanyahu drove his former ally, the right-wing Avigdor Liberman, toward Gantz’s camp and what seemed like a narrow majority of support for a new government.
The idea was that Blue and White, with 33 seats, would create a coalition with the Labor-Gesher-Meretz center-left bloc (seven seats) and Liberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party (seven seats) and get support “from the outside”— the Joint List, the mostly Palestinian bloc of parties which won a remarkable 15 seats. With Netanyahu’s coalition yielding only 58 seats, all Gantz would need is one more than that to form a government, under Israel’s parliamentary rules. It would be a highly unstable government, but it would at least avert yet another election on top of the three Israel has held in the last year. And it would augur Netanyahu’s long-awaited departure from the Prime Minister’s Office. Read more at Responsible Statecraft
I did two radio spots this week which my readers might find interesting. Both were devoted largely, but not entirely, to discussion of Ilhan Omar’s tweets and the outrageous backlash to them. My piece on the matter is at LobeLog, at this link.
Yesterday, I spoke with Ian Masters on KPFK in Los Angeles. You can hear that segment at this page.
Earlier this week, I spoke with Eugene Puryear and Sean Blackmon about Rep. Omar, Israeli elections, and a little on Iran. You can listen to that at this link.
The following is the speech of Frederick Douglass, delivered when he was asked to speak to the Rochester Ladies’ Anti-Slavery Society on July 5, 1862.
Douglass spoke as a free Black man in the era of slavery. But his words resonate through the ages. They symbolically represent the slaves, the freed slaves living as virtual non-citizens, later under Jim Crow, and to this day as less than their white co-citizens, discriminated against in finance, housing, and employment, targeted by white supremacists and police. But these words speak as well, to the history of many people of color, to LGBTQI* people, to women, to communists and anarchists, to Muslims, polytheists, and people of all non-Christian faiths, to working people of all kinds. In short, these words can apply, to one degree or another, to most Americans, and they are an entirely accurate indictment of the USA as a whole.
On this 4th of July, as our nation works hard to erase the halting, insufficient progress we have made, as we lock people up for fleeing violence in which our country is complicit to varying degrees, as we lead the world to environmental catastrophe, as we, as a people, ignore the harm being done in our name within our borders and all around the planet, we should not be lighting off fireworks in celebration of war. We should not be reading from lofty, 18th century documents as if they have any relationship to the United States as it exists or has ever existed. We should be heeding the words of Frederick Douglass. To help us do that, here are those words.
Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? And am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?Continue reading →
Controversial comments by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu about heavy voter turnout in Israel’s Arab sector were not one-time mistakes but part of a broader strategy executed by the Likud campaign, a report broadcast Monday by Israel’s Channel 2 News demonstrated.
Netanyahu was heavily criticized, at home and abroad, for his last-minute plea for right-wing voters to support him at the polls in order to block Arab electoral strength. “Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls,” Netanyahu declared in a video message broadcast on Facebook. “Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
The comment drew a rebuke from the Obama administration and Netanyahu expressed his “regret” in an apology to Israel’s Arab community after the election, casting the race-baiting remark as a simple lapse in judgment during a heated campaign.
But the new report by Amit Segal, a well-known religious and right-wing political commentator, casts a sharp and unflattering light on the last days of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign for re-election in 2015.
Segal describes a process, including polling and focus groups, which had shown the Likud that dealing with economic matters, or going after Bennett was not a winning strategy. Rather, their research had suggested that Likud does best when voters are afraid of the consequences of a left-wing victory and that the issue of security, being tough with relation to the conflict with the Palestinians, was Netanyahu’s greatest strength. Fear, in other words, was the best way for Likud to get votes.
A text message sent out to millions of people on Election Day: “Voter turnout triples in the Arab sector! The fear is coming true: Abu Mazen’s calls and American money are bringing the Arabs to the polls. Go vote!”
For much of the campaign, Netanyahu and other leaders did not fully heed this advice. While they did focus on security, they did so in a way that looked more beyond the borders than within the country. Even when Netanyahu was using fear in his campaign, it was much more focused on external threats like ISIL, like in the ad reported on in this piece, casting Israel’s left wing and Arab voters as too weak to oppose such forces.
They also tried to engage with Bennett from the right and on the economy from the center. It was only on the last day that they employed their anti-Left and anti-Arab strategy to its fullest. As Segal writes, “Focus group results from three months earlier materialized at the end.”
Those focus groups led Likud campaigners to undertake a massive campaign of fear on Election Day. The fear of Arabs, and by implication, the involvement of Palestinian citizens of Israel in a government led by the Zionist Union, was used to drive right-wing voters to the polls and ensure that they would vote Likud rather than one of the other right-wing parties.
“At 11 a.m. on Election Day, it dawned on the Likud that they were trailing the Zionist Union,” Segal reports. “That was the signal to begin the bombardment. On Election Day alone, some five million text messages were sent…It cost eight million shekels more than they had planned, but to the Likud it was worth every penny.”
“On that last day,” Segal continued, “all the messages and status updates were on one subject. It was not about [Isaac] Herzog or [Jewish Home Leader Naftali] Bennett, but only about Arabs and the specter of the power of the Joint List (a mostly Arab coalition of parties).”
Segal reports that the messages sent included: “Voter turnout triples in the Arab sector,” “Arab residents of Be’ersheva vote en masse. Don’t let them appoint the ministers in the next government,” “Commentator Ehud Ya’ari on Channel 2 just now: Hamas calls on Arabs in Israel to get out and vote.”
At 8:00 p.m. that night, Israeli television projected the final exit polls. But, Segal reports, “In the next two hours between the end of projections and the actual closing of polls, a really dramatic thing happened: in the previous election, about 230,000 people voted between the hours of 8 and 10 p.m. In 2015, however, a huge turnout of almost 600,000 people flooded the polls—the vast majority, Likud voters.”
It’s clear from this report that, far from a simple, heat of the moment mistake, Netanyahu’s racist rhetoric was part of a strategy that was planned well in advance, one that was activated when the prime minister feared his re-election was slipping away.
I just got this tweet from Benjamin Netanyahu’s Twitter account:
שוב נחשף אופיו האמיתי של המחנה האנטי-ציוני בראשות בוז’י וציפי. כאשר ח”כ עתידי ברשימת “העבודה” משבח סוכן של חיזבאללה – מה יש עוד להוסיף?
It says: “Again, the true face of the ‘anti-Zionist’ camp headed by Buji (Herzog) and Tzipi (Livni) is revealed. When a future member of the Knesset from the Labor list praises a Hezbollah agent, what more is there to say?”
I submit, these are the ravings of a lunatic mind.
Bibi is referring to testimony given by Zuhair Bahloul, a Palestinian citizen of Israel who is #17 on the joint Labor/Ha’Tnuah list, dubbed “The Zionist Camp.” Bahloul is a well-known figure in Israel, a soccer and basketball broadcaster for Israel’s Channel 1. He is also known for his efforts in bringing Jewish and Arab citizens of Israel together to promote co-existence and equality, which has generally been the sum total of his political activity.
In this case, Bahloul was testifying on behalf of the family of a man who was convicted of aiding a Hezbollah plot to attack Shimon Peres in Turkey. The man, Milad Khatib, accepted a plea bargain and is serving a seven-year sentence. Bahloul’s testimony was offered in defense of Khatib’s family, not Milad himself. (It’s worth noting that such scrutiny is not generally focused on families of Jewish radicals, even the ones sometimes labelled “terrorists” after so-called “price tag” attacks). Continue reading →