Victory for ultranationalists in Israeli elections

April 8, 2021
The persistent graffiti in Hebron calling for the expulsion or killing of Arabs has been characterised as Meir Kahane's legacy. Inset: Benjamin Netanyahu. Images: Wikimedia Commons.

The latest Israeli elections produced an electoral stalemate, but also a victory for ultranationalist and far-right parties.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is appealing to these parties — including the Jewish Power party — for political partners to establish a coalition government.

The Kahanist far right are the ideological successors to the doctrines of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, an ultra-rightist and Judeo-supremacist political operator.

While his party, Kach, never achieved mainstream success during his lifetime — Kahane was assassinated decades ago — his ultranationalist and Judeo-supremacist ideology looms large in Israeli society.

Institutionalised hateful incitement is the role that Kahanism plays in Israeli politics. Netanyahu and his Likud partners tolerate this incitement of anti-Arab hatred, and welcome its inclusion in the mainstream.

This was the fourth general election in two years; political instability is set to continue, with electoral deadlock the outcome. Netanyahu’s Likud right-wing bloc secured 52 seats, short of the necessary 61 to govern outright in the 120 seat Knesset. The other seats are occupied by various ultranationalist and soft left parties, whose only common feature is hostility to Likud.

The Kahanist far-right parties, while having their tactical differences with each other, strongly agree on the basic platform of anti-Arab racism, expansion of settlements in occupied Palestinian Territories, and maintaining Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

Netanyahu embraces the far right

While Kahanism has remained on the margins of parliamentary politics, there is no doubt that Netanyahu and his far-right supporters have consciously cultivated cooperative relationships with Kahanist parties.

Itamar Ben-Gvir, the leader of the Kahanist Jewish Power party, has routinely called for the expulsion of the Palestinians, advocated the expansion of Israeli settlements leading to annexation, and has praised Israeli Kahanist gunman Baruch Goldstein, who murdered 29 Palestinians at the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron in 1994.

The Religious Zionist party, of which Jewish Power is a part, has long advocated for a strictly Orthodox religious basis of Israeli society, platforming fundamentalist and homophobic views. These are the plausible coalition partners that Netanyahu is considering bringing into government.

During the election cycles, Likud — and its Labour Party rival — have adopted and platformed ultranationalist talking points. Calling the Arab minority a potential fifth column, Netanyahu has done his utmost to demand the continuation of settlement building, denouncing concessions to the Palestinian Authority as treasonous, and passing laws to maintain the Judeo-supremacist character of the Zionist state.

What Netanyahu’s political calculations have done is expose the logical continuity from so-called mainstream Zionism to Kahanism. Kahane, during his brief time in the Knesset, did make one correct observation: the state of Israel could either be exclusively Jewish, or democratic; it could not be both.

When Zionist politicians condemn and outlaw mixed marriages (between Jews and non-Jews), and denounce relations between Jews and Arabs, they are unwittingly exposing the Judeo-supremacist and nondemocratic nature of the Zionist project.

Not outside the mainstream

Parties such as Jewish Power, and its Kahanist cousins, have attracted their fair share of condemnation, to be sure. However, the ideology they represent are not outliers, nor are they completely outside the mainstream of Israeli society. The construction of a Jewish Ulster — Zionism is the equivalent Orange Order of the Jewish community — then numerous Meir Kahane-types are bound to arise.

Kahane, born in the United States in 1932, devoted his life to promoting a militant ethnic chauvinism combined with religious nationalism.

As a young man, he worked with the FBI, advocating pro-Vietnam War sentiments on college campuses as the student and antiwar movements were gathering momentum. However, it was with the Judeo-supremacist ideology of Zionism where he found his calling.

Condemning the secularism he found in Israeli society, Kahane found a position of marginalised, but appreciated, respectable extremism. While his efforts to found a new political party were doomed to failure, the ideas he advocated found a receptive far-right audience inside Israel. Eventually losing his seat in the Knesset, Kahane returned to the US. He was murdered by an Egyptian-born American gunman in November 1990.

After Kahane’s death, the mantle of Kahanism was taken up by various ultra-rightist forces, and eventually working their way back into the Knesset. However, a parliamentary seat was not necessary for the Israeli far right to thrive — in November 1995, a Kahanist militant assassinated then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, for the ostensible reason that Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with the Palestinians.

The 2021 elections further expose the far-right trajectory of official Israeli politics, and showcase the malign but ultimately foreseeable influence of Kahanism.

Let’s dispense with the tired and worn-out cliche that anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism, and, instead, have an honest conversation about dismantling Israeli apartheid.

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