For almost the entire year of 2019, the government of Israel was in election mode. Elections were held in both April and September; therefore, most of the year the Knesset (parliament) was inactive. Because of this preoccupation with elections, Israeli public debate sidelined one of the most important issues desperately in need of attention, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict.
The Conflict has been a very fundamental and influential issue for decades. Whenever this conflict is sidelined in Israeli public debate, radicalization can occur, leading to deterioration, violence, loss of hope, and discouragement – especially for those involved in promoting reconciliation and peace between people groups.
Another consequence of this emphasis on the elections was that, instead of dealing with real issues in the Land, we were more focused on the role of Netanyahu as Prime Minister (for example, the charges against him and his usage of his position to shield himself from indictment). It was a very person-centered year, and not about issues such as economy, trade or peace.
In order for Netanyahu to secure his Likud party and coalition partners a majority and keep his seat as Prime Minister, his two election campaigns (especially in September) used incitement in the Knesset towards a large segment of the Israeli society which is made up of Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, and consists of approximately 20% of the population. The level of hatred surmounted even to the extent that Facebook chose to briefly block the Prime Minister’s Office’s account on Election Day.
By some, the use of fear and hatred will be perceived as a natural tactic in today’s politics, but in reality, incitement and exclusion of an entire segment of society from the political decisions has a negative impact on Palestinian Arabs’ daily lives and work environment.
This will, in turn, make things more difficult for those arranging reconciliation meetings. This usage of fear in the elections furthers the dynamic of “us” vs. “them”. This dynamic increases tribalism, hatred, and dehumanization. In this atmosphere, working towards reconciliation needs much more prayer, to say the least.
Not only did the Likud party’s campaign include elements of incitement towards Palestinian Arab citizens in the State of Israel, where they discourage Palestinian Arab citizens from having a right to vote, but both major political parties used in-fighting as a tactic to keep them from voting (Likud party tried to influence them not to vote at all, and one party voiced reluctance to sit in a government with the Arab parties even if they won enough seats). As a result, small, strongly nationalist Jewish parties can again determine the results of our election – once again forcing a deadlock in Israeli politics with a potential for a third election in one year.
It is not only the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel who were subjected to incitement, but the Ultra-Orthodox Jewish community was also faced with a de-legitimization smear campaign from the centrist party who accused them of imposing their lifestyle on others and milking the government of an inappropriate amount of government funds.
In one way, we are encouraged that citizens of Israel are more and more aware of fear tactics. Perhaps this is what prompted the Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel to come out and vote in much greater numbers in September’s than in April’s elections. This step was crucial in making the Arab parties a player in the coalition negotiations potentially gaining them more influence that could be the key to achieving a change in the status quo, if, in fact, the enter into the coalition government.
Even if they remain in the opposition, this move was crucially important. By showing up and making their voice heard at the election booths, Palestinian Arab citizens send a message that they want to be included in the political future. However, in order for that to happen, we need a fundamental change in the Israeli political culture that would promote the inclusion Arab parties in coalition government.
Right now, as the coalition government is still in its formation, we can still hope that the coalition will include the Arab parties. With such an inclusive government would be instrumental in increasing equality in our society. With such an inclusive government, the work of reconciliation will be enhanced.
Disclaimer: Musalaha’s purpose is not to support or detract from any one party or support another party, but to analyze the impact of the election on reconciliation.
By Salim J. Munayer, Ph.D