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Netanyahu, the Joint List and a history of demonising Palestinian voters

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Goaded by Netanyahu about colluding with the Palestinian parties, Gantz responded in typical fashion: he rejected any possibility of such cooperation. That has been the standard approach of Israel's main Jewish parties for decades.

In his silence, too, Gantz offered implicit consent to Netanyahu's demonising not just of the Palestinian parties but of the Palestinian electorate. He failed to challenge Netanyahu's insinuation that Palestinian voters were "stealing" the election simply by voting.

Arabs and annihilation

Netanyahu went further still in this most recent election. Desperate to win a far-right majority so he could pass a law conferring on himself immunity from an impending corruption indictment, the prime minister turned the threat posed by Palestinians voters to his own political fortunes into a general, existential threat facing all Israeli Jews.

His Facebook page sent out an automated message to followers claiming that "the Arabs" including Palestinian citizens "want to annihilate us all women, children and men". That went further even than the incitement of his former defence minister and notorious Arab hater, Avigdor Lieberman, leader of the Yisrael Beiteinu party.

Days before Netanyahu's "droves" comment at the 2015 election, Lieberman called for the beheading of Palestinian citizens but only those who showed disloyalty to the state.

Lieberman is expected to be the kingmaker in the current post-election negotiations.

Judicial sanction

In a sign of how normalised Netanyahu's incitement against Palestinian citizens is becoming, it was effectively given sanction during the campaign by one of the most senior judges in the land.

Hanan Melcer, a justice in the supreme court, is the current chair of the Central Elections Committee, which polices the way Israeli elections are conducted.

In the campaign's final days, Netanyahu's Likud party appealed to Melcer to stop the activities of a small charity, Zazim, comprising mostly left-wing Israeli Jews concerned about the state of Israel's threadbare democracy.

It is often overlooked that, when Netanyahu warned in 2015 that the "Arabs are heading to the polling stations in droves", he was actually blaming Israeli Jewish "leftists". He accused them of "bussing Arabs" to polling stations.

His "electoral fraud" narrative in this latest election was intended to entwine these two themes. He wished to suggest that his political opponents, so-called "leftists", were colluding with Israel's enemies the Arabs who wish to "annihilate us all".

Disenfranchised Bedouin

The only practical example Netanyahu could offer of such "leftists" were those in Zazim.

The charity's volunteers have in the past tried to help several thousand Bedouin citizens living in remote areas of Israel's south, in the Negev, to reach their assigned polling station.

Many tens of thousands of Bedouin among the poorest population in Israel were effectively disenfranchised by the Israeli authorities decades ago. Their ancestral communities were criminalised in a continuing attempt to seize their lands.

Bedouin inside these "unrecognised" villages are not allowed to build homes they have to live in tents or tin shacks and are denied basic services like water and electricity. Although they are citizens, they are not allowed polling stations in their communities either.

To vote, therefore, they must travel long distances to recognised villages. Many thousands without transport have no hope of being able to cast a ballot.

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Jonathan Cook is a writer and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. He is the 2011 winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are "Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East" (Pluto Press) and "Disappearing Palestine: (more...)

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