Reprinted from Middle East Eye
Will Netanyahu pay the price for winning?
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Imagine if an American presidential candidate made a plea to his supporters on election day with the following statement: "The Republican administration is in danger. Black voters are going en masse to the polls. Liberal NGOs are bringing them on buses."
Even in a country where Chris Matthews is a media celebrity and Pamela Geller is an intellectual, the statement would be scandalous, a political death wish even. In Israel, however, the opposite is true.
In a message delivered in a video on Facebook, incumbent Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a sinister call appealing to ingrained racism in Israeli society: "The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are going en masse to the polls. Left-wing NGOs are bringing them on buses."
Netanyahu's fight was not exactly against the Arabs. The Joint List, which united various Arab parties as a response to new Israeli laws aimed at reducing their representation in the Knesset, came third with 14 seats. Though this is an impressive showing nonetheless, it falls short of being an imminent threat to Netanyahu or the Labor (Zionist Union) Party.
Using an imagined Arab threat as a fearmongering tactic is an Israeli political staple. It is a notion founded before the creation of Israel over the ruins of historic Palestine in 1948. But what makes Netanyahu's latest statement more important than usual is that the Israeli leader blew to bits a well-guarded secret -- at least in mainstream media -- that Israel is a racist country. Not only did Netanyahu make the racist call to save his career and stay in the race, he actually won with a substantial margin precisely because of that very call.
Indeed, racism was in fact the reason behind his "surprise" election victory. He is now on his way to becoming a prime minister for the fourth time, as his Likud Party secured 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset. The supposed "left" mostly represented in the Zionist Union won 24 seats, although their political program was virtually indistinguishable from Likud.
For Netanyahu's main challenger, Isaac Herzog, Palestinians hardly existed. The occupation was a non-issue for him and for most Israeli political rivals for that matter. His foreign policy program was either identical to Netanyahu's or was largely based on deferring foreign policy issues to a later date. The soft-speaking Herzog had no qualms about keeping the illegal Jewish settlements intact -- which stands at the crux of Israeli military occupation of Palestine.
"No matter who emerges as the prime minister following the election and the inevitable weeks of haggling and horse-trading that go into forming a coalition," wrote Michael J Koplow, "Israel's foreign policy on the big issues will be marked by consistency rather than transformation."
Although Netanyahu vowed to oppose a future Palestinian state -- raising concerns among his Western allies -- Herzog, too, practically opposed a contiguous and sovereign Palestinian state because no such state could possibly co-exist with colonial settlements and military occupation.
However, the US administration and media pundits didn't seem to be bothered by Herzog as they were by Netanyahu's grandstanding over Arab voters being bussed in droves or his intentions to block a Palestinian state. If the prospective foreign policy outcome of both leaders would have been the same, why didn't the Obama administration object as strongly to Herzog's political program as to Netanyahu's racist rants?
One of the reasons is that Netanyahu deviated from an unwritten script that sustained the Washington-Tel Aviv alliance for decades and has served as the central discourse to the so-called peace process. According to that script, Israel is allowed to virtually do as it pleases in Palestine as long as it adheres to a strict, agreed-upon narrative.
But in his hunger for power and in line with his unquenchable arrogance, Netanyahu violated the code. For Washington, a red line is being frequently crossed and it is becoming increasingly difficult for Washington to maintain a special relationship with Israel, which, under Netanyahu is paying no heed to the foreign policy interests of the United States.
Despite protest by the Obama administration, Netanyahu's triumphant speech in US Congress on 3 March was perhaps the most humiliating political episode in US politics in many years.
In the long run, that strategy could backfire. Netanyahu's antics are increasingly denying the US administration a prolonged, tired and failed discourse pertaining to the peace process, Israeli security, democracy and so on, leaving the White House with two stark choices: to follow the lead of a racist and obsessive Netanyahu (as many Republicans and Democrats have already done) or to part ways.
Thanks to Netanyahu, some of the misleading Israeli myths promoted as facts by Israel supporters are now falling apart.