Israeli prime minister Benyamin Netanyahu has persuaded two far-right racist parties to merge in return for offering them government posts if he wins the Israeli general election due on 4 April.
One of the two parties is Jewish Power, a scarcely-concealed continuation of the Kahane movement which has been banned in Israel since 1988 as terrorist and racist. It advocates expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to swear “loyalty”, and an expanded Jewish state taking in the whole West Bank.
Netanyahu’s move is designed to get the far right into the Knesset (parliament) by bringing the merged group above the 3.25% threshold for gaining seats which neither of the two separate parties could reach. It has brought condemnation even from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a US lobby group which has previously gone along with Netanyahu throughout his ten-year term of office.
Netanyahu has been under investigation on multiple charges of corruption since 2016. In December 2018 Israel’s State Prosecutor recommended he be brought to court. As yet the Attorney General in Netanyahu’s administration is blocking that, but that protection will disappear if Netanyahu loses the election. Netanyahu draws strength from the big shift to the right in Israeli politics since the more-or-less complete breakdown over 2001-7 of talks for peace with the Palestinians.
According to Dahlia Scheindlin in +972 magazine, about 45% of voters self-define as right wing, roughly one-quarter as centrists, and 20% as left wing. Among Jewish voters, about 55% say they are right wing and only 15% left. In the first decades of Israel, the Israeli Labour Party dominated politics and led every government. Now it is a demoralised rump. The slightly-left social democratic Meretz survives, but is not gaining ground.
The main rival to Netanyahu is the newly formed Blue and White party, differing mainly by being more secularist. It has said that if it wins the 4 April election, it will make no fresh start. It will seek a coalition with Netanyahu’s party Likud, on the assumption that Netanyahu himself will then be out of the game. Blue and White stresses that whatever the parliamentary arithmetic, the party will not combine with Israel’s Arab parties to form a government or to block Netanyahu from forming his own coalition.
Israel’s shift to the right mirrors the rise of the once-marginal Hamas in Palestinian politics. Elements for new politics which could win a democratic two-states settlement between Israel and the Palestinians exist in movements like Standing Together in Israel, but as yet are electorally marginal. The growth of those elements depends on the bringing-closer of a settlement allowing justice for the Palestinians, and vice versa.