It was with chants of “Death to the Terrorists” that a new era opened in Israel after the November 1 election.
That is how supporters of the Israeli far right greeted their leader, Itamar Ben-Gvir at a celebratory gathering of their Jewish Power party in Jerusalem after it emerged as a powerful potential coalition partner for Benjamin Netanyahu.
Since in Hebrew, the words “terrorists” and “Arabs” have an identical cadence, everyone knew what they really meant.
Israel’s ascendant Jewish supremacists should be taken at their word. More blood, mostly Arab, promises to be spilled and more hatred unleashed by a coalition between Netanyahu and the Religious Zionism list, of which Jewish Power is one faction.
Israel’s de facto annexation of the occupied West Bank will be accelerated and even an Israeli move to officially annex the territory could be contemplated unless the Jewish fundamentalists are checked. This, even though Netanyahu promised two years ago that such an annexation would not take place in exchange for the United Arab Emirates normalizing ties with Israel.
While coalition talks are still underway, the most right wing, anti-Arab and anti-democracy coalition in Israeli history is shaping up.
“We’re at the beginning of a very bleak period,” said Eran Nissan, founder of the left-wing Mehazkim group which followed the growth of the extremists on social media. “The first population to suffer will be the Palestinians in the occupied territories and the Palestinians in Israel.”
The results of Israel’s fifth election in just four years gave the Religious Zionism list the third largest number of seats in Israel’s parliament. Among those entering the Knesset is Almog Cohen, a former policeman who takes pride in anti-arab violence. Then there is Bezalel Smotrich, leader of Religious Zionism, who is on track for a senior government position. He has voiced regret that Israel did not expel all of the Palestinians from its territories in 1948, when the vast majority, approximately 700,000 people, were evicted or fled in what is known as the Nakba, or catastrophe.
With racism sweeping through the country, some Palestinians with Israeli citizenship fear history may sooner or later repeat itself in some form.
Smotrich is a true believer in an ideology of Jewish supremacism according to which Arabs must be subordinated and Israel must rule all of the land of the Bible to enable the coming of the Messianic age. This ideology, for decades an impetus for Jewish settlers to spearhead the expansion of construction on occupied Palestinian land, has now become built into Israel’s power structure.
Ben-Gvir, who is angling for the position of internal security minister, adheres to a particularly violent variant of this belief system known as Kahanism. He was in the past convicted of supporting a terrorist organization and incitement to racism. And he also venerated Baruch Goldstein, the slain perpetrator of a massacre of 29 Palestinians at mosque prayers in 1994.
Ben-Gvir campaigned on the promise that in government he would expel “disloyal” citizens. A shrewd tactician, he could start with the extended families of Arab assailants and take it from there.
Those counting on Netanyahu to restrain all of this may find themselves disappointed. The veteran Likud leader appears dependent on Religious Zionism for what his opponents claim are his plans to disembowel the judiciary, which would enable him to nullify the corruption proceedings against him. Moreover, Netanyahu himself is well experienced in anti-Arab racism, overseeing passage of the Nation State Law four years ago that enshrined Jewish supremacy over Palestinian citizens.
From an interview on Thursday, by Israel Radio with a new Jewish Power Knesset member, Yitzhak Vaserlof, it looks like the government could invest even more effort in clearing Palestinians out of what is known as Area C in the West Bank, the territory Palestinians and the international community envision as the heartland of a future Palestinian state. “First of all we say that we [Jews] are the masters in the state of Israel,” Vaserlof said.
Then he called for bulldozers to demolish Khan Al Ahmar village in the West Bank, a destitute Bedouin encampment designated as illegal construction, which the previous government spared because of international objections.
Bulldozers will also level “all illegal building” Vaserlof said. This, despite the fact that discriminatory Israeli policies make it virtually impossible for Palestinians to build legally. At the same time, dozens of settler outposts that were built illegally should be “regularized” he said.
Samah Iraqi, an activist in the predominantly Arab Hadash party, envisions the new government “providing more backing” for settler violence, something the previous government denied doing. “There will be victims on both sides along the way, but this is what the public decided. Maybe it will cause a third intifada (uprising),” Iraqi said. In that case, he expects Palestinians in Israel would “show solidarity” with West Bank Palestinians.
“I don’t know where it will end,” he said.
Meanwhile, the idea of expelling Arab citizens of Israel will become more acceptable under the new government, Iraqi predicts. “Even if they don’t physically carry it out, it will remain in the background and drop by drop it will poison the consciousness of the public until in the end expulsion will become legitimate,” Iraqi said.
Ben Lynfield is the former Middle East affairs correspondent at the Jerusalem Post.