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Why Israelis are going to the polls for a second time this year

Five things you should know about the second Israeli national elections in six months.

By +972 Magazine Staff

How do Israeli elections work?

Israel is a multi-party system, which means several parties will be competing for citizens’ votes come Election Day. There are 5.8 million Israeli citizens who are eligible to vote this time. Of the 6,463,000 Palestinians who live under Israeli control, only 24 percent are defined as citizens with the right to vote. The rest are completely disenfranchised.

A party must pass the 3.25 percent electoral threshold to be a part of the parliament. Since Israeli elections are based on proportional representation, the number of seats each party receives is proportional to the number of votes they win.

Once the Central Elections Committee announces the final election results, the president tasks the head of the party with the most votes with building a coalition, meaning securing at least 61 of the 120 Knesset seats. In cases where no party has a clear lead in the votes, the president could decide to approach the candidate who is most likely to successfully put together a coalition.

Why are there national elections again, six months after the previous round?

One of the consequences of a multi-party system is that no one party wins a clear majority of seats, which makes governing coalitions both necessary and, by definition, unstable. When Avigdor Liberman, who has held top ministries under Netanyahu’s leadership, resigned abruptly as defense minister in 2018, the loss of his party’s six seats caused the collapse of Netanyahu’s coalition. And so elections were called for April 2019.

The Likud won the most seats in the April election, but Netanyahu failed to build a coalition within the given timeframe, which is why another election was announced for Sept. 17. 

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How are these elections different?

In general, not much is different about these elections. The size of the voting blocs is the same, and the right is likely to win a majority of seats, as they have for the last decade.

The Central Elections Committee ruled that operating cameras at polling stations is illegal. The decision came in response to a fierce debate triggered by a...

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Israel's Ashkenazi elites won't let Mizrahim lead the left

More than 70 years after Israel was founded, the old Ashkenazi guard of the Israeli left is still doing everything in its power to prevent Mizrahim and other oppressed groups from taking the reins.

By Lev Grinberg

Give or take a few seats, it seems things will remain much as they were following Election Day on Tuesday, with the right- and left-wing blocs winning a near-identical amount of Knesset seats as they did in the last elections. And yet, despite what looks to be a similar outcome, it is worth examining the shift that has taken place inside what is commonly referred to as the Israeli left over the last few months.

Following the results of the last elections held in April, some of the smaller parties teetering on the brink of extinction sought to save themselves by joining forces with the larger parties. Moshe Kahlon’s centrist Kulanu party became part of Likud, the New Right party morphed into the Union of Right-Wing Parties, the Arab Balad-Ta’al and Hadash-Ra’am parties resuscitated the Joint List, Labor joined up with Orly Levy’s Gesher party (which did not pass the election threshold the last time around), and the left-wing Meretz teamed up with Ehud Barak and Stav Shaffir to form the Democratic Union.

On the center-left, these attempts at survival have led to long-simmering tensions between the old elites and those who want to represent long-oppressed communities in Israel, primarily Mizrahi Israelis.

The fall of the Ashkenazi elite

Following the implosion of the Oslo Accords in 2001, famed Israeli sociologist Baruch Kimmerling published a short book titled “The End of Ashkenazi Hegemony,” detailing the downfall of the Ashkenazi secular elite that had ruled Israel since the first days of the state.

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Kimmerling defined the founders of the pre-state Zionist institutions and later on the State of Israel as secular, veteran, Ashkenazi, socialist, and nationalist. This group molded the collective Israeli identity in their image (European, secular and modern), established the ruling Mapai party, controlled the economy, and dominated Israeli culture. All other groups that made up Israeli society were subjugated by this elite, including Arab citizens and ultra-Orthodox Jews.

Jewish immigrants from Arab countries were forced into an Israeli “melting pot,” which compelled them to ditch their Arab culture in order to integrate into society,...

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PODCAST: Will Netanyahu's attempt to suppress the Palestinian vote backfire?

In the lead up to the Sept. 17 elections, Benjamin Netanyahu has escalated his racist incitement against Palestinians. The +972 Podcast talks to Adalah’s Sawsan Zaher about how these attacks are affecting Palestinian voters.

Listen here: iTunes/Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify

Facebook temporarily suspended Benjamin Netanyahu’s official Facebook page Thursday after followers received a message calling on voters to prevent the establishment of a government with Arabs “who want to annihilate us all.”

Netanyahu said the message was a staffer’s mistake, but as the country prepares for a second national election in the span of six months, he has intensified his racist incitement against Palestinian citizens of Israel. Whereas in 2015, he tried to appeal to his voter base by warning of Arabs going to vote “in droves,” now he is openly accusing Palestinian voters of voter fraud and of “stealing” the elections. There is no evidence that voter fraud is more common among Palestinian citizens.

On Election Day in April, a settler-aligned public relations firm and Netanyahu’s Likud party led a voter intimidation campaign targeting Palestinian voters, placing around 1,300 cameras exclusively in Arab or Arab-majority areas. This contributed to the lowest voter participation rate among Palestinian voters in decades.

“We know for sure that in the April 2019 election the cameras did affect the number of people who went out to vote,” says Sawsan Zaher, deputy general director and an attorney at Adalah, the legal center for Palestinian rights in Israel, on the latest episode of The +972 Podcast.

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For Palestinian voters, who make up 16 percent of the voting population in Israel, the Sept. 17 elections — which, in some ways, are the first following the passing of the Jewish-Nation State Law — are about “survival,” says Zaher. “It’s all the time the struggle of first of all, keeping our voice. Second of all, trying to challenge racist laws and policies. Third of all, trying to keep our voice of calling for equality and the end of the occupation.”

While the Joint List, the slate...

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What do Palestinians in Gaza really think about the Israeli elections?

On the eve of the elections, four young Palestinians in Gaza open up about their thoughts on Israeli political parties, whether they think there’s hope for change, and what life is like under siege. 

By Yuval Abraham

Muhammad

The electricity cuts out at 2pm in Gaza, but Muhammad has charged his phone in advance so he’ll have enough battery for our conversation. I call him on Facebook Video, and when he answers, he’s wearing a white vest and dripping with sweat. “Is it this hot where you are too?” he laughs, and I nod, look over at the fan in my room.

I’ve known Muhammad for a little over a year. He was the first person from Gaza I ever spoke to. He works as a physiotherapist at a government hospital, and has experienced Gaza’s wars through the injuries he’s had to treat. He starts our conversation with a warning: “I’m not worth your while interviewing. I don’t have anything to say about the Israeli elections, because they don’t interest me,” he says. “Firstly, because I’m drowning in day-to-day problems in Gaza. We’re not being paid our doctors’ wages, and the noise from the drones is driving me crazy.” He glances upwards, and imitates the humming of Israeli military drones. “The buzzing won’t leave me alone. It’s there constantly, over my head, in the sky. I hear it in my room, in the office — everywhere.

“The second reason I’m not interested in the elections,” Muhammad continues, smiling bitterly, “is that I don’t think it matters who wins. [Israel’s] policy toward Gaza won’t change. I heard about their other leader, the general who’s competing against Netanyahu from the Blue and White party — what’s his name? ‘Gantz’? Right. Him. I saw him boasting about killing loads of Palestinians in Gaza, and promising that he’d continue this level of force against us. In other words, Netanyahu by a different name.”

Even though he’s not interested in the elections, Muhammad still knows three of the parties: Blue and White, Likud, and the Joint List (for whom he would vote, if he could). He says that Facebook has made it easier for people to follow what’s happening in Israel these days. Most of his knowledge about the elections has come from social media.

“It wasn’t like this 10 years ago. Now, everyone can easily see what Israeli leaders are publishing online,” he says. “I hear...

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Are voters about to send Kahanists back to the Knesset?

If the polls are accurate, more than 140,000 voters will vote the Kahanists back into the Knesset in next week’s election. Yet the desire for a pure Jewish state long ago moved from the margins of Israeli society to the mainstream.

By Ron Cahlili

One week before Israel’s national election, nearly every major poll shows the Kahanist party Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) winning enough votes to cross the threshold. Until recently, the party was widely considered the rotten apples of the Israeli political barrel — a fringe party that represented a tiny subculture. Now it looks likely to take four seats in the Knesset. To put the matter into perspective, the once-dominant Labor — Ben Gurion and Golda Meir’s party — is barely holding on.

The ideology of Otzma Yehudit is hatred of Arabs. Some, by the way, might remember that Netanyahu backed the Kahanist party in the last election. So now hatred of Arabs as a political ideology is part of the mainstream political discourse. More than 140,000 Israeli citizens will likely cast their votes against what is left of a sane and peace-seeking Israel.

More than 140,000 people will declare that they want a pure Jewish state, Arab-rein forever. They don’t actually mind a few Arabs here and there, as long as the latter know their place in the racial hierarchy. The Jewish Israeli is on top, and the Arab joins the leftists and the other foreigners at the bottom rung. No kuffiyeh or hijab. No mosque or muezzin. Only minimal presence, like a passing shadow.

If this does indeed come to fruition (and even if the Kahanists only receive 100,000 votes), the mechanisms of anti-Arab hatred that have been part of the State of Israel since its establishment will have reaped what it sowed.

This includes an education system that does not teach anything about Arab culture or history; an army that turned Arabs into targets that need to be “neutralized”; a mainstream media that presents Arabs as either terrorists or ignorant peasants; social media outlets in which hate speech against Arabs is posted every 71 seconds; a right-wing government that turned incitement against the Arabs into a legitimate tool of governance; the left-wing alternatives compete with one another over who killed more Arabs. All of these will receive a bonus next week, their work having exceeded expectations.

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How the rising power of the Arab electorate is thwarting Netanyahu

The prime minister didn’t reckon with the rising power of the Arab electorate. For the first time, he’s seeing his anti-Arab incitement stymied by old-fashioned realpolitik.

By Meron Rapoport

Netanyahu probably did not really believe he would be allowed to pass into law a bill permitting camera surveillance in polling stations on Election Day — not with Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s objection on record and the High Court all-but certain to strike it down. The surprise is that the government-supported bill never made it past committee to a first vote in the Knesset.

Netanyahu’s new campaign tactic is to claim that Palestinian citizens are “stealing” the elections by voter fraud. Four years ago he claimed in a notorious video that Arab voters were coming to the polls “in droves;” and more recently, polling station workers in areas with majority Palestinian populations were discovered wearing hidden cameras. Netanyahu is weaponizing his racist base by inciting against Palestinian citizens. This could result in right wing activists trying to intimidate voters at polling stations in majority Arab areas.

Netanyahu is playing the long game: not a single poll shows the Likud-ultra-Orthodox-religious right bloc reaching the necessary 61 Knesset seats to form a government. Even if the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party passes the electoral threshold — which would boost Netanyahu’s chances of forming the coalition — the bloc would only get 60 seats at best. In most polls, the Kahanists don’t pass the electoral threshold.

Netanyahu knows that if this ends up happening, his days as prime minister are numbered. He is convinced, it seems, that a tagline such as “the Arabs are stealing the vote” could be used as an effective tool both against those inside the Likud who would want to oust him in order to avoid a third election, as well as Yisrael Beiteinu’s Avigdor Liberman, who seems to have found a new partnership with the Blue and White party. Netanyahu believes that neither Liberman — who regularly attacks Palestinians — nor senior Likud officials would want to come across as those who allowed the Arabs to “steal” the vote.

All of this could still happen, but the first obstacle came earlier than expected. The so-called camera law collapsed even before it was fully formed, which is perhaps where the most interesting development in this story lies. This law targets, first and foremost, Arab voters — to intimidate them from casting their votes and drive a lower Arab turnout. The opposition...

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How Israel helped whitewash Indonesia's anti-leftist massacres

To advance its political, economic, and security goals, Israeli intelligence helped whitewash the murder of half a million members of the Indonesian Communist Party and other leftist groups in the 1960s.

By Eitay Mack

In October 1965, the Indonesian government launched a massive purge of left-wing and communist parties in the country. Over the following six months, at least half a million members of the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI) and related leftist parties were murdered, while more than one million citizens were imprisoned without trial. Many of those who were jailed were brutally tortured, held in inhumane conditions, or sentenced to hard labor. Some of them remained in prison for up to 30 years.

The official justification for the purge was a series of events that took place beginning on October 1, 1965. A group called the 30 September Movement, led by a commander from the Presidential Guard, kidnapped and murdered six generals; they claimed they were trying to prevent a CIA-backed military coup against Ahmed Sukarno, the democratically-elected president, who had been a hero of Indonesia’s liberation struggle from Dutch colonial rule.

A group of generals under the command of General Suharto claimed the murders were an attempt by the Communist Party and its leftist allies to take control of Indonesia by force with the help of China. The army took over the government and immediately launched a campaign of incitement that led to the massacres and mass detentions.

For decades the military regime insisted, as did various investigators, that those six blood-soaked months were the consequence of spontaneous actions carried out by ordinary citizens who were enraged at the left’s attempt to take over the country. Geoffrey Robinson, a UCLA professor who has dedicated his life’s work to researching the horrors in 20th century Indonesia, asserts in his book “The Killing Season: A History of the Indonesian Massacres, 1965-66,” that the army directed the killings and mass detentions via commando units that had been created specifically for this purpose.

Robinson found documents showing that the operations were carefully planned. He writes that the army’s incitement campaign called for the complete destruction of the communist parties and their supporters. He also asserts that most of the people who were killed were initially detained for interrogation, often because their names appeared on lists that were prepared by the army.

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Meretz is the last Jewish anti-occupation party. But for how long?

As Israel’s center-left and centrist parties have dropped the topic of the occupation over the years, Meretz has remained the sole Jewish party to emphasize ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But can it continue to hold out amidst running mate Ehud Barak’s talk of annexation? 

By Meron Rapoport

Meretz has seen its fair share of criticism over the years — too white, too left-wing, too Zionist, too Tel Aviv-centric, too occupation-oriented, too elitist. But there is one thing you can’t take from it: Meretz’s party platform has always clearly called for an end to the occupation and the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel, even as Israel’s centrist and center-left parties have done all they can to avoid dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Not a single other Jewish party has been as emphatic on this issue. Prior to the last Israeli elections in April, former Meretz Chairwoman Tamar Zandberg traveled to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. Meretz has also put an emphasis on Jewish-Arab partnership throughout the last few years, and has even considered turning the party into a joint Jewish-Arab one.

As such, recent statements by Ehud Barak — who is number 10 in the Democratic Union list of which Meretz is a part — should be considered a clear departure from the dovish party’s positions. Barak acknowledges that the Palestinian issue is the “elephant in the room,” an exceptional acknowledgement in today’s political discourse, but his proposals for dealing with this elephant do not necessarily include ending the occupation or establishing an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel.

The two-state solution, says Barak, should be used as a goal for negotiations with the Palestinian Authority (he doesn’t mention the PLO). But if the two sides remain unable to come to an agreement, Israel must unilaterally annex the settlement blocs, including the settlements of Ariel and Kedumim, located deep inside the West Bank. The Israeli army, he continues, must maintain control of the rest of the occupied territories until negotiations start up again. In short, Barak believes that the end of the occupation and a Palestinian state are not basic principles — they are options, and not necessarily the preferred ones.

It is true that Barak’s Israel Democratic Party is only one of the three parties that makes up the Democratic Union, alongside Meretz and the Stav Shaffir-led Green Movement. But...

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How to tell the stories of the siege when you cannot enter Gaza

In a new podcast, I hoped to capture the impacts of the Gaza blockade that are mostly invisible to the outside world. There was just one problem: I can’t go there.

By Lital Firestone

When I first dreamed up the idea of doing a podcast about Gaza, I hoped to use the medium to get answers to my burning questions about life in the strip. I had seen Gaza covered in the news: military operations, billowing black smoke surrounding Gaza’s borders, and death counts of gunned-down protestors. But I wanted to understand what was happening through the eyes — or mouths, as it were — of the residents themselves.

For years, I have listened to podcasts whose investigative reporting wound tragedies around my ears. I wondered if I could get a listener, oceans away, to be similarly moved by someone in Gaza. Whether they tune in on a packed morning train or while walking their dog, as their headphones envelop them in the candid words of a people struggling for their autonomy, could their perspective shift?

Once I started my fellowship at Gisha – Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, I quickly understood how difficult it would be to collect these stories firsthand. While I can easily travel the world with my American passport, the people I wanted to hear from in Gaza have been landlocked by Israel for over a decade.

I learned that under Israel’s permit regime, a stringent set of criteria regulates the limited circumstances that people can enter or exit Gaza, denying residents their basic rights. I was naïve to think I could enter the strip somehow, when authorities would not even permit a man separated from his family for 12 years to visit his father in the West Bank who had just suffered a debilitating stroke, because he did not “meet the criteria” for receiving a permit.

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So began the journey of documenting the effect of the closure on people in Gaza, with my primary obstacle being the lack of access to my subject. The first mini-series of Gaza Up Close, a podcast I eventually produced as part of...

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To avoid settlers, the Israeli army escorts these Palestinian schoolchildren

For the past 15 years, soldiers have escorted the children of A-Tuba in the South Hebron Hills to their school in order to protect them from settler violence. This is what their daily journey looks like.

By Yuval Abraham

Issa is on his way to his first day of first grade. His head bops up and down from behind his SpongeBob SquarePants backpack, which is a few sizes too large for him. We walk along a rocky path near the village of A-Tuba in the West Bank’s South Hebron Hills. “I’m 25,” he says when I ask him how old he is, bursting into laughter. Each question I ask is answered with an exaggerated response. He has 25,000 students in his class, and one of his teachers will teach him how to land on the moon. His hair is gelled to the side and his black shoes gleam in the sun. Despite what he claims, it is clear he is excited.

Eight other children from A-Tuba march alongside us on the way to school. None of them pay attention to me, and I suspect that my questions are too serious for 7 a.m.

“Journalists like you have been coming here once a month ever since I was a little girl,” says Inshirah, who is heading into 12th grade. “It’s already a matter of routine. Your questions are so boring. You always want us to talk about our way to school, about the soldiers that accompany us, and the settlers. I don’t have the energy to repeat the same sentences and clichés over and over. Why don’t we talk about drawing? I like drawing. I like drawing flowers.”

Every morning, Israeli soldiers accompany this small group of children and teenagers from their home in A-Tuba to the adjacent village of A-Tuwani, since settlers from the nearby outpost of Havat Ma’on have been known to attack the students on their walk. In November 2004, a Knesset committee ordered the army to accompany the students twice a day. Fifteen years later, the problem has yet to be solved. Not a single settler has been arrested, and the IDF patrol, which was meant to be temporary, has become permanent.

We continue to walk until Inshirah motions to all the kids to stop. “We need to wait for them here,” she says, and the younger ones huddle around her. “When do they arrive?” Issa asks....

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PODCAST: Has international law failed Palestinians?

Palestinian legal scholar Noura Erakat proposes a different, inclusive vision that guarantees justice and dignity for all oppressed groups in Israel and Palestine.

Listen here: iTunes/Apple Podcasts | Google Play | Spotify

Israel has been able to leverage international law to its advantage much better than the Palestinians, says Noura Erakat, Palestinian legal scholar, human rights activist and author of Justice for Some: Law and the Question of Palestine, on the latest episode of The +972 Podcast.

In the book, Eraka proposes understanding it as another tool used to promote a political agenda. “The law is politics,” says Erakat. To explain what she means, she gives the analogy of the law as a sailboat: “You cannot move on a boat without a sail, but the sail is not enough. You need wind in order to propel it, and the direction of the wind is actually the political movement that we create.”

Below are excerpts of the interview.

Can the law be beneficial to the weaker parties without a revolution? Basically, without upending the existing political order? Can the law be an effective tool for oppressed people like the Palestinians?

“Absolutely,” says Erakat. “We, the weak, can be powerful even though that’s not the status quo. What that makes imperative upon marginalized groups, weaker groups, oppressed groups, colonized peoples, indigenous peoples, racial minorities, and so on, is the ability and the will to organize.”

Do you think the rights-based approach has mistakenly led people to believe the answer lies with the law?

The rise of the rights-based approach “came as a corrective to a politics-only approach that had begun in the aftermath of Oslo,” explains Erakat. “One of the conditions of entering into Oslo that was placed upon the PLO is that they actually surrender all of the [legal] claims that they had made,” she adds.

Now, “the language of law takes up a disproportionate amount of space,” says Erakat, “because there is no political framework with which to entwine the rights-based approach.”

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You talk about how the Zionist national project, creating Israel, was a way for the founders of the Zionist movement to seek acceptance and...

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In Hebron, Tlaib and Omar would have seen Israel's apartheid city

Had Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar been allowed to visit Hebron, they would have seen Israel’s official policy of discrimination and segregation for the city’s 215,000 Palestinian residents.

By Avner Gvaryahu

Outside the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron lies a beautiful leafy garden. In it stands a large stone with the names of the donors – Chicago Friends of Hebron. Even if U.S. Congresswomen Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib had not been barred from visiting the occupied territories earlier this month, Breaking the Silence, an Israeli organization comprised of former IDF soldiers working to expose the realities of military occupation, would not have been able to take them there. Since Omar and Tlaib are both Muslim, they not only would have been unwelcome — Israeli Border Police soldiers stationed around the park would have stopped them from entering.

Discrimination and segregation are unpalatable wherever they exist, but in Hebron’s city center, they have been the official policy for the 215,000 Palestinian residents – especially since the Tomb of the Patriarchs massacre in 1994, in which a Jewish nationalist fanatic shot dead 29 Palestinians while praying at the holy site.

The Likud party and its coalition partners seek to create a permanent reality based on unequal legal systems for Jewish Israelis and Palestinians. This is undeniably what is known historically as apartheid.

In Hebron, the arguments over semantics all fall silent when faced with the deserted Shuhada Street, once the beating heart of one of the largest cities in the West Bank. Palestinian residents are banned from entering the area to make way for a handful of extremist settlers, accompanied by hundreds of soldiers whose sole mission is to protect the settlers and bolster their presence.

When confronted with the desolate streets and empty houses, the truth rings clear: the claims about “security necessities” and a “divinely-promised land” sound especially hollow against the backdrop of Hebron’s stark reality. In the past, this was done underneath the table, shrouded in a cloud of mystery and blurred by denial and excuses. Today, the Israeli government and its authorities take pride in these actions.

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The ever-ending cycle of violence and its heartbreaking results could be the catalyst for change. Sadly, that...

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The Israeli right stopped talking about occupation, and that will hurt it at the polls

Netanyahu has joined forces with religious radicals who have stopped talking about Palestinians and are instead pushing a homophobic and sexist agenda. It may just might seal his political doom.

By Meron Rapoport

It didn’t take long for Prime Minister Netanyahu to use the doomsday weapon against Avigdor Liberman immediately following the last elections. Netanyahu blamed his former ally for torpedoing the establishment of a right-wing government, announcing to a group of journalists that “Liberman is part of the left” as part of a last-ditch effort to delegitimize the Yisrael Beitenu leader.

The accusation was so strange — considering what the public knows about Liberman — that Ayala Hasson, one of Israel’s most seasoned journalists, burst out laughing. Members of Netanyahu’s Likud party believed that associating Liberman with the left was enough to ensure he doesn’t pass the election threshold next time around.

But polls show that precisely the opposite is happening, and the main reason is Liberman’s so-called war against “religious coercion.” It began with his insistence that the Knesset pass a law to ensure ultra-Orthodox Jews are no longer exempted from military service, prompting the prime minister to move the elections to an earlier date. But throughout his election campaign, Liberman broadened the scope of his war, ruthlessly attacking the ultra-Orthodox and the “messianic” religious right and promising that he would not sit alongside them in the government. Separation of religion and state, in turn, has become one of the hot-button issues of the current election cycle.

On the one hand, Bezalel Smotrich, who hails from the far-right of the national-religious movement, insists on talking about installing a halakhic Jewish state in Israel, while the Sephardic Shas party continues to stand firm behind its support for gender segregation at public events. On the other hand, both Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party and the Democratic Union — a political alliance between Meretz, Ehud Barak, and Labor defector Stav Shaffir — have been warning against these theocratic trends. Only the Joint List and Labor have refrained from speaking openly about the issue.

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If what the polls say are true, and Liberman will make good on his promise not to sit with the ultra-Orthodox and the religious radicals, the issue of separation...

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