The Israeli elections turned out pretty much as predicted: a victory for the extreme right. Even though Tzipi Livni holds on by a one-vote margin, her centrist Kadima Party is unlikely to be able to create a stable governing coalition. (It is also possible that when the absentee ballots are counted, Livni could lose her slim margin to the right-wing Bibi Netanyahu).
The victor, however, is not her nemesis Netanyahu, but rather Avigdor Lieberman, the extreme right-wing apparatchik from Moldova who outpaced the Labour party to come third in the elections with his extreme nationalist Israel Beitenu party. This bodes poorly for the Obama attempt at a two-state solution, but even more so, it is a dangerous warning to Israel as a nation adhering to democratic values.
As has been documented elsewhere, Lieberman’s vote is not simplistically anti-Arab or racist since he also promotes a staunchly secular agenda to appeal to his voter base from the former Soviet Union states. But it’s impossible to ignore that at the heart of his message is an anti-Arab voice so fierce that it hurts the ears and haunts the soul.
The truth is that Israel’s centre and left have allowed a xenophobia against Arabs to fester for decades. The left, too, is responsible for governments—especially under Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert—that have failed to address the problem of Jewish settlements. Though opposed by the majority of Israelis, the settlers have kept a stranglehold on Israel’s future.
Xenophobia against Arabs has led to Lieberman’s success, but so has the dysfunction of the Arab leadership inside Israel—as has the rise of Arab fundamentalism. When Arab citizens of Israel wave Hamas flags, that sends Jewish voters to the right. Troublingly, young voters in Israel are more likely to vote for the right than the left. This is partly due to the fact that young Israelis serve in the army; the soldiers who are fighting in Gaza don’t welcome the Arabs in Israel flying the enemy’s flag.
One interesting—and perhaps even heartening—result of the election is that the Arab parties lost Arab support to Hadash, which is the Israeli communist party, modeled on a Euro-communist style and the only party in Israel that is purely integrated in its leadership between Arab and…