Extreme right-wing gains big in latest Israeli elections, Netanyahu set to make comeback as PM

The overtly racist and anti-Palestinian Religious Zionism list is set to become the third largest party in the Israeli parliament and part of the new government

November 02, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Israeli elections
Leader of the Otzma Yehudit party, Itmar Ben Gvir. (Photo:  Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In the Israeli elections held on Tuesday, November 1, the far-right coalition led by former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to win a majority in the Knesset, ending years-long political instability in the country. These were the latest trends by Wednesday afternoon with around 97% of the regular votes counted.

The parties in the Netanyahu-led alliance are likely to win a total of 65 seats, giving it a clear majority in the 120-member Knesset for the first time since 2018. The likely distribution of seats among the parties in the coalition is: Likud 31 (-1 from the previous elections), Religious Zionism list 14 (+7), Shas 12 (+3), and United Torah Judaism 8 (+1). 

The coalition led by the current Prime Minister Yair Lapid is expected to win 50 seats, with Yesh Atid getting 24 seats (+7), Benny Gantz-led Nation Unity list 12 (-2), Yisrael Beytenu 5 (-2), Arab Ra’am 5 (+1) and Labor 4 (-3).  

The Arab list of Hadash-Ta’al is expected to get five seats, the same as its previous tally. It has pledged not to support any coalition in power. 

The left-wing Meretz party, which was part of the Lapid government and had six seats in the last elections, and Arab nationalist Belad have so far failed to get the minimum 3.25% votes necessary to win seats in the Israeli parliament. 

These were the fifth elections to be held in Israel in less than four years and saw a voter turnout of over 71%, the highest since 2015. 

No coalition or party was able to win a majority in any of the elections held since April 2019 that were necessitated after the loss of majority of the Netanyahu-led government in late 2018. Elections in Israel have been held in September 2019, March 2020, and March 2021. 

In June 2021, an unusual coalition of the far-right New Right, centrist Yash Atid, and Arab Ra’am was able to unseat Netanyahu from power for the first time after over a decade. The participation of Ra’am in the coalition had raised hopes for better treatment of Palestinian citizens. The Bennett-Lapid government however failed to move away from the policies followed by Netanyahu and is believed to be more anti-Palestinian in some respects. Its loss of majority earlier this June prompted a shift in leadership from Bennett to Lapid, and the dissolution of the parliament and fresh elections. 

Rise of openly racist parties  

The success of the Likud-led alliance in the current elections is largely attributed to the tremendous rise of settler politician Bezalel Smotrich-led Religious Zionism list, which rode on the popularity of Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir and his Otzma Yehudit party. The three-party joint list is expected to win around 14 to 15 seats in the Knesset, up from six in the last elections. Avi Maoz-led Noam is the third constituent of the joint list. 

Ben-Gvir is considered a successor of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned as terrorist in Israel for its extremism and racist ideas against Palestinians. In the run up of the elections and to appease the ultra-nationalist settlers, Ben-Gvir opened a makeshift office in the Arab locality of Sheikh Jarrah and used his followers to terrorize Palestinians resisting forced displacement.    

Ben-Gvir contested the elections on the agenda of bringing changes to the Israeli judiciary and police force by making them subordinate to elected representatives. He openly talks about violence against Palestinians and opposes coexistence. He has also proposed a loyalty test for Palestinian citizens and secular Jews and the expulsion of those who fail such tests. His list openly demands the removal of the Office of Fraud which is currently trying former Prime Minister Netanyahu in three corruption cases. 

Strengthening of Ben Gvir and religious Zionist parties in Israel shows the growing popularity of fascism and apartheid policies in Israeli politics.

The results are not yet final as around half a million postal ballots are yet to be counted. The final results may take a few more days to be announced formally.