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Shir Hever and Lia Tarachansky discuss the continuing rise of the far-right in Israel and the future of the Israeli state following Netanyahu’s probable reelection

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MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. We’re going to continue our conversation with Lia Tarachansky and Shir Hever about the Israeli election, kind of pick up where we left off. And folks, let me start here very quickly, and as we kind of conclude this … I want to pick up in the conversation our viewers did not just hear, and talk a bit about the question–the poll you mentioned, Shir, and what you asked Lia about that about that poll, and the slight difference you both have about what this all means. Could you posit that again, Lia, and Shir just respond, so our listeners, our viewers can really hear what they’ve missed?

LIA TARACHANSKY: I think that it’s very important to point out that the poll asked the question of Palestinian citizens of Israel, which is a tiny minority of the Palestinians at large. The poll did not poll Palestinians living in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, or the Gazan Palestinians, or the refugee Palestinians living outside of Israel. So for those Palestinians living inside of Israel, they have been under a Jewish government their entire–the entire length of the existence of Israel. So I don’t think that it’s so much of a stretch. The idea that there would be a ruling Palestinian party is something that is completely outside of the imagination of Israeli Jews, who’ve never even had a ruling Misrahi party, a party of Jews of color. So I think that the poll might be a little bit misleading about what that means regarding the openness of Israelis or even of Palestinians to be ruled, quote unquote, by the other.

MARC STEINER: And, Shir, what was your response to that?

SHIR HEVER: No, thank you for this clarification, Lia. The only reason that I brought up this poll is to say that Jewish voters in the Israeli elections are holding onto their privilege, and they vote in a of tribal way only for their own Jewish parties. And while the Arab citizens of–the Arab Palestinian citizens of Israel, if they participate in the election they do so more out of strategic reasons and as a way to try to influence the political system in a way that will create a space for them to live in. And I think the fact that so many of them chose not to participate in the election this time is maybe the most important story of this election that happened this week.

MARC STEINER: So let’s talk about that just for a minute. So we’re talking about 150,000 voters who did not vote. And you’re positing, Shir, that most those people who did not vote are Palestinian Arabs who are citizens of Israel. Is that what you’re saying?

SHIR HEVER: Not exactly. I’m saying that out of the Palestinian citizens of Israel that voted in the year 2015, the previous election, this time 150,000 less have used the right to vote. That’s very significant. That’s almost 1/5 of the voters that decided not to participate in this election.

MARC STEINER: So do we know who they are? I mean, are they Israeli Jews? Or are they Israeli Arabs?

SHIR HEVER: No, they are Palestinian citizens of Israel.

MARC STEINER: OK. That’s what I was trying to get to. That’s significant, because there was a big battle before the election inside the Palestinian communities within Israel over whether to participate in this election or not. And clearly that had some effect.

LIA TARACHANSKY: Well, I think you have to remember that in the last elections, hours before the polls closed, in the last ditch efforts to get the right-wing Israelis and to appeal to the Israeli baseline racism towards Palestinians, the prime minister went on the air and declared, completely fictitiously, that the Arabs were amassing on the voting polls, and that they’re going to vote their parties into power. And that idea of the Arabs, you know, just this mass of Palestinians clawing their way to the elections as if it’s not as citizen their right and responsibility to vote, as if that there is something inherently wrong about non-Jews voting in an election, that idea, which was called by the international press as racist, but which was seen as perfectly logical by the vast majority of Israelis.

If you fast forward to this election, what ironic thing is happening, actually, is that, by and large, as Shir said, most of the Palestinians did not vote at all as a form of protest against the apartheid law that passed, the nation state law, but also in the last election Netanyahu lied and said that lefties, Israelis who are against apartheid, were helping bring Palestinians to vote. That was total fiction. But in this election-

MARC STEINER: It actually happened.

LIA TARACHANSKY: Yeah. Oren Ziv of 972 magazine actually reported about how, because of the forced organization of the Bedouin Palestinian people in the Negev desert, they needed help getting to the election. And Israeli lefties have actually been busing Bedouins to the elections. So I think that even with that push, what Shir said is exactly right, which is in the last election the voting percentage amongst Palestinian citizens of Israel was above 60. Now it was in the low 30s. And that’s still higher than the Palestinian boycott of the elections that we’ve seen in previous years.

MARC STEINER: So let me read this quote here, speaking of 972. Michael Omer-Man in 972 magazine wrote about the elections, he said: “I wrote that these elections in a previous article are a choice between resignation and despair, or a choice between the bad status quo and something even worse.” So what do you think about that analysis? What does this election say about the future given what Michael just said in his piece, but also Netanyahu has made it clear that he wants to annex parts of the West Bank to become literally part of Israel via the settlements. How do you see Michael’s quote, and what do you think the future portends here? Shir, go ahead.

SHIR HEVER: Yeah, I think that’s expecting too much.

MARC STEINER: What is expecting too much?

SHIR HEVER: Expecting too much from the Israeli political system. We didn’t cover so intensively the election that happened in Egypt last year because when Al Sisi won with about 90 percent, there was no surprise there. Nobody calls Egypt a democracy. We’re just making sometimes the mistake of calling Israel a democracy, and it is not. If you are despaired or frustrated like Michael Omer-Man, it’s because you have expectations that are not realistic. What we’re looking for is the struggle to change the very system of government and to create democracy in the area of Israel-Palestine. And that is not going to happen through the polls, through the Israeli polls, because you have a population of 30 million people living under Israeli control, under Israeli laws, and the Israeli military, and so on; paying taxes to the Israeli government. But only 49 percent of these people are Jews, and yet 80 percent of the votes are in the hands of Jews. That is apartheid. And under these conditions, what is Michael Omer-Man expecting, exactly? That somehow Jewish Israelis will decide to use their votes for the other side? I don’t think that’s realistic. I think that’s why Palestinians are looking for ways to change the political system and to get the vote.

MARC STEINER: How do you interpret that, Lia?

LIA TARACHANSKY: I think that Shir is right. I think that despair and frustration is the result of a disconnect between the reality and your expectations. And I think that Michael Omer-Man is a journalist who has a very, very keen understanding of the reality that he lives in. As the editor-in-chief of 972 he has reported extensively about the apartheid nature of Israel. So I don’t think that there’s any lack of understanding of the reality. I think that despair is also another symptom of hope. And I think that as a person who lives in Israel, who is raising a family in Israel, Michael still has it. And I think that that is something that we should admire rather than deride.

On the other hand, I definitely think that Israel, which is a country in which a tiny party with one seat can have a massive influence on politics, where the average citizen’s political engagement is much, much higher than in Europe or North America, where politics is something that is an everyday reality, and discussed every day and fought over every day, where the reality of gender equality is very, very far and deteriorating, in this kind of environment political change is something that happens all the time. It’s not that grand scheme piece, you know, moving towards equality that, you know, the International Solidarity Movement with justice and peace is hoping for. But it’s definitely political change. And that political change is happening very, very fast.

For example, what we have seen in this election, the thing that I’m paying attention to, is, you know, Lieberman, who is a politician who has navigated his way into power but has, as a result of his manipulations and navigations was at a period of time minister of defense, he doesn’t have any defense experience. Definitely not like the Blue and White Party, which is made up of generals; generals who’ve actually fought Israeli wars and have made their way up the Israeli army hierarchy. And yet he was running on the idea of security, right. Like, his slogan in this election was actually in Russian: Lieberman nie [inaudible], which means ‘Lieberman will not bend.’ And now that the election results are in and he is calling himself, basically positioning himself as the decision maker, because whether his party will go with one bloc or the other, and his claim might actually determine who will be the prime minister, he is now pushing even harder on that point. Which is absolutely hilarious, because, like I said, he’s not a security expert by any means.

So within that reality, what I’m paying attention to is how far the alt-right has succeeded to normalize and mainstream ideas that were just five years ago considered completely outside of the Overton Window, the politically acceptable discourse. And on that front I think things are very alarming, and it’s exactly right what Michael Omer-Man said, that this is, in fact, a time of great despair. Because what in the last five years the alt-right settler and religious parties have managed to normalize is really quite terrifying.

MARC STEINER: Well, I think we’re going to have to leave it there for this conversation. This has really been interesting, and I do hope that once we see what coalition forms to take over the Israeli government, and I think we know what it’s going to be, what does that portend, and what–where does the struggle go next around these issues in Israel and Palestine at large, and where this might take us.

I really want to thank you both for the work that you do, and for joining us here today. You’ve just heard Lia Tarachansky, who used to be a Real News correspondent and producer, and Shir Hever, who is a Real News correspondent producer, joining us to talk about the elections in Israel. And I look forward to talking to you again very soon about this subject.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you.


MARC STEINER: And I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Thank you all for joining us. Take care.

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Lia Tarachansky is a journalist and filmmaker at Naretiv Productions. She is a former Israel/Palestine correspondent for The Real News Network, where she produced short, documentary-style reports exploring the context behind the news. She has directed several documentaries that tackle different aspects of social justice struggles in Israel/Palestine.

Dr. Shir Hever grew up in Israel and now lives in Germany. He has been reporting on Israel/Palestine stories for 16 years, and for the Real News specifically since 2016. He’s the author of two books and many articles, and is a committed member of several Palestine solidarity groups.