Will Coming Israeli Elections Change Anything? (Pt 1/2)

David Sheen divided Israel political parties into their positions on segregation, integration, domination and elimination. He joins us to debate Real News Correspondent Shir Hever on what it really means.

Will Coming Israeli Elections Change Anything? (Pt 1/2)

Story Transcript

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Marc Steiner. As always, great to have you with us.

On April the 19th, Israel will hold what could be very critical elections. Israel’s electoral system is hugely complex, with 33 parties competing for seats in the Knesset, which of course is Israeli’s parliament. There seem to be splits on the right, on the left that are taking place throughout the Israeli parties at this moment. And because early elections were called, the campaigns have already begun. So what could happen? What could they hold for us? How are things lining up? Will they change anything? What are the political forces involved and where could this take us?

Well, we’re joined by folks who can help us through some of this with some unique perspectives, David Sheen and Shir Hever. David Sheen is a Canadian journalist and filmmaker who lives in Dimona, Israel, and he created a data visualization technique that breaks down the complexity of this Israeli election and the political system and the parties that we’ll discuss in some very unique ways. And Shir Hever, of course you know, is a Real News correspondent joining us from Heidelberg, Germany, and his most recent book is The Privatization of Israeli Security. And gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you both with us here on The Real News one again.

SHIR HEVER: Thank you, Marc.

DAVID SHEEN: Thanks Marc.

MARC STEINER: So David, let me start with you. You put this incredibly interesting graphic display of these 33 Israeli parties, where they fit in to the system, how they work. And they’re divided between Jewish and Palestinian parties as well as being divided up into categories of where they stand, liberal, nationalist or religious, and then even further divided. So give us kind of a breakdown of what you did here, what they mean.

DAVID SHEEN: Sure. Well, as you pointed out, a plethora of parties, how to make sense of it of all? Of course, if you’re local, at least you can follow the goings on in Hebrew. But if you don’t speak Hebrew, for example, how could you possibly understand? So I’ve come up with a system. Essentially, instead of saying, “OK there’s two sides, there Israelis and Palestinians or Jews and Arabs,” it would seem that there’s actually four sides. One way we can think of it is the four possible scenarios, end games. So there would be four sides, SIDE, an acronym to easily remember those four sides. The first letter of each solution starts with that letter. S for segregation, I for integration, D for domination and E for elimination. So SIDE.

Segregation is the two-state solution, one Israeli state, one Palestinian state. Integration, so one state from the river to the sea, but one in which it would be democratic and all people would have equal rights. Then of course, domination, which is essentially what we have right now, an apartheid state where one side rules, again, from the river to the sea, but one group of people, only one ethnic group has full rights in that state and the other have a lesser set of rights. And then there’s the elimination option, which is to ethnically cleanse the country of the other ethnic group. So those are the four camps as far as I see it and that was my hypothesis.

What I did was I downloaded data from the Israeli government and I requested the records of votes going back 20 years, both Israeli citizens voting for their elected representatives and also the votes of the parties themselves, the lawmakers themselves in the Knesset, in the Plenum, how they voted. And analyzing this data, crunching the numbers, I was able to test this hypothesis and see if it is borne out in facts. And I found that it was, in a sense. I took every Israeli political party and I allocated it to one of those four camps. And when I looked at the election results going back to the year 2000, so we’ve had five elections so far, this will be the sixth one in a few months, but if you look at all those election results, just on the face of it would seem haphazard, parties going up and going down, and you really can’t make sense of it. But when those parties are then divided into those four sides, the four camps, then all a sudden, it’s almost completely static, very little variation.

Consistently, what we find is that the largest camp in the country is the Domination camp. They have about 60 percent or more of the seats in the Knesset or the percentage of the popular vote. And then the second most popular candidate after the Domination camp, the one apartheid state camp, the second most powerful camp is the Elimination camp, the camp that wants to ethnically cleanse the country of Palestinians. And then the two other camps, the two-state solution, the Segregation and the Integration camp, those lag quite far behind, at 10 percent support or less.

So that would seem to be a very scary result, but it would seem to be borne out in facts that consistently, while Israelis may vote for one party or another dominionist party or another dominionist party, they’ll do some horse trading between the parties within the camps. But between camps, very little horse trading. And so, that’s why I predict that in the upcoming election, we will see very little difference. If it’s one party going up or down, could be, but the ultimate result is the Domination camp. The apartheid camp will lead the country with the second saddle, and the shotgun seat will be the Elimination camp.

MARC STEINER: So Shir, that’s a very frightening scenario. And within that scenario, Shir, in the kind of world that David Sheen has created here, you’re looking at some complexity inside there that gives you a little disagreement, that you would change a little bit. So talk a bit about that. What do you figure?

SHIR HEVER: Well, I do agree with David that the elections are rather predictable and that the Domination camp is indeed the biggest camp in Israel. But I would probably delineate the different camps slightly differently. I think we should make a difference between what the statements of the political parties are and what is their actual politics on the ground. And many of the parties would make various dog-whistle statements about what kind of solution they would like to see, but in fact, they are promoting a completely different solution. And here I would say that actually, for the vast majority of Israelis, it’s somewhat of a combination of the Segregation and the Domination camps, because segregation is not necessarily something that means segregating into two different states, but it can also mean segregation within the state, which is the whole point of apartheid, and I don’t think you can have apartheid without segregation. And this is what the Israeli politics is about.

While both the Integration and the Elimination camps, here I disagree quite strongly with David, are both rather marginal. Elimination camp has always been a few members of the Israeli parliament calling on either killing Palestinians in large numbers or driving them out of the country in large numbers and thereby ethnically cleansing them. But most Israeli politicians would try to avoid that kind of language, and those who do use that kind of language, they use it in order to gain popular support. But when they’re in power, they don’t use their assets to actually promote these policies because of the international repercussions, because of the fear that it would lead to a massive Palestinian rebellion. So in the end, what we see is a lot of Israeli politicians just trying to keep the status quo of one apartheid state that we see today, but using various excuses and various language to have actually the same policies.

MARC STEINER: So let’s jump into this for a minute. David, please come back, I want to hear what you think.


MARC STEINER: Because I’m hearing truth and reality in both of what you’re saying here. I mean, let’s take the elimination question, the groups that you put in elimination, who they would be. I’m curious to see how Shir would kind of disagree with that assessment. Because viscerally, you might see a lot of people inside of Israel going, “Get rid of all Palestinians, force the Arabs out, we don’t want them here, let them go back to where they came from. They can go to Syria, they can go to Iraq, they can leave, do whatever they want.” But how deeply is that, because you seem to make that as a kind of a critical factor in the political equation coming up?

DAVID SHEEN: Sure. Well, to start off, it’s obvious that any tool we come up with is just a tool, it’s only useful as much as it’s useful, as much as it helps us understand. Of course, if we zoom in really tightly, we can understand with a greater resolution what’s going on. But I mean, Shir introduces an interesting question, which is, is there a disparity between what the political platforms of the parties are and what they really want, what they say behind closed doors in their internal meetings with one another. What is their true ideology, their true objective. For example, some parties will say, “We support the two-state solution,” the Labor Party, for example. But then when you get down to the nitty gritty of it and you talk about the specific aspects of a two-state solution, well no, they don’t want refugees to come back, well, they want the settlements to stay. When you talk about an actual, in practice two-state solution, they fall quite short.

And I would argue it’s the same thing with the Elimination camp. They don’t say straight out, sometimes there will be some statements like this, but it’s rare. More often they won’t say “We want to ethnically cleanse the country of all non-Jews.” They won’t often say it, but that’s just it. Because that kind of statement is so beyond the pale, they’re smart enough to not say it explicitly. But behind closed doors, I’ve recorded members of this camp speak openly about not just ethnically cleansing the country, but even more so conquering further than the boundaries of the state of Israel, even from the earth to the sea.

MARC STEINER: So let me ask you this question. So if you take the Elimination category–you say we have Segregation, Integration, Domination, Elimination. So let’s take Elimination for a moment then. I want to hear Shir’s response and I’m going to jump into Segregation for a moment. So who is in this elimination camp you’re talking about? How big a group do they represent, and who do you see them as, David? They we’ll go to Shir for his response.

DAVID SHEEN: OK. So obviously, it’s an oversimplification, but I’m arguing that the religious parties are the Elimination camp. Specifically we don’t have in Israel a Reform Judaism religious party or conservative Judaism or reconstructionist. Those forms of Judaism, which are the most common forms of Judaism in the North American context. But they don’t exist–well, I shouldn’t say that. They exist in very small numbers in Israel and the government does not recognize them, does not recognize weddings performed by them or anything.

MARC STEINER: It’s Sephardic Ashkenazi Orthodox were talking about, that’s it. Boom.

DAVID SHEEN: Exactly. So in the Elimination camp I’d argue that the ultra-Orthodox parties, Ashkenazi and Sephardi and the Jewish Home Party and whatever parties it will spawn, that those parties are the Elimination camp, that that’s what they want.

MARC STEINER: So Shir, how do you disagree with what David just said there, or do you agree?

SHIR HEVER: Yeah. Well first of all, I have to disagree and say that when David talks about the religious parties in Israel, my question is, which party in Israel is not religious? They’re all religious, it’s just how they interpret their religion. But also the parties that make their entire platform about hating ultra-Orthodox, using even anti-Semitic arguments against the ultra-Orthodox Jews, are themselves then saying, “but we want a Jewish state in the religious sense.” So I think all the parties are basically, or at least all Zionist parties, are religious. But when we look at the ultra-Orthodox parties, I think that this is exactly this kind of language of elimination, when you sometimes hear what the rabbis say something like “Arabs are like animals and should be put down like animals” or something like that, that gets a lot of media attention.

But then, in 2015, when the Israeli government wanted to legislate a lot of ultra-Orthodoxes to serve in the military, Real News correspondent Lia Tarachansky, who both David and I know, she went and interviewed some of these leaders of the ultra-Orthodox parties. And they said, “If the Israeli government is going to go ahead with recruiting us to the military against our will, we will break our alliance with the Zionists and form an alliance with the Palestinians.” I don’t see how that fits in with the eliminationist camp. That shows that they have a very clear priority list, and the issue of having a Jewish majority or a Jewish state is not on the top of their list at all.

And I think when we talk about elimination camp, mostly we think about the National Orthodox parties, which are very associated with the colonists in the West Bank. Right now, the Jewish Home party is split into two smaller parties, and that is a party that really, some of their leaders made very aggressive statements toward Palestinians and some of the quotes are blood curdling. But nevertheless, I think this party is, again, using those kinds of populist statements in order to get votes. But when they are holding government positions, currently they hold the Ministry of Education, for example, and the Ministry of Agriculture, they could use those positions in order to promote an eliminationist program, platform. And instead, they keep saying, “Well, we’re going to prepare this kind of platform at a moment which will be right, and then we will maybe annex the West Bank and keep the Palestinians out, one day.” And this one day never comes.

MARC STEINER: I’m just curious, though, these categorizations, David, you created. Maybe I’m hearing what Shir is saying–are these just kind of larger categories of political consciousness within Israel that fuel the electorate and where they may or may not vote? Is that what they really mean?

DAVID SHEEN: Well, I mean I’m glad you pointed that out, that instead of the end game, we can think of it as the way you want to treat the other. But votes for the parliament aren’t the only way to measure it. Another way we can measure it is by just asking people how you want to treat Palestinian people. So a few years ago, Pew Poll was conducted on Israeli Jews. And it found that 79 percent of Israeli Jews either agree or strongly agree that Jews deserve preferential treatment. So that would seem to be an apartheid ethos or the Domination ethos. And in that same poll, they found that 48 percent of Israeli Jews agreed with the statement that Arabs should be expelled or transferred.

MARC STEINER: 48 percent.

DAVID SHEEN: 48 percent, right. I mean, there’s different ways of measuring it. But again, it would seem that 79 percent wanting the Domination ethos, 48 percent wanting–again, just one measure, but useful for us to understand the relative strength of these camps. And of course, I’d agree with Shir, it seems like it’s almost like a Pokemon Beast Mode thing. The Elimination camp doesn’t have enough power to bewile and implement because it’s only in the passenger’s seat, in the shotgun position. So it isn’t as explicit, it doesn’t have the power to implement that. But is it increasing in power, does it aspire to be the most powerful camp in the country? Most definitely. Will it? Well, we’ll see.

As Shir pointed out, those parties controlled not just the Education Ministry where they put their ideas into the youth, but also the Justice Ministry. And in recent years, they have been using that position to basically dismantle the Justice Ministry from within and weaken it so that it can’t overrule especially racist laws that the legislature passes, so ensuring that we will see more and more racist laws in the years to come.

MARC STEINER: So we’re sitting here talking with David Sheen and Shir Hever about the upcoming election and this model that David Sheen has created. Now if you want to hear what Shir has to say about that, we’ll be back for the next segment and you’ll want to click that one and watch it. I’m Marc Steiner here for Real News, don’t go away.