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Ramona Wadi

Don't let talk of Israel's right-wing eclipse its colonial agenda

Openly racist and homophobic Brazilian president Bolsonaro visits Israel, April 2019 [AFP]

Date of publication: 8 April, 2019

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Comment: In Israel, talk of right and far-right politics has shifted focus away from the perpetual, violent dispossession of Palestinians, writes Ramona Wadi.
Israel's Supreme Court decision to ban far-right candidate Michael Ben-Ari from the elections reads like a sliver of the absurd. And when it comes to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attempted strategy to forge alliances between the right and the far-right in Israel's upcoming election, it has crumbled.

Ayelet Shaked, Israel's justice minister, described the ruling as "a crass and misguided interference in the heart of Israeli democracy."

However, the aim behind this masquerade remains intact. With the declared far-right candidate eliminated from the electoral race, all that remains, is for Israel's political right to promote its agenda, without running the risk of association with the far-right.

The question, therefore, is not whether the Israeli Supreme Court took the right decision in banning Ben Ari, but what the ruling imparts about the plethora of other right-wing Israeli candidates.

In the run up to Tuesday's election, many of them have - undeservedly - escaped political censure, because their far-right politics disguised as right-wing, have become normalised within Israel's settler-colonial population.

This normalisation within Israeli society has seen politicians stoop so low as to release brief video clips in which incitement against Palestinians is promoted as an endearing reason for Israelis to vote.

Shaked's 
manipulation of fascism and democracy is insidious, while Likud MK Oren Hazan, well known for his belligerence, chose to portray himself in a campaign video killing MK Jamal Zahalka, chairman of the Balad party.

Israel's Supreme Court banned Ben Ari for "incitement to racism". However, other Israeli contenders in the election have openly advocated for the killing of Palestinians.

In 2014, Shaked called for the killing of Palestinian mothers. "They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there." In the same year, Operation Protective Edge in Gaza partially accomplished Shaked's demand.

As focus shifts on debating the prevailing trends in political ideology, Israel moves further away from the Nakba

Likewise, Education Minister Naftali Bennett boasts of having "killed lots of Arabs" without regret, in another example of normalised violent ideology which the new government will consolidate. In 2016, Bennett also called for disappearing Palestinians; killing them and burying the bodies in secret cemeteries.

Shaked and Bennett are two of the most vociferous politicians inciting violence against Palestinians - it is little surprise that Netanyahu appointed them to influential positions within his government. The ability to influence society through law and education has allowed Netanyahu to pursue a refined version of the very politics that instigated the Nakba.

Differences between these two politicians and Ben-Ari are minimal in terms of ideology. However, Shaked and Bennett are all the more dangerous, as they have a platform through which to disseminate the far-right ideology in Israel as part of the colonial state's identity.

Israel has normalised a far-right which has evolved through recent decades. It can now avail itself of the freedom to retain far-right representation in politics, while shunning the  inclusion of individuals harbouring that same ideology.

Politically for Israel, this plays out well. The forthcoming government can continue to court world leaders such as Brazil's far-right pro-dictatorship president, Jair Bolsonaro with impunity, having already determined which segments of the far-right to exclude.

Read more: Israeli far-right justice minister wears 'fascist' perfume in election ad

It is true that the court decision to ban Ben Ari was not welcomed by Likud candidates. However, the decision does not represent any impediment for the politics espoused by the likes of Netanyahu, Shaked and Bennett. If far-right candidates were to be banned in Israel, many of the leading names would find themselves excluded.

The Supreme Court's decision can also be construed as a political decision, regardless of Shaked's criticism. If the ruling helps to normalise the far-right representatives in the Knesset, there will no longer be any scope for singling out such politics, let alone attempt a differentiation between two purportedly different right-wing ideologies.

The right-wing label in Israel serves several motives.

Apart from a purported distinction between the right and the far-right, it also determines the suitability of candidates depending on their established political base and to what extent they are able to incite violence against Palestinians from within the state's parameters.

More importantly, it contributes to the dissociation between the current and forthcoming government, and the 1948 Nakba.

As focus shifts on debating the prevailing trends in political ideology, Israel moves further away from the Nakba, which is the culmination of previous Zionist plans to ethnically cleanse Palestine. Palestinians rightly describe the Nakba as an ongoing violation. Yet this narrative is becoming marginalised due to the current trend of discussing right-wing politics in Israel, as opposed to the state and settler-colonial violence and expansion.

The Israeli electorate will be voting for a government that intends to continue colonising Palestine

If the premise, from an Israeli perspective, has remained the same - that of establishing its colonial presence over the entirety of historic Palestine, then accommodating the current debates on right and far-right politics is aiding Israel in doing so.

It is easy to see how and why the debate on the political spectrum is eclipsing that of colonisation. In Israel, talk of right and far-right politics has been bolstered as it shifts focus away from the perpetual violent dispossession of Palestinians from their land.

At an international level, Netanyahu's diplomacy has been boosted by the Trump administration and its concessions to Israel, the latest example being a tweet indicating that the US should recognise Israel's sovereignty over the Syrian Golan Heights.

Israel reaps even more benefits from the current rise of the right, within and beyond its borders, particularly as the elections draw near. Ben Ari was a diversion from the fact that the Israeli electorate will be voting for a government that intends to continue colonising Palestine.

Five years ago, when Israel massacred Gaza, there was much less talk of right-wing politics in the context of Operation Protective Edge.

While there is no denying a far-right trend in Israel, it is imperative that there is no dissociation between the continued violent, racist politics, and Zionist colonisation.

If this is omitted, Israel will have won additional impunity for its earlier violence, while the current violations will be dismissed from the colonial context, regardless of who emerges as the victor in the forthcoming elections.

Ramona Wadi is an independent researcher, freelance journalist, book reviewer and blogger specialising in the struggle for memory in Chile and Palestine, colonial violence and the manipulation of international law. 

Follow her on Twitter: @walzerscent


Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.

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