The Tragedy of Bibi's Victory

03/19/2015 01:29 pm ET | Updated May 19, 2015

As the fog of shock begins to dissipate and the devastating reality sets in, it becomes clear that the results of Israel's election constitute a loss for all involved. Let me count the ways.

Israeli Arabs

In the 11th hour of his campaign and in a last ditch effort to collect votes, Bibi publicly urged Jewish right-wing voters to the polls by alleging that Israel's Arabs -- making up 20 percent of the Israeli electorate -- were voting in unprecedented numbers. It isn't clear what is more disturbing -- that the sitting Prime Minister would dare engage in such overt race-baiting, that he believed he would garner more votes by doing so, or that he was right.

Under Bibi's administrations, the Knesset passed a host of racist laws aimed at isolating the Arab population and silencing critics of same policies. Take for example, the Nakba Law -- Nakba being the Arabic term meaning "catastrophe" used to describe the events leading to the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, including the experience of 700,000 Palestinian Arabs who lost their homes in its wake. The event mourned by Arabs on the day of the commemoration of the Nakba is not coincidentally celebrated by Jewish Israelis as the Israeli Independence Day -- a celebration of the emergence of a strong Jewish nation-state from the ashes of centuries of persecution and specifically, the Holocaust. The result is two competing historical narratives.

The Nakba Law, passed by the Knesset and recently upheld by the High Court, privileges the Jewish narrative and grants the finance minister the authority to impose harsh fines on government-funded organizations that mark Independence Day as a day of mourning. The wording of the law is vague and it can potentially be used against research institutions challenging whether Israel can be both Jewish and democratic, educational institutions that acknowledge the shared history of Jews and Arabs, and state-funded community organizations such as theatres producing plays about the Palestinian experience of the birth of Israel. The law essentially forces Arab organizations -- including schools -- to elect between badly needed funding and aiding the government in expunging their own history from the collective memory.

There are at least 50 laws in Israel that discriminate against the Israeli Arab population either overtly or in effect. The right-wing/orthodox/ultra-nationalist coalition promised by the Likud will no doubt make recent laws seem tame. More disturbing still is the electorate's responsiveness to Bibi's racist electoral tactics, which suggests that there is an appetite for such laws among a portion of the public.

Zionism (in the original sense of the word)

One of the most heartening aspects of the 2015 election was the attempt by the Left and Center-Left to take back the term "Zionist" from the Right. "Zionism" -- a term of national and great personal pride loaded with motifs of brotherhood, social responsibility and democracy -- has been held hostage by the Right since the end of the Oslo-era. The Zionist Union party -- running on a social responsibility platform -- and Meretz -- running on an anti-occupation/pro-peace platform -- both rejected the Right's decades-long claim to this holy word. They seem to have hit a nerve, particularly among young Israelis jaded by the Right's long-running politics of fear. See for example the speech by MK Stav Shaffir made to the Knesset, which went viral and subsequently turned into an election ad for the Zionist Union.

Since Rabin's murder and the consequent death of the Oslo peace process, the Center-Left has failed to anchor itself in Zionist identity in any meaningful way. For the first time, there was a real hope in this campaign that it was possible to change the status quo or at least pull the brakes on a runaway train. It seemed possible to reconnect to a Zionist identity that does not force its subscriber to choose between Jewish ideals of fraternity, social responsibility, peace, discourse and dissent and the right to a Jewish homeland. This possibility, this ideal, suffered a serious blow on Tuesday and I certainly hope that it was not a fatal one.

Geopolitics and US-Israeli Relations

One of the people most upset by Bibi's victory is undoubtedly Barack Obama. It is no secret that the two men were not fond of each other. Though Bibi's blatant breach of diplomatic protocol in accepting the Republican invitation to speak to Congress likely did not contribute to his electoral victory, the stain it left on relations with Israel's most important ally is unquestionable.

The ice-cold relationship between Obama and Bibi is highlighted by the warming relationship between Putin and Bibi. Though gaps remain between the two leaders on Iran, public statements and an agreement for a secure hotline between the two bureaus suggest both a strengthened relationship and a desire to speak directly to one another -- to the exclusion of American ears. In the wake of serious crises with the West, most recently over Ukraine, Russia is actively seeking new allies in what is increasingly a polarized international arena. With Bibi's victory, it looks as though the incremental shift towards Russia will continue with likely destabilizing effects for the region.


The biggest losers in this race were Israelis. Israelis who cannot afford housing. Israelis who cannot afford the price of basic food staples as the cost of food has gone up dramatically over the last several years. Israelis who live in a country with one of the largest income gaps in the developed world. Israelis who suffer at the hands of a government which barely attempts to hide its own shameful corruption anymore. Israelis who pay taxes only to have those taxes secretly funneled to illegal settlements. Israelis who have survived the Holocaust and fought in Israel's wars and now grow old in unimaginable poverty. Israelis who will continue to send their sons and daughters to perish in unnecessary battles. Israelis who will continue to live in fear of their neighbors and of themselves.