The last days of the campaign sounded an awful lot like the Jim Crow South, when African-Americans had officially won the right to vote but still faced massive discrimination.
On election morning, a powerful white official running for re-election urged his followers to get out and vote, warning that minority voters were turning out in large numbers—and those trouble-making civil rights agitators, he complained, were busing them to the polls.
But this wasn’t Mississippi or Alabama circa 1965. It was Israel in 2015.
And the candidate wasn’t some protégé of Bull Connor or George Wallace shouting into a bullhorn. It was Israel’s prime minister writing on his Facebook page.
The leader of Washington’s closest Middle East ally—the storied “only democracy in the Middle East”—was pushing his right-wing supporters to get out and vote. “The right-wing government is in danger,” he warned, because—in his words—“Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are busing them out.”
The naked racism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s last-minute electioneering was repellent. But more horrifying was the fact that it worked.
The language aimed to frighten right-wing Israeli Jewish voters with the specter of a large turnout among the Palestinians, who make up 20 percent of Israeli citizens. The gambit brought back to Netanyahu’s Likud Party the far-right voters who otherwise might have voted for one of the even more extreme right-wing parties.
It worked. Likud trumped its challengers from the right as well as the left, and Netanyahu swept to victory.
Of course, there were other ploys to reach extreme-right voters as well. Netanyahu’s last-minute promise that he would oppose the creation of a Palestinian state—seemingly reversing a position he’d laid out several years earlier—may have been shocking to many in the United States. But it was actually consistent with the prime minister’s longstanding behavior.
As far back as 2001, Netanyahu bragged that he “actually stopped the Oslo Accord,” the diplomatic framework that was supposed to give rise to a Palestinian state. For the past six years, with one brief and ineffectual freeze, Netanyahu has led successive Israeli governments in building new settlements in the West Bank, “Judaizing” occupied Arab East Jerusalem and attacking Gaza with brutal and illegal force—all with the intended effect of derailing any possibility of even a rump Palestinian state, let alone one that would be independent, viable and contiguous.