Why (Maybe) Not to Vote in the Upcoming Israeli Elections

 [This piece is in part a response to Mairav’s recent +972 article on the same topic and other conversations on Facebook and with activist friends over the past few weeks]
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So. Why (Maybe) Not to Vote in the Upcoming Israeli Elections? 

E1.

What? 

The recent international scandal surrounding E1 was the best thing to happen in terms of ending the occupation for a long time.

How could you say that? Many experts have said that construction in the E1 settlement area would be a ”nail in the coffin” of the Two State Solution/a viable independent Palestinian State within the ’67 Borders. 

They’re probably right. Aforementioned unnamed experts are certainly more expert about borders and maps and such than Yours Truly.

So you’re saying that a Two State Solution isn’t the way to end the Occupation?

No, not necessarily. A Two State Solution/Resolution is probably the fastest and most feasible way toward a just peace that enables all Palestinians and Israelis to live in the region in safety and with full rights and freedom, et cetera. All One State formulas are more complicated and frightening. That doesn’t mean that they should be ruled out, but it is important to recognize that a Two State formula is probably the last bulwark against Israeli de facto or even de jure annexation of much of the remaining Palestinian territory. It may be that the idea of Two States has become a pipe dream, and its time to start settling in and bracing ourselves for a decade or two of Full Fledged Apartheid until that system is forced to crumble into a single state (most likely a single, not so Jew-friendly Palestine, at that point). If, though, on the off chance, there is still some possibility of a Two States Formula, Netanyahu and Co. might well have have breathed a bit of life into it with their declaration of intent to build up the E1 settlement area.

But… doesn’t this prove that Netanyahu and Co. are 100% disdainful of peace and entirely opposed to allowing a Palestinian State to arise in any viable sense? 

Oh, definitely. And that’s something that many of us have known for a while: The Israeli Government has a total of Zero Point Zero intent to allow a Palestinian State to be created. Somehow, though, there’s been a bit of a lag (17 years?) in terms of international politics and opinions and in European and especially American diplomatic realms, where the words “Peace Process” are somehow still uttered with a straight face despite the lack of a partner phrase to the effects of “Economic and Diplomatics Sanctions.” This E1 time around, though, Europe’s reaction was more serious, at least rhetorically, and suddenly talk of withdrawing ambassadors and even sanctions on Israel popped into headlines.

What you are saying, then, is that the only way Israeli government will even toy with ending the occupation is if Europe (and the US…) start getting serious about unpleasantries? 

Yes. Which brings us to the upcoming elections. Some commentators have been talking about Tzipi Livni’s new Tnua party or the Good Ol’ Labor Party or some other form of “Left (ha) Bloc” as important alternatives to Netanyahu-Lieberman. This, in my opinion, is not only not right: it is dangerously wrong. Shelly “The Settlements Are Not a Sin” Yehimovich will never make willingly peace, nor will Tzipi “When Can We Level Gaza?” Livni. All that will happen if either of them miraculously outflanks Bibigdor is the Israeli Government will be given a gentler, more internationally-palatable face, many statements will be made about “efforts” to restart ”the Peace Process,” Europe and the US will talk Carrot-Flavored Sweet Nothings, and the horrid status quo will be perpetuated and even further entrenched.

e1

Police Station in the E1 Settlement Area

Don’t you think that Livni or Yehimovich would be willing to bend to the type of serious international pressure you mentioned before, though? 

Sure. And so would Bibi. As proved again and again, whether through the recent revelation that he’d considered returning the Golan to Syria or through his decision to end Operation Pillar of Cloud before it went Livni/Olmert style Cast Lead, Netanyahu is a pragmatic and smart politician. He certainly has a strong anti-Palestinian and pro-settlement ideology, but that ideology comes within a framework in which he has calculated (correctly, it seems) that the occupation is, for now, entirely sustainable.

Yehimovich and Livni and the others are probably strategic, too, though. Wouldn’t it be better to at least have a government that cares somewhat about democracy and would talk in peace language? 

Absolutely not. Again, neither Livni nor any other “Center-Left” politician will take the difficult steps to end the occupation independently of European and US pressure. All that having one of them in power will achieve is allowing the World Powers to settle (pun intended?) into the cozy, pre-warmed cushion of Peace Processing. On the other hand, Netnayahu and his breathtakingly Far Right Wing Likud List will give the world a more accurate, honest and unignorable picture of what how truly anti-Peace Israel’s leaders are. This by no means guarantees that Europe, and certainly not the US, will react properly and take genuine steps towards serious economic and/or diplomatic sanctions on Israel, but it is more likely that that will occur if Netanyahu regains leadership than if Tzipi Livni can squeeze together a False Front of Friendly Folks.

OK. You’ve convinced me. I’m not voting “Center-Left.” 

That was easy. It’s fun to convince… myself.

But I wasn’t going to vote Center-Left anyway. I am a Leftist, and so I will vote for a Left-Wing Party. The debate seems to be between Balad, Hadash and Meretz (or maybe the very well-meaning, probably not-making it into the Knesset Da’am Workers Party), all of which are flawed and lame but have decent elements to them. And all of them are far better than the Right-Wing-Center-Left and the Extremist-Predicted-Victors. Isn’t it better to support one those three parties than to just opt out? 

I’m not sure. I’m less convinced of this point than I am that voting Center-Left is a horrible idea. But let’s run with it for a second. If you are, as I am, primarily concerned with ending the occupation and believe, as I do, that all other issues are dwarfed by this monster, it’s important to ask a bigger question: How will the occupation end? I don’t think anyone has a great answer to that question, but my strong feeling is that it won’t come from within. Whether that is a J Street model of gently nudging the Obama administration towards involvement or a BDS model of getting the grassroots fired up against Israel’s occupation and the economic institutions that support it is a different question and one for another post (at this point I see strengths and weaknesses to both models, but think that they both are basically right about pressure from without being the only way forward on the High Politics level).

Even if the change won’t come organically from within, isn’t it good to have folks in the Knesset who will talk… right

Again, not sure. Ahmad Tibi and Zehava Galon will make plenty of statements against Bibi and Co. But those are statements that NGOs and media figures and journalists and diplomats know how to make also. The question is, then, whether having an ”Opposition” made up of Palestinians and Leftists doesn’t give a false picture to the Outside World, one of a ”flawed but robust democracy” in which the Left isn’t popular but is still allowed to say what it wants to say? Netanyahu and Co. are too smart and image-conscious to outright ban Arabs from the Knesset, or silence the [Actually] Left Wing Jewish members. Instead, they will continue to pump out legislation after legislation that will formalize the disenfranchisement of every Palestinian Citizen of Israel a profile or two lower than Hanin Zuabi (See: The Nakba Lawthe Marriage Law, the Loyalty Oath proposal. Imagine, without much stretching: An Anti-Intermarriage Law, an Anti-Arabic in Public Spaces Law, a Must-Sing-Hatikvah Law, and so forth) and will further stigmatize and even criminalize Leftist positions (See: Anti-NGO Law Proposal, and the Boycott Law. Imagine, without much stretching: An Anti-Contact with Europe Law, an Anti-Using the Words That Offend People Law, and so forth). So what do we gain from having Balad, Hadash and Meretz in the Knesset? A prettier, more democratic image of Israel. And that’s about it. There is no imaginable situation in which these three parties could get a significant enough amount of seats to wield any political power, and even if they did get, combined, say, 12 seats, they’d still most likely be spurned from any coalition in favor of Far Far Far Right and/or Religious Parties, Ehud Barak-Azmi Bishara style.

So you’re saying that voting for the opposition gives the illusion that Israel is a functioning democracy with robust platforms of dissent, while in reality Israel is only a functioning democracy for Jews, with an [ever-decreasing] sorta-democratic system of privileges for Palestinian Citizens and a system of complete apartheid for Palestinian non-Citizens? 

Couldn’t have said it better myself.

So are you just… not going to vote? 

That’s where it gets tricky. I do think that there are arguments to be made for why, despite all of the aforementioned, one should vote Hadash or Meretz or Balad. One of them is basically a Humanitarian Argument: Zehava Galon will not end the occupation, but she will probably do some very solid work to help individual Palestinians and Hanin Zuabi will not dismantle any settlements but she will at least maintain a critical voice against the ever rising flood of Anti-Arabism in the Knesset. The Humanitarian Argument is even more solid from the perspectives of non-Palestine issues which will certainly benefit from having a handful of Knesset members pushing for them (African Asylum Seekers, Sex Trafficking, Public Housing, et cetera). I do believe in the value of helping even an individual life and in the power of small pebbles of justice. As such, not voting just as not voting is not worthwhile. If I decide not to vote, it will need to be a political, public and extremely involved act. This is not checking out: it is further checking in. Voting, for me, would be much easier: I could cast my ballot for Balad or Hadash and feel that I’ve done my part to challenge Nationalist-Zionist discourse, or even for Meretz and tell myself that I’ve supported the last semi-viable vestige of Left Wing Jewish Israeli politics. Not voting, and working on organizing a public, involved discourse and even campaign around not voting would be much more difficult, and probably more megalomaniacal and probably riskier. That said, the more difficult route may well be the more right one. Or it might not be. I don’t know, yet, and I wanted to open this up to discussion among other members of the community and like-minded activists and others who might have considered Actively Not Voting.

…Thoughts?