Earlier I brought up yesterday's (tonight's in the U.S.) elections in Israel, which surprised me because (a) they're not taking the country into a right-wing dystopia and (b) it started to look like Binyamin Netanyahu might lose his job. (b) is important because the farther away
Netanyahu gets from the button, the less likely the U.S. will get drawn into an unwinnable war against Iran.
Well, some hours later, the reports from Tel Aviv are encouraging, but not definitive:
Hours after polls closed on Tuesday, and after some 95 percent of the votes were tallied, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed a mandate to third term as premier, but the battle between the country's right- and left-wing blocs remained virtually in a dead heat.
As voting ended Tuesday night, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu party garnered only 31 seats − compared to the 42 the two parties won in the last election in 2009 − prompting him to announce that he was already working toward forming “as broad a government as possible."
The final election results will only be submitted next Wednesday, which places some restraints on President Shimon Peres consulting party leaders about whom he should ask to form the next coalition. However, sources in the President’s Residence say he prefers not to wait that long and is likely to ask Netanyahu to form the next government by the end of this week.
However, Labor Party leader Shelly Yacimovich said she had already initiated contacts aimed at forming a center-left bloc to prevent Netanyahu remaining prime minister.
As much as I hope for Netanyahu's defenestration, he will most likely scrape together the votes to congeal a right-wing government. Even though a centrist coalition would have a nearly-unprecedented mandate, and also get the extremes on both sides to shut the hell up, the individual incentives are just too strong for Likud politicians. And sadly for just about everyone, Netanyahu is actually a true right-winger, believing the only way to deal with Arabs is through arms.
I'm not naive about the sincerity of Arab leaders who give speeches about wiping Israel into the sea. I just don't think they're likely to try. Along the same line, I think Israel's biggest mistake under Netanyahu mirrors the United States' biggest mistake under George Bush fils: fighting fire with napalm.
You can't fight terrorists with armies. Armies turn allies into enemies. Rome never learned that, but given two thousand years of experience, one would hope the United States would—if for no other reason than we study Rome in school. When you turn the forces of the empire on small threats, the threats become real.
We in the U.S. have alternated between showing the world a brilliant example of democracy and kicking the crap out of it. We declared independence with the power of liberal Enlightenment thinking behind us and promptly enacted the Alien and Sedition Acts. We spent 600,000 lives declaring all men free and promptly declared them unequal. We're the laboratory testing reason against unreason. But reason wins most of the time.
So observe Israel: a country born of the worst atrocities ever visited upon humans by other humans, a country of the smartest, best-educated, toughest people ever to constitute a free democracy, electing an open bigot as their head of government. It staggers the mind. But tonight, at least, it appears half of Israelis have rejected him. One can hope that's enough.
Netanyahu is typical of the right, warning how "those people" will destroy everything you believe in (though the specifics never seem to be described). Only, "those people" don't exist. To define "those people" requires a suspension of intellect, a cessation of rational thought. Defining an entire group of people as something less than another group requires a willful ignorance that becomes terrifying when backed by nuclear weapons.
Except, Iran doesn't seem likely to attack Israel. In fact, if "those people" were a unified block, we might expect a different sort of invasion, as one of Israel's neighbors is wracked by a civil war at the moment without a flood of refugees into Israel.
No, really: are a hundred thousand unarmed Syrians about to invade Israel? Even though the Syrian civil war would seem to give a hundred thousand Syrians a good reason to emigrate hastily to Israel, if only not to get killed by their own countrymen. So...where are they?
Netanyahu's other bugaboo is Iran. So let's ask: Is the Iranian government nuts? Yes. Are they an existential threat to Israel? No. They're kind of like al-Queda and the U.S.: crazy, destructive, criminal, worth every legal and moral effort to stop, but not an existential threat unless we make them so.
I've said this before: the right thrives on fear. People vote for right-wing politicians because they're afraid, and right-wing politicians win when fear trumps reason. Keep in mind, the greatest wartime president the U.S. ever had was a progressive Democrat in a wheelchair. A team of enlightenment liberals won our independence from Britain. We ended slavery under the leadership of a scrappy, shrewd liberal Republican.
So after all this: I hope Binyamin Netanyahu gets sacked this week, because I think he's a nearsighted, fear-mongering charlatan, and Israel deserves better. It troubles me that half of Israeli voters support him and his coalition. But as an American, I can't do anything. I just hope he doesn't pull us into another war.