TEL AVIV, Israel — Benjamin Netanyahu will return to power, thanks to the rise of Israel’s far-right, which won a majority of parliamentary seats in Tuesday’s elections, near-final results released Thursday showed. The rise of religious parties has ousted the leftist party from the establishment for the first time since 1992.
The triumph paves the way for Netanyahu to form the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, which was formed as a socialist democratic state. The government could have broad implications for the LGBTQ community, secular citizens and Palestinians. American Jewish groups have raised concerns about the bloc’s agenda.
Israel’s Channel 12 news reported Thursday that the Central Elections Committee gave a narrow majority to Nentanyahu and his Likud-led government.
Netanyahu’s bloc is expected to win 64 of the 120 seats in Israel’s parliament, known as the Knesset, according to Channel 12.
why is it important
The far-right Religious Zionism party is expected to play a crucial role in Netanyahu’s government and receive major ministerial portfolios.
The party is known for its anti-LGBTQ policies and hateful rhetoric against Arab Israelis and Palestinians, and could also affect Israel’s relationship with the United States, its most important ally.
US Senator Bob Menendez, D-New Jersey, warned Netanyahu during their September meeting in Israel against forming a coalition with the far-right party, noting that it could damage US-Israeli relations, according to Axios.
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Here is where the influence of the party should be felt:
Netanyahu’s corruption cases could disappear
Netanyahu is on trial for corruption in three different cases, charged with fraud, breach of trust and bribery. He faces up to 10 years in prison if convicted.
All of that could change if his Religious Zionist allies keep their election campaign promise to abolish the offenses of fraud and breach of trust against legislators.
The proposal has been widely criticized for being a highly personalized legal decision, aimed at ending much of Netanyahu’s trial. The re-elected Prime Minister responded to these criticisms by saying that the reforms would not apply to him retroactively.
Robbie Sabel, a professor of international law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, echoed a number of Israeli legal experts in disputing Netanyahu’s claim, telling USA TODAY “if the offense is abolished, you cannot not condemn anyone for that. So they don’t have to say that it will apply retroactively. If they abolish it, Netanyahu cannot be found guilty of these offences.
Justice Minister Gideon Saar called the party’s legal reform plan a “haven for government corruption”, while Prime Minister Yair Lapid said it was a “deliberate campaign to quash the trial of Netanyahu,” which would mean the end of Israeli democracy “as we know it.” .”
Plan to limit the power of the Supreme Court
Religious Zionism’s plan to reform the legal system in Israel also aims to limit the power of the Supreme Court, preventing the Supreme Court from striking down parliamentary legislation that would violate one of Israel’s basic laws – which comes close most of a constitution in Israel.
Anti-Netanyahu parties have accused the move of being an attack on democracy. The move would be legal because “there is no limit to what parliament can do,” Sabel said.
The Supreme Court of Israel is, like in many other countries, seen as a guardian protecting civil rights.
The judicial reform plan would also ensure that the majority of the members of the committee that appoints Supreme Court justices are elected officials – a change from the current committee structure where the majority are unelected officials. That, Sabel said, would arguably make the committee “more political.”
Israel has made significant progress on LGBTQ rights over the past two years, thanks to secular parties on the left and right, allowing same-sex couples to jointly adopt and legally access surrogacy, while welcoming the one of the most famous annual Gay Pride. fashion shows around the world.
But with religious Zionism in power, hateful rhetoric against the LGBTQ community is becoming an increasingly accepted part of Israeli society.
Party leader Betzalel Smotrich called himself a “proud homophobe” and made a number of derogatory comments against the LGBTQ community, saying homosexuality is not “healthy for society” and comparing the recognition of the community to “go through a red light”.
Ofer Neumann, CEO of Israel Gay Youth, said he believes the “darkness” Religious Zionism brings to the LGBTQ community comes from its rhetoric rather than what it can actually achieve politically.
“I’m not sure they’re as keen to bring their bizarre ideas of what a person can or can’t do to life. I think they’re using it more as a political tool in order to get more votes from hate-motivated people,” Neumann told USA TODAY.
Religious Zionism could vote against any other legislation aimed at strengthening the rights of the LGBTQ community, but a majority of Israeli lawmakers oppose its views, including Netanyahu’s Likud party.
Neumann said Netanyahu’s Likud party “does not believe” the words of Smotrich and the party’s No. 2, Itamar Ben-Gvir.
Likud prides itself on being an inclusive liberal party, often using one of its most senior members who is openly gay, Amir Ohana, as a prime example.
“The battle of reality is determined by the powers of progress, and Religious Zionism is losing that battle,” Neumann said.
The fate of the Palestinians
When Arab and Jewish politicians from left and right toppled Netanyahu in June 2021 and created the most diverse coalition in the country’s history, many saw it as an opportunity to reduce tensions between Israel and the Palestinians.
However, a series of Palestinian terror attacks and Israeli military operations in the West Bank have put 2022 on a trajectory to be the most violent year in the West Bank since 2005, according to UN Middle East envoy Tor Wenesland.
Human rights activist and political analyst Bassem Eid said the prospect of having religious Zionism in the next Israeli government is a “disaster” for Palestinians.
“There is no doubt that this will worsen the situation for the Palestinians,” Eid said.
One of the effects will be the continuation of the growing settlement enterprise in the West Bank, which receives the full support of religious Zionism.
Ben-Gvir has a particular goal that worries Eid, namely the eviction of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood in East Jerusalem. The Jerusalem Municipality has been at odds with the families for decades, arguing that they are residing there illegally without proper documentation of ownership.
The families, on the other hand, have lived there for generations, with some dating back to before the establishment of Israel in 1948, claiming they do indeed have legal papers.
Another minority in Israel who are worried about the power of the party of religious Zionism in the next government are Israeli Arabs, who make up about 20% of the country.
The party calls Arab-Israeli lawmakers “terrorists” – with Ben-Gvir going so far as to advocate the expulsion of “illoyal” Arab-Israelis.
Jafar Farah, the director of the Mossawa Advocacy Center for the Arab Minority in Israel, pointed to two main issues that worry him for the far-right party: home demolitions and police brutality.
“The government is expected to immediately implement house demolitions against some Bedouin in the Negev desert,” Farah told USA TODAY. An estimated 80,000 Bedouins in the Negev desert, which covers most of southern Israel, live in what are called “unrecognized villages” or outposts, making any construction on their homes subject to demolitions.
Farah, who prefers the term Palestinian Arab citizens of Israel, also expects increased police violence against the community, saying there has been a “total failure” to investigate those injured or killed by the police over the past 20 years.
The Religious Zionism party will encourage “police officers to use more live fire in confrontations” with members of the community, Farah said.
As for the increase in internal violence in the Arab-Israeli community, which has so far seen 88 people killed in 2022, Farah is not optimistic that Netanyahu will invest much-needed police resources to fight the crime organized.
“Netanyahu also spoke a lot about fighting crime in our community. But in the end he did nothing,” Farah added when he was in power.
The outgoing government has also been widely criticized for failing to combat organized crime in Arab-Israeli communities, despite the presence of an Arab-Israeli party in the coalition.