“Israeli society is in a state of shock” after the recent election, Rabbi Ron Kronish, a leading interreligious educator and activist in Israel, told me in this exclusive interview in which he analyzes the results and what is likely to happen now.
The Rabbi, who has lived in Israel for the last 35 years, expects Benjamin Netanyahu to become prime minister and form “a scary right-wing government which will lead Israel into more and more international isolation by continuing to pour lots of money into settlements and not into social needs within Israel, and which will definitely not put the peace process on their agenda.”
Kronish was born in the United States and educated at Brandeis University, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in New York and Harvard’s Graduate School of Education. He is a noted writer, lecturer and author on issues concerning contemporary Israel, Judaism and Zionism, and blogs for The Times of Israel and The Huffington Post (Religion section). He has edited a book of essays called “Coexistence and Reconciliation in Israel – Voice of Interreligious Dialogue,” that will be published in May by Paulist Press (USA).
What conclusions do you draw from the results of the Israeli election?
The main conclusion is that Prime Minister Netanyahu will stop at nothing to win an election, and he did so! He used racist hate-mongering and terrifying fear tactics which worked with "the people,” meaning mostly the lower socio-economic rungs of society which came out to vote for him in mass on election-day. In addition, he appealed to the religious and national right-wing voters with the same scare tactics and was very successful. It was the most negative campaign in the history of this country and it worked. This is the conclusion of this campaign.
What is the message from the Israeli electorate?
The message from the Israeli electorate is very clear: there will be no peace process. Nearly 25% of the voters in Israel appeared to approve the Likud's last minute campaign, which was full of anti-Arab racism against citizens of the state of Israel. This has not only been made "kosher" (legitimate) by Netanyahu and his political allies, and by their voters, and they have permitted this approach to continue through attempts to pass more and more discriminatory laws in the next session of our parliament, the Knesset. Moreover, the Likud's voters have now signaled quite clearly that any person or any movement who does not agree with Netanyahu and the ideas of the far right in Israel—which he espoused very clearly and belligerently in the last days of the campaign—will continue to be branded as anti-Israel and disloyal to the state.
One very interesting –and very positive, from my point of view—development from these elections is the solid electoral support by the Palestinian Arabs of Israeli citizenship for their new Joint List (of 3 former political parties) which garnered 13 seats in the Parliament, making them the third largest political party in the Knesset. The Palestinians of Israel voted solidly for integration into Israeli society—with a strong statement of the need for full equal rights and equal opportunity—at the same time that they support the creation of a Palestinian state, side by side to the state of Israel. They have now come of age in Israeli society and will no longer be ignored by mainstream political parties in Israel.
Is Israel in a state of paralysis due to fear?
Israeli society is in a state of shock, not paralysis. It looked like there was some hope in the air until election day. It seemed as if the voices of sanity were prevailing and that there was a reasonable chance for a change, until Netanyahu and his cronies went wild during the last days of the election. The voters voted for someone whom they thought would provide them with "security,” despite last summer's 50-day war (they voted emotionally more than rationally).
It will take a while to recover from this shock to the system, but the center-left forces must get their act together and hopefully form a strong opposition, which will make for a very noisy period in the months and years ahead. Restoring hope will undoubtedly be one of the main themes of the opposition against the soon-to-be-formed hopeless government. It will also be one of the main messages of civil society organizations—such as the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel, which I founded and directed for 23 years and is now a department of Rabbis for Human Rights—which will continue to strive for peace, against all odds.
Do you expect him to form the next government and, if so, with what other political parties?
It is already clear that he will form a right-wing coalition with super-right wing parties and probably with some of the so-called "religious" political parties, and perhaps with one new center-right party. There will be some haggling over some details in the days ahead, but we will not see a unity government at this time. It will be a scary right-wing government, which will lead Israel into more and more international isolation by continuing to pour lots of money into settlements and not into social needs within Israel, and which will definitely not put the peace process on their agenda.
What hopes exist now for peace with the Palestinians?
As Netanyahu has already made very clear since the elections, there will be no peace process with the Palestinians at this time. There may be some lip service about it to try to appease the Americans and the Europeans, but the list of excuses for not engaging in the peace process will be repeated ad nauseam—the Middle East has changed because of ISIS and other radical Muslim extremists who would move into an territory that is evacuated, there is no Palestinian partner for peace, Iran wants to annihilate us, etc. We've heard it over and over again.
The big question is: in the absence of the Peace Process, will the new government simply continue the War Process, with a war with Gaza or Lebanon every other year? It certainly seems that this is the plan, with the blame always being cast on the other side. Peace will not be on the agenda of the new government. They will do everything possible to ignore it.
Does his victory mean the end of the two-state solution?
It is not the end of the two-state solution, but it is on hold for now. It has actually been on hold for the past 17 years (the last peace agreement between Israelis and Palestinians was in 1998 at Wye River Planation, when Netanyahu was Prime Minister). Since a one-state solution is not viable either, what we will most likely see is the perpetuation of the status quo, but not forever, since it is not sustainable forever. The great irony is that the international community still espouses the two-state solution but the leaders of both the Palestinians and the Israelis don't seem to get it. I think that it will come back eventually because all the other solutions are worse. But it will not happen very quickly, I am sorry to say.
As you look ahead to the next year or two, what do you think might happen?
Netanyahu and his political partners will ignore the peace process, and try to focus on internal issues, mostly economic and social ones. I only hope that they do not continue to get us into unnecessary wars, but unfortunately it seems that this right-wing government prefers the War Process to the Peace Process. The Palestinians and the international community will become more and more annoyed with this new Israel government. Probably, much of the center-left of Israel will also grow more and more frustrated, and there will be many social and political protests, especially if violence grows, which is likely to happen.
Do you see any signs of hope for peace now?
Not at the moment, but one can always hope and pray for a surprise. After all, we have had many surprises along the way. Begin made peace with Sadat. Rabin shook hands with Arafat. Sharon pulled out of Gaza. None of those peace moves were predicable. One has to continue to hope, even though the current moment looks very grim. I still have hope that the people on both sides will get tired of the continued deadlock and work for change. Change is still possible. The rational pro-peace portions of Israeli society came close to winning this election, until the last few days when they were not ready for such a heavy dose of inflammatory, derogatory and racist campaigning, which somehow incredulously worked (I still can't believe it).
Have the religious leaders any real contribution to make in this situation?
The so-called "religious leaders,” that is the religious establishments, never help very much in Israel or Palestine with the peace process. Their salaries mostly come from their governments, so they—the establishment religious "leaders"—do not raise a prophetic voice for peace, as independent religious leaders do in other countries. They are mostly political hacks.
What can the U.S. and the EU do now to help end the 67-year-old conflict?
This is a very hard question. I don't know the answer. They may try to work with the new government of Israel, but it is not likely that they will get very far. I won't be surprised if they try various sanctions to apply pressure on the government to move on the peace process, it is unfortunately not very likely that they will get Netanyahu, Bennett, Lieberman and the others to budge even one millimeter. But they should keep trying and do whatever they can to try to get our government to move towards peace.