Will the far right rise to power in Israel’s election? Here’s what to know

by | Oct 31, 2022 | Top Stories

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Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks from a modified truck during a campaign event in Hadera, Israel, on Oct. 6. Israel will hold a national election Tuesday, after its coalition government collapsed in June.

Amir Levy/Getty Images

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Amir Levy/Getty Images

TEL AVIV — Benjamin Netanyahu, ousted as Israel’s prime minister last year, is trying to stage a comeback. As Israelis head to elections Tuesday — for the fifth time in three years — they face the very same question of all the previous votes: whether the populist leader of Israel’s right wing, on trial for corruption, should lead the country. Haven’t we been here before? Many voters seem to think so. The past four elections did not change much in Israel’s sustained political gridlock. This time around, though, commentators caution against apathy. “There is an almost intolerable gap between the repulsive boredom these elections elicited from the moment they were announced, and their enormous potential for destruction,” writes Ravit Hecht in the left-leaning Israeli daily Haaretz. A frontrunner in the race, Netanyahu is allied with Israel’s most far-right politicians in a quest to subdue the Arab community, take more control over the justice system and — critics fear — to dismiss his corruption trial. Here are some possible outcomes in the Nov. 1 election. Netanyahu is close to forming a coalition with the far right The coalition that replaced Netanyahu last year was narrow and ideologically diverse. It fell apart this year over policy disagreements.

Public opinion polls consistently show Netanyahu’s right-wing Likud Party and ultra-Orthodox Jewish and far-right parties just shy of the 61 seats they need for a majority coalition in the 120-seat parliament.

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From left, far-right Israeli lawmakers Itamar Ben-Gvir, leader of the Jewish Power party, and Bezalel Smotrich, leader of the Religious Zionist Party, attend a rally with supporters in Sderot, Israel, last Wednesday.

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Gil Cohen-Magen/AFP via Getty Images

If Netanyahu’s bloc of parties manages to win 61 seats, Netanyahu would become prime minister. He has promised to appoint far-right figures as key Cabinet ministers, including Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has become the most influential right-wing figure in Israel besides Netanyahu. A far-right activist with roots in an outlawed extremist movement, Ben-Gvir was previously convicted for supporting terrorism by calling for Arabs to be expelled. Today, he calls to exile those Arabs he deems to be actively against Israel, including Arab lawmakers. The U.S. pro-Israel group AIPAC continues to shun him and his Jewish Power party, which it has called “racist and reprehensible.” But Netanyahu’s Likud party says Ben-Gvir has become more moderate. “We need someone like Ben-Gvir, with his power of deterrence,” says Netanyahu supporter Ortal Shlomo from Ofakim, a blue-collar town in Israel’s south. “He has moderated from his extremism. We need him just as he is … He will cause them to go back into the holes where they came from — the Arabs.” Netanyahu and his allies want to subdue the justice system Another senior Netanyahu ally, the pro-settler, anti-LGBTQ Bezalel Smotrich, has proposed a raft of new laws to strip the justice system of some of its powers, including overriding the Supreme Court — known for ruling in favor of Palestinian and minority rights — and changing the criminal code, which would drop the charges of fraud and breach of trust from Netanyahu’s corruption trial.
Netanyahu’s goal in returning to office, his critics argue, is to manipulate the justice system in order to drag out or cancel his trial. “He truly believes that while in power he can do the best in order to avoid his trial ending up in a guilty verdict,” says Hebrew University politics professo …

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