Nikolaos Stelgias

Nikolaos Stelgias

Israel's turn to the far right frightens Greek and Arab analysts

Eastern Mediterranean reacts to the results of the Israeli elections

Israel's turn to far-right rhetoric and politics is a major concern for Athens, Nicosia, and the Arab capitals of the eastern Mediterranean. Greek and Arab speaking analysts share the concerns of the liberal segment of the Israeli public opinion as they underline the fact that Israel's recent shift to the right-wing politics is dangerous for both the Israeli democracy and the region.

Analyzing the recent election victories of the right-wing politician Benjamin Netanyahu and his conservative and nationalist allies, Israel's liberal news outlet "Haaretz" notes that "Everything we were warned about is happening now."

Similarly, Arab commentaries warn us that a victory for Netanyahu will come at a high price, as the Israeli prime minister will depend on the far-right in the new era. In Athens, the development is perceived as a new and dangerous turn for Israeli democracy.

For the Cypriot media, this dangerous turn of events results from the political divisions of Netanyahu's opponents, particularly those on the left and those of Arab political forces.

Israeli liberals succumb to pessimism

New election results in Israel have left the liberal segment of the population pessimistic. Israeli analysts are deeply concerned about the rise of far-right forces and they are warning about the future of Israeli democracy. 

The case of the Israeli newspaper "Haaretz" in English is an example. The newspaper's editorial, which was released soon after the declaration of the unofficial results of the Israeli elections, claims that: "Israel has gotten frightfully far-right in recent years. Everything about which we were forewarned is now occurring."

The third-largest political force in Israel, according to the newspaper's analysis of the most recent results, is religious Zionism, the Knesset list that distorted the Zionist project and changed it from the national home of the Jews into a project of conservative, right-wing racism, and religious Jewish supremacism in the tradition of Ben Gvir's teacher and rabbi, Meir Kahane.

The "Haaretz" claims that there are risks for the future of Israel's democracy because of the entry of right-wing extreme groups into the country's new government. The new government might take "several destructive steps," the article read and adds: "Here are some examples: Fire the attorney general; split the role of attorney general; legislate an override clause that will allow the Knesset to legislate whatever it wants to–even laws that are unconstitutional; allow the Knesset to select Supreme Court justices; restrict freedom of expression; and prosecute journalists, Arabs, leftists and members of the LGBTQ community."

Israel's right turn scares its Arab neighbors

Not only are liberal Israelis expressing fear by Israel's adoption of radical nationalist rhetoric and mentality. Arab neighbors of Israel are also becoming more worried because of the development.

The "Al Arabiya" network released an analysis in the aftermath of the preliminary results, highlighting that "security and high prices topped the list of voters' fears in an electoral campaign that began after the defections led to the dissolution of Prime Minister Lapid's unconventional coalition, which included parties from the right, center, and an Arab party for the first time."

The network claims that Israel's incoming prime minister attempted to address the country's growing economic issues by basing his election campaign on the country's economy and diplomatic successes with nations like Turkey and Lebanon. However, this effort did not halt the right's march.

The electoral defeat of the colorful coalition government paved the way for Benjamin Netanyahu to reclaim the position of prime minister. But this triumph has a heavy price. The election results have made Netanyahu reliant on the backing of the far-right, which has moderated some of its severe anti-Arab views while continuing to demand for the deportation of anybody perceived to be anti-Israel.

Worse yet, the election campaign took place amid months of unrest in the occupied West Bank, which included raids and fights virtually every day. The results have only increased Palestinians' skepticism about the likelihood of finding a political solution to the issue. The projected outcomes of the Israeli elections, according to Palestinian Prime Minister Muhammad Shtayyeh, demonstrate the escalating forms of "extremism and bigotry.” The results, according to the prime minister, did not yield a "partner for peace."

"Netanyahu will pay a significant political price"

Following recent political developments in Israel, Athens shares the anxieties of Israeli and Arab commentators while being circumspect. As it is known, Greece and Israel have recently built a multifaceted partnership that Greece wants to continue. Greek officials are therefore hesitant to offer their opinions on current events in Israel. However, new analyzes that show concern over Israel's inclination toward the far right stand out in the opposition press, particularly in the circles of the Greek Left.

The title of the "Efimerida ton Sintakton" analysis, which is based on similar reports in the Western press on the outcome of the Israeli elections, is: "The dangerous new turn to the right brings the far-right into power in Israel." The Greek newspaper stresses that although Israeli politics have been moving to the right for a while, the results of the most recent election signal a fresh, hazardous turn. The driving force behind this development is Netanyahu, who in 2021 brought the new Religious Zionists into the electoral mainstream by forging an alliance with three extreme far-right groups. The decision was successful in the short term: His radical allies have increased the number of seats they hold (to 13 or 14).

According to the Greek daily, Netanyahu will pay a significant political price for his new electoral victory. The co-founder of a group pursuing legal action against Palestinian structures in Israeli-controlled territory in the occupied West Bank is Bezalel Smotrich of the Religious Zionists. The movement is vehemently opposed to LGBTQI rights and coexistence between Jews and Palestinians. It also wants legislative reform to include traditional religious Jewish legislation. With a return to power seen as the best option to overturn his corruption indictment, Netanyahu's new political supporters support politicizing the Israeli courts and giving parliament the authority to reject court rulings they disagree with.

Cyprus is also watching the culmination of the political drama in Israel

Cyprus is another nation in the Eastern Mediterranean region that keeps a close eye on the fresh developments in the Israeli politics. The Cypriot press covers analytically the political developments and election outcomes in the neighboring nation.

The daily newspaper "Politis" claims that Netanyahu's fresh triumph was significantly influenced by his opponents' political division, particularly the fraying of the Left and the division of the Arab political forces. The newspaper underlines the fact that the left-wing Meretz party, which was a component of the departing government, got only 3.19% of legitimate votes, falling short of the required percentage for admission to the Knesset (3.25%). With only 3.01% of the vote, the Arab nationalist party "Balad" which broke away from the United Arab Combination of the left-wing party "Hadassah" and the Islamist "Tal" a few weeks before the elections, was similarly unsuccessful in winning a seat.

The Cypriot daily stressed that American and Turkish officials' responses to the outcomes of the Israeli elections were noteworthy. Senator Ted Cruz, a Republican from Texas, congratulating Netanyahu on his victory, declared that he believed the Republican Party's triumph over the Democrats in the midterm elections will improve ties between the United States and Israel. According to State Department spokesperson Ned Price, the United States "hopes that all members of the new Israeli government will continue to share common values in defending a democratic society, including the principles of tolerance and respect for the full spectrum of civil society, and particularly regarding minority groups of all kinds." When questioned about recent political events in Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu's election triumph, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan sent the message that his nation "wants to continue relations with Israel, based on mutual understanding, regardless of the election results."

*Dr Nikolaos Stelgias was born in Istanbul. He is an independent researcher, writer, historian and journalist. His doctorate is in the field of the modern Turkish political system (Panteion University, 2011). His latest book “The Ailing Turkish Democracy” was published by the Cambridge Scholars Publication in 2020. Dr. Stelgias was a correspondent of the newspaper "Kathimerini (Cyprus edition)" for Turkey and the Turkish Cypriot community from 2009 to 2021. Currently, Dr. Stelgias works at the Cyprus News Agency. Dr. Stelgias publishes in Turkish news articles and analyses on Cyprus and Greece.

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