British Jewish leaders have congratulated Benjamin Netanyahu on what seems like a fifth term as Israeli prime minister, but cautioned against the “deeply alarming rhetoric” heard throughout the election campaign.
Acknowledging Netanyahu’s “significant achievement,” Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl said it was a “polarising campaign,” with news on the eve of voting that Netanyahu’s Likud party had fitted 1,300 secret cameras in polling stations.
Van der Zyl said: “Politicians from all sides need to work hard to build trust with every section of Israeli society and not take actions and decisions which deepen divides. We hope that the new Government will be successful in pursuing the peace, security, prosperity and equality that all Israeli citizens need and deserve.”
It echoed criticism by then-Labor leader Isaac Herzog after the 2015 election, when he accused Netanyahu of being “divisive” for suggesting “foreign money” was being used to unseat him and warning that Israeli Arabs were voting “in droves”.
For the first time ever, Israeli courts banned someone from running in the election, when it ruled 8-1 against Michael Ben Ari, the leader of the far-right Jewish Power party, for suggesting that anyone who speaks ill of Jews should be executed.
In August 2018, he said: “[We] should change the equation so anyone who dares to speak against a Jew is not alive. Is not alive. Not expelled, not revoked citizenship. Is not alive. A firing squad kills him. Exterminates him, as Arabs understand.”
Speaking at the JW3 culture centre on Tuesday night, Palestinian social entrepreneur Ruba Huleihel agreed that the 2019 election would be remembered “for its divisiveness and personal attacks,” but all main parties were culpable.
In one such instance, ex-IDF Chief of Staff and former defence minister Moshe Ya’alon, who stood alongside Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz for the Blue and White party, accused Netanyahu of “treason” in the run-up to the election. Netanyahu in turn accused Gantz of being blackmailed by Iran.
In a tweet, the Zionist Federation said: “It is clear that Netanyahu will lead the next government, mazel tov to the winner. This is how democracy plays out. [Palestinian Authority chairman Mahmoud] Abbas should take note.”
However left-wing UK Jewish group Na’amod said: “As British Jews, it is painful to see our communal representatives congratulating Netanyahu when they stayed silent as he ushered far-right extremists into the Knesset. We deserve leaders of courage and principle to condemn bigotry and oppression wherever it occurs.”