ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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‘Arabs are taking over the country’: Likud aims next campaign at far-right voters

Netanyahu’s party to propose deporting terrorists’ families, jail terms for flying the Palestinian flag or burning Israel’s, stripping citizenship for demonstrating during war

Shalom Yerushalmi is the political analyst for Zman Israel, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew current affairs website

Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, January 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, speaks with MK Miki Zohar during a Likud faction meeting in the Knesset, January 25, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Likud party will focus its next election campaign on attracting far-right voters, with proposed legislation targeting nationalist elements within the Arab Israeli community, The Times of Israel has learned.

It will be a draconian campaign by opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s party, designed to translate the rage over recent terrorist attacks — some committed by Arab Israelis — and rioting in Jerusalem and elsewhere, into votes at the ballot box.

Likud’s campaign will include a pledge to enact a number of strict laws if and when it is returned to power.

The proposed legislation would see deportation for families of terrorists who hold citizenship, prison terms for flying the Palestinian flag and for burning the Israeli flag, and citizenship being revoked for those who go out to demonstrate during times of war.

Netanyahu has led the shift in direction at recent party faction meetings, with MKs Miki Zohar and Ofir Katz coordinating preparation on the potential legislation.

“We will pass everything if we are elected,” Zohar told Zman Yisrael, the Times of Israel’s Hebrew sister site, describing the potential legislation as “new governance laws.”

Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and Likud MK Miki Zohar at a meeting of opposition parties in Netanyahu’s right wing-religious bloc, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on June 14, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“The Arabs are taking over the country. We see it every day. They abuse Jews. They do what they want. They go out to violent demonstrations that sometimes lead to lynchings. They trample on Israeli flags,” Zohar charged. “This will be the hot topic in the elections and the public will be with us.”

This would not be the first time Likud has deployed anti-Arab sentiment in order to woo votes. On election day in 2015, Netanyahu infamously said, “The rule of the right is in danger. Arab voters are coming in droves to the ballot boxes.”

Netanyahu frequently attacks the government for its inclusion of Ra’am, an Islamist party, despite the widely reported negotiations he had held with its leader Mansour Abbas to enter a potential Likud-led coalition after the April 2020 election.

The proposed campaign is reminiscent of a slogan formerly used by Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party that directly targeted Israel’s Arab population: “No citizenship without loyalty.” But it takes an even more militant tone.

Voters for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Yisrael Beytenu — the government’s three right-wing parties — are not the target of the campaign.

Instead, it is a move by Likud against the threat posed by the rising popularity of the far-right opposition party Religious Zionism, led by Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir.

MKs Bezalel Smotrich (L) and Itamar Ben Gvir (C) at Damascus Gate in Jerusalem’s Old City on October 20, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Results of a Channel 13 poll earlier this month gave Religious Zionism nine seats in a potential election, up from its current six.

Though the same poll also saw Likud increase its number of seats, sources within the party have said they believe Netanyahu does not want elections in the near future.

According to the theory, Netanyahu knows that if he doesn’t win the next election and manage to form a government, he will lose even his most ardent supporters in Likud and will not be given another chance at the helm of the party.

Therefore, Netanyahu is not actively trying to topple the government, as his corruption trial continues and amid negotiations for a possible plea bargain.

MK Amichai Chikli at a Knesset House Committee meeting on the Yamina party’s request to declare him a ‘defector,’ on April 25, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Meanwhile, he is using the time to build a “satellite party” with MK Amichai Chikli, who was ousted from Bennett’s Yamina last month.

Because of the legislature’s rules, Chikli will be barred from running with any existing Knesset faction in the next election, among other punitive measures. However, he is permitted to run with a new party, and Netanyahu believes Chikli could help give him the 61st seat necessary for a Knesset majority.

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