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Anti-Arab racism becomes tool in Israeli elections

With elections around the corner, conservative Israeli politicians are feeding racism against Israeli Arabs, hoping to increase support at the ballot box.
Israel's Economy Minister Naftali Bennett (R), head of the far-right Jewish Home party, shakes hands with a Russian-speaking immigrant as he campaigns in the southern city of Ashkelon February 3, 2015. In this seaside city once ruled by the Greeks and Phoenicians but now largely populated by Russians, the talk in the caviar-stocked delis and jewellery stores is of upcoming elections and Israel's powerful Russian vote. Given that Soviet migrants make up 20 percent of Israel's Jewish population, their conserv
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When the 2013 election campaign opened, the young new chairman of HaBayit HaYehudi Party Naftali Bennett was a rather unknown politician who, within a fairly short time, succeeded in making the waning religious party trendy among young secular people. By employing upbeat and positive slogans in the spirit of “something new is in the air” and “Bennett is your bro,” HaBayit HaYehudi was able to win hearts while downplaying the radical right-wing figures on its slate. The election campaign focused to a great extent on Jewish tradition, family values and the cost of living in the zeitgeist of the social protest, with a promise of a better future. The result was a huge success: 12 seats that turned Bennett into a political powerhouse.

Barely two years have passed since then, and 2015 Bennett is a totally different person. Championing an aggressive and nationalistic campaign, he relates not only to the diplomatic context vis-a-vis the Palestinians, but also to the issue of Arab Israelis. To date, this issue has been more associated with Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, the chairman of the Yisrael Beitenu Party. Bennett’s Feb. 8 “thieves speech” at Tel Aviv University and the subsequent uproar it sparked is another expression of the nationalistic hallmarks of HaBayit HaYehudi’s current election campaign.

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