Bibi and the Bloc Vote

You often hear opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu and his Likud Party say the policy of perpetual occupation of Arab lands and people is creating a situation where Israelis must soon choose between Zionism and democracy. In fact, as voters go to the polls today to determine the fate of Bibi’s government, you get the sense an inclusive democracy is already hanging by a thread. Think about the significance of this brief note at Haaretzelection blog:

Likud is troubled over high voter turnout in Arab community. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently uploaded a video to his Facebook page in which he said: “The right-wing government is in danger. Arab voters are coming out in droves to the polls. Left-wing organizations are bussing them out. We have no V15 [an anti-Netanyahu group allegedly promoted by the US], we have Order 8 [code for emergency call up to IDF reserve duty], we have only you. Get out to vote, bring your friends and family, vote Likud in order to close the gap between us and ‘Labor.'”

I was instantly transported by these words back to 1962, in Georgia, when as a child I watched segregationist gubernatorial candidate Marvin Griffin make his pre-election appeal based on a warning that “my opponent will be supported by the Negro Bloc Vote.” Griffin lost (to Carl Sanders, who called himself an “intelligent segregationist,” which meant he was for legal foot-dragging in resisting integration, but not violence, closure of public schools, or any other action that would invite more federal intervention), though it took quite a few more years of lawsuits and court orders before Jim Crow finally died.

The hobgoblin of the “Negro Bloc Vote” (often just called “the Bloc Vote”) in the Jim Crow South was always a bit ludicrous given the systemic suppression of black voting in most of the region prior to the enactment and enforcement of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But it reflected ancient fears that southern white people would fail to keep racism foremost in mind and allow themselves to be divided by competition for black votes. Indeed, in Georgia the great Populist leader Tom Watson, once a frank advocate for biracial political alliances formed on a class basis, became one of the foremost champions of disenfranchisement in the late 19th century out of frustration with conservative race-baiting during election campaigns.

No, I’m not accusing conservative Israelis of being just like southern seggies, but it’s hard to avoid seeing some similarities. And it’s notable also that anti-Netanyahu Israelis fear to appear too close to the Arab parties that might give them a path to a majority government. We could well find out in the next few days or weeks how powerful that inhibition has become.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.