Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Election likely to confirm Israel's right shift

  • Print

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was once seen as a right-wing figure. Now he's widely considered to be a moderate. But it's not Netanyahu who has changed; Israel has. His governing coalition will certainly win the largest number of seats in the Knesset (parliament) again in the election on Tuesday, but his new government will contain lots of people who make him look very moderate indeed.

Consider, for example, Moshe Feiglin, one of the ultra-right-wingers who recently displaced the remaining moderates in internal elections in Netanyahu's own Likud Party. "You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic," Feiglin told the New York Times recently. "You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers. The Arab destroys everything he touches."

Last October, when Likud merged with its hard-right coalition partner, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), it was hailed as Netanyahu's political masterstroke. Opinion polls predicted that the new alliance would win 47 seats in the new Knesset, compared to the 42 seats they won separately in the last election. But even with Likud-Beitenu's lurch to the right, it's still not right-wing enough for many Israeli voters.

Just in the past month, a new party that is even farther to the right, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), has surged in the polls, and now Netanyahu's alliance is predicted to drop to only 34 seats, while the upstart party gets 15. And what is Bayit Yehudi's leader like?

Naftali Bennett is the 40-year-old son of American immigrants to Israel, a religiously observant man who made a small fortune in software development before going into politics. And he has no intention of wasting his time "babbling about Israel and the Palestinians." His solution to the problem is for Israel to annex about 60 per cent of the West Bank, including almost all the land occupied by Jewish settlers, and to rule the rest forever.

"There is not going to be a Palestinian state within the tiny land of Israel," he said in an interview with The Guardian. "It's just not going to happen. A Palestinian state would be a disaster for the next 200 years." So in the 40 per cent of the West Bank left to them, in Bennett's version of the future, 2.5 million Palestinians would live under some kind of "autonomous" authority, permanently supervised by the Israeli intelligence services.

Most of the issues being debated in this Israeli election are domestic questions about the economy and the social welfare net, as in any other country, but there is no doubt that the rise of the right has been fuelled primarily by its hard line on security and territory. What needs to be explained is why so many more Israelis are attracted by those policies nowadays than they were 20 years ago.

The founding generation of Zionists in Israel in 1948 were mostly secular and socialist, and most of them voted for the Labour Party, which dominated Israeli politics until the 1980s. But the Israel of 1948 contained only about 650,000 Jews. Today's Israel has six million Jews, and most of them are neither secular nor socialist in their outlook. Nor, in most cases, are they descended from that founding generation.

The early post-independence waves of immigrants were mostly "oriental" Jews, primarily refugees from Arab countries, who were religious and conservative in their outlook. They were numerous, and had much higher birth-rates than secular Jews. Then, from the 1980s onwards, came the Russians and other post-Soviet Jews, who had no sympathy for socialism. Together, they have transformed Israeli politics.

About 50 per cent of Israeli Jews now identify themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox. Only 15 per cent describe themselves as secular. And both the religious and the post-Soviet Jews are mostly on the right politically -- in the case of the ultra-Orthodox, 79 per cent of them, compared to only 17 per cent of secular Jews. The new Israel is capitalist, religious and, in many cases, ultra-nationalist.

Did the "peace process" die because Israelis were becoming more right-wing, or did the failure of the peace process push Israelis to the right? That may sound like a chicken-and-egg question, but in fact Israel was already moving right for demographic reasons at least a decade before the peace process began. By now it has traveled a long way in that direction.

Together, Netanyahu's Likud Beitenu alliance and Bennett's Bayit Yehudi will win around 50 seats in this election, which puts them within easy range of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Just bring in a couple of the minor parties (some of which are also quite far over on the right), and they will have a strong right-wing coalition. Netanyahu will still be prime minister, but he will have to bring Naftali Bennet and other hard-right leaders into the cabinet.

And then life in the Middle East will get even more interesting than it is already.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist whose articles are published in 45 countries.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 19, 2013 J11

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

City Beautiful book on the Friesens presses

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • A baby Red Panda in her area at the Zoo. International Red Panda Day is Saturday September 15th and the Assiniboine Park Zoo will be celebrating in a big way! The Zoo is home to three red pandas - Rufus, Rouge and their cub who was born on June 30 of this year. The female cub has yet to be named and the Assiniboine Park Zoo is asking the community to help. September 14, 2012  BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
  • July 1, 2012 - 120701  -   Canada Day fireworks at The Forks from the Norwood Bridge Sunday, July 1, 2012.    John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Should Canada send heavy military equipment to Ukraine?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google