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Israel’s Moves to the Right

Photograph Source – U.S. Embassy Tel Aviv – CC BY 2.0

An article published in the Israeli news blog +972 on 19 November 2018 posed the question: Why does the right keep winning elections in Israel? The answer offered was “because Israelis are right wing.” Simple enough, and apparently, quite true. The article estimates that over half of Israeli Jews think of themselves as “right wing.” Self-defined centrists are about 25 percent, and those Israeli Jews who still cling to “leftist” ideals are now only about 15 percent of the population. The remainder are non-committal.

This movement to the right is often blamed on the Palestinians, but that is largely an evasion. As the story goes, it was the Second Intifada (occurring from late 2000 to early 2005) that so scared a majority of Israeli Jews that it “led to a migration of left-wingers to the … political center… [and] centrists [to the] right, causing the percentage of Jewish right-wingers to drift upward over the decade.” While the “migration to the right” has certainly taken place, it is better understood as follows: under Palestinian pressure for democratic reforms and justice, along with corresponding resistance to oppression, Israeli Jews who could not face the prospect of real democracy had nowhere politically to go than to the right—what should properly be described as the racist right. And, so they went. From this point on there was no more obfuscation—Israeli “security” is now clearly a stand-in phrase for the maintenance of Israeli Jewish domination over non-Jews.

Enter the Fascists

The present shifting about on Israel’s political landscape prior to its April 2019 elections confirms this basically rightwing racist scene. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu affirmed that Israel is “the national state, not of all its citizens, but only of the Jewish people.” A minority of Israeli Jews might denounce such racism, but Israel’s recently adopted nationality law states that the right of national self-determination in Israel is “unique to the Jewish people.” And whether the “left” acknowledges the fact or not, this law is in perfect sync with Zionist ideology.

It should be noted that the prime minister’s personal preference is not for “the Jewish people” as a whole. Indeed, in his eyes, if you are an anti-Zionist Jew you are an anti-Semitic Jew—whatever that might mean. The prime minister is more comfortable with Jews of the fascist, racist right, with whom he has so much in common. This is the kind of Jew he has politically allied with. What in the world is a fascist Jew? Well, in this case, it is someone who uses violent methods to  realize the logical consequences of Zionism—if Israel is a “Jewish state,” then non-Jews must go. How they ultimately go has been left an open-ended question, though Israel is engaged in a continuous effort to destroy Palestinian infrastructure. Fascist Jews advocate expulsion of all Palestinians and sometimes engage in direct violence—akin to classic pogroms—in an effort to fulfill this goal.

You might shake your head in wonderment at the notion of Jewish fascists, but they have always been an important element in Zionist history. You can trace their activity from Vladimir Jabotinsky and his notion of an “iron wall” (1923) that would force the Palestinians to acquiesce in Zionist domination, right up to Meir Kahane, an advocate of expulsion, and his Kach Party (1971-1990). It is Kahane’s followers who now are political partners of Netanyahu. The “migration” of Israeli Jews to the right has narrowed the gap between the majority of “ordinary” citizens and the fascists. So, back into favor come the Kahanists.

What is an Israeli Centrist?

Nor should we look for anti-racist activism among the 25 percent who see themselves as centrists. Presently, those who seek to capture the centrist vote are Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid. Gantz is former chief-of-staff and a man who is being sued for war crimes. He is leader of the Israeli Resilience Party (Hosen Israel). That party has allied with Yair Lapid, a former TV celebrity, and his There is a future Party (Yesh Atid).

Both of these politicians call themselves “new centrists” and concentrate their platforms on “socio-economic issues such as the cost of living.” However, when it comes to the Palestinians, neither of them are interested in a democratic Israel that would afford non-Jews equal rights—nothing particularly “new” here for “centrists.” Gantz is the classic military maven so prevalent in Israeli politics. Here is his view of where “resilience” should take Israel relative to the Palestinians: “The Jordan Valley will remain our eastern security border,” Gantz declared. “We will maintain security in the entire Land of Israel … we will not allow the millions of Palestinians living beyond the separation fence to endanger our security and our identity as a Jewish state.” For someone who is campaigning on the theme that, under its present government, “Israel has lost its way,” Gantz’s intentions in this regard are remarkably similar to those of Benjamin Netanyahu.

Yair Lapid’s position on the Palestinians is little different from that of Gantz. He says that “we need to separate from the Palestinians,” as if Israeli Jews haven’t been doing just that for the past 71 years. He goes on to demand that all issues of security have to “stay in Israel’s hands,” there is no such thing as a “right of return,” and Jerusalem will not be divided into two capitals.

On the Palestinian issue—the one that now divides Israel from increasing numbers of citizens in the democratic world—there is little difference between the Israeli rightists and the centrists except that the latter do not publicly talk about the forceful expulsion.

That approximately 85 percent of Israeli Jews should end up unwilling to grant equal rights to the 20 percent of Palestinians who are their segregated neighbors; that they should support, or at best not act against the relentless, vicious process of illegal settlement in the Occupied Territories; and finally that they should react to Palestinian resistance to Zionist oppression by “migrating” to the right, is both tragic and predictable.

It must be realized that any country that allows racism to rule its public sphere cannot pass itself off as a democracy. It is simply a contradiction. The Zionist experiment looking toward a democratic Jewish state might have gone differently if it had been tried somewhere devoid of a non-Jewish population (like the moon), but then, in the end, the Zionists became obsessed with Palestine, fell in with the colonial mentality still prevalent during the first half of the twentieth  century, and have never progressed beyond it.

To this point, I beg the reader’s patience as I repeat an argument I have made more than once in past analyses: It is impossible to create a state exclusively for one people (call them people A) in a territory already populated by another people (call them people B) without the eventual adoption of racist policies by A and eventual resistance on the part of B. Under such circumstances, for A, there can be no real security, nor can there be anything like a healthy national culture.

Indeed, unless a majority of Israeli Jews are willing to go the route of South Africa and renounce their program of discriminatory dominion over millions of non-Jews, they have nowhere else to go but head-first into the hell that is the racist right. With 85 percent sharing, or at least acquiescing, in the views of Netanyahu, Gantz, and Lapid, the chances for redemption do not look good. In fact, it is probably the case that the “light unto the nations” has long since gone out.

 

 

 

 

More articles by:

Lawrence Davidson is professor of history at West Chester University in West Chester, PA.

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