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January 15, 2013 11:38 AM The Radicalization of the Israeli Right

By Ed Kilgore

The U.S. isn’t the only country where the radicalization of conservatives has posed a major challenge to the political system and the overall direction of a nation. It appears to be happening in Israel as well, on the brink of a national election on January 22. David Horovitz puts it simply in a column for the Times of Israel:

Sixty-five years after those who spoke for the local Arabs rejected a Jewish state, this will likely be an Israel that has voted to reject a Palestinian state — prompted by a combination of the Palestinians’ intransigence, doubletalk, hostility and terrorism, and of Israeli Jews’ security fears, historic connection and sense of religious obligation.
Curiously, however, this dramatic imminent shift in the national orientation stems less from a surge by the Israeli electorate from left to right — if the polls are accurate, there isn’t going to be all that much of that. Rather, it is the right itself that has already shifted. The right has become the far-right. The Likud is both bleeding support to the adamantly pro-settlement Jewish Home, and itself chose a far more stridently pro-settlement slate for these elections: On the Israeli right in 2013, Benjamin Netanyahu, rhetorically at least, is a discordant relative moderate….
This is an Israeli right whose soaring political force is Naftali Bennett, an ex-IDF commando, former head of the Council of Settlements and previous top aide to Netanyahu, who brushes aside the notion of a Palestinian state anywhere in the biblical Land of Israel. It’s just not going to happen, he declares, with a confidence born of his party’s dizzying rise, from three seats in the last parliament to what the polls indicate will be well over a dozen this time. Unfamiliar to many Israelis — perhaps even to many of its voters — Bennett’s Jewish Home favors annexing the 60% of the West Bank where Israel retains full security and civil control and offering citizenship to the 50,000 Palestinians who live there, and is perhaps best exemplified by the fact that it will in all probability provide Israel with two representatives in the Knesset from among the tiny, hardest-core Hebron settler community.

Bennett is the subject of a troubling profile by David Remnick for the New Yorker, wherein the Jewish Home leaders is depicted as a slick and charismatic American-style pol who has made radical policies acceptable and even fashionable:

A forty-year-old settlement leader, software entrepreneur, and ex-Army commando, Bennett promises to build a sturdy electoral bridge between the religious and the secular, the hilltop outposts of the West Bank and the start-up suburbs of the coastal plain. This is something new in the history of the Jewish state. Bennett is a man of the far right, but he is eager to advertise his cosmopolitan bona fides. Although he was the director general of the Yesha Council, the main political body of the settler movement, he does not actually live in a settlement. He lives in Ra’anana, a small city north of Tel Aviv that is full of programmers and executives. He is as quick to make reference to an episode of “Seinfeld” as he is to the Torah portion of the week. He constantly updates his Facebook page. A dozen years ago, he moved to the Upper East Side of Manhattan to seek his fortune in high tech, and his wife, Gilat, went to work as a pastry chef at chic restaurants like Aureole, Amuse, and Bouley Bakery. Her crème brûlée, he declares proudly, “restored the faith of the Times food critic in the virtues of crème brûlée.”
Closer to his ideological core is an unswerving conviction that the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem might as well relinquish their hopes for a sovereign state. The Green Line, which demarcates the occupied territories from Israel proper, “has no meaning,” he says, and only a friyer, a sucker, would think otherwise. As one of his slick campaign ads says, “There are certain things that most of us understand will never happen: ‘The Sopranos’ are not coming back for another season … and there will never be a peace plan with the Palestinians.” If Bennett becomes Prime Minister someday—and his ambition is as plump and glaring as a harvest moon—he intends to annex most of the West Bank and let Arab cities like Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin be “self-governing” but “under Israeli security.”
“I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state,” he says of the Palestinians. No more negotiations, “no more illusions.” Let them eat crème brûlée.

Like Horovitz, Remnick views the elections as representing a major turning point in Israeli politics, and perhaps Israeli history:

The Israeli elections will be held on January 22nd. Netanyahu is almost sure to keep his position. But that is not the central story of this political moment. Naftali Bennett is. His party, Habayit Hayehudi (the Jewish Home), represents the merger and reinvigoration of two older religious parties, and it is rapidly gaining ground. Many expect a third-place finish, behind Labor, which would be a remarkable achievement; second place is not inconceivable.
More broadly, the story of the election is the implosion of the center-left and the vivid and growing strength of the radical right. What Bennett’s rise, in particular, represents is the attempt of the settlers to cement the occupation and to establish themselves as a vanguard party, the ideological and spiritual core of the entire country. Just as a small coterie of socialist kibbutzniks dominated the ethos and the public institutions of Israel in the first decades of the state’s existence, the religious nationalists, led by the settlers, intend to do so now and in the years ahead. In the liberal tribune Haaretz, the columnist Ari Shavit wrote, “What is now happening is impossible to view as anything but the takeover by a colonial province of its mother country.”

This is a big and bad development, if only because of its likely impact on the ever-opportunistic Netanyahu. And it should be duly noted by those pols and media types in this country who demand there never be an “inch of space” between the Middle Eastern policies of Israel and the United States.

Ed Kilgore is a contributing writer to the Washington Monthly. He is managing editor for The Democratic Strategist and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute. Find him on Twitter: @ed_kilgore.

Comments

  • kindness on January 15, 2013 11:38 AM:

    I didn't read the New Yorker link as I'm tight for time. If he wants to annex most the West Bank, will the Palestinians be given citizenship in Israel? If not, well it will be hard to not proclaim Israel fully an apartheid state (more than it already is by some folks point of view).

  • Josef K on January 15, 2013 11:40 AM:

    I will do everything in my power to make sure they never get a state, he says of the Palestinians. No more negotiations, no more illusions.

    I recommend everyone watch the new trailer for World War Z to see the logical conclusion of this line of thinking.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HcwTxRuq-uk

    No, I'm completely serious. Bennett is deluded if he thinks the Palestinians are going to sit still for this.

  • Lev @ LibraryGrape.com on January 15, 2013 11:50 AM:

    Gershom Gorenberg's book The Unmaking of Israel argues that annexation and citizenship for West Bank Palestinians will ultimately lead to impassable gridlock, since the populations of the two groups would be roughly equal. American-style politics indeed

  • David Patin on January 15, 2013 12:12 PM:

    I'm going to second Lev's comment about the book "The Unmaking of Israel". Without a doubt one of the best books I've read in the last few years.

    Prior to reading it I always thought the only bigger obstancle to peace than Israel's settlement policy was the palestian and Arab refusal to tell Israel they can have peace. I now have no choice but to reverse that order. For too many reasons to be stated in this short space, Israel is on a collision course with disaster.

  • Andrew J. Lazarus on January 15, 2013 1:35 PM:

    The short answer is Yes, he wants an apartheid state. The major Palestinian cities will be urban Bantustans.

  • mb on January 15, 2013 3:12 PM:

    I don't understand why the words "Jewish state" aren't as offensive as "Jewish lobby."

  • Werewolf on January 15, 2013 3:17 PM:

    @mb:
    Why is "Jewish state" more offensive than "Arab state"?

  • mb on January 15, 2013 4:12 PM:

    @Werewolf: Personally, I find any intentionally ethnically pure state an offensive construct.

    But your question seems beside the point. I'm not aware of anyone being persecuted for using the the term "Arab lobby." However, we've been assured that "Jewish lobby" is some kind of anti-Semitic slur. "Jewish state," however, is apparently not only acceptable but preferred. I don't see the difference especially since AIPAC, the lobby that suffered the slur of being called "Jewish," spends a lot to time and effort pushing for a "Jewish state."

  • Dave on January 16, 2013 2:56 PM:

    @ mb:

    "In its Basic Laws Israel defines itself as a Jewish and Democratic State."

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Israel

    That would probably be why calling Israel a "Jewish state" isn't offensive... it's hard to say someone or something is offended by something they call themselves.