Israel’s Turn to the Far Right: The Point of No Return? (Beattie)

  Kirk J. Beattie writes in a guest column for Informed Comment:

Most concerned Americans have, understandably, had their eyes glued on the monumental changes sweeping the Arab world. But they remain largely oblivious to another regional transformation of great significance; that is, the rightward shift of Israel’s political, tectonic plates. From its historically strong center-leftist (Labor) and center-rightist (old Likud) nodes, Israel’s political scene is now dominated by a combination of far right (new Likud) and extreme right wingers (Yisrael Beiteinu; The Jewish Home), as well as religious zealots (Sephardic Torah Guardians; United Torah Judaism).
 
On January 22, Israelis will head to election booths for parliamentary elections. All polls indicate that Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu and his right wing allies will emerge victorious, winning as many as 68 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, and thereby securing an even more comfortable majority than that provided by the 66 seats they currently hold. Nearly thirteen years will have elapsed since the last time centrists controlled Israel’s destiny.
 
Netanyahu’s Likud merits characterization as the “new Likud.” Over the past ten years, once powerful leaders like Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni abandoned the party, recognizing that Israel’s long-term interests were best served by a more active pursuit of peace via a two-state solution. Those who remain in Likud, like Netanyahu himself, represent les durs des durs, the hardest of Likud’s hardline elements.
 
But Netanyahu’s coalition already depends upon, and is slated to become even more beholden to, extreme right wing, ultra-nationalist and ultra-Orthodox religious elements. In the current coalition, these forces combined hold eleven more Knesset seats than does Likud. And the beliefs of these elements about Israel, Palestinians, their regional neighbors, and the rest of the world, are every bit as frightening as those of Islamist extremists.
 
For the ultra-nationalists of Yisrael Beiteinu and The Jewish Home, the solution to the Palestinian problem is to “transfer” Palestinians from their homes to create a more Palestinian-“rein” Israel. These people make David Duke look like lightweight wimps, and some of them have already been occupying important posts in Netanyahu’s current government.
 
As for Israel’s small, but disproportionately influential, ultra-Orthodox parties, which are also members of the current coalition government, there is real meaning behind the belief that the Jews are God’s “chosen people,” anointed to lead humankind to divine redemption. Their members see Palestinians Arabs, including those who are citizens of Israel, as Canaanites and other Biblical enemies of Israel. Among Israel’s right-wing extremists, more generous thinkers will permit the continued presence of these non-Jews so long as they happily reconcile themselves to second class citizenship.

But for the more aggressive in the extremists’ ranks, of whom there is no shortage, the belief is that the Palestinians will be “vomited out” of the land. Indeed, for the most zealous, it is a mitzva, or good deed, to kill such people. The notion of attaining genuine peace with the Palestinians, a peace that would entail ceding land they believe God gave to the Jews in his covenant with the Jewish people, is not just scorned, it is seen as sacrilegious.
 
The extremists’ attitudes towards fellow Jewish citizens of Israel who are secular-minded and peace-oriented are no less loathsome. Many of them hold that efforts by any Israeli government to force Jews to withdraw from West Bank settlements are to be combated, including, if need be, by civil war. The increasing frequency of “price tag” operations, violent acts targeting Jewish Israeli citizens and Israeli military personnel perceived as blocking the extremists’ path, serves as a stark reminder of this threat.  
 
Last but not least, Jewish Israeli extremists’ views of the peoples of the rest of the world are no less alarming. Gentiles’ intentions are presumed to be inimical, and any effort to broker some type of peace between Israel, the Palestinians, and Israel’s neighbors, is to be thoroughly resisted. Israel’s extremists hold nothing but contempt and abject repudiation of efforts by any international actor, including those of the United States government, that would prevent them from realizing their divinely-inspired objective of redeeming all of Eretz Israel.

And lest one forget, we are talking here about a pressure group that now exercises heavy political influence over decision makers in a country that possesses hundreds of nuclear bombs. Thus, what Americans fear most about countries like Iran and Pakistan; that is, religious extremists in power in countries with nuclear arsenals, is close to being realized in Israel.
 
Anyone who thinks Israel’s religious extremists love the predominantly Christian “West” any more than Islamist extremists should just look at recent developments. To take just one, Haifa’s rabbinate, no less, issued a proclamation stating: “It is seriously forbidden to hold any event at the end of the calendar year that is connected with or displays anything from the non-Jewish festivals.” Deck the hotel’s halls? Lose your kashrut license (certifying compliance with Jewish law) and destroy the hotel restaurant’s profitability.
 
In mid-October, serendipity granted me the opportunity to have a brief, one-on-one exchange with Tzipi Livni, Israel’s former foreign minister. Livni led the Kadima party into Israel’s last elections in 2009. Her party, which represents a more peace-oriented breakaway from the right wing Likud party, garnered more votes than any other. But Livni was unable to patch together a coalition and take power, so Netanyahu and his hardline, extremist-laden coalition filled the breach. I began my exchange with Livni by noting that I was concerned by the growing power and influence of extreme right wing forces in Israel, and she responded by saying she shared my concern, stating “We’ll have to see what happens in the upcoming elections.”

But when I pressed a bit more on this point with the observation that those forces appear to be moving ineluctably toward greater power, she answered, much more ominously, “Yes, I hope we didn’t already reach the point of no return.”
 
 
Kirk J. Beattie
Dept. of Political Science and International Relations
Simmons College, Boston
 
 

24 Responses

  1. Israel shows that zealotry and racism can thrive in a wealthy country with a booming high-tech sector. Science and fanaticism can co-exist. Israel can serve as a model to Muslims on how to become technologically sophisticated while remaining ethically backwards.

    • It doesn’t work because the sequencing is different. The whole idea of colonialism is to use one’s more advanced tech and organization to insert oneself in a territory to do bad things to the natives. Conversely, the Islamist fundamentalist attitude is that they are the natives, that the entire existing population be forced to conform to their own views, therefore it would be better to have everyone be backward rather than have infidel ideas create a ruling caste with a competitive advantage – such as the Westernized elites already implanted in their countries.

      I guess you could call it a religious take on Maoism, where one’s beliefs are not meant to determine how rich one will be, but whether one is not tossed into a reeducation camp.

  2. Y’israel Beitenu is indeed far right wing.

    It’s founder Revaham Ben Ze’evi was a former IDF general and anti-terrorism advisor to Golda Meir who was a strong advocate of “targeted killings” of Palestinians. He was assassinated in about ten years ago while sitting as Tourism Minister by the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine following an extrajudicial killing by the IDF of Abu Ali Mustafa of that group.

    His leadership was replaced by Avigdor Lieberman, a former card-carrying member of the currently-outlawed Kach Party founded by Meir Kahane. Lieberman is now under criminal indictment for corruption.

    In a story that was almost not carried at all in America, one MK from that party, Esterina Tartman, a former IDF officer, openly opposed a prospective cabinet appointee due to the fact he was an Arab Muslim as a blow to “Jewish sovereignty.” She was later voted out of office.

    Surprisingly, some Arab Druzes support these right-wing extremists and some Druzes have been elected to office in Israel under the Y’Israel Beitenu ticket.

  3. Really, I think with enough space/time you could make a stronger, better documented and less anecdotal case….not that I’m criticizing what you have done here.

    On a more positive note, to have gotten to this point has taken Israel at 40+ years of more or less consistent abuse. The situation and trend is unsustainable, so in the longer view there’s nothing wrong with it taking 50 years of recovery to get back to a relatively stable situation, aside from peace.

    The issue becomes what will it take to reverse the mindset that is driving Israeli actions, formal and informal. A cadre, let along an ideologically empowered constituency, can have a profoundly disproportionate influence, but once the stakes get high enough an offset will emerge.

    Whether it emerges before modern technologies force the issues. In the past these sort of conflict were localized and could play out over the course of centuries. No longer.

    • I don’t think those bombs will stay in their silos for 50 years. You’re describing a period longer than the history of South African apartheid – hardly a fate Israeli Arabs are likely to sit quietly through. Unlike South Africa, Israel can afford to entertain the fantasy of economically-feasible ethnic cleansing, based on its own history.

  4. Mr Beattie says, “leaders like Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni abandoned the party, recognizing that Israel’s long-term interests were best served by a more active pursuit of peace via a two-state solution”

    This is what Ariel Sharon told American President Jimmy Carter in 1978 on the occasion of Mr Carter’s presiding over a meeting of the Israeli Prime Minister’s cabinet, which Carter did at the invitation of Prime Minister Manachem Begin:

    Carter was told by then minister of agriculture, Ariel Sharon, that there already was a Palestinian state, that it was Jordan, and that Carter could take for granted that within the next few years there would be 2 to 3 million Jews living in the occupied territories. Sharon added that “even as we speak, Jewish families are migrating into Judea and Samaria.”

  5. Professor Beattie

    Thank you for your informative article on the current state-of-affairs in Israel. The following quote is of some concern to me, however:

    “For the ultra-nationalists of Yisrael Beiteinu and The Jewish Home, the solution to the Palestinian problem is to “transfer” Palestinians from their homes to create a more Palestinian-“rein” Israel.”

    Did you mean Israeli-“rein” Israel? I believe “rein” means “pure.”

    In any event the absolute criminality of transferring Palestinians from their homes needs to be brought to the world’s attention.

    • Pam,’rein’ means pure, or clean, but as a suffix x-rein does not mean ‘purely x’ but ‘clean from x’. Juan Cole is of course alluding to the onerous Nazi term ‘judenrein’ which is a synonym of ‘judenfrei’, meaning ‘free of Jews’.

  6. “Over the past ten years, once powerful leaders like Ariel Sharon, Ehud Olmert and Tzipi Livni abandoned the party, recognizing that Israel’s long-term interests were best served by a more active pursuit of peace via a two-state solution.”

    OHHHHH, you mean the Ariel Sharon that said this: “‘We’ll make a pastrami sandwich of [the Palestinians],” he boasted to a British journalist at Israel’s National Press Club. “Yes, we’ll insert a strip of Jewish settlements in between the Palestinians, and then another strip of Jewish settlements right across the West Bank, so that in 25 years’ time, neither the United Nations nor the United States, nobody, will be able to tear it apart.”

    link to greenleft.org.au

    The “peace process” has never been anything other than a cover for Israel’s founding intention — taking over Palestine & getting rid of the Palestinians!

    • Ariel Sharon said that in 1973, not in the last ten years.

      Sharon seems to have had a limited conversion of sorts later in his life.

      • Ariel Sharon’s incapacity and replacement from office was rued even by Hamas leader Mahmoud Zahar, who was quoted in a Der Spiegel article in 2006 as saying that Sharon’s commitment to disengagement from Gaza could have paved the way for further eventual withdrawals by Israel from other areas, including the West Bank.

        I am unsure whether this was a “conversion” or rather U.S. diplomatic pressure that caused Sharon to soften his positions in later years after the infamous “pastrami sandwich” comment.

      • And that means exactly what, again, with respect to how the current set of Israeli rulers is going about their business of laundering the eths in the area they increasingly inhabit?

  7. Danny Rubinstein, in describing a pamphlet produced by the Gush Emunim, writes:
    Hatred of the Arab enemy is not a morbid feeling, but a healthy and natural phenomenon; ‘The people of Israel have a legitimate natural and psychological right to hate their enemies’; ’The Arabs are the Amalekites of today’; ‘the aim of the settlements in Nablus area is ‘to stick a knife in the heart of the Palestinians.’
    Maslaha, ‘The Bible and Zionism’, p 154

  8. The situation is very frightening, and the constant support still given to Israel’s every crime by the present Obama administration makes it worse. Israel’s present leaders and their more extreme new leaders like Naftali Bennett do not care at all about international opinion, but know the US will never refuse to support Israel’s actions. Uri Avnery’s two latest articles show the grim picture.

    “every bit as frightening as those of Islamist extremists”is too weak, Israeli actions eg the 20 year anti-Iran campaign are much more serious on a large scale.

    As for Livni,she is hardly a peacemaker, being one of the main forces behind the Gazan massacre of 2008-9, for which she is very proud, and claimed she would do the same again.

  9. According to Asst Prof Beattie “But for the more aggressive in the extremists’ ranks, of whom there is no shortage… for the most zealous, it is a mitzva, or good deed, to kill such people.” Could der professor cite evidence to support this claim?

    • Is one expression of the sentiment enough, or does a string cite satisfy the challenge? “Chabad rabbi: Jews should kill Arab men, women and children during war”:

      But Friedman, who today travels the country as a Chabad speaker, showed a less warm and cuddly side when he was asked how he thinks Jews should treat their Arab neighbors.

      The only way to fight a moral war is the Jewish way: Destroy their holy sites. Kill men, women and children (and cattle),” Friedman wrote in response to the question posed by Moment Magazine for its “Ask the Rabbis” feature.

      Friedman argued that if Israel followed this wisdom, there would be “no civilian casualties, no children in the line of fire, no false sense of righteousness, in fact, no war.”

      “I don’t believe in Western morality,” he wrote. “Living by Torah values will make us a light unto the nations who suffer defeat because of a disastrous morality of human invention.”

      link to haaretz.com

      Of course the spin doctors have worked to put a nice happy face on all this and bury it in “We would never do such things! (ah,unless we are threatened…)”s.

      And who has maybe 400 nuclear weapons, and a long tradition of deception and putting other peoples to the sword? Love the tales in Judges: link to readbookonline.net

  10. 1. This is a lesson to the world in the problems of proportional representation. It is too easy for extremist or splinter parties to gain a few seats, and then hold the critical balance in the never-ending series of weak coalition governments. If Israel had a “first-past-the post” electoral system, many of these evils could have been averted, because a simple plurality system favours the formation a few “big tent” parties, in which extremists usually get marginalized.

    2. Can anyone tell me whether Israel has ever formally declared its final territorial demands? It seems to me that a number of Israeli parties’ platforms (including some parties in the current governing coalition) suggest a desire for territories even beyond those of ’67.

    3. While Beitenu is a crude ethnic-cleansing party, is the concept of some sort of a population exchange really unthinkable?

    • It is my understanding that the 1948 war ended in an armistice, not too different from the “Green line” established after the 1967 war. Israel does not have final borders.

    • It is my understanding that neither the armistice line in ’48, nor the ‘green line’ in 1967 have been adopted by Israel as ‘final’ borders. So, neither Israel nor Palestine have solid ‘borders’ even in 2013. Most international organizations and states generally consider the 1967 line as the ‘starting point’ for territorial swaps.

  11. The description of current far-right Israeli thinking in this entry is depressingly similar to that of their American allies. I think the entire Israeli political establishment had a hand in creating the rabid racism and soldier-worship that brought this to pass. Look no further than the role of Meir in denying the legitimacy of the Palestinian people, and the hard work of Israeli socialists in beginning the process of dehumanizing Arabs. Begin and the supposedly moderate old Likud took it further.

    Regardless of their views about economic policy, personal liberty, etc, they wanted their citizenry to be the new Spartans. Like the Afrikaners, like the old Confederacy, a society that paranoid and fearful of defeat will always try to concoct a moral imperative for winning – which must eventually become the idea of a Master Race.

    In America, the same issue has always lurked in the form of the loss of white domination due to demographics. But substantial regions of white America do not share this paranoia, which has allowed Israel to devolve faster in recent years. It now seems their right wing serves as a role model for our white wing. Since neither movement gives a damn about democracy, it’s simply a matter of depriving the enemy of the right to vote. We will see more of that, carried out by bullying normal people into silence for just that one election needed to change all the rules forever. Will Israel soon introduce the Grandfather Clause, the Poll Tax and the Literacy Test?

  12. The following quote from the article needs correction:
    The increasing frequency of “price tag” operations, violent acts targeting Jewish Israeli citizens and Israeli military personnel perceived as blocking the extremists’ path, serves as a stark reminder of this threat.

    The term “price tag” is used by settlers for their acts targeting PALESTINIANS and their property in response to Israeli government actions “perceived as blocking block the extremists’ path. . ,” not acts “targeting Jewish Israeli citizens and Israeli military personnel perceived. . . .”

    Attacking one party to express one’s protest against the government and military adds extra perversity to the violence.

    • According to B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, violent retaliation against Israeli security forces for their interference with the settlement enterprise falls into the “price tag” category also.

  13. More recent reports out of Gaza are that shipments of limited amounts of construction material are beginning to flow into Gaza from Israeli land checkpoints – although the naval blockade is unabated.

    It is also reported that more construction materials may be allowed to flow into Gaza if the cessation of missile strikes against Israel continues.

    This most recent development coupled with the expanded fishing rights of Gazans in that industry are two positive aspects from the truce achieved from the fighting last November.

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