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What’s wrong with the right?

The Likud has been committing transgressions that come straight out of the left-wing playbook

A lot has been written about the disarray of the Israeli Left. The parties are said to be divided, unclear, and working at cross-purposes. There is much truth in this: there are a dizzying eight parties commonly defined as “left” of the Likud – even if two of them define themselves as “center” and two of the small Arab parties are not exactly “leftist”, either.

But what about the right? What has happened to the right? There are four “rightist” parties now in the next Knesset, although two of them are Ultra-Orthodox parties that in many senses are anti-right. If it is disheartening to many leftists that the leftist parties are at odds, it should be no less worrisome to rightists that the four parties understood to be in the Likud’s bloc are invariably banded together. What do rightist governments in the the rest of the world usually talk about?

For one, they talk about small government. What did Netanyahu’s last government look like? It was the largest, most wasteful government in Israel’s history, boasting a record 30 ministers (for comparison’s sake, the U.S. has 15). Nine of the thirty were “ministers without portfolio,” and of the ministries that actually functioned, one was the Ministry for Religious Affairs, a post that had been twice cancelled. Not only was this dubious department re-instated, its budget was doubled in 2011 and reached over 500 million shekels, far surpassing that of the Ministry for Research and Technology with a budget of approximately 300 million. In the end, Netanyahu’s last government leaves a budget hole of 40 billion shekels

Another common sign of a rightist government is one that puts great emphasis on patriotism (this does tend to be true, though irksome to me as a leftist patriot). What has the supposedly rightist government of Netanyahu, about to be re-created, actually done? They have increased spending on anti-Zionist Ultra-Orthodox education while virtually liquidating all supervision of these schools. Under Netanyahu and Likud’s Minister of Education Saar, the Ultra-Orthodox schools were allowed to receive vastly expanded government funding although they systematically refused to even administer the (supposedly) required “Meitzav” exams. Under the Nahari Laws, Ultra-Orthodox schools were given permission to receive funding on an equal basis to schools following the standard state curriculum; today in such Ultra-Orthodox centers as Jerusalem, ultra-Orthodox schools entirely exempted from Education Ministry supervision were even renovated with public funding. No less serious, the Likud “rightist” government expanded the number of army exemptions to unprecedented numbers, allowing a committee of ultra-Orthodox men from yeshivot to issue an unlimited number that reached 63,000 last year. Only the supreme court put an end to this scandal, although the Likud government has continued to evade making any order or confronting the mass of draft-evaders.

Perhaps the most important facet of “right” is its economic implications. In most of the world, rightist governments restrict benefits and are tight-fisted regarding unemployment benefits or the granting of government support to anyone not on a proper payroll. Yet the “rightist” government under Netanyahu did the unthinkable: it granted special benefits to tens of thousands of young men who simply opted not to work – but to study Jewish oral law, supposedly full time, free of cost. Netanyahu’s “right wing” developed a whole network of benefits, from low-cost housing through subsidized public transportation and including stipends to the able-bodied men and women who backed his coalition partners, the ultra-Orthodox parties. Meanwhile, the truly needy suffered the cutbacks required to keep this unholy alliance in place.

Once upon a time the Israeli right had principles. Today, it is no wonder that such honorable men as Benny Begin and Dan Meridor are no longer on the Likud list and are no longer part of Israel’s right: they have no place in such a conglomerate. The Israeli right has some serious thinking to do, if there is anyone remaining to do an accounting. The center parties grew to a large extent out of a growing distaste for both “right” and “left,” both of whom strayed unimaginably from their ideological roots.

About the Author
Dr Laura Wharton is a member of Jerusalem's City Council as a representative of Meretz and an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Political Science at the Hebrew University. Born in the U.S., she immigrated to Israel after receiving a B.A. in the Department of Government at Harvard University and then served a full term in the Israel Defense Forces. She subsequently completed a Master's degree and a Ph.D. at Hebrew University. She is a mother of two and has been living in Jerusalem for more than a decade.