A far-right government is about to take power – its implications
What makes every democracy unique is the will of the people to be represented in government. On November 1, that will, after four election cycles was made itself known and clearly. The people here want Netanyahu back. Not only do they want him back, they have risen his far right allies to become his main partners. I am not referring to simply the Haredi parties Shas and United Torah Judaism (UTJ), but the National Religious Party (NRP), and more specifically, the “Jewish Power” party of Itamar Ben Gvir.
It is now reported that Netanyahu plans to move quickly to put together a coalition with these far-right allies. Ironically it was during Netanyahu’s last premiership, the inter ethnic riots, and terrorist attacks since, that catalyzed Ben Gvir’s rise in popularity. It was also Netanyahu that helped merge Ben Gvir with Bezalel Smotrich, the leader of the NRP, into one force during the first round of the last four inconclusive elections. As such, this is Netanyahu’s political creation, with implications for us all.
Ben Gvir is known in the news as the man always in the middle of a crisis, burnishing a gun. He threatens security officers, especially if they are Arabs, is often in Sheik Jarrah stirring tensions. He is one of the first to arrive at the scene of many terrorist attacks, demanding police accountability and a strong hand. A disciple of Meir Kahane, a largely fringe rabbi who was assassinated in New York in 1990, he advocates Jewish pride, defending Jews that are under attack by force, deporting Arabs that are not loyal to Israel, prayer for Jews on the Temple Mount, annexation of the West Bank with Palestinians given non equal rights, and changes in the way Israel’s High Court can overturn Knesset laws.
Now he is demanding to be Public Security Minister and will likely receive the portfolio. However why is he so popular?
I know many people who voted for Itamar Ben Gvir. Some are religious, but others are what would be described as rational minded people that appear to be daily Joes going about their day to day life. Unlike say, a Lapid voter, there is always a passionate zeal around him and why he must be supported. “He will return pride to our nation again”, some have told me. “We are losing our Jewish identity to the Arabs and to Ram (the Islamist party that was part of the last coalition), he will help us get it back”, others have said.
During the last Gaza War in May 2021, inter ethnic riots erupted across Israel. There were near lynchings of Arabs and Jews in many cities. Lod was in chaos. Akko was in chaos. Israel’s equivalent of the National Guard was called in to stem violence. I was sheltering from the rockets at a close friends in Bat Yam mere blocks from where Arab owned stores were vandalized by a mob on the waterfront. Across the country Arab areas within Israel proper became no go zones where you would be lynched if you entered. Once the tension subsided, the Ram movement, a political party on Arab inclusion into Israel rose to prominence and the last government had them as a partner. This however, angered many, especially in the periphery. Terrorist attacks, which had subsided in recent years, all of a sudden, became common. We now hear again about stabbings, car rammings, and shootings of Israelis by Arabs and Palestinians. This has shaken an Israeli public that remembers all to well the trauma of the Al Aqsa Intefadah a generation ago. People do not see stability here, and do not trust their Arab neighbors. They fear that the next wave of inter ethnic violence is only a matter of time.
So what are the implications of the rise of Ben Gvir and the far right? I have listed a few for my readers:
1) Tel Aviv and Gush Dan vs the Periphery. Living in greater Tel Aviv, I have become blinded to the national mood of the country. Yes when I visited Jerusalem, I was prone to hearing religious and even far right sentiments, but that is Jerusalem and its own unique bubble. However, over the last few years there has been a fundamental shift in Israel’s periphery toward a more traditional, religious outlook. While in Tel Aviv, with the exception of Bnei Brak one can comfortably live a secular lifestyle, most of Israel is in fact becoming more religious (note am not referring to the Haredi who have the highest population growth in the country and will be a large minority of the population in a generation, this is in addition to them). Additionally, there is also a strong sentiment for ideology and right wing ideology to defend the Jewish state and its people. Many areas are plagued by high Arab crime rates, that while largely affecting their own community, also leaves a feeling of the area becoming unsafe. “Arabs are not to be trusted” is a common sentiment.. It is through the periphery in addition to the traditional bastion of Jerusalem where Ben Gvir and Bibi have obtained most of their support.
2) Further Rise of Religious Judaism in Israel. Expect there to be far more entrenchment of religious values and their manifestations in Israel. Public transport on Shabbat? Expect it to be shelved for 4 years at least. Conversions only through the Haredi stream of the Chief Rabbinate. Family purity courses to be married in Israel. Pressure to push forward studying of Torah in yeshivot which will now receive generous state funding. While unlikely to immediately affect the mainstream education system, expect to see reforms to teach more religion in the schools.
3) The death of Diaspora Jewish, Israeli Jewish relations. For the last decade and even longer there has been an increasingly strained relationship between North American Jews and Israel. The differences, which started over a generation ago has to do with different outlooks but now are likely to become a permanent rupture. Israeli Jews speak Hebrew, live in a nationalist state which is based on the Land of Israel, are majority conservative, and are becoming more religious with standards dictated to by the Haredim. This is compared to North American Jewry that speak English (with almost no Hebrew), believe in a plurality of Jewish beliefs, are not Israel-Centric, are largely liberal, and majority are intermarried. The policies advocated by the new government: changing the right of return to only allow halachic Jews and Haredi converts to enter, the complete cancellation of the Western Wall egalitarian prayer section, cancellation of Reform and Conservative Movement funding, will likely nearly completely sever most remaining ties that the communities share with each other. Simply, with most North American Jews non Haredi in religious outlook and many not halachically Jewish today based on Haredi standards, they will have the door physically closed on them. It will rather be left to Messianic Christians and some Evangelicals, who see supporting Israel as part of the “End of Times” to bring about Messiah to fill in the void. One day it is quite possible Disapora Jews may see Israel the way Italian Americans see Italy. There will be two Jews and Judaisms: One Israeli, the other North American. It may be final.
4) The likely death of the separation of powers. In every democracy it is essential that there be checks and balances to contain the power of a branch of government. With a strong fervor from many incoming MK’s to pass a law overriding Israel’s High Court, we may soon see a loss of the power of one of the fundamental pillars of Israeli Democracy: its Judiciary. With the Knesset being able to pass anything it wishes and then override High Court objections we face a real threat that the country will turn into a dictatorship that is governed by the interests of the few. If one can override the court’s ruling on arbitrary detention of Palestinians, or of demolition of outposts, what would stop the Knesset from passing a law turning it into a police state or even abolishing proper elections? Israel has no constitution but rather a collection of basic laws. If those laws are overturned, we are entering into an abyss which may turn the country into another state of the Middle East rather than a western democracy.
5) Cost of Living not a dominant issue. Despite cries across the country over rise of real estate, and food, the election results do not seem to indicate that it was a major priority for the electorate. Hadar Muchtar’s “Fiery Youth” party received under 7000 votes, Meretz failed to breach the electoral threshold, and Labor is barely holding on at a minimum 4 seats. Expect the country to become even more unaffordable to buy a property. Ironically it may be the xenophobic attributes of the government that will push foreign investors away resulting in a stabilization of the price. However, unless it has to do with Haredi housing, expect little to be done for the average Israeli in this regard. The focus now is mainly ideology.
6) Temple Mount and Jewish prayer. Expect far more forceful pushes to allow Jews to pray on the Temple Mount itself. If allowed, will break the Status Quo there likely souring relations to the point of rupture with Jordan and may lead to instability and violence. The instability and violence will further feed the siege mentality. There is a chance that harsher measures will be used to contain the violence and terrorist attacks including from Israeli Arabs will likely continue.
7) A Palestine state is dead in Israel. There won’t be any talk of a two state solution. The West Bank will continue as it is now with a strong talk to maximize Israeli control. There may be renewed Palestinian violence which will be put down by the Israeli Army which will lead to an international outcry. The High Court may not have the power to ensure due process and to ensure that Palestinian rights are respected.
8) Israel a country of the Jews first. In a way the country has returned to itself. Like 1981 when Menahem Begin rose to power and shifted the country permanently rightward, we are seeing such a moment today. Israel is not a western democratic state like Canada or Europe. It is in the Middle East in a siege mentality with people demanding a right to live in what they believe will be dignified. Arab rights will likely suffer. There will be little focus on stemming Arab crime unless it directly touches Jewish areas. International pressure may have an impact still, and may be one of the last levers that can be used to contain abuses. There will likely lead to rising Israel hatred abroad which will feed directly into the siege mentality of Israelis. Diaspora Jews whom already have little to do with Israel may be the first intended victims with Israelis not caring what is happening to them (they must all make Aliyah, the halachic ones among them, will be the response). It may lead to international sanctions on Israel and a loss of American support, especially if the Democrats remain in power. This may then lead to a loss of Israel’s economic prosperity, especially in High Tech and its relations with its new Arab allies, including the UAE.
It is perhaps a fulfillment of Zionism. This is a country, a national identity and expression of the Jews. It will now likely be expressed in full vigor. However, now it has become less an expression of all its citizens. The public’s wishes were expressed at the ballot box. We will now need to live with the consequences.