Just don’t call them ‘Nationalists’

The majority of Likud primary-voters opted for ideological purity and uncompromising extremism

Many on the extreme, ideological right are celebrating the Likud Primary results as a victory for the so-called “Nationalist camp.” Indeed, they have reason to celebrate.

The Likud party-faithful made history. Over the course of two-days of balloting, they selected a list of candidates for the Knesset from the extreme right-wing, while purging their ranks of moderate statesmen. Minister Dan Meridor, a supporter of compromise with the Palestinians, didn’t make the cut. Neither did Benny Begin, the son of Likud founding-father Menachem Begin. His sin? Benny Begin advocates respecting the rule of law and the independence of the Israeli judiciary, even if it means uprooting illegal outposts in the West Bank. Apparently, Likud primary-voters disagree.

And so, the Likud picked politicians who staunchly support the settlement enterprise, and oppose even the possibility of peace with the Palestinians. Likud members demonstrated their uncompromising commitment to Greater Israel: a vision in which the State of Israel encompasses all corners of the land of Israel. Such a state would also come to include over four-million Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The Likud’s candidates are presently split over how to cope with this inconvenient demographic reality. Candidate Feiglin, who placed fourteenth in the elections, would allow them to remain as non-citizens with no political or civic rights. “Non-Jews” who reject this Apartheid-esque arrangement would be “encouraged to emigrate.”

Thankfully, not all Likudniks share Mr. Feiglin’s racist and anti-democratic views. But it cannot be denied that the majority of Likud primary-voters opted for ideological purity and uncompromising extremism, choosing candidates who place settling the land of Israel over all other considerations, be they security, demographic, or ethical. The prospect that these extremist candidates might sit in the next government of the State of Israel is rightly worrisome to those Zionists and Israelis who hope that Israel will remain a beacon of freedom and democracy which the entire Jewish people may continue to take pride in.

Of course, it is not inevitable that the Likud will lead the next government. While the polls and surveys portend a Likud victory, there is enough time for moderate Zionists to contest this election. First and foremost, moderate Zionist leaders must set aside the politics of personal ego and unite the fractured center-left. Moreover, the moderate Zionist camp should engage in a vigorous campaign that articulates a clear vision for Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state.

This campaign must start by taking back the word “Nationalist.” For too long, the center-left has allowed the hard-right to describe itself as the “Nationalist camp” without raising so much as a peep. This has distorted the meaning of Jewish Nationalism both in Israel and abroad. Jewish nationalism calls for the Jewish people to take our place in history by exercising our right to self-determination. We have actualized this self-determination by establishing and maintaining a Jewish State in our ancestral homeland.

However, Jewish Nationalism does not call for us to rule over the entirety of our ancient Biblical patrimony. Jewish Nationalism does not call for the expulsion or subjugation of non-Jews. Jewish Nationalism does not call for the wanton violation of Palestinian property rights. Jewish Nationalism does not call upon us to deny the Palestinians their right to self-determination while we exercise our own.

It’s time for moderate Zionists and Israelis to re-claim the title of “Nationalists.” David Ben-Gurion, who chose partition over Greater Israel, was a Jewish Nationalist. Abba Eban, who advocated peace with the PLO, was a Jewish Nationalist. Menachem Begin, after he set aside his uncompromising, ideological entrenchments for the sake of peace with Egypt, was a Jewish Nationalist. Yitzhak Rabin was a Jewish Nationalist.

It’s time to call the extreme, ideological right what they really are. Call them hawks who prefer combat over compromise. Call them hardliners, for being blind to the wisdom of pragmatic statesmanship. Call them expansionists for seeking territorial aggrandizement. Call them imperialists who seek to rule indefinitely over the Palestinians. Call them the Israeli Tea-Party.

Just don’t call them “Nationalists.”

About the Author
Ari Moshkovski is a Doctoral Candidate in Near Eastern and Judaic Studies, and the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies at Brandeis University. He holds an M.A. from Brandeis University, as well as a B.A. and M.A. from Queens College of the City University of New York. At Queens College, he engaged in extensive research and curriculum development on Israel and the Middle East as part of a project funded by the Clinton Global Initiative and the Ford Foundation. Ari was also a co-founder of the Queens College Center for Ethnic, Racial and Religious Understanding under a grant from the United States Department of Education. Has researched, taught, and lectured on Zionism, Jewish thought, Israeli foreign affairs and security policy, Arab-Israeli diplomacy, and the nexus between religion and politics.