Samuel J. Hyde
Writer and Political researcher

The Government Won the Battle, But Lost the War

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu assembly hall of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on March 13, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90 *** Local Caption *** כנסת
בנימין נתניהו ראש הממשלה
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The real problem with their worldview is that their desire to achieve total domination is a fantasy. There’s never going to be a point where you’ve ‘slain’ all of your enemies and you are now in charge. Their real enemy is their inability to live in reality.

The Israeli-rights descent into populist proto-fascism, led by the militant-wing of Religious Zionism should be seen as part of a greater realization that the settlement project as a whole is a total failure. Even after decades of acting as its chief lobbyists in order to shape government policy and seize surplus funding, the Religious Zionist faction has failed to fulfill the settlement movements three stated goals: 1) change the legal status of the West Bank; 2) achieve economic independence and 3) convince a majority of the public to oppose partition of the land into two states.

The greater Israel ideology has never been the state’s primary goal, and territorial maximalism has largely been rejected in favor of peace when the opportunity arises. This is evident in Israel’s withdrawal from Sinai in 1982, transferring Areas A and B of the West Bank to Palestinian control during the Oslo process, peace with Jordan and returning territories of the Areva to Jordan, the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, and the Abraham Accords in 2020, where annexation plans were dropped simply to open flight paths between Dubai and Tel Aviv. Any future normalization deals with Arab countries will likely require similar territorial measures.

So with the idea of annexation dropping from the chapter of Israel’s story, as well as the political power of Israel’s Arab citizens becoming more robust in the previous government, the militant wing of religious Zionism realized that their struggle to achieve one Jewish state throughout the Land must transform from an ideological pursuit to weaponizing what they portray as the Arab “threat” within Israel.

Their response to this realization is, in fact, fairly typical of a rejected minority – an attempt to build their own enclaves where they alone get to dictate the society they desire, where the undesirable elements of the “modern” world are banished and unseen, where the enemies are all identified and agreed upon, where they weaponize societal resentment against the the agreed upon enemy, followed by an attempt to impose the rules of those enclaves on the rest of the population.

For those who believe that the traditions they hold dear have been destroyed by liberal democratic values and technological progress, the inevitable response is not only to reject those liberal democratic values and look skeptically at technological solutions but also to try and create alternate systems to live in.

One of those alternatives is withdrawing from the existing world and creating closed communities where those traditional values or ideas are rigidly enforced. This is evident in the way much of the Haredi population interacts with the rest of Israeli society. Another option is to try to destroy the existing system and rebuild new ones based on their values. This is evident in the current operating principles of Itamar Ben-Gvir  and Bezalel Smotrich.

These two strains, the separatist and supremacist, are what dominate the worldview of the new government. One thing that both of them have in common is an utter disdain for democratic principles, which they blame for the collapse of the values and movements they advocate, and which should therefore be discarded simply because their ideology is not ascendant among the vast majority of the public. Over the years their wars have been lost, with the majority of Israelis accepting abortion, contraception, LBGTQ rights, secularism and many despising religious coercion in state governance.

But the real problem with their worldview is that their desire to achieve total domination is a fantasy. There’s never going to be a point where you’ve ‘slain’ all of your enemies and you are now in charge. Their real enemy is their inability to live in reality.

The intolerance and willingness to abandon democracy for total domination is, of course, what makes the rise of populist parliamentarians so dangerous. They have no interest in living tolerantly alongside people with different views and lifestyles and are committed to using the power of the state to drive those people and principles out of public life. They have no desire to abide by the rule of law because that requires the very tolerance they cannot abide by.

The effect of promoting a worldview of domination against the rule of law has already played out before our eyes when we witnessed the aftermath of the tragic killing of two Israeli brothers in the West Bank as settlers went on a rampage through the Palestinian town of Huwara. During this violent episode, dozens of homes and automobiles were set on fire, and almost one-hundred Palestinian civilians were injured, while one was killed. These settlers are now emboldened and act against the law and independently of the state, as a means to justify their use of extrajudicial violence. Such an event undermines a fundamental principle of state sovereignty, namely, the sole authority of the state to set its foreign and security policies.

Indeed, what is happening now in Israel is nothing short of a war on sovereignty and on Zionism itself, with a goal to disrupt, discard and ultimately destroy all its fundamental principles. And although these factions now find themselves in positions of power, such moves are not coming from a place of victory or strength, but as a result of total defeat to the successes of the secular Zionist state.

About the Author
Samuel Hyde is a writer and a political researcher, based in Tel Aviv, Israel. Hyde works at The Jewish People Policy Institute, previously at The Foundation For Defense of Democracies, Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance and the Cape Town Holocaust and Genocide Centre. He is the editor of “We Should All Be Zionists” by former Knesset member Dr. Einat Wilf.