The Israeli Right can be triumphant. It has won the hearts of the Israeli Jewish electorate. That did not happen in the last election, or the one before. It happened a while ago, and gradually. In Israel, there is no longer a significant debate concerning the appropriateness of the territorial concessions or the building of the independent state in the Arab parts of Judea and Samaria. The absolute majority in Israel sides with the right, one way or another. This outcome cannot be attributed to some particularly successful ideological campaign of the right. It is in large part a result of the intervention of Her Majesty the Reality against which even the proverbial two Jews lost the will to polish their three opinions. Demographic factors may have helped along the way. While interesting and still somewhat under-explored, the ‘why?’ is not the centerpiece of the story here. The centerpiece is the very fact of the right’s political dominance, and the consequences of it – not all are desirable from the right’s point of view.
The post-election arithmetic makes it easy to illustrate what ‘dominance’ means. You only need to ask yourself a simple question: ‘Who is the self-identified Left in Israel today?’ Let us count. In the new Knesset, the Labour-Gesher has 6 seats, the Democratic Union – 5 seats, the Joint List of Arab parties – 13 seats. That is it. Out of 120 seats in the Knesset, only 20% are occupied by the self-identified Left. Limit the calculation to the Jewish sector, and the numerical advantage of the right grows further. Labeling of the ‘Blue and White’ as a left-wing party is lame at best. It is a self-identified centrist party featuring some prominent ex-members of Likud. Its political platform is ‘hawkish’ from the point of view of any observer situated on the left. If still unconvinced, ask a few ‘Blue and White’ supporters in the last election how they self-identify on the left-right political spectrum. Many will describe themselves, and their choice of the party, as right-wing.
The problem of the Israeli Right today is its diversity, and that inevitably comes with popularity. Diversity is a price that a successful political doctrine or movement might pay in social terms. The more people from all walks of life join your particular ideological tent the greater the diversity on matters unrelated to the core ideology. The diversity of the Right in Israel today is precisely the diversity of lifestyle. The more religious and the less religious, the more liberal and the less liberal share the same tent. Is there a question as to why the tensions arise? “The deadlock in Israel is electoral, not ideological” said Caroline Glick, and she is right, especially in the second part of her statement. The first part should be adjusted: the deadlock in Israel is related to the differences of lifestyle, rather than ideology. The coalition builders today face an impossible task -they are required to overlook the differences of lifestyle and some rather fundamental differences in perceptions of social good and social evil. The broad approach to the Arab-Israeli conflict is a unifying force, but this unity of approach is no longer an edifice on which a coalition can be built.
Think of the ‘Lieberman affair’ that underpins the current electoral crisis. Between April 2019 and September 2019, Avigdor Liberman, the leader of Yisrael Beytenu, a hawkish party with the secular flavour, became more vocal, more demanding on certain aspects of his programme. It was described as ‘rebranding’ but, really, this is an unnecessary exaggeration. Liberman’s programme is hawkish and secular and has been exactly that for a long time. His recent eagerness to prioritize a reform in certain religion-and-state issues is no change of direction. He chose the coalition-building moment for that, and this resulted in heightened awareness of his agenda in Israeli public and further afield, and that is it.
Did it pay off for Lieberman? It did, and with high returns. At a national level Yisrael Beytenu went from 4% of all votes in April 2019 to 7% in September 2019, a nearly two-fold increase. Lieberman’s strongholds – localities with significant Russian-speaking population, such as Ariel, Ashdod, Ashkelon, Beer Sheva, Haifa – have all shown an increase in Yisrael Beytenu’s popularity, on a scale close to the national figure or a little less. Further, Liberman’s party also got some votes in places where nobody voted for it in April 2019, for example, in the Haredi Bnei Brak and some locations populated by Israel’s ethnic minorities: Arabs and Circassians. However, the most significant increases took place outside of Lieberman’s traditional strongholds, in large Jewish localities where in the past Yisrael Beytenu received close to nothing. In Tel Aviv, a secular enclave, and Raanana, an English-speaking enclave, it received the incredibly high 4% in September, in contrast to just 1% in April. The same thing happened in Givatayim and Kfar Saba. This is a strong signal of the presence of the secular Right, and its electoral power.
Now…In the game of the coalition building, Yisrael Beytenu, a representative of the secular right, is expected to get along with the strictly Orthodox Ashkenazi United Torah Judaism, the strictly Orthodox Sephardi Shas, the incomprehensibly complex (national-religious and also ‘just traditional’ and also a somewhat secular) Yamina. And, of course, with a little -bit-of-everything Likud. Something like this must had been on the mind of the famous Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov when he wrote his fable ‘Sawn, Pike and Crawfish’:
“When partners can’t agree
Their dealings come to naught
And trouble is their labour’s only fruit.
Once Crawfish, Swan and Pike
Set out to pull a loaded cart,
And all together settled in the traces;
They pulled with all their might,
but still the cart refused to budge!
The load it seemed was not too much for them:
Yet Crawfish scrambled backwards,
Swan strained up skywards, Pike pulled toward the sea.
Who’s guilty here and who is right is not for us to say-
But anyway the cart’s still there today.”
The good news for the Israeli right is that it is big and strong and has supporters across the entire spectrum of lifestyles. This is yet to be fully comprehended. And when this happens, the Right will have to develop an antidote for the ‘lifestyle intolerance’ – if it wishes to become less Krylovian and get the work done.