Gwynne Dyer: Benjamin Netanyahu faces extreme right wingers in Israeli election

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      Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once seen as a right-wing figure.

      Now he’s widely considered to be a moderate. But it’s not Netanyahu who has changed; Israel has. His governing coalition will certainly win the largest number of seats in the Knesset (parliament) again in the election on Tuesday (January 22), but his new government will contain lots of people who make him look very moderate indeed.

      Consider, for example, Moshe Feiglin, one of the ultra-right-wingers who recently displaced the remaining moderates in internal elections in Netanyahu’s own Likud Party.

      “You can’t teach a monkey to speak and you can’t teach an Arab to be democratic,” Feiglin told the New York Times recently. “You’re dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers....The Arab destroys everything he touches.”

      Last October when Likud merged with its hard-right coalition partner, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), it was hailed as Netanyahu’s political masterstroke. Opinion polls predicted that the new alliance would win 47 seats in the new Knesset, compared to the 42 seats that they won separately in the last election. But even with Likud-Beitenu’s lurch to the right, it’s still not right-wing enough for many Israeli voters.

      Just in the past month, a new party that is even farther to the right, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), has surged in the polls, and now Netanyahu’s alliance is predicted to drop to only 34 seats, while the upstart party may get 15. And what is Bayit Yehudi’s leader like?

      Naftali Bennett is the 40-year-old son of American immigrants to Israel, a religiously observant man who made a small fortune in software development before going into politics. And he has no intention of wasting his time “babbling about Israel and the Palestinians”.

      His solution to the problem is for Israel to annex about 60 percent of the West Bank, including almost all the land occupied by Jewish settlers, and to rule the rest forever.

      “There is not going to be a Palestinian state within the tiny land of Israel,” he said in an interview with the Guardian. “It’s just not going to happen. A Palestinian state would be a disaster for the next 200 years.”

      So in the 40 percent of the West Bank left to them, in Bennett's version of the future, 2.5 million Palestinians would live under some kind of “autonomous” authority, permanently supervised by the Israeli intelligence services.

      Most of the issues being debated in this Israeli election are domestic questions about the economy and the social-welfare net, as in any other country, but there is no doubt that the rise of the right has been fuelled primarily by its hard line on security and territory. What needs to be explained is why so many more Israelis are attracted by those policies nowadays than they were 20 years ago.

      The founding generation of Zionists in Israel in 1948 were mostly secular and socialist, and most of them voted for the Labour Party, which dominated Israeli politics until the 1980s. But the Israel of 1948 contained only two-thirds of a million Jews. Today’s Israel has six million Jews, and most of them are neither secular nor socialist in their outlook. Nor, in most cases, are they descended from that founding generation.

      The early post-independence waves of immigrants were mostly “oriental” Jews, primarily refugees from Arab countries, who were religious and conservative in their outlook. They were numerous, and had much higher birthrates than secular Jews.

      Then, from the 1980s onward, came the Russians and other post-Soviet Jews, who had no sympathy at all for socialism. Together, they have transformed Israeli politics.

      About 50 percent of Israeli Jews now identify themselves as traditional, religious, or ultra-Orthodox. Only 15 percent describe themselves as secular. And both the religious and the post-Soviet Jews are mostly on the right politically—in the case of the ultra-Orthodox, 79 percent of them, compared to only 17 percent of secular Jews. The new Israel is capitalist, religious and, in many cases, ultranationalist.

      Did the “peace process” die because Israelis were becoming more right wing, or did the failure of the peace process push Israelis to the right? That may sound like a chicken-and-egg question, but in fact Israel was already moving right for demographic reasons at least a decade before the peace process began. By now it has traveled a long way in that direction.

      Together, Netanyahu’s Likud Beitenu alliance and Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi will win around 50 seats in this election, which puts them within easy range of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Just bring in a couple of the minor parties (some of which are also quite far over on the right), and they will have a strong right-wing coalition. Netanyahu will still be prime minister, but he will have to bring Naftali Bennett and other hard-right leaders into the cabinet.

      And then life in the Middle East will get even more interesting than it is already.


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      Jan 17, 2013 at 12:58pm

      Is he a left leaning right winger or a right leaning left winger or just an extreme moderate?

      13 7Rating: +6

      Not Really

      Jan 21, 2013 at 8:57pm

      I think Gwyn Dywer is deliberately manipulating stats. See this Wiki entry.

      The number of 'really religious' is definitely NOT 50%. There are varying degrees of religiosity as per the entry. For instance if 18% of Isrealis are only 'somewhat religious' does that automatically make them right wing? Why then, are they lumped in as right wing/

      In fact, the real problem is that there are 34 parties in Knesset, with many shades of left/right therein. politically, not just religiously there exists a wide degree (and level) of beliefs.

      Indeed, just because you are 'secular' does not mean you are automatically left wing.

      Really, if Netanyanu is losing voter share and nutter Naftali Bennett is gaining, that is a split of the very right wing vote. However, they would be part of a coalition that splits current voters who vote that way. What about the 32 other parties?

      See, people? Coalition governements and any more that 3 nationall parties, really create their own horrible set of problems.

      9 11Rating: -2


      Jan 21, 2013 at 9:04pm

      PS here's the popular vote from the last Israeli election.,_2009

      Check the numbers---Netanyahu's party Likud took over leadership with 215 of the popular vote and some coalition partners who are certainly less right wing. Imagine a coalition between Liberals, NDP--and the Bloc---and you see what I'm getting at...

      10 9Rating: +1

      PS PS

      Jan 21, 2013 at 9:06pm

      Sorry, that should read #21%' of pop vote for likud. And Bebe only got the job because Kadima couldn't put together a coalition!

      Now THAT is Isreali!

      8 9Rating: -1

      Not Really and PS

      Jan 22, 2013 at 4:11pm

      Whoever is giving me 'thumbs down' Dyer really is very wrong in his simplistic look at voting patterns, how poli parties organize there and how they put together coalitions.

      BTW exit polls currently saying 'the centre" stealing votes/seats from Netanyanu--and that if he prevails, he will ahve to steer to the centre. Doesn't fit Gwyn's analysis, does it/

      Hoorah for the middle!

      8 10Rating: -2