The Troubling Triumph Of The Israeli Right

Tensions Remain High At Israeli Gaza Border

The Gaza conflict has fortified Israel’s right wing, Gregg Carlstrom admits:

Public opinion polls confirm the Israeli right’s gains during the current conflict. A survey conducted by the Knesset Channel last week found that the right-wing parties would win 56 seats in the next election, up from 43 last year. The center-left bloc would shrink from 59 seats to 48. Other surveys suggest that the right could win a majority by itself, without needing religious parties or centrists to form a coalition. But perhaps more striking is the public’s near-unanimous support for the Gaza war, from Israelis across the political spectrum. Roughly 90 percent of Jewish Israelis support the war, according to recent polls. Less than 4 percent believe the army has used “excessive firepower,” the Israel Democracy Institute found, though even Israeli officials admit that a majority of the 1,800 Palestinians killed so far are civilians.

Even scarier, Carlstrom adds, is that “this time, public dissent hasn’t just been silenced, it’s been all but smothered”:

A popular comedian was dumped from her job as the spokeswoman for a cruise line after she criticized the war. Local radio refused to air an advertisement from B’Tselem, a rights group, which simply intended to name the victims in Gaza. Scattered anti-war rallies have drawn small crowds, mostly in the low hundreds; the largest brought several thousand people to Tel Aviv on July 26. But most of the protests ended in violence at the hands of ultranationalists, who attacked them and set up roving checkpoints to hunt for “leftists” afterwards. Demonstrators have been beaten, pepper-sprayed, and bludgeoned with chairs.

In Assaf Sharon’s incisive reading of Israel’s recent history, this strain of ultra-nationalism has been years in the making:

The conventional wisdom is that Israel has moved to the right. But as public opinions and analyses of voting trends clearly show, this is not the case. Although the right has grown, its rise has been relatively small. Israelis remain evenly divided on peace and security, and the left enjoys a clear majority on social and economic issues. The deeper shift is not in the level of public support for the two political camps, but in their make-up.

On the right, the liberal and democratic elements have been overtaken by chauvinist populists. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party, Likud, whose members used to walk out on [Rabbi Meir] Kahane, is now populated by some of the most vocal inciters. The last remnants of its democrats were ousted in the last primary elections, and the remaining moderates pander to the pugnacious extremists that dominate the party. The prime minister himself has maintained utter silence in the face of growing racism and political violence. The left, on the other hand, has lost its political stamina and its moral courage. A depletion of ideas, debilitation of institutions, and putrefaction of leadership have left it politically inert. The social mechanisms that kept Kahane’s racism at bay have all but disintegrated.

When the philosopher and public intellectual Yishayahu Leibovitz called Kahane and his followers “Judeo-Nazis,” not everyone agreed, but everybody listened. More importantly, many understood the threat he identified and were willing to combat it. Breaking the moral siege demands active and resolute opposition to Jewish jingoism, not ignoring it and certainly not accommodating it.

(Photo: Police keep right-wing supporters of Israel separated from left-wing protesters during a rally held by the left-wing calling for an end of the Israeli occupation of Palestine and for a ceasefire of the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict on July 12, 2014 in Tel Aviv, Israel.At least one person was arrested and one person was injured. By Andrew Burton/Getty Images)