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November 29, 2012 7:54 pm
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There is no Right and Left in Israeli Politics

avatar by Dovid Efune

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Israeli Knesset (parliament). Photo: wiki commons.

For the most part, there is no political Right and Left in Israel. At least not in the way the respective positions are understood in the U.S., or Europe for that matter.

American pundits are fond of referring to Prime Minister Nentanyahu’s Likud as “Right-wing,” especially following the party’s primaries earlier this week when Likud voters “chose a heavily right-leaning slate” according to the Washington Post. Bibi’s teaming up, on October 25th, with Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who is often described as “ultra nationalist,” to form a joint list with his Yisrael Beiteinu Party for the upcoming elections, also strongly compounded this perception.

But in reality, when broken down, it becomes obvious that these labels are far from accurate.

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For example Netanyahu’s tax policy of late looks quite like what President Obama has been pushing congressional Republicans to accept. After recent Netanyahu tax hikes, the Jerusalem Post reported that he “argued on Channel 10 that society’s weakest sectors would only be affected by 3 percent of the approved tax increases, highlighting that capital gains, corporate tax, and taxes on the wealthy accounted for a majority of the NIS 15 billion in new government revenues.” Could the American right come close to adopting similar policies? Grover Norquist simply wouldn’t allow it.

There are some individuals within the party lists that reflect varying positions on social issues; however these views more often reflect their religious backgrounds than political affiliations. Moshe Feiglin who after two previous attempts has finally made it to a comfortable spot on Likud’s list, once penned an article entitled “I am a proud homophobe.” However Gideon Sa’ar, who is second only to Netanyahu on the Likud list, publicly defends the rights of gays. Gilad Erdan, Israel’s Minister of Environmental Protection, who ranked third on Likud’s list, holds views on climate change that would make Al Gore proud. Haim Katz, another prominent member of Likud, is the secretary of the National Workers Union of Israel Aircraft Industries, and was appointed chairman of the pension funds policy making staff of Israel’s general trade union. Hardly a position for a “Right-winger.”

The Shas party which is always a traditional coalition bedfellow of the Likud, was described to me by one Israeli political commentator as a “classic redistributionist party.”

Members of Yisrael Beiteinu who have actively championed social issues including pensions, housing and other benefits, and would fit right in to the Democratic Party in the U.S., include Orly Levy-Abekasis and Sofa Landver.

On the other hand, Tzipi Livni who is championed by the American media as a “Left-wing” figurehead, has campaigned on a platform that opposes raising taxes, and was formerly the “director general of the Government Companies Authority, where she saw through the most ambitious privatization program in Israeli history, selling off government companies to the tune of $4 billion in just two years,” according to the Jewish Virtual Library.

There is more, but here is the point. In Israel’s political galaxy there is the “security first” camp and there is the “risks for promised peace” camp, and many variations in between. The spectrum is divided almost exclusively based on security related positions, leading to an abundance of unnatural groupings and political mutants.

Appreciating this point is key to understanding the latest movements of the Israeli electorate, especially the results of Likud’s primary this week, and how Israel’s effort to halt Gaza rocket fire through Operation Pillar of Defense is likely to impact the elections.

Israel has been increasingly moving in the “security first” direction for a number of years. The Likud primaries, no doubt as a direct result of Hamas’ recent assault on the Jewish state, amounted to a concerted lurch in that direction.

In Israel, the “Land for Peace” mantra is dying politically, and not for want of trying. Over the years Israelis have given the leadership mandate to more “peace riskers” than “security firsters,” including Golda Meir, Yitzchak Rabin, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak, Ehud Olmert, and as it turned out, Menachem Begin.

As the international community has come to accept many Middle East realities that it may otherwise find unsavory, the following must be internalized about Israel: The public has tried and tested the “Land for Peace” path and it has not liked what it has seen. Israelis will not go back.

The author is the editor of The Algemeiner and director of the GJCF and can be e-mailed at defune@gjcf.com.

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  • Disagreeing, and arguing about one’s disagreements, are a source of strength. Debating makes one understand the nature of opposing points of view and sharpens the expression and knowledge of one’s own position. The Talmud is a collection of arguments. The Jewish tradition of controversy is what enables Jewish children to succeed in school and in their careers.
    There is one subject, however, on which Jews all agree: Choose life.

  • Mildred

    The apples and oranges went in rwo different directions. If the US was under attack there would be no left/right political discussions about what to do in response.
    Similarly it would be expected that Israel would respond with one voice.
    The problem in Israel as seen from the US is that every man is a general and every man feels free to state his expert opinion on the policy, strategy and tactics of the defence/offense that should be employed. A veritable cacophony that undermines any confidence that Israel is a unified entity in perilous times. It’s no left/right; it’s each man willing to sacrifice the national ‘one face forward’ for some individual egotistical self-aggrandizement reward. Maybe you could tell those men to shut up when the nation is in danger. Start there.

  • Rob

    There is no “right vs left” paradigm in Israeli politics.

    The correct paradigm is “Israeli vs Jew”.

    Most politicos are “Israelis” whereas Moshe Feiglin is a “Jew”.

    This is why Bibi has tried forever to keep Moshe down.

    Moshe is a revolution, not just a different candidate.

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