There is no Right and Left in Israeli Politics
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.
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.