Israel's Supposed Lurch to Right Was Just a Myth

Electorate Has Been Moving to Center, and Vote Proves It

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By David Hazony

Published January 25, 2013, issue of February 01, 2013.
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Mini-myth #3: The rise of Moshe Feiglin in the Likud, at the expense of liberals like Benny Begin and Dan Meridor, suggests an abandonment of classic pro-democracy views in Israel’s ruling party. For this to be true, two other things need to be true: (a) that Israelis choose midlevel politicians mainly on their positions regarding the Palestinians, and (b) that Feiglin getting the 15th spot on the Likud list will translate into influence on Israeli policy. Neither of these, however, is likely. Feiglin’s bizarre combination of jingoism and ’60s-style groovy radicalism (including frequently quoting Martin Luther King Jr. and advocating the legalization of marijuana) makes him far more entertaining than the old-school Likud moderates; but No. 15 turned into No. 22 once the Likud’s list combined with Beiteinu’s for the Knesset faction. Feiglin will be a backbencher, spliff in hand, while Meridor and Begin could easily end up as government ministers.

Mini-myth #4: The disarray of the left-wing parties is yet another case in point. No, in this case it proves the reverse — and not just because the far-left Meretz party has bounced back to six seats from three. Kadima’s evisceration reflected the inevitable collapse of a weird alliance between ex-Likud politicians and disaffected Labor voters who spent the past decade waiting for their home party to become viable again after the second intifada and the collapse of Oslo. With the rise of radio-celeb Shelly Yachimovich (most likely the new leader of the Opposition), Labor has returned to its historical position as a plausible ruling party — and the voters have gone back, as well. To the left.

Mini-myth #5: Netanyahu will form a hard-right coalition together with Naftali Bennett’s Habayit Hayehudi, increasing international isolation and making Israel a pariah. Um, when has Bibi ever done that? Given the opportunity, Netanyahu has always preferred to balance his international standing and keep people guessing. In 1996, Netanyahu rejected a coalition with Rehavam Zeevi’s Moledet party — at the height of anti-Oslo Accords backlash in Israel — instead forming a centrist government that accepted the accords. His second government, in 2009, was built on an alliance with then-Labor leader Ehud Barak. Now, after the elections, Yesh Atid has already made it clear that it’s happy to join the government, as will Tzipi Livni for the right price. My money’s on another centrist coalition.

Indeed, if Israelis seem disillusioned by the Oslo Accords and the prospects for peace-through-negotiations, they’re also disillusioned by the settlement movement and the prospects for peace-through-strength. There has been, quite decisively, a shift away from the extremes toward the center.

But you wouldn’t know it from reading coverage of the Middle East from certain commentators over the past few months who, for whatever reason, preferred to perpetuate the headline-grabbing story rather than a more nuanced, if less sexy, political reality.

David Hazony is a contributing editor at the Forward. He is the author of “The Ten Commandments” (Scribner, 2010).


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