Moving ever further right

November’s election is far from certain. The only thing for sure is that the next coalition government will be dominated either by the far right or the still further to the right, argues Tony Greenstein

On November 1 Israel will have its fifth general election in three years and it is unlikely, even then, that a stable government will be formed. Israeli politics are drifting inexorably to the far right, as the number of settlers in the West Bank and east Jerusalem gain a critical mass (about 700,000).

In June 2021 I wrote that “It would be a brave person who gave this government even a year before it breaks up.”1 As it turned out, the ‘anyone but Netanyahu’ coalition of the Zionist ‘left’ and ‘right’ - including one Arab party, the United Arab List (Ra’am) - lasted one year and 10 days.

Zionism was always at its heart a form of political messianism. It rested on the belief that Palestine had been given by god to the Jews and it was through settlement, the ‘return’ of the Jews and the rebuilding of the third temple that the messiah would return. Religious Zionism was very much a minority in Zionism’s early years, as it developed a theology in which irreligious - even atheistic - nationalist Jews would nonetheless do god’s work.2

In fact messianic religious Zionists bear an uncanny similarity to their Christian counterparts, who also base their belief in salvation on the Jews’ return. David Ben Gurion, Israel’s first prime minister, explained in October 1941, as the holocaust was getting underway, that it was the role of Zionism “to cast the great Jewish tragedy in prodigious moulds of redemption”.3 Zionism had “redemption” and rebirth at its core - and through redemption one would obtain salvation, politically and religiously.

This is the backdrop to the formation of Israel’s present governing coalition, first under Naftali Bennett and now Yair Lapid. Although the coalition consists of 13 representatives of the Zionist ‘left’ (seven Labor and six Meretz) it has been the right that has dictated the agenda. Indeed it is difficult to think of a single political gain or achievement that the Zionist ‘left’ has made from entering this coalition (apart from keeping Binyamin Netanyahu at bay). One reason for this is that the Zionist ‘left’ has no separate agenda from its ‘rightwing’ counterparts.

In April, the defection of Idit Silman of the far-right religious nationalist party, Yamina, caused the coalition to lose its wafer-thin majority of 61-59.4 In June, coalition whip Nir Orbach also defected, making an election almost inevitable.5


But the issue that caused the coalition to collapse was the emergency regulations that the Knesset is obliged to pass every five years in order to ensure that Israeli civil law continues to apply to the settlers, while military law applies to the Palestinians. These regulations have been enacted ever since the occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967. They are the legal basis of apartheid in the West Bank.

You would expect the Zionist left - and in particular Meretz, which supports a two-state solution - to be implacably opposed to such legislation. After all, they purportedly oppose the occupation. But not a bit of it. In June, not only did five Meretz MKs go into the voting lobby alongside the Zionist right, but they turned against their sixth member, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, whose vote against the regulations, alongside that of Ra’am MK Mazen Ghanaim, sealed the fate of the coalition.

You might have thought that her four Jewish colleagues in Meretz would have understood and sympathised with Zoabi’s dilemma. Once again, not a bit of it. Health minister and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz attacked Zoabi in an interview, calling her resignation from the coalition “disgusting and dishonest behaviour”. He went on to say: “We have no connection to this woman … even in our politics, in which people do dishonest things, I think it’s an act that has really crossed all the red lines.”6

Likud and its partners, for tactical reasons, voted against the regulations, making an election inevitable, since, in an election period, the regulations are automatically extended. Meretz could not countenance a situation in which Palestinians achieved legal equality with Jewish settlers, because - its support for a two-state solution notwithstanding - it is not opposed to the occupation and at no time has it called for a unilateral withdrawal from the West Bank.

Not content with this, Jewish activists from Meretz picketed Zoabi’s home, calling on her to resign as an MK - the reason being that her actions could “lead to a government of darkness led by [Itamar] Ben Gvir, [Bezalel] Smotrich and Netanyahu”.7 Ahead of the protest, Kan news said that Meretz and Ra’am told Bennett that they had lost control of Zoabi and Ghanaim, who rejected calls to resign and promised to vote against the bill if it was brought to a vote again.

A similar crisis had been narrowly avoided in July 2021, when the coalition failed to enact amendments on citizenship and entry into Israel. On that occasion two members of Ra’am, Mazen Ghnaim and Said al‑Harumi, abstained, resulting in the legislation falling, as 59 members voted for it, with the same number voting against. The law, first enacted in 2003 and renewed every year, aims at preventing Israeli Palestinians from bringing spouses into Israel from the occupied territories and granting them resident status. Although justified as a ‘security precaution’, its primary aim is demographic - to prevent the dilution of Israel’s Jewish majority.8

Both Zoabi and Ghanaim were pressurised to resign after voting with the opposition. Ra’am’s three other Knesset members abstained, as did rebel Yamina MK Idit Silman. The bill failed to pass by 58-52.

Although predictions are hard to make, on the basis of recent opinion polls Netanyahu is more likely to be able to cobble together a narrow coalition than his rivals. Likud is predicted to gain one or two more seats from its present 30, the Orthodox Haredi parties are likely to stay the same (15) and the Labor Zionists are predicted to lose three of their current 13. Yesh Atid - the ‘centrist’ (in Israeli terms) party of current prime minister, Yair Lapid - is forecast to gain seven seats. Meanwhile, the former New Hope (led by Gideon Saar, formerly of Likud, and Benny Gantz of Blue and White) have combined to form the National Unity Party. They are predicted to lose two seats.

Finally, the Arab parties, Hadash-Ta’al and Ra’am, are predicted to win eight seats, down two. However it is extremely disappointing that the Arab nationalist party, Balad, which is explicitly in favour of Israel as a state of all its citizens, was forced to break from the Joint List. Interestingly, Balad has included Jewish actor Einat Weitzman in its list.

The forecast number of seats for what remains of the Joint List and Ra’am (which split from the Joint List in the 2021 elections) is down from 15 in March 2020, when the Joint List became the third largest block in the Knesset. Ra’am, led by Mansour Abbas, is the political wing of the Southern Islamic Movement and a conservative party that seeks to achieve concessions for Israeli Palestinians - in particular the unrecognised Bedouin villages in the Negev - by agreeing to hold its nose and support nakedly racist legislation when applied to Palestinians under occupation.

Religious Zionism

However, the main feature of the election is the prediction that the new party of Bezalel Smotrich, called Religious Zionism, in conjunction with Itamar Ben Gvir’s Jewish Nazi party, Otzma Yehudit, are predicted to more than double their number of seats from six to 13.

Ben Gvir is a supporter of the late rabbi, Meir Kahane of the Kach party, who supported making sexual relations between Jewish women and Arab males a criminal offence, punishable by five years imprisonment - a ‘crime’ straight out of the Nazi Nuremberg Laws and what was known as Rassenchande (‘racial hygiene’). Kahane was explicit in calling for the expulsion of all Israel’s Arabs. Until recently Gvir had on the wall of his home a poster of Baruch Goldstein, a Jewish settler who open fire in 1994 on Palestinians worshipping in the Ibrahimi mosque in Hebron, killing 29.9

Gvir has recently tried to tone down his image, claiming that he is ‘only’ in favour of expelling ‘disloyal’ Palestinian citizens from Israel, but, since most Palestinians do not accept that Israel should be a state only for its Jewish citizens, this is just playing with words. It is clear that Ben Gvir has been up to his eyes in fomenting Jewish terrorist attacks against Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.10

The fact that more than 10% of Israelis can entertain voting for a party which wants to be rid of Israel’s Arab citizens demonstrates the direction that Israel is taking. The obsession with demography and racial purity is common to all wings of Zionism. From Meretz to Likud there is a consensus that Israel is a Jewish state and there should be separation from the Arabs. The belief that Jews and Arabs cannot live together in one state with equal rights is common to all Zionist parties. Is it any wonder then that those with radical solutions to the ‘problem’ of Israel’s Palestinian minority should prove attractive? Their simple ‘solution’ to the Arab problem is transfer.

If the present situation is bad, then future developments in the Zionist state all point to the openly fascist wing of Zionism, which Ben Gvir and Religious Zionism represent, becoming even stronger - some 30%‑40% of young Israeli Jews support Religious Zionism.11 The leader of the Religious Zionism coalition, Bezalel Smotrich, is little better than the rabble-rousing Ben Gvir. Smotrich called for a ban on Arab parties, on the grounds that Israel’s Palestinians might massacre the Jews.12

And the third wing of the holy trinity that is Religious Zionism is the anti-gay party, Noam, whose inspiration is Rabbi Thau. The person who oversaw the inclusion of Noam in Religious Zionism was none other than Netanyahu, who, when he visits the west, engages in ‘pink washing’, pretending that Israel is a welcoming place to be if you are gay.13 As the state moves further to the religious right, it is also becoming more anti-gay. The chances, for example, of gay marriage in Israel being enacted are less than zero. After all, it is impossible for a Jew and an Arab to marry, let alone two people of the same sex.

The Israel lobby in the US is terrified at the potential damage that Ben Gvir will do to Israel’s already deteriorating image. Senator Robert Menendez, a pro-Israel Democrat, has already warned Netanyahu that he has “serious concerns” about including “extremist and polarising individuals like Ben Gvir” in the government. None of this, however, has affected The New York Times, which, like the British media in response to Al Jazeera’s Labour files, has found a simple solution to the problem of a Jewish Nazi being a government minister in Israel: it simply says nothing!14

Given the pivotal position that Religious Zionism is likely to hold in a Netanyahu government, it will probably hold a number of ministries. Smotrich has said that he will be seeking the defence, finance and justice portfolios. In other words, the minister in charge of ‘justice’ will come from a party of pogromists and open racists.15

Zionism - and its racism, once hidden, but now open - is today proclaiming its intentions, shorn of all the euphemisms and subterfuge of the Labor Zionists. Unlike the pretence of Meretz and the Israeli Labor Party that you could reconcile Zionism with democracy, Ben Gvir and Smotrich are perfectly candid: Israel should, first and foremost, be a racially pure Jewish state.

Those who cleared the path to the Kahanes, Gvirs and Smotrichs were ‘liberal’ Zionists. It is the Louise Ellmans and Ruth Smeeths, the Jewish Labour Movement and the Board of Deputies, who spent their political capital accusing opponents of Zionism of being ‘anti-Semites’ - a charge intended to intimidate Israel’s critics.

Today we see where Zionism has ended up - in a Jewish state whose government includes an openly Jewish Nazi Party.

  1. ‘House built on sand’ Weekly Worker October 6 2021: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1351/house-built-on-sand.↩︎

  2. M Machover, ‘Israel and the messiah’s ass’ Weekly Worker June 1 2017: weeklyworker.co.uk/worker/1157/israel-and-the-messiahs-ass.↩︎

  3. Beit Zvi, p115 citing In the campaign Vol 2, p68. Teveth, p854, Ben-Gurion speech October 25 1941.↩︎

  4. www.timesofisrael.com/silmans-coalition-defection-catches-political-partners-off-guard.↩︎

  5. www.timesofisrael.com/yamina-mk-nir-orbach-quits-coalition-dropping-ruling-bloc-into-minority.↩︎

  6. www.haaretz.com/israel-news/2022-06-23/ty-article/.premium/horowitz-attacks-zoabi-we-have-no-connection-to-this-woman/00000181-8fb1-d8b7-a1db-aff7bd0b0000.↩︎

  7. www.timesofisrael.com/meretz-activists-to-protest-outside-rebel-mks-home-call-for-her-resignation.↩︎

  8. www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jul/06/israeli-pm-suffers-setback-in-vote-on-arab-citizenship-rights-law.↩︎

  9. www.timesofisrael.com/liveblog_entry/ben-gvir-responds-to-bennett-fine-ill-take-down-baruch-goldsteins-picture.↩︎

  10. www.richardsilverstein.com/2022/10/11/former-hilltop-youth-activist-reveals-ben-gvir-incited-jewish-terrorism.↩︎

  11. mondoweiss.net/2022/08/israel-heads-further-right-30-40-percent-of-young-support-fascistic-jewish-party.↩︎

  12. www.timesofisrael.com/smotrich-calls-for-ban-on-arab-parties-says-arab-citizens-could-commit-massacres.↩︎

  13. www.haaretz.com/opinion/2022-09-20/ty-article-opinion/.premium/spiritual-leader-of-anti-lgbt-party-is-not-a-fringe-figure/00000183-5710-d77f-a1eb-df975a590000.↩︎

  14. mondoweiss.net/2022/10/surging-racist-ben-gvir-is-potential-kingmaker-in-israel-and-nyt-hides-him-from-readers.↩︎

  15. www.timesofisrael.com/smotrich-says-may-seek-defense-finance-justice-portfolios-in-a-netanyahu-coalition.↩︎