Israel's Religious Right, the Mouse That Roared

Israeli voters said no to the settler camp’s pretense of (Jewish!) morality and the Torah covering all crimes. Seven Knesset seats – that’s their true strength.

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Kahanists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Michael Ben Ari during a far-right demonstration in Umm al-Fahm, Israel, August 9, 2018.
Kahanists Itamar Ben-Gvir and Michael Ben Ari during an anti-Arab demonstration in Arab city of Umm al-Fahm, Israel, August 9, 2018. Credit: Eran Gilwarg
Gideon Levy
Gideon Levy

Benny Gantz won, Benjamin Netanyahu lost and, best of all, the far right and religious Zionists were beaten. Were they defeated for good? It’s all up to the majority now.

Experience teaches us that there’s no connection between their vote-getting powers and their extortion powers. From Rabbi Moshe Levinger’s Passover at the Park Hotel in Hebron in 1968, to Netanyahu’s Jordan Valley annexation declaration, to Gantz’s promise that Israel will stay there forever, there has never been an Israeli government that hasn't been defrauded by the extreme right and religious Zionism.

The challenge now moves to the secular and anti-settler camp. Will it finally free itself from their fearsome grip? Will it wean itself from its repulsive admiration for them? Will it finally wake up and recognize the great damage they have done, the price they extract from the army, the economy and society?

>> Read more: In Israel the only right is the far right | Opinion ■ Have we reached the end of the secular Zionist dream? | Opinion ■ Israel elections: The center has won, ideology is dead | Analysis

Will this apathetic, blind camp come to see that Israel could have been in a much better place today if not for the settlement enterprise, the most pernicious, destructive project in the history of the state? The results of the election must lead to these conclusions. The historical diffidence and indifference of the winning camp do not bode well for the future.

They were routed at the polls: just 2 percent of the vote for Otzma Yehudit’s coarse, violent fascism; seven Knesset seats for Yamina’s fascism lite. Israel said no to the bloated pretense of (Jewish!) morality and the Torah covering all crimes. Seven Knesset seats – around half the number of the predominantly-Arab Joint List – that’s their true strength.

Still, they could continue to be the most powerful, influential group in Israeli politics. The past few years have been even better for them. They infiltrated the seats of power, the judicial system, the military, the media and of course the agencies of the occupation, where they do whatever they want. There is no center of influence in Israel today that isn’t filled with men wearing knitted kippot and pistols in holsters.

A Jewish settler walks with his son in the Jewish settlement of Maon, south of Hebron, in 2014.Credit: REUTERS

Once again they pulled out all their shticks for the election campaign, wrapped in “values” and “spiritual teachings,” hiding behind bombastic names such as Revival, Power, Home and United. The truth quickly came out: power and ego struggles worthy of the Likud Central Committee, schisms that gives opportunism a bad name. The result: Only a negligible minority of voters wanted them.

Of course that’s not the whole picture. Many of them and their fans voted for other right-wing parties, from Likud and Shas to Yisrael Beiteinu and Kahol Lavan. But even that cannot obscure the truth: The camp that terrorized us and brought the curse of the occupation upon us, that put the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution; the camp that has caused so much bloodshed among soldiers and civilians from both nations; that for decades extorted scandalous amounts of money from the government and destroyed Israel’s reputation – that camp is a small minority in Israel. Now it must become marginal, reflecting their lack of legitimacy, as is appropriate. They are the true traitors.

Israel will never be healed until their project is destroyed. The traffic jams will remain, the old woman lying in the hospital corridor will stay there, until their money pit is sealed. Their project is based on the rot of the occupation and the rot of the deception with which they built it.

Someone enabled them do it. Someone is still enabling them. The mainstream of Israeli society is responsible, the silent majority that for years said it was for a two-state solution while destroying that option. Likud and Labor governments are equally to blame. The settlers only did their best to extort, steal, defraud and dispossess. There was nobody to stop them.

From Rabbi Rafi Peretz to Otzma Yehudit’s preferred, hollow candidate for prime minister, Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked, they were exposed in all their nakedness. Now the government must draw the right conclusions and return them to their true size: a mouse that roared.

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