Israel Election |

The Latest Incarnation of the Right: Kahanist Bibi-ism

Bibi-ism remains the dominant political force in Israel, but the rightward shift of Likud in the direction of Ben-Gvir leaves Lapid with ground to develop

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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A supporter of Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a shofar following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election at his party headquarters, in Jerusalem November 2, 2022.
A supporter of Likud party leader Benjamin Netanyahu holds up a shofar following the announcement of exit polls in Israel's general election at his party headquarters, in Jerusalem November 2, 2022.Credit: REUTERS/Ammar Awad
Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn

Even if the final results of the election for the 25th Knesset end up being different from those indicated by the initial exit polls, one conclusion is clear: Bibi-ism was and remains the dominant political force in Israel. Even after a year and a half in opposition, Benjamin Netanyahu is the axis that causes Israeli politics to revolve around him. Only Bibi is capable of bringing out millions of Israelis to the polling stations for a fifth round, whether they are voting for or against him.

At the focal point of this election stood Kahanist Bibi-ism, the latest incarnation of the Israeli right, under the leadership of the star of the campaign, Itamar Ben-Gvir. Ben-Gvir’s leap in the polls woke up the field: On the right, they were excited by the banner of racism and nationalism, which also infected the Likud campaign. To right-wing voters who hesitated between voting at all, or staying home, it was easier to identify with the incitement against the Arabs and the left, than to show up at the polling station in defense of the man on trial for corruption, as they did the last time. Netanyahu returned to his old element, the Jews vs. the Israelis, and his supporters loved it.

A mirror image of the renewed enthusiasm on the right could be seen in Arab society. There, voters overcame the apathy and alienation they had demonstrated throughout the campaign and turned out to vote, out of fear that Ben-Gvir’s threats would come to fruition and a government of Jewish supremacy would come to power, intensifying the discrimination and oppression of Palestinians on both sides of the Green Line.

The outlook of the world of Kahanist Bibi-ism can be summed up as racism toward non-Jews, and as presenting the political expression of the Arab public as support for terror – that is, as active hatred of the state, and as opposition to any limits placed on the power of the state by way of the courts, independent media or civil-society organizations oppose the policy of the government. All of these bodies are perceived in the eyes of Kahanist Bibi-ism as threats that must be quashed or intimidated until they surrender and are tamed.

The short-lived government of change did not succeed in confronting Bibi-ism with a counter-ideology that could excite the voters. The only emotion that remained for the camp of change to play on was the fear of Netanyahu, which was buttressed this time around by an even greater fear of his new partner, Ben-Gvir. The internal fissures in the change camp were simply too wide, whether for personal reasons – Yair Lapid vs. Benny Gantz – or because of the gap of principle between the Zionist left and the secular-Arab parties Hadash-Ta’al and Balad, a gap that only deepened during the days that Lapid and Naftali Bennett were in power, with their aggressive policy in the West Bank.

In his four months as prime minister, Lapid was successful in forging his status as the leader of the anti-Bibi-ism bloc, and was perceived as a good manager of Israel’s foreign and security policies. But, like his predecessor, Bennett, and as opposed to Netanyahu, he didn’t offer any new vision that went beyond the empty slogan, “We came to make change.”

During the short time he had at his disposal, and with the problematic image he already possessed as a television host lacking any experience in security or management, Lapid was compelled to devote his campaign to winning the hearts of his supporters in the change coalition, and didn’t even attempt to draw votes from the opposing bloc. Now he will be able to form a vision that will present an ideational alternative to Kahanist Bibi-ism. The rightward shift of the Likud in the direction of Ben-Gvir leaves Lapid with ground to develop. This could end up being his opportunity.

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