For 'Hope,' We're Down to Extreme Right-winger Gideon Sa'ar

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Gideon Sa'ar votes during a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem, July 22, 2020.
Gideon Sa'ar votes during a Knesset committee meeting in Jerusalem, July 22, 2020.Credit: Adina Wolman / Knesset Spokesperson's Office

The right-wing supporters of Gideon Sa’ar have stormed Israeli public opinion, which has succumbed. Sa’ar’s return to political prominence as the head of a new party will only reenforce what has been known for a long time: The political battle in Israel is taking place within the right wing and within it alone. The left is irrelevant, a bit player, a subcontractor.

It can demonstrate and protest and coalesce and splinter. It can join the government or boycott it, dream about a Jewish-Arab party and crown a major general as its hope for the future – but it’s not in the game with the big boys. That has to be recognized.

If the protests have done anything, they’ve meant that Sa’ar and Yamina leader Naftali Bennett are emerging as the next new thing. Even Avigdor Lieberman is kosher. That’s how it is when it’s Anyone But Bibi.

Any racist or brother-in-arms as long as it’s not Bibi. You’ve been told: If you don’t offer a personal and ideological alternative, things will end badly. And here it is, ending in Gideon Sa’ar.

They still hadn’t managed to get over the excitement of Bennett and were even considering voting for him when on Tuesday there emerged another extreme right-winger, Sa’ar, whom the center-left can live with in peace. One poll already gives him 17 Knesset seats, some of which would come at the expense of the center-left. Sa’ar is suddenly considered liberal.

“He opposes a Palestinian state and will support annexation,” Haaretz political commentator Yossi Verter noted, but two sentences later he dared say: “But in the end, he is statesmanlike and a liberal.” How is he statesmanlike? Since when is he liberal?

Only in an Israel stricken with hatred for Netanyahu, and where the left doesn’t exist and the center is duplicitous, can one talk about a supporter of apartheid as a liberal and a fan of annexation as statesmanlike. If someone who worked to shut Tel Aviv down on Shabbat, who sent students to prostrate themselves at Abraham’s tomb in Hebron and established the disgrace of the Holot detention center is liberal, what should we say about Bezalel Smotrich? That he isn’t liberal?

Why not? That’s how it is when everything shifts frightfully quickly to the right while the left is lost in the dark. That’s how it is after decades of self-deception that the Israeli left is really left-wing, and after decades of despicable delegitimization of it. The left unconditionally surrendered to this and in the process developed an inferiority and guilt complex.

That’s how it is when you attempt to avoid the writing on the wall, when you apologize for every position that is a reminder of the left and just try to give a nod to the right. That’s how it is when there is no path forward and no leader, when there is nothing and no one. We have been left waiting expectantly for Gadi Eisenkot, whose associates have already explained that he is “right-of-center.” Of course he is. Everything here is to the right of center.

Sa’ar can end the nightmare, Verter wrote, and even “bring to an end a political, economic, constitutional and moral nightmare, which is eating away at Israel’s foundations.” He’ll establish a moral apartheid state, an invention on a global scale, and those who have been demonstrating in front of the prime minister’s residence will return home, tired but satisfied.

Sa’ar has just started out. Just wait for the other admirers in the spirit of Verter. In the process, an end will be put to Verter’s moral nightmare and that of many others for whom the horrific corruption is the submarine deal, not that Israel’s army is an army of occupation.

Sa’ar is articulate, restrained and impressive – not necessarily in the bar mitzvah speech he gave on television Tuesday night, with its forced hand gestures – which means that he’s dangerous. Bennett is also likeable and impressive. After all, he’s from THE army unit, from Ra’anana, almost one of us. He’s also a nationalist and racist.

Competing against them with Yair Lapid, a past inciter against Arabs, or with another retired occupying army chief of staff is a lost cause from the jump. Anything they would say, Sa’ar and Bennett would say better. That needs to be recognized, without losing hope.

In the next election, Israel will undoubtedly elect a right-wing prime minister. Whether it’s Netanyahu, Bennett or Sa’ar, what’s the difference? Now is the time to begin thinking a little longer-term than the next tweet. Now is the time to begin speaking the truth: Israel is an apartheid state, the source of the evil, and Zionism led us to this. Therefore we finally need to rectify things. Sa’ar and Bennett don’t understand this at all.

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