Opinion

Israel’s Kahanists and Far-rightists. There Is a Difference

Nafatli Bennett and Rafi Peretz at a conference at the Ministry of Education, Jerusalem, September 15, 2019
Emil Salman

Former Meretz chief Zehava Galon read the Facebook post where right-wing leader Naftali Bennett explained why he wouldn’t include on a Knesset slate someone who has a picture in his living room of a man who murdered 29 innocent people. And she wasn’t impressed.

“Watching Naftali Bennett play the role of the ideological opponent to a merger with Otzma Yehudit was more than I could swallow,” Galon wrote in a Haaretz op-ed last week, adding that in her eyes there’s no difference between the leader of the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, Itamar Ben-Gvir, and the leader of the far-right Habayit Hayehudi, Rafi Peretz.

Galon added that Ben-Gvir isn’t a red flag for Bennett and his political partner, Ayelet Shaked; in the past they negotiated with him. “They should stop pretending that they’re any better than Ben-Gvir. They’re exactly the same,” she wrote. A day earlier in Haaretz’s Hebrew edition, Rogel Alpher went even further and said that “Netanyahu is Ben-Gvir. Likud is Ben-Gvir … Religious Zionism is Ben-Gvir. In short, the right is Ben-Gvir.”

It’s easy to understand, and even sympathize with, Galon and Alpher’s lack of tolerance for the nuances in the nationalist-right camp, especially when they’re served in the schmaltzy style of Bennett, who this time broke his own kitsch record: “We have not returned from the exile to the Land of Israel in order to live among untrammeled militias that take the law into their own hands.”

How bad is it that we have to take pleasure in the existence of far-rightists who renounce Baruch Goldstein, or who oppose a population transfer, or who dream about annexation without granting Palestinians the right to vote and promise the most moral apartheid state in the world.

But is there really no importance to Bennett’s declaration that he’s unwilling to cooperate with someone who idolizes Goldstein? Is there no value in the fact that he’s unwilling to honor a murderer by joining up with one of the murderer’s supporters? And in general, is there really no difference between Bennett and Ben-Gvir? Is the whole religious-Zionist movement Ben-Gvir? Is the whole right really Ben-Gvir?

Kahanist Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit, January 15, 2020.
Ohad Zwigenberg

These questions are important in that there’s always a more extreme perspective, one that will deny the differences between Ben-Gvir on one side and Galon and Alpher on the other, and will see each of them as one of the 50 shades of Zionism, with all its injustices.

For example, the non-Zionist left in Israel refuses to recognize the differences between Benny Gantz and Benjamin Netanyahu. For example, here’s my Haaretz colleague Gideon Levy, who wrote last month: “Someday in the not-too-distant future it’s going to happen: Benjamin Netanyahu will no longer be prime minister …. A new government will arise, a national unity government …. Doubts will begin to gnaw away in our hearts: What in essence has actually changed?”

It’s easy to be tempted to take such a step – based on experience – but we must resist this temptation because it will always serve the ideological rival whose camp will only expand with this act of political exile. And the right always welcomes new right-wingers with open arms.

We on the left must see this tendency to dismiss the nuances on the right as the direct result of the political war of attrition that Netanyahu is waging. This is despair that pulls out from under us the political rug we can stand on and use to effect change – because if we continue on this course it will create a dangerous alienation from politics and its importance.

On Thursday, under the same feeling of estrangement to politics, when I glanced over the party slates for the Knesset, I wondered for a moment who all these people were in the picture. What do they want from us? What’s the disagreement about? Dozens and dozens of men and women with different names who are differentiated by the color and length of their hair, the shades of their skin, their number of wrinkles and their facial expressions.

I wondered where in the picture was the feature that linked them to one party or another; is it perceptible? In my despair I wondered: If we shuffled slips of paper with their names like lottery numbers and divided them up randomly into different parties, would anything change in the world?