Ever since the end of the Yom Kippur War in 1973, there have been signs of a rightward shift in Israeli society, both in the government and in public opinion. Sometimes this is dubbed “a return to Judaism,” and sometimes “there’s no partner.”
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But the Likud party hasn’t always been the main force in this trend. In the past, despite being hawkish in character, Likud had many liberal characteristics, even though it was always influenced by the religious right and the settlers.
In recent years, this rightward shift has intensified. This hasn’t necessarily occurred because of ideological changes, but rather, because of technological developments like the rise of social media, which has amplified the aggressiveness of all political movements, and especially that of Likud. The latest salient evidence of the fact that the cart is hurtling downhill unchecked can be found in the recent exchange between Likud MK Benny Begin and controversial ultra-nationalist rapper Yoav Eliasi, better known as “The Shadow.” After Begin urged his party not to allow the rapper to join because of his bullying tactics, Eliasi made inflammatory remarks about Begin’s children. Begin’s party colleagues responded with silence.
It wasn’t so long ago that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fearing he was about to lose power, called Begin to the flag. But he didn’t come to Begin’s defense now even though Begin is much more of an ideological hawk than The Shadow, since Begin is also overtly liberal in his opinions and behavior. It’s true that Minister Tzachi Hanegbi “mustered the courage” to come out publicly against The Shadow, but I dare say that two years ago, many Likud members would have risen to Begin’s defense against a dubious character like The Shadow.
The trend is clear. During its previous term in office, Likud dropped the last remnants of the liberal garb in which it had previously wrapped itself. The law imposing special reporting requirements on NGOs funded by foreign governments, the law allowing sitting MKs to be ousted, the attempt to gain control of the Knesset Channel, the hold-up of the launch of a new public broadcasting corporation – all these have their roots in November 2014. That is the month when Netanyahu saw, with fear and trembling, that a Knesset majority had been created in favor of a bill that would bar the free distribution of the daily Israel Hayom.
Netanyahu knew that if people had to buy the paper, even for a nominal sum, its rising circulation would grind to a halt. He recognized his failure and slowly changed direction, but even more, he changed the rules of the game. During the current term, he has behaved like a soccer player who makes his own team’s goal smaller and that of his opponent larger, and decrees that the referee can only blow the whistle when the violators wear red jerseys, while those in the black jerseys will always be protected. In other words, with rules that are not legal.
Thus he’ll scorn Arab Israelis, cast doubt on their loyalty after a terror attack and celebrate his narrow victory with a meaningless apology; he’ll sic the culture minister and the tourism minister on the legal system and reward them by bolstering their position within the party.
The parliamentary opposition should have gone into mourning in the face of these norms, which are gradually taking over every aspect of our lives. It should have come out against the government and denounced it from the Knesset podium, in the streets and in every other possible venue.
This is what it ought to be doing all the time, incessantly, fearlessly, and at full volume. If the opposition does that, it will be surprised by the support it will receive from many Israelis, who are disgusted with the government and its ways and are longing to hear a true call for change.
Netanyahu is counting on a growing process of radicalization, on igniting the passions of his supporters in the Knesset, the public and his mouthpiece in the press. This is a process that is picking up speed, and whose end nobody can foresee.
The opposition has a critical mission. It cannot sit on the fence and stammer while winking at the government. It doesn’t have the option of becoming a partner in a system which, by its nature, has the potential to become like Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government. The prospect of Erdoganization may seem very distant now. But the enraged face of The Shadow, besmirching Benny Begin’s name, also seemed a distant prospect two years ago.