Opinion

Israelis on Both the Far-right and Far-left Are Stuck in the Past – and That's Good for Netanyahu

Netanyahu in a cabinet meetings, Jerusalem, July 7, 2019.
Ohad Zwigenberg

There are interesting similarities and parallels between the right’s ideological wing – which currently comprises three small parties, two of which failed to pass the electoral threshold in the last election – and the left’s ideological wing, which comprises three small parties that are all currently hovering close to the electoral threshold.

These two ideological extremes, on both left and right, are dying, and for the general public, they apparently represent anachronisms for which there is no longer any demand. The terms, ideas and conversations that drive these ideological extremes belong to the past; they no longer represent the real world in which most Israelis, Jews and Arabs alike, actually live.

This is particularly evident on the religious right. Its parties are gradually losing their grasp on reality, which has become much more liberal and moderate than they would like. The Hayamin Hehadash party tried to provide an answer to this development, but because it didn’t know what unique content to offer the voters, it failed.

This process will also eventually reach the ultra-Orthodox parties. The moment their voters are forced to encounter real life, the disputes of the past will cease to interest them.

But this same plague of anachronism has struck the left as well as the right. There, too, the ideas, conversations and ideals mainly represent the previous century (if not the 19th century); they no longer represent the voters’ real world.

Most Israelis feel that the left-wing parties are outdated and insincere and ignore the privileged reality of their supporters. And since Benjamin Netanyahu’s government doesn’t permit a solution to Israel’s greatest problem, which is still the occupation and an agreement with the Palestinians, the left’s primary goal ought to be toppling Netanyahu, not a delusional preoccupation with yesterday’s ideas.

In between these two ideological wings lies the vast majority of Israelis, who are divided between two parties that are currently equal not only in the number of Knesset seats they hold, but also apparently in many of their basic assumptions about life. What Kahol Lavan and Likud have in common – as do many of Israel’s Arab citizens – is the sense that Israeli society has already made its main decision: Israel lies deep in the conceptual and experiential world of capitalist democracy, which has become entrenched in the West; the past is merely a sentimental decoration.

What separates these two parties is mainly their point of departure: While one has “Anyone but Bibi” as its motto, the other vows “Only Bibi.” These slogans encapsulate a whole world of opinions about what Netanyahu has done to Israel during his 10 years in power.

Likud voters are convinced that Israel’s growing strength as a high-tech country that sees the shape of the future happened only thanks to Netanyahu’s magic, to his fluent English and his ability to give speeches in an impressive baritone voice. Kahol Lavan voters, in contrast, feel that Netanyahu’s 10 years in power have turned Israel into a violent country based on a culture of lies, pushiness and deceptions, that its social fabric is unraveling and it’s no longer possible to believe or trust anyone.

This divide is deep, and it’s possible that admiration for Netanyahu will once again win, albeit barely. But most Israelis are fed up with the disputes of the past and primarily want an effective government that will run the country well and allow them to deal in peace with the difficult tasks they face: raising their children safely, providing well for their families, ensuring their security and being able to find suitable assistance for their problems.

In short, they want to lead reasonably successful lives and believe in the fairness of Israel’s social systems. Consequently, there’s a good chance that any change in government will be substantive rather than merely technical, and will necessarily lead to a solution with the Palestinians.