Generational Battle on Israel's Right

The Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, linked through the settlement umbilical cord, can be compared to two sisters. The Likud is the older, aging, and less desirable sister, while Hayabit Hayehudi is the sexy younger one.

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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, April 2013.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and Habayit Hayehudi leader Naftali Bennett, April 2013.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Despite its relative recovery in public opinion polls and the puzzling, well-publicized struggle between the party apparatus and its chairman, the Likud primary is a party lacking passion and drama – an event that happens in the moldier parts of the political map. The Likud is losing voters, primarily younger ones, to Habyait Hayehudi. The right-wing list that will be determined today, subsequent to the extreme right’s takeover of the Likud Central Committee in recent years, testifies to the desire to reduce this hemorrhaging and remain relevant to today’s Israel. That’s a difficult mission and it isn’t clear that former golden boy Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is up to it.

The Likud and Habayit Hayehudi, linked through the settlement umbilical cord, can be compared to two sisters. The Likud is the older, aging, and less desirable sister, while Hayabit Hayehudi is the sexy younger one. The older sister still retains some remnant of her past splendor – a thin, transparent layer of the “glory of Jabotinsky” and liberal heritage – whose market value crashed during the Netanyahu era. The Mizrahi (Middle Eastern Jewish) identity that paved the Likud’s way to power when Menachem Begin opened the party’s ranks to Mizrahim, has also suffered erosion that began with the rise of Shas and is now finding its secular expression in the Kulanu party of Moshe Kahlon.

Like pottery shards that testify to life thousands of years ago, the remains of liberalism and the Herut tradition wash up on the shore from time to time; one can detect them in the conduct of the Likud leaders, primarily the older ones, who are leaving its ranks one by one. They manifest themselves primarily in what doesn’t happen, in the avoidance of explicit expression of extreme right-wing views, even if they have already taken hold of the heart of the party and of its members. Annexing the territories and instituting apartheid policies there are positions that Netanyahu, Moshe Ya’alon, Yisrael Katz and Yuval Steinitz may support, but they are still wary of voicing them.

Given a tradition that favors the settlement enterprise, which became more pronounced when Moshe Feiglin and his supporters settled the party, and the positive attitude toward religion and religiosity that has always characterized the Likud, the essential difference between it and Habayit Hayehudi is the absence of this reticence. It’s not just the young, fresh look of Naftali Bennett and his stars – we can admit that Yinon Magal’s appeal exceeds that of Yisrael Katz -- but their courage or chutzpah (depending on whom you ask); the straight talk that doesn’t require any democratic whitewashing, which appeals to young people and conveys the feeling that Habayit Hayehudi is the real deal.

Unlike the eternal victim who must show aggression to defend himself – a stance that Netanyahu perfected during his years at the helm – the Ronen Shovals and Ayelet Shakeds really do refuse to apologize. Yes, they really want de facto recognition of the superiority of the Jewish nation in Israel, even if it violates the rights of minorities; yes, they really want to undermine the rule of law; and no, they are not ashamed of it or apologetic about it, in the words of Bennett, who with his sharp political acumen has built his political persona around this principle.

Accordingly, the Likud’s most outstanding electoral asset, who will probably be appointed a minister if the party forms the next government, is Tzipi Hotovely, whose natural place is in Habayit Hayehudi. Hotovely is young and intelligent, believes in annexing the territories, ascending to the Temple Mount and carrying out other measures that are mainly defiant and give the appearance of Jewish control. She ought to be Likud’s answer to Habayit Hayehudi and what it represents to the right-wing electorate, and indeed, that’s why Netanyahu acquired her for the party. Netanyahu’s problem is that whatever he does, Bennett does it bigger, stronger, and more bluntly. God save us from the results of this competition.

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