The Bluff of the Incorrupt Israeli Right

Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht
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New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa'ar in December
New Hope Chairman Gideon Sa'ar in DecemberCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ravit Hecht
Ravit Hecht

Gideon Sa’ar party, New Hope, which started out with strong polling numbers that surprised even its founders, has found itself in trouble in recent days, and is now collapsing in public opinion surveys with single-digit percentages of support. Apparently that’s why Sa’ar declared this week that he may support the law that would prevent a prime minister under indictment from serving – the golden spear of the anti-Netanyahu camp.

Sa’ar is not embroiled in criminal charges like Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but he is not a big fan of the State Prosecutor’s Office and is not much of a believer in the purity of its intentions. The former Likud MK, perhaps even more than Netanyahu before he faced indictments, believes that the prosecutor’s office is not an innocent player at all, and that it is not averse to taking aggressive action against politicians – and not always in good faith.

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It is no exaggeration to assume that had Netanyahu not become entangled in criminal cases and were Sa’ar to be serving as justice minister, for example – the premier would have thrown cold water on any initiatives by Sa’ar to restrain and weaken law enforcement, headed by the state prosecution and the attorney general.

So what’s happened now? Sa’ar has to escalate anti-Netanyahu activities in order to recover his standing. Like other party leaders, who during previous campaigns claimed that Netanyahu is the devil incarnate while in private admitting they preferred him to the weak Kahol Lavan leader Benny Gantz, Sa’ar knows the “Anyone but Bibi” brand is a vote-getter, just as the “Bibi” brand is the rival vote-getter. In Israel’s predicament of political psychosis, which has no relation to ideology, everything centers around the question of the attitude toward a single individual.

This organizational method – although some of its characteristics are exaggerated – is no coincidence. This is a cultural and tribal division, of which Netanyahu has been the strongest manifestation in the past two decades. If the “Bibi” and “Anyone but Bibi” brands have solid electoral potential because they draw strength from the tribal nature of Israeli society – the brand “statesmanlike right,” from which New Hope ostensibly draws its strength, is a meaningless invention, inflated mainly in the imagination of those who haven’t voted for the right and won’t do so. This old-fashioned “Ashkenazi revisionism” is coated with cloyingly sweet nostalgia, which praises figures who during their lifetimes were persecuted by Mapai (the forerunner of Labor) and are now being promoted sentimentally to the rank of heroes.

It’s a shame that right-wing Revisionist Zionists Menachem Begin or Yohanan Bader are not around to see how many Labor and Meretz voters miss them. To the extent that there is a right and left in Israel, the contemporary right is composed of three main components. The first one is haters of Mapai and its offspring, who don’t know where Hebron is, don’t know what Kedumim (a settlement) is, and are motivated by intense hatred for the old elites. They don’t need protests on bridges or city squares: Their protest ballot against the tyranny of Israel’s old elite is Mahal, the letters on ballots signifying Likud (when actually they should say “Bibi”).

The second and most ideological component is the settler right; its purist leader is Bezalel Smotrich. Although it sees Netanyahu as a leftist, it has forged an alliance with him – under agreements about distributing so-called excess votes between Likud, the settlers’ party and the Kahanists – because Netanyahu protects them from opting for a big player like Yair Lapid. The third component is the ultra-Orthodox. Despite the belief that they can be bought at any price, Haredim have undergone an accelerated process of becoming right wing, accompanied by profound affection for Netanyahu and disgust for the rule of law. These three factions not only have no interest in real statesmanship – but challenging it is an inherent part of its identity. If there is such a creature, it’s haggard. You don’t go to the polls with a statesmanlike right.

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