The next prime minister of Israel will be a full-blown total man of the right, uncompromising and pitiless. On March 23, the big primaries of the right will be held, an event which for some reason is still called a general election for the 24th Knesset. Perhaps an election, but not a general one. It’s a home game played exclusively by a right-wing that has obliterated the left. A game which obviously excludes Arab citizens and the disenfranchised Palestinians in the territories. Its conclusion will determine whether the next government is led by Benjamin Netanyahu or Gideon Sa’ar.
This will culminate a process which began years ago, an unchecked and reckless slide to increasingly right-wing positions, with a legitimization of the extremist fringe which used to be out of bounds, along with a delegitimization of the Zionist left, which used to be legitimate but which became impoverished of ideas and devoid of values, losing its sense of direction. These trends have matured and are producing their bitter fruit: the choice is between two ultra-nationalists, Netanyahu or Sa’ar: Bibi or Gidi. There probably will be no other viable candidate.
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This is a dismal reality, but a very sobering one. In all previous elections there still was another voice, weak though it was, and it too was a mirage. This voice is now gone and it’s hard to say when it may return; certainly not in the upcoming election. Previously hidden and deep underground currents have risen to the surface: Israel is right-wing and ultra-nationalist, with one prevailing ideology that cannot be questioned.
The choice between Netanyahu and Sa’ar is not a real choice. Finding ourselves in a situation with no true choice is not a coincidence. The concurrence of these two politicians is not some happenstance. “Can two walk together except they be agreed (Amos 3:3)”? The fact that these two are the candidates with the best chances of winning is an expression of the spirit of the times. Israel wants a strongman, who “can show everyone,” who will be “Jewish,” with all that this entails, and also of Ashkenazi origin. It doesn’t want much more than that. It’s doubtful that most Sa’ar voters support the closing of supermarkets on Saturdays (as he suggested in the past), or well-protected outings to the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron for their children. It’s doubtful whether most Netanyahu supporters support the demolition of the justice system or like his personal conduct. But they want these two because they embody a strong right, because they will bring honor and pride to Israel, because they represent an arrogant nationalism, macho and insolent, regardless of its cost or significance.
The original sin lies in the Zionist left’s joining a unity government with Likud in the early 1980s, with the hopeless yearning of having it both ways – liberal yet tough on defense-related issues, Jewish and democratic, left-wing and Zionist. The inevitable end was becoming neither this nor that, culminating in losing all its identity. That’s how the left sank into its own void, a slide which became increasingly pathetic.
The coup de grace was delivered inadvertently by the hollow protest movement “Just not Bibi.” People whose numbers represented the size of one Knesset seat took to the streets while dozens of seats were split among various right-wing parties. “We’ll fight Netanyahu as if there were no occupation and fight the occupation as if there were no Netanyahu” they claimed again, the champions of having it both ways. This was their last false slogan, intended to counter claims that they were “purists.”
Journalist-poet Yitzhak Laor responded to these claims appropriately on Facebook. “But you didn’t fight the occupation. Never! The Palestinians are fighting the occupation and you are cruelly ignoring them.”
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Years of evading the message, of apologies and fumbling, of fear and self-deception, of trying to have it both ways, have come to an end. It’s Netanyahu and Sa’ar, right vs. right. The coming weeks will be pathetic: will former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot save us? will Amir Peretz leave us? will Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai run? Will Meretz get five seats or six? will Yair Lapid join a Sa’ar-Bennet government? Who will Ehud Barak support? None of these questions are important, neither is the existential question, the fateful one: Bibi or Gidi?