Who Will Fight the New Israeli Right?

Israel's Justice Minister Shaked is leading the new right – will a left-wing alternative emerge and take a page from her book?

Rami Hod
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Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked
Israel's Justice Minister Ayelet ShakedCredit: Olivier Fitoussi
Rami Hod

It’s hard to know who will replace Benjamin Netanyahu as the head of Likud, but one thing is certain. Neither Culture Minister Miri Regev nor coalition whip David Amsalem, noisy as they may be, will drive the engine leading the right wing. “Every day at the Justice Ministry, I take another step in creating a democratic alternative to the constitutional revolution,” wrote Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked in response to a recent interview in Yedioth Ahronoth with former Supreme Court President Aharon Barak.

The statement tells the story of the elite in the new right, of which Shaked is a prominent representative. The new right is here to foment a revolution. It is working to annex the territories. It loathes the welfare state and the social protest movement that surfaced to revitalize it; and it also seeks to import conservative ideas from the United States.

The new right is working to turn back the clock by decades when it comes to liberal accomplishments in Israel, starting with the constitutional and feminist revolutions. It is building itself as an alternative not only to the left but also to the old right, which saw Aharon Barak as someone whose views should be taken into consideration. After two and a half years on the job, Shaked has managed to bring about the appointment of three conservative judges to the Supreme Court and to translate vocal criticism of the court into concrete changes.

Out of an awareness of the failure of the liberal right in cultivating an elite and unlike most Israeli politicians, Shaked has taken pains to make her worldview public. About a year and a half ago, she explained in an opinion piece why, unlike most Israeli politicians, past and present, she measures success not by the ability “to bring the train to its destination,” but rather by the ability to determine its direction and destination.

Why is Shaked an effective politician? Why has the new right become an engine for the right even though support for its ideas is negligible? It’s because it knows what it wants and is marking the path to achieve it.

The really important question is who will face Shaked. The new right knows why it gets up in the morning. On the top level, it is working to change the army, the judicial system, public service and politics; and on the lower level, it is working, based on the same ideas, in military preparatory academies, grass-roots religious community organizing groups and the education system. Will a united group with leadership and institutions and that works in a similarly systematic manner face off against the new right?

Two forces on the center-left are damaging the ability to form an alternative. One is those advocating a move toward the center, in the belief that by obscuring their positions they will succeed in bringing about change. But if the centrists win, what will they do “every day at the Justice Ministry”? Will they push for more-centrist policies? While the new right is working to advance a clear agenda, those advocating a move toward the center obliterate all memory of an agenda that can compete with it.

The second force is the dismantlers. Since the 2015 general election, they have been cultivating guilt feelings in the center-left camp in order to impart a realization that the camp deserved its electoral loss. They busy themselves with purity of discourse rather than building political power, with the (virtual) inclusion of right-wing voters rather than an effort to convince them; with privilege rather than with policy. They abhor the word “elite” without understanding that it is impossible to change the direction in which the country is moving without an elite; and while they are battling the ghosts of the old elite, the right is busy building a new elite.

The Zionist movement was a minority among the Jewish people, but it influenced the course of history. The new right is far from having similar influence, but who will face off against Shaked? Who will show the way for the opposing camp? That is the important question.

Rami Hod is the executive director of the Berl Katznelson Educational Center.