Israeli Moderates, Resist

Parts of the ruling party have veered to the fringes, but they don't represent the mainstream. Before the next election, we should consider a broad coalition of political forces from all the center and left parties.

We continue to debate the travels of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, the necessity of establishing a Palestinian state alongside Israel, the deterioration of the middle class, the character of Iran’s new president. Those are all important issues, some of them even existential. But we don’t notice that while we preoccupy ourselves with the problems of the present, right-wing groups in the Knesset are trying to change the parameters of the equation whereby Israel is a Jewish and a democratic state. Once-ubiquitous expressions used to describe Israel, such as “a Jewish state” or “a state with a Zionist orientation,” are undergoing a tremendous metamorphosis, and we turn a blind eye and think it only a semantic change which may not even be possible to implement.

The State of Israel was established as a refuge for the Jewish people, to give it the right to self-determination that had been denied to it. But the public agreement was for a state that represents a moderate, tolerant and determined Judaism. Groups on the right and among the settlers tend to characterize Israel as a state that represents the essence of their Judaism, in which only lip service is paid to democracy. Already in the previous Knesset, legislators proposed ultranationalist laws but were blocked by then-Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor and company.

Make no mistake: There is a group in the Knesset that seeks to change the formula of Israel’s being a Jewish and a democratic state. But MKs with identical goals do not join forces without a determined leader. MK Yariv Levin ‏(Likud-Yisrael Beiteinu‏) was not anointed by his party colleagues, MKs Zeev Elkin and Danny Danon, but he is the real leader of the unrestrained approach, filled with hatred for the legal system.

The prime minister stands at the sidelines, as a neutral observer. He does not offer the nation a vision and a path, but he avoids confrontation with the out-of-control unbridled MKs. Some call this fate, since after all some elements of the nation do not rule out apartheid as a system. They are prevented from saying this outright only out of concern that it could cause harm to the state. But these are not majority opinions. Large sections of the public prefer Benjamin Netanyahu over other possible heads of government, but would prefer that government itself to be more moderate. The fact that Netanyahu is the lesser of the evils indicates the direction in which the pendulum is now swinging.

But Netanyahu’s election was not an automatic vote of public confidence in Danon and in another party colleague, MK Moshe Feiglin. The settlers, the religious Zionist camp and their supporters are the minority. There is no majority for their views, nor for the pseudo-liberal disguise donned by Economy Minister Naftali Bennett of Habayit Hayehudi in the election. The opposing camp is split mainly over socioeconomic issues, but the electorate behind all of the more moderate parties wholeheartedly objects to the interpretation of Judaism and democracy offered by Levin and by MK Ayelet Shaked ‏(Habayit Hayehudi‏).

Before the next election we should consider a broad coalition of political forces from all the center and left parties, of people like Meridor and company and leaders of public opinion from the economic, media, military and academic spheres. The creation of an alternative requires great finesse, and there are many seemingly impassable obstacles to be overcome. This can happen if more important individuals and groups within society come to realize that this is a battle for the soul and the future direction of Israel.