The Moment Israel Turned Right on the Road to Oblivion

We should have spotted where Israel was headed back in November 2012, when Likud dropped three proponents of democracy from its slate. It’s been downhill ever since.

Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram
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Former Likud MKs (from left) Reuven Rivlin, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin.
Former Likud MKs (from left) Reuven Rivlin, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin.Credit: David Bachar
Uzi Baram
Uzi Baram

The year 2014 has been one of the worst that the State of Israel has ever known. This is the year that the hatred, racism and aspirations for Jewish exclusivity crawled out of their holes. These values are being championed by familiar faces, who have public status and access to the media. We saw the slide and we watched, concerned, as the nationalist and religious slogans began to assume an increasingly central place in the public discourse. But in retrospect, we failed to realize at what point we should have started to comprehend the direction of things.

That moment occurred at the Likud convention on November 26, 2012, when the party’s Knesset election slate was set, and people like Michael Eitan, Dan Meridor and Benny Begin were dropped from its ticket. The removal of Eitan and Meridor was expected because of their diplomatic and civic positions, and their attitude toward the rule of law, but the booting of Begin should have set alarm bells ringing across the spectrum.

That the party had dared to dump Begin, the son of revered Likud leader Menachem Begin, was incredible. Benny Begin was a veteran purveyor of right-wing diplomatic positions, an ardent opponent of the Palestine Liberation Organization and Hamas, and a moral asset to the tainted movement. However, the audacious members booted him out and we saw it as a natural development at the time.

Begin was removed from the slate solely because he was loyal to parliamentary democracy and respected the legal system. Even Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who understood that he was facing a moral and substantive problem, hastened to declare, “We all grew up as faithful to the doctrine of Jabotinsky. I’ll maintain these values in the next government, and I will want you by my side.”

Of course, the fate of this statement was the same as that of all Netanyahu’s declarations. The three were removed to make way for the New Right, which spews hatred and separatism. Netanyahu, who promised to uphold the doctrine of Jabotinsky, traded it for the gospel according to Zeev Elkin. But our radar was not working. We did not realize something serious had happened, and that anyone who could remove Begin from the Knesset would stop at nothing.

The second sign of imminent danger, which was also underestimated, occurred right after the 2013 election. Yair Lapid, who had scored a huge personal victory [19 seats for his Yesh Atid party], rushed to prove his political naveté by hooking up with Naftali Bennett, the head of the settlers’ party, Habayit Hayehudi. The two “bros” looked quite relaxed with each other, like partners.

Lapid forced Netanyahu – to the latter’s chagrin – to include Bennett in his government. Lapid, and even his faction leader Ofer Shelah, chose Bennett and fought for him because they believed he’d help smooth their way toward combating the ultra-Orthodox. They ignored the fact that Bennett’s party included people like Uri Ariel, Moti Yogev and Orit Strock, who symbolized the battle against any peace initiative or negotiations.

Thus, Lapid contributed to the downhill slide of 2014. Bennett became legitimate, a leader of public opinion, and Netanyahu’s good friend. His rise in the polls spurred Netanyahu to veer even further right, contrary to the interests of the state.

These two events brought us to the nadir of 2014. Much has been written about the nation-state bill, but let me say this: It’s hard to understand how Netanyahu isn’t trembling at the prospect of changing Israel’s agreed-upon rules of the game, en route to establishing an apartheid state through a process that will strengthen the international consensus against him.

I actually saw a “persuasive” argument in favor of the bill in a well-known freebie paper (where else?) that stated, “If presidents and former presidents are casting doubt on the State of Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, that’s proof that this law is needed more than ever.” In other words, Shimon Peres and Reuven Rivlin are meant to take lessons from Elkin and Strock. Now, that’s convincing.

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