Opinion |

Israel's Coalition Isn't Ideologically Diverse at All

Ron Cahlili
Ron Cahlili
The heads of the coalition in the Knesset.
The heads of the coalition in the Knesset.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg
Ron Cahlili
Ron Cahlili

Marvel all you want at Naftali Bennett’s management of his disparate government, but his most impressive accomplishment to date has been to normalize a rigid right-wing ideology, economic and political, and make it the new face of Israel. Knitted kippa, native-English, extreme capitalism a la Kohelet Forum, a resounding “no” to resolving the conflict and kudos to the army, which is busy protecting messianic Jewish pogromists who attack Palestinians and their property almost daily.

I get the joy of the anyone-But-Bibi folks, but remember that Bennett is the highest-ranking representative of religious Zionism. Ever since the 2005 Gaza disengagement, the movement has been dominated by extremist Haredi Zionism, with the anti-gay Beast Parade; the Third Temple; equating the conflict to “shrapnel in the butt”; the garinim hatorani’im and the oppression of women. In the last election the Haredi Zionists and Bennett’s Yamina party split, with the former going into the opposition, but they remain ideological partners that may well reunite.

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Ideology is a brittle thing, and things look different once you’re in power, but this is Bennett’s starting point. Bennett, who in a February 2020 speech to the Knesset was honest about religious Zionism’s desire to be the train’s locomotive, not its passenger cars. This is Bennett’s ideological habitat, and the home of what polls say is his shrinking base.

The tremendous support of the left and center for Bennett’s moves is impressive by any measure. If Benjamin Netanyahu did not still cast such a long shadow, we might call this ideological corruption. The main disagreements in this “government of healing” are over handling the coronavirus pandemic. On all the rest there’s a wall-to-wall consensus.

Is this a historic unmasking ritual, like at the end of a bal masque, when the entire spectrum from the Zionist left to the ideological hard right is revealed to be practically conjoined twins?

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset with coalition members Lapid and Sa'arCredit: Ohad Zwigenberg

Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Meretz heads met with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, thumbing their noses mainly for the record. And Nitzan Horowitz repeated Meretz’s commitment to the two-state solution, which is totally unworkable. But perhaps this is in fact the death of both the Zionist left and the ideological right and the birth of a mainstream centrist party composed of Yamina (without Ayelet Shaked, presumably), New Hope, the Labor Party and Meretz, and perhaps also Kahol Lavan and Yesh Atid.

After all, there is little daylight between them, not on defense, economic, social or foreign policy. Only the names are different clothing. One calls itself “Zionist left,” the other “ideological right,” but it’s a sham, classic engineering of consciousness. At the moment of truth they all wave the same banner: an iron hand against the Palestinians, consolidation of white control of the land, further strengthening the IDF, rampant capitalism.

Everyone stands to benefit from such a merger, it seems. Above all Bennett, with his six Knesset seats. A union would make him head of the third-biggest, or even second-biggest, party, depending on the merger’s scope. He’ll have to slaughter his political home, the ideological hard right, and move to the center, but this could be the historic, almost Rabin-like move that gives him the moral validation to be the train engineer. The next big winners would be Labor and Meretz. Let’s be honest, nothing about them is left-wing, except by comparison. They are not the true left, and never were. Not only does it make sense for them to join up with Bennett, it may be the only way to avoid disappearing again.

Coalition members Emilie Moatti (Labor) and Nir Orbach (Yamina)Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

The birth of the new mainstream (and white) party – and this may be the ultimate realization of its definition as the “government of healing” – will not only remove the masks from the two former rival camps and create some authenticity, which has been so sorely lacking on both sides, it will also normalize the political discourse. It will prove, more than any negative labels from the Netanyahu camp, that there are no substantial differences between the left and the ideological right, apart from some nuances that any third-rate mediator could resolve in just a few sessions.

Not only that: By coming out of the leftist closet, Labor and Meretz will finally free themselves of the political label (“leftists”) that has become a curse. And on top of that, this will create the vacuum that is necessary for the birth of a new, genuine left, which Israeli democracy so badly needs right now that it has been conquered by the right (even one that doesn’t go by the name of Bibi).

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