There Is No Opposition in Israel

The risk of ideological decay threatens Israel more than posing difficult questions or alternative ideas at tense times

Prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, May 6, 2018.
Emil salman

The responses of most of the prime minister’s political rivals, and particularly the heads of the opposition, to U.S. President Donald Trump’s declaration that America is pulling out of the Iran nuclear deal were a pale shadow of Benjamin Netanyahu’s own positions. For a quarter of a century, the prime minister has succeeded in making his position on Iran the only position discussed. All the others fall into line, agree one way or another and adopt the narrative in its entirety: Iran is the embodiment of evil, and the agreement with it was bad for Israel.

No leader hoping to replace Netanyahu has offered his own coherent and convincing view of relations with Iran – not from the center, the left, or from the right. Yair Lapid, Avi Gabbay, Moshe Kahlon, Avigdor Lieberman, Naftali Bennett and even Gideon Sa’ar are all still watching from the fence, repeating the mantra of the man they hope to succeed. This includes those who also whisper about the need to be cautious now so as not to spark a war or those who declare the need to “kill them first.” Netanyahu’s position is still the central axis.

The Iranian issue isn’t the only one on which Netanyahu sets the tone. On the question of resolving the conflict with the Palestinians, both Lapid and Gabbay sound just like him in public. Netanyahu says there ought to be a “Palestinian state-minus,” while Gabbay says this state must be “demilitarized,” as does Lapid. Their solutions are identical in substance, differing only in style.

From the right Bennett has been challenging the prime minister with annexation plans, but there is no prominent voice from the opposition other than Meretz and the Joint List, which offer a serious alternative to the Likud leader’s positions but don’t pose any danger to the government.

The risk of ideological decay threatens Israel more than posing difficult questions or alternative ideas at tense times. The public needs a strong opposition, capable of presenting real ideological alternatives on sensitive issues; an opposition that is not afraid to point out failures, stress the costs, question the dominant paradigm and challenge the consensus, rather than rushing to back the prime minister in order to look patriotic.

There isn’t much wisdom in arguing with Netanyahu about domestic issues, which the public is already divided about, but to be silent when it comes to security matters. The unanimity of parliamentary opinion regarding Israel’s moves in Syria and the U.S. withdrawal from the nuclear agreement is a warning light for Israeli democracy, and especially for Israel’s security.

The above article is Haaretz’s lead editorial, as published in the Hebrew and English newspapers in Israel.