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Resurgent Center-Right in Israel By: P. David Hornik
FrontPageMagazine.com | Friday, November 21, 2008

With Israel’s parliamentary elections set for February 10, the latest polls show the Center-Right bloc well ahead of its Center-Left rival. In one, reported on Thursday, the lead stood at 64 Members of Knesset to 56, but in effect was much larger because the 56 included 11 MKs from Arab parties that stand no chance of being included in a governing coalition. The lead is also, likely, even larger in effect given that polls are reliably skewed to the Left.


This lead has opened up over the past three weeks as Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu, whose party is traditionally the largest (though not in the 2006 elections, when it flopped) on the Right, has showcased some high-profile new additions and particularly Benny Begin, Dan Meridor, and Moshe Yaalon.


The former two are actually Likud “princes” (sons of illustrious figures in Likud’s predecessor the Herut movement—including, in Benny Begin’s case, Menachem Begin himself) who were cabinet ministers in Netanyahu’s late-1990s government but left because of policy or personal conflicts with him. Their return—along with a bevy of well-known figures joining Likud—signals to Israeli voters that Likud is once again up-and-coming, the place to be. The perception is enhanced by the fact that Begin is seen as a staunch right-winger and Meridor as having veered leftward, as Likud tries to cast as wide a net as possible.


More striking than the return of Begin and Meridor, though, is the joining of Yaalon. A former chief of staff and scion of the left-wing kibbutz movement, in recent years Yaalon (I profiled him here and discussed his out-of-the-box thinking on the Palestinians here) has moved to the Right and become a trenchant critic of the weakness and cynicism of recent Israeli governments.


Interviewed this week on Israel Radio, Yaalon said the values he grew up with were no longer represented by the political parties he used to identify with, and that if David Ben-Gurion were alive today he “would not choose Labor” or the other members of the Center-Left bloc, the Kadima and Meretz parties.


Ben-Gurion—father of Labor as Menachem Begin was the father of Likud—was the driving force behind a robust Zionism that combined secularism, socialism, and liberalism with security realism and rootedness both in the Land of Israel and the Middle East. More recently that ethos has morphed into a trendy, peace-at-any-price, typically Western, chattering-class mentality that has exacted a high toll in blood—or as Yaalon put it, “I was a believer in land for peace, but I have learned [over] the past 15 years [that] it deteriorates our security.”


With Israel currently under unanswered rocket fire from Hamas to the south while Hezbollah steadily builds a huge arsenal to the north, even the author of the above-linked Haaretz report on the survey—who, in the best tradition of Haaretz’s blurring of reporting and editorializing, says hopefully that “things could definitely change”—admits that “the mood on the Israeli street is plainly in Likud’s favor.” Seemingly that shouldn’t be hard to understand after almost three years of the Kadima-led government’s corruption scandals, failed war in Lebanon, and helplessness before terrorist buildups.


The world, though—including both Republican and Democratic administrations—has a hard time understanding Likud-led coalitions, seeing them instead as retrograde nuisances that needlessly muck up relations with the Arabs and merit pushing around. Such a coalition, if it emerges in February, will not only face Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas et al. but also a different kind of struggle with the UN, the EU, the Western media, and—very likely, and quite possibly acutely—the new U.S. administration.


Add to that Israel’s own left-wing elites, certain to react to electoral defeat by fighting back very ruthlessly, and it’s not far off the mark to say such a new Israeli coalition will find itself standing alone against the world.


Tellingly, Netanyahu has already said that if he wins, he’ll invite the Center-Left parties into his government. He knows the mere fact that the majority of Israelis would have voted for a change would do nothing to establish his legitimacy in a world that doesn’t care about such things. People aren’t dying to see a revival of old, proactive, self-respecting Zionism.

P. David Hornik is a freelance writer and translator living in Beersheva. He blogs at http://pdavidhornik.typepad.com/. He can be reached at pdavidh2001@yahoo.com.

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