Savir's Corner: Center-Left and extreme Right
It’s not the right-wing of Menachem Begin, who respected democracy, but rather an outlook prevalent today in the European extreme right-wing parties of nationalism, driven by populism, and not necessarily always by the rule of law.
Netanyahu and Liberman announce parties uniting Photo: Marc Israel Sellem/ The Jerusalem Post
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu did not bomb Iran, but last week he threw a
political bombshell at our political system.
There are pragmatic
self-interest considerations to the unholy alliance between “Bibi” Netanyahu and
Avigdor “Yvette” Liberman. The ideological motivations for it go deeper, they
relate to the perception of political power and leadership – a crude right-wing
view of a strong national leader with total disrespect for opposition and
It’s not the right-wing of Menachem Begin, who respected
democracy, but rather an outlook prevalent today in the European extreme
right-wing parties of nationalism, driven by populism, and not necessarily
always by the rule of law. Judges, journalists and parliamentarians are viewed
as conspiratorial obstacles.
Liberman proclaims that he wants a
presidential system – a strong leader, preferably President Yvette, not far from
his caricature dictator image on the Eretz Nehederet satirical TV show: The
leader dictates rather than serves; now he has been appointed crown prince, the
next in line. As long as it guarantees four more years of “Bibi-tocracy” (by
then altogether 11 years), then it is fair play for our prime
In this, it is Netanyahu who has crossed the red line of
endangering our very democracy, not to mention jeopardizing the basic respect
for human rights, for equality, and for virtually any other principle outlined
in our Declaration of Independence.
The good thing about Liberman is that
he never hides his views; he says what he means. The dangerous thing is that he
actually means what he says. If he could, he would outlaw much of the
left-leaning civil society, as he attempted in his party’s legislative efforts.
He is racist toward Arabs, as exemplified by hundreds of statements and by the
legislation attempt on – “no loyalty, no citizenship.” He threatened to bomb the
Aswan Dam in Egypt (2001) and to depose Mahmoud Abbas (2012). These are his real
aspirations and now, if elected, he can pursue them.
The new Likud
Beytenu alliance has turned these elections from a referendum on policies to one
on the very nature of our socio-political system. A Netanyahu-Liberman victory
would endanger our very democratic and Jewish nature, isolate us regionally and
move the clock forward on a binational state which would be boycotted the world
Historically, in battles like this, it is rarely the Right that
wins, but rather it is the weak Left – unable to articulate the real dangers and
the real alternatives – that loses. Indeed our Left – or Center-Left as the
politicians prefer to define themselves – suffers from almost a Weimarian
weakness. It is internally fragmented, terrified to state positions forcefully,
unable to define an honest, comprehensive policy agenda, afraid of being treated
as traitors, lacking the energy and coherence to fight for values and interests;
on this, it could learn quite a lesson from the new Israeli Right.
initial reactions of Ms. and Mr. Center-Left were typical – the various party
leaders focused less on the dangerous new alignment on the Right and more on why
they should lead the opposite camp, and why they would not align with the
others. Ego over country, at least for the time being.
Then there is Yair
Lapid, who stutters something about the need for peace, but spoke at Ariel
University as he aspires to be Mr. Consensus, the quintessential Israeli; maybe
in a beauty contest, but not in a political one.
As for Kadima, it is a
sinking ship, but out of that Titanic, Ehud Olmert or Tzipi Livni may yet rise
as the person to lead the leaderless camp.
Yet most important, the forces
of the Center-Left must articulate a new agenda and a new policy for the country
at this critical crossroads – a clear alternative to the new extreme Right,
without apologies and fear of being branded as unpatriotic. This is, after all,
a struggle for the very soul of Israel.
This new agenda for Israel should
be composed of several key elements: a) Democracy and equality – Israel’s
democracy, based on our Declaration of Independence and a series of basic laws,
is not yet well enshrined in our political system and public opinion. The recent
polls, published in Haaretz, about the rampant racism among more than 60 percent
of young Israelis is a dangerous red light. We are in need of a constitution,
turning the Declaration of Independence into constitutional law, making the
existing basic laws part of the constitution, and also securing in other areas
real equality for all our citizens – irrespective of gender and religion,
securing freedom of speech and of faith as well as the rights of minorities, the
separation between the executive, legislative and judicial branches, and a
clearer separation between state and religion – including the supremacy of state
legislation over religious law, the adherence to Jewish and humanitarian values
and the outlawing of expressions of racism.
nation-building process was based on our being a free and democratic society
with respect for “the different” and “the other.” Without a strong democracy,
there is no strong Israel.
b) Social justice – Israel, as a country of
immigrants, has aimed at creating equal opportunity and social services for the
most needy with significant success.
Yet in recent years, the rich have
become richer and the poor have become poorer, while the wide middle class
suffers under the yoke of a high cost of living.
The protest movement has
highlighted the lack of just distribution in our society, bringing hundreds of
thousands to the streets and squares in the 2011 Israeli Spring.
middle class is the backbone of our society – and its representatives must be
part of offering a “New Deal” for Israel’s economy and society. A new deal
regarding fair taxation, affordable health costs for all (not “Bibicare”),
affordable housing (not just for settlers and friends of Shas), affordable
education (including higher education with greater subsidies for all) and the
economic strengthening of the weakest sectors: the periphery, the haredim and
the Israeli- Arabs. This can be financed by the next government with three
• A significant reduction in the defense budget (along the
lines of the Trajtenberg recommendations);
• Ceasing to pour money – hundreds of
million shekels every year – into the settlements;
• Attracting the
international private sector to invest in our economy.
necessary conditions depend to a large degree on our ability to promote a peace
process within a framework of good international relations, particularly with
the United States.
c) Peace and security – Although Netanyahu and Shelly
Yacimovich seem to be in agreement that the issue of peace in the region should
be sidelined, this is the most critical and necessary component of any social,
economic and constitutional reform in Israel. In America, it may be “the
economy, stupid,” but in Israel it’s “the peace...”
Without a serious
process leading to a two-state solution, the next government will lead our
country to a binational state, to being a minority in our own country, with
apartheid and without democracy and social justice. Therefore the new agenda for
Israel must center around the effort to revive the peace process with the
Palestinian Authority, based on the Barack Obama and Bill Clinton
If our next government adopts these American plans, we will not
only have a Palestinian partner in Ramallah, but it will also bring Egypt,
Jordan and Turkey closer to us fostering regional cooperation – both critical in
the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Such policies would also make for a more
potent anti-Iran coalition in order to prevent it from developing nuclear arms
and to confront growing Muslim radicalism and violence in the broader
d) Part of the family of nations – Our current policies and the
bellicose discourse of our foreign minister have isolated us in the
international scene more than ever before. Israel’s popularity ratings are
plunging in Europe, not to mention in the rest of the world. In the United
States there is a great discomfort with our prime minister’s meddling in the
presidential elections on the side of Mitt Romney, Paul Ryan and Sheldon
We are a small country, very dependent on international support.
In a world that is increasingly moved by collective diplomacy, we can be either
part of international coalitions or out of them, isolated and even boycotted. A
new Israeli foreign policy must adjust to the existing international system and
to values which will strengthen our national security.
Israel, with the
establishment of the new right-wing alignment, is at a historic crossroads. We
have to make a choice on January 22 between two very different policies, sets of
values and worldviews. Between on the one hand the view of the new extreme Right
of a greater Israel at the expense of a Jewish democracy, of a “greater Israeli”
at the expense of the middle class, the minorities, the Left and the values of
our founding fathers and of an Israeli “go it alone” policy at the expense of
our place among the nations and our relations with our number one strategic
Or, on the other hand, a new agenda for Israel, of a stronger
democracy, rejecting racism, with social justice for the middle class, with an
active peace and security policy in coordination with the United
The new agenda will have to be carried by the political forces
from the Center-Left. These forces and leaders should above all formulate,
clearly and courageously, their policy platform, rather than battle about who
should be in which electoral list and place – putting country before ego. The
best people should come to the forefront, Olmert, Livni, Lapid, Yacimovich,
maybe with disillusioned moderates from what was the Likud, and, who knows,
maybe even with Arye Deri, in a composition, united or not, that can give our
people a chance to choose between two conflicting visions of our
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served
as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.