“Only the Right can” is not an Israeli invention. True, it was voiced loud and
clear by the Likud when the late prime minister, Menachem Begin, signed a
historic peace treaty with Egypt after agreeing to withdraw from every inch of
the Sinai Peninsula. But the same was said about French president Charles de
Gaulle when he withdrew from Algeria and about Richard Nixon when he established
diplomatic relations with Communist China.
Those are valid cases of
right-wing leaders who, despite nationalistic tendencies, recognized reality and
made necessary and courageous compromises. They are the exception to the rule, a
rule that generally leads to right-wing stagnant, ultra-nationalistic
conservatism. Begin himself is a case in point. Not to speak of Margaret
Thatcher and George W. Bush.
The premise is also based on the fact that
whenever a right-wing leader opts for compromise and peace, the Left supports
him – as the Socialists did in France, the Democrats in America, Labor in
Israel. The same is unfortunately not true for the opposite case – Yitzhak Rabin
paid with his life for hateful right-wing incitement and opposition to
Almost by definition the Right is in many ways more potent – for
good and for bad – as its ideology is more deterministic. The Left has more
doubts and questions and is more hesitant. The Right thinks in more neutral,
collective terms, believes in strong leadership, is loyal to “the leader.” Its
world view is more divided between the good (us) and the evil (them), a
black-andwhite picture (or whatever the national colors may be). The Right
ideological world view is one of hierarchy, rather than the more egalitarian
view of a human mosaic.
The Right believes in superiority rather than
equality. It is more monolithic and therefore often more religious.
conservative view of the world and country is a valid one, but in its more
extreme expressions tends to nationalism, xenophobia, disdain for the different.
It also tends to be more mobilized, activated and effective. So there is no
doubt that “the Right can do”; the question is, what can it do? These premises,
which apply very much to Israel – from Begin to Binyamin Netanyahu – ought to be
tested against the background of our current reality and the upcoming elections,
in relation to the following characteristics: • The right-wing ideology of the
collective good – the national good – leads it to nationalistic positions with
total mistrust of the other, be they left-wing Israelis, Arab neighbors or for
that matter the rest of the non-Jewish world. It can therefore articulate
simplistic mobilizing formulas about “us” and “them” – us and the “goyim.” The
Right can lead the country to isolation.
• The Right believes in a strong
leader who commands his troops rather than serves them. An iron fist policy is
always preferred, without tolerance for the other or for the different.
Netanyahu and even more so Avigdor Liberman are cases in point. They can
therefore engage in quasiracist, anti-democratic demagogy and legislation and
their supporters will follow. The Right can lead, preferably without real
opposition or a critical media.
• The right-wing view of the good and the
bad leads to xenophobia, self-righteousness and can be translated into a rather
totalitarian mode of effective propaganda, as exemplified in the prime
minister’s speeches at the UN – full of self-glorification on the one hand and
preaching to the rest of the world on the other.
• The Right believes in
a hierarchical world led by physical power and moral supremacy. We are not just
always right, but also better. The chosen people, although not necessarily a
light onto the nations.
Being right and strong allows you the illusion of
dictating reality. This is how the ideological Right has led us, with some help
from the Left, to a dangerous occupation of the Palestinians while defining it
as benign and actually perceiving ourselves as a conqueror that is conquered.
The ultimate expression of this view of the Greater Israel is the settlements
and the settlers – their movement, with the help of the government, has
skillfully created an almost irreversible reality on the ground (the West Bank)
in which we will become a minority in our own land with already today 7 million
Jews and over 4 million Arabs between the Sea and the River.
nationalistic motivation and the loyalty to ideology and leader have led the
Right to have the energy, belief and passion to mobilize its troops to fight for
the implementation of its ideology. This is true for the settlers, Shas and
Likudniks on Election Day. The energy is on the side of the Right – and
therefore indeed “it can.”
On the other hand, the Israeli Left – which
established this country under David Ben-Gurion – is today full of selfdoubt,
skepticism and division. Israel’s Left is to a large degree going through an
ideological crisis. Although it knows all too well that the settlements and the
occupation are an existential danger to our very being as a Jewish and
democratic state, it hesitates to say so. See Shelly Yacimovich, the head of all
the loyal opposition, fleeing away from any expression of peace policies as if
it were fire. The same can be said about Mr. Consensus, Yair Lapid.
Left is also weak in mobilizing its troops. Although the great majority of the
social justice movement was Center-Left, the leaders were terrified to say so in
order not to lose right-wing support and, at the end, they lost the whole
protest struggle despite the capitalistic, draconian economic measures of the
The Left is also deeply divided with mutual disdain between
Shelly cannot stand Tzipi Livni, Yair is anti- Labor
socialism, all are anti-Meretz.
So, while the Left knows the good of the
country better and is open-minded to a changing globalized world, expressing the
values of the land, close to our Declaration of Independence, it is
unfortunately unable to mobilize and find the internal energy to act for
The Right “can do it,” but unfortunately by implementing
nondemocratic values and dangerous policies.
Yet all is not lost in our
land of milk and honey. I have long believed in a convergence of left- and
moderate right-wing forces, of left-wing ideology and right-wing character, as
was the case with Ariel Sharon and Ehud Olmert, who had the courage to alter
their views toward realpolitik in order to keep us Jewish and democratic, and
part of the family of nations – going hand-in-hand with people from the
ideological Left like Haim Ramon.
Such a coalition of forces should come
together before the next election, combining value-based good policies and the
courage and ability to act. We are in need of new policies and new
The Right believes, like Karl Marx, in historical determinism
– of a Greater Israel under Netanyahu’s leadership. But history is not a
deterministic route of collectivity, it is the function of the will and the
values of individuals.
In our case, of individuals from Left and Right
who not only can act together, but can actually steer the country in the desired
The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and
served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.