Some people think it started with Brexit, followed by Trump, but in actual fact it started much before that, right here in Israel, with the ongoing re-election of Binyamin Netanyahu and the Likud party, recently bolstered by other, even more right-wing parties such as Jewish Home.
Support for Israel’s Labour party, which represented the generation of pioneers and socialist idealists who toiled and fought to establish the state of Israel, has declined steadily in recent decades. This has been due in part to lack-lustre leaders as well as to disillusion with the ideology – or lack of it – advocated by the party. The party seems to have never really recovered from the mortal blow delivered to it by the assassination of Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995, though the shift to the right began with the Yom Kippur War of 1973 and its aftermath.
As is the case elsewhere in the world, the right wing in Israel tends to be supported by those segments of the population that are largely poorly-educated and ready to swallow populist slogans trumpeted by cynical politicians and the public-relations firms they employ. In Israel there is the additional element of apprehension regarding the Palestinian population and the intentions of the neighbouring Arab countries. One cannot deny that there is a basis for some of these fears, as concerted military actions from the outside and occasional terrorist attacks from the inside have shown in the course of Israel’s history. The arrival of over a million immigrants from the former USSR has also bolstered the right-wing electorate. The ideological right wing in Israel claims the monopoly over advocating the right of Jews to have a country of their own, even though this was the guiding principle behind the actions of the socialist pioneering generations.
The right-wing tendencies that have emerged in Israel, as well as in countries that once advocated egalitarian ideas, tolerance of ‘the other’ and the provision of welfare for those unable to support themselves, have served to bring to the fore the baser aspects of human nature. The Biblical tenet of loving one’s neighbor as oneself has been supplanted by the concept of cut-throat competition and survival of the fittest. Xenophobic and beggar-my-neighbour behaviour is tolerated if not condoned, and the general atmosphere is clouded by public assertions that would have been unacceptable less than a decade ago.
Tensions within Israeli society are being exacerbated by irresponsible politicians, and utilized by some of them to further their own interests and careers. It is pitiable to see how far Israel has moved away from the high ideals that once characterized it and to observe the antics of the individuals who now represent the electorate in the Knesset. But they are able to say in their defence that they are simply emulating the example of our cousins in other supposedly enlightened countries. Although there is some truth in this, it cannot be denied that we were there first.