The hidden stakes of Israel’s fifth election - opinion

This anyone-but-Bibi caucus is the reason why Israel faces its fifth election in four years.

 THEN-PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett glances at Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar during a debate in the Knesset plenum, earlier this year. (photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)
THEN-PRIME MINISTER Naftali Bennett glances at Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar during a debate in the Knesset plenum, earlier this year.
(photo credit: OLIVIER FITOUSSI/FLASH90)

If you want to understand the subcurrents shaping Israel’s current election campaign, Hebrew University Professor Gadi Taub’s Mobiles and Immobiles (Nayadim veh Nayahim) is a good place to start. Published two years ago, Taub’s book analyzes the ideological chasm separating the two major opposing blocs within Israel’s Jewish body politic.

Taub’s mobiles (nayadim) are those left-leaning, cosmopolitan post-Zionist elites who’ve given Tel Aviv its reputation as a world-class party town. Judaically indifferent, affluent, and well-educated, they have the skills to live and work anywhere in the world. While small in number, these mobiles dominate Israel’s academic, cultural and judicial institutions.

By contrast, the immobiles (nayahim) are politically conservative, Judaically committed Zionists who’re devoted to Israel’s essence as the nation-state of the Jewish people. Viewed with disdain by the mobile class, Israel’s immobiles dominate the political arena, where their representatives have governed for almost 18 of the last 22 years.

Over recent months, the tectonic clash of values between these two factions has been obscured by ructions over the fate – both legal and political – of former prime minister Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu.

Netanyahu is currently on trial for corruption. And although his defense team has torn gaping holes in the prosecution’s case, two former lieutenants – Alternate Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar – cited those criminal charges as a rationale for boycotting a Netanyahu-led government.

 Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset on June 30. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS) Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Knesset on June 30. (credit: RONEN ZVULUN/REUTERS)

This anyone-but-Bibi caucus is the reason why Israel faces its fifth election in four years. The Bennett-Sa’ar boycott prevented Likud from forging a majority coalition, despite the party winning the largest number of Knesset seats at elections in 2019 (twice), 2020 and 2021.

As it turns out, the anti-Bibism of Sa’ar and Bennett owes more to personal pique than to political principle. Despite his undeniable political brilliance, Netanyahu has succumbed to that endemic occupational hazard of successful leaders: hubris. And Bibi’s interpersonal arrogance generated such acidic resentment in the hearts of Sa’ar and Bennett that those self-proclaimed conservative Zionists chose to align themselves with an Arab political party that is anti-Zionist by definition.

And so, the United Arab List (UAL) was invited to join the Bennett government that was cobbled together after election number four in March 2021. Known in Hebrew by the acronym Ra’am, the UAL is an explicitly Islamic party that draws inspiration from the Muslim Brotherhood.

Ra’am’s path to the inner circle of government power was paved by its chairman, Mansour Abbas, a smooth operator who played a double game that enabled Bennett to hide behind an orchard’s worth of political fig leaves.

Ra’am and Bennett's government

ABBAS WOULD ascend to the Knesset speaker’s podium and utter sweet nothings in Hebrew about peaceful Arab-Jewish coexistence. At the same time, Ra’am Member of Knesset Walid Taha would be delivering fire and brimstone speeches in Arabic to Arab audiences about how the dastardly Zionist infidels must be erased from the map.

The Bennett government was a wobbly creation composed of right-wing and left-wing parties united only by a shared detestation of Netanyahu. Lasting just over one year, it was predestined to collapse due to its own internal contradictions.

But despite its short lifespan, the Bennett government was a watershed event in Israel’s political history that cannot be overestimated. When push came to shove, the anyone-but-Bibi caucus opted for an alliance with Arab anti-Zionists dedicated to the eradication of Israel as a Jewish state.

In American political terms, this would be the equivalent of Ted Cruz joining forces with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) because he bears a personal grudge against Donald Trump.

Israel is a nation of the West, and as such has proved susceptible to the same woke madness that has engulfed its fellow western nations over recent decades. Israeli universities and its mainstream media are replete with strident left-wing activists whose motivating worldview is shaped by “oikophobia,” a term coined by the late British political philosopher Sir Roger Scruton.

Scruton defined oikophobes as self-anointed defenders of enlightened universalism against local chauvinism who delight in denigrating their own customs, culture and civilization. In other words, Gadi Taub’s mobiles.

Oikophobia, Israeli-style, is the hidden issue at the upcoming Knesset election scheduled for November 1. Beneath all the political furor lurks a clash of contending visions between those who cherish Israel’s Zionist essence and those who seek to transform the world’s sole Jewish state into another non-denominational western democracy.

It’s an axiom of political punditry that each election is proclaimed to be the most important ever held. Only, in the case of Israel, 2022, this truism might actually hold true.

The writer is a former Israeli army officer who is the co-founder of Alesia Public Affairs, a Melbourne-based consulting firm advising clients on strategic communications, reputation management and government relations.