Who is Right?

The battle for the Likud’s Identity

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Likud faction in the Knesset on November 13 (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Likud faction in the Knesset on November 13
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
THE MOST recent expression of opposition to the Likud's direction was not given by a left-wing party representative, nor the leader of the opposition.
Rather, it was delivered by President Reuven (Ruvi) Rivlin at the opening winter session of the Knesset.
Rivlin, one of the last of the old Likud revisionist establishment, exposed what might be one of the most intriguing and profound political debates taking place in Israel today.
The debate is not between Left and Right, nor between religious and secular. It is between two varying approaches to right-wing ideology. On the one hand, the original national Zionist liberal camp, which dedicates itself both to progressive and democratic values; on the other hand, the camp of the conservative right wing (which has recruited tens of thousands of new members to the Likud), many of whom identify with the far right both politically and religiously. It is a conflict that threatens to change the ideological essence of the Likud as we know it.
I joined the Likud because I believe in personal freedom and choices. I am a supporter of LGBTQ rights, of small government, a free economy, and a strong Supreme Court to help protect the rights of minorities. Yet this is not my entire political identity. I oppose the two-state solution out of the conviction that it would only bring more injustice to both sides of the conflict. I believe in the rights of the Jewish people to live in Judea and Samaria. I do not view the settlements there as an obstacle to peace, but rather as a barrier to war.
The Likud, which grew out of the philosophy of Ze’ev Jabotinsky, is the political representative of this ideology. The past few years, especially since the 2015 election, has witnessed a shift in the Likud. All of the political figures who remained loyal to the Likud’s founding purpose have found themselves either in political exile after the party’s primaries, or characterized as leftists, for example, Dan Meridor, Benny Begin, Michael Eitan and recently Moshe (Bogie) Ya’alon. With few exceptions, the current Likud representatives were elected by the less liberal voters of the party.
This is not a debate between forces of light and forces of darkness.
I would not call those who disagree with my approach fascists. However, Israel is a country that is trying to balance its national and religious Jewish identity with its democratic values. The formula that Ze’ev Jabotinsky espoused and that has been applied by Likud leaders throughout its history is the safest way to assure that this is what Israel remains.
The liberal camp in the Likud, which is currently losing the battle, must wake up before it is too late. They must unite, lobby and create a political alternative to the atmosphere in the party today. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the leader of the Likud, is himself a product of the party’s liberal camp, but political reality will make it hard for him to navigate that direction.
This debate should not only interest supporters and members of the Likud. The Likud has been in power for years. The political map does not indicate they will be deposed in the near future. Therefore, the battle for the identity of the Likud is a struggle for the identity of Zionism and the State of Israel.
The time is coming in which the Likud must decide on its direction.
Will it stay true to the values upon which it was founded or will a new generation say to the old guard of the Likud in the words of Napoleon on the eve of his exile: “I bid you farewell.”
The writer is a student at Shalem College in Jerusalem, a member of Manof, a national liberal forum in the Likud, and speaks locally and abroad on topics relevant to Israel.