Savir's Corner: Only the Right can?

The Right “can do it,” but unfortunately by implementing nondemocratic values and dangerous policies.

Olmert, Netanyahu 370 (photo credit: Moti Milrod/Haaretz/Reuters)
Olmert, Netanyahu 370
(photo credit: Moti Milrod/Haaretz/Reuters)
“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 Oslo.
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.
The 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.
• The 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.
The 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 government.
The Left is also deeply divided with mutual disdain between potential partners.
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 change.
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 coalitions.
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 direction.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords.