Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu (Image credit: Amos Ben Gershom/Government Press Office of Israel)
Israel has been abuzz with talk of elections on-and-off for the last few months, as the coalition government totters on the brink of collapse. At the latest elections will be held in another year, and the government’s abject failures in key fields make one thing clear — Israelis must take back the reins and demand a change.
For years, Israeli nationalists echo the same tired trope:
“Even if the ‘right-wing’ parties in power disappoint time after time and fail in their basic duty to realize their voters’ will, vote for them anyway.
After all, voting for a small ideological party risks ‘throwing away your vote’ and enabling a leftist government to take power, while the larger parties afford stability and responsible ‘practical’ leadership.
And anyway, there’s ‘no replacement’ for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu — now approaching his 10th consecutive year at the helm.”
However, recent events should cause even the most ardent and indoctrinated subscribers to pause this brainwashing.
Nationalist right-wing voters, who heavily outnumber their leftist counterparts, traditionally focus on two key issues that are the cornerstone of a strong sovereign state: construction and security. These issues provide the litmus test to measure whether any self-proclaimed right-wing coalition members are realizing the electorate’s demand to take possession of the ancient Jewish homeland and protect it from Arab terrorism.
Since late 2013, the government has continued to freeze new construction throughout Judea, Samaria, and “East Jerusalem.” American pressure has consistently been the excuse given for this discriminative and self-destructive policy, but the freeze persists now despite U.S. President Donald Trump’s unprecedented support for Israel; indeed, his ambassador explicitly said Israel doesn’t need “permission” from the U.S. to build in these areas.
Even worse, the government destroys Jewish towns such as Amona and Netiv Ha’avot. At the same time, it abandons land by allowing rampant illegal Arab construction, most visibly in its recent refusal to destroy an illegal Bedouin settlement despite Supreme Court orders to do so.
Turning to the security front, the “right-wing” coalition’s performance is arguably even bleaker. It has impotently watched the new spike in lethal Arab terror in Judea and Samaria over recent days without formulating any plan to counter the latest cyclical wave of mayhem and murder. The situation is so bad that nine leading Jewish Home and Likud ministers demonstrated against their own government today, in an apparent attempt to distance themselves from the security failure and play opposition from within the coalition. This begs the question what influence these ministers have in the government justifying their continued presence there.
Even before the recent security collapse, there was the latest fiasco with Gaza: The government willingly let the Hamas terror organization receive $15 million in a suitcase and when Hamas then launched a lethal missile bombardment, it immediately submitted to a ceasefire deal — all within the space of mere days. The government remains unable to produce any strategic plan to neutralize the gradually evolving terror threat from Gaza. And all of this is without even mentioning the embarrassingly late response to Hezbollah terror tunnels on the northern border, which is currently being undertaken after years of lying to the public — despite reports by residents as early as January 2015.
As for stability and leadership, note that after the government’s failure to face Gaza, Yisrael Beytenu Chairman Avigdor Liberman bolted the coalition over its lack of “deterrence” — the very task he had been charged with as minister of defense. Jewish Home Chairman Naftali Bennett threatened to follow suit if he wasn’t given Liberman’s post, before doing an awkward last minute flip-flop and staying. This choice to remain in the coalition government was made despite the fact that Bennett’s second-in-command, Ayelet Shaked, admitted it is “not right-wing.” It appears that even the coalition partners acknowledge they are part of advancing a leftist agenda.
Worse than left?
These recent developments in the areas of construction and security leave no doubt — the governing “nationalist” parties provide neither stability nor direction in leading the state. This comes despite the fact of the Trump administration’s unprecedented pro-Israel posture, giving the government all but a green light to pursue its own policy initiatives. Its inability to capitalize on this and boldly set a true nationalist course in the post-Obama era proves once and for all: Israel’s problem isn’t who calls the shots in the White House, it’s who calls the shots in the coalition.
The oft-repeated warnings of a leftist government seizing power in an election due to votes being “thrown away” on ideological parties ring hollow. Aside from empty gestures to Jewish nationality, the differences between the current “right-wing” coalition parties and the leftist parties are largely negligible as demonstrated by the aforementioned facts on the ground.
On an ideological level, the coalition parties want to give up the Land of Israel, echoing the leftist parties. Netanyahu has openly embraced abandoning Judea and Samaria since his 2009 Bar Ilan speech. Few know that Bennett’s annexation plan involves abandoning the vast majority of the region and making it “a Palestinian state” that is “part of Jordan.” And Liberman’s plan is to hand over major parts of coastal Israel to the enemy.
To some extent, a leftist government could be preferable, as it would at least face massive opposition from nationalist voters over its failures in construction and security. By contrast, the current government has the power to covertly realize the plans of the leftists without the voters’ interference thanks to its “right-wing” label. What is worse, it has undermined the mainstream nationalist movements, turning them into a rubber-stamp for parties that have actually ignored their aspirations.
Instead of rocking the boat by implementing the ideological values that got them elected in the first place, these parties made preserving the “status quo” their raison d’être as soon as they achieved a position of power. They have been unwilling to stand up to world pressure, crush terror with an iron fist, and build homes for citizens suffering from a housing crisis while over 90% of Judea and Samaria lies unpopulated. Yet these parties brag they will not take their “hands off the wheel” — even if they are driving the country into a dead-end.
Talking about a revolution
Elections are now just a matter of time for the coalition, which holds a 61-seat bare minimum majority. Following Bennett’s flip-flop, instead of early elections in March they will be held next November as scheduled — unless Kulanu Chairman Moshe Kahlon’s predictions of the impotent coalition toppling on its own before then materialize, possibly due to the unstable security situation.
Will the nationalist Israeli public be able to stop throwing its vote away on the parties currently in power and instead demand that its values be implemented in a true alternative to the left, both in terms of practical policy and ideological vision?
Will it break free of the illusion of the “irreplaceable” Netanyahu, whose last decade in power has completely undermined Israeli deterrence — despite his 2009 pre-election promise to “collapse the Hamas terror government”? He has unabashedly admitted to diminishing construction in Judea, Samaria, and Jerusalem to less than that of his three predecessors. And in a recent wrinkle, he also faces the threat of bribery charges.
Regardless of the cult of personality around “Bibi,” Israelis would do well to remember they cast votes for political parties — not for prime ministerial candidates — and therefore must vote based on each party’s articulated vision for the future of the state. The approaching elections are an opportunity for Israelis to take back control over their future and demand security and construction, among other central issues. The key to Israel’s revolution is for nationalists to vote based on their conscience and values, and to stop playing failed politics.
A staunchly ideological party adhering to the nationalist voice would become the linchpin of any right-wing coalition that would need it in order to have a broad enough base to pass legislation. Such a party could leverage the coalition’s need, forcing the government to stay true to its vision and implement specific policies, or else risk collapse.
If the party chose to stay out of the coalition, it could voice a true alternative from the opposition. Slowly but surely this would change the national discourse and influence the agenda, forcing the coalition to catch up or be outflanked on the right and risk losing votes.
Only a relatively small number of voters willing to throw their weight behind an ideological revolution are needed. This is true despite the March 2014 Governance Law that harmed small parties by inflating the electoral threshold from 2% to 3.25% of all votes, and even if current talk of Netanyahu reducing the threshold to 2.75% does not pan out.
Case in point: In the year before the Governance Law came into effect, a religious nationalist party, Otzma Leyisrael, received roughly 67,000 votes, garnering roughly 1.76% of the vote and falling about 10,000 votes short of the threshold. In the year after the Governance Law came into effect, an ideological right-wing joint list composed of the renamed Otzma Yehudit party and former MK Eli Yishai’s Yachad party received 124,984 votes — 2.97% of the vote — again falling just around 10,000 votes short of the threshold.
The difference between having a solid nationalist ideological voice in the Knesset demanding that the politicians start answering to the will of the people — or not having such a voice — rests on 10,000 nationalist Israelis leaving tired scare-tactics behind, and realizing they don’t want to waste their vote on another left-leaning coalition parading itself as “right-wing.” The revolution is within reach — if only we heed its call.