Election Could Push Israel Further To The Right

by James M. Wall

Bayit Yehudi leader Naftli Bennett Pix Marc Israel Sellem the JP

Israel’s 19th general election, Tuesday, January 22, is almost certain to be won by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.

There is no serious Liberal election opposition to Likud. What is serious, however, is the very real possibility that after this election, the Israeli government could turn even harder to the political right.

In the final weeks of the campaign, Likud has been losing votes to a party even more conservative than Likud. The brash newcomer is the previously little-noticed Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home) party.

The leader of Bayit Yehudi is a 40-year-old charismatic newcomer to Israeli politics, Naftali Bennett (shown above), who has emerged as the hottest new personality on the Israeli political scene.

Bayit Yehudi has languished in the shadows of recent Israeli elections. It currently has three members in the Knesset. Some polls indicate that number could rise to as many as 15 seats, elevating Bayit Yehudi to a third place finish among the 20 parties currently represented in the Knesset. The two leading parties are expected to be the right-wing alliance of  Likud and Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu.

Joel Greenberg, reporting for the Washington Post, noted the combination of religious and nationalist themes in one Bayit Yehudi campaign event:

It was a mostly young crowd that turned out on a chilly winter night to hear Naftali Bennett, the leader of the religious nationalist party Jewish Home [Bayit Yehudi], deliver an appeal for understanding — not between Israelis and Palestinians, but among Israelis themselves.

“If it’s important for you to return to Jewish values, to connect and break down barriers, then you have a home,” Bennett told the audience gathered in a neighborhood synagogue. “The minute we lower the level of hate, we can solve many problems.”

The appeal was tailored for a society where fierce debate often pits secular Israelis against ultra-Orthodox Jews, ideological settlers in the West Bank against liberals from places such as Tel Aviv, and the political right against the left.

But Bennett’s pitch was also unabashedly nationalist, and its popularity — demonstrated by his party’s strong showing in polls ahead of the January 22 elections — reflects the rightward drift of the Israeli electorate. Both secular and religious voters have given Jewish Home [Bayit Yehudi] a boost at the expense of the front-running rightist ticket led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

To form a majority in the 120-seat Knesset, Netanyahu may be forced to add Bayit Yehudi to Likud (Netanyahu) and Yisrael Beiteinu (Lieberman).

If Bayit Yehudi does vault from three to as many as 15 Knesset seats, be prepared to hear more from Naftli Bennett. Based on his well-publicized positions, what we hear will not bode well for peace in the Middle East. And it most certainly would not not bode well for a Palestinian population’s desire for political justice.

The New Yorker’s David Remnick describes Bennett as “a settlement leader, a software entrepreneur, and an ex-Army commando. Bennett is “a man of the far right”, who was elected director general of the Yesha Council, the main political body of the settler movement.

Bennett is not a political newcomer. He worked as chief of staff for Benjamin Netanyahu before running into opposition from Netanyahu’s wife, a clash that has upended other chiefs of staff for political leaders.

Bennett showed a flare for political leadership that played well in the current restlessness of those Israeli voters weary of being told they have to yield land that many feel “belongs” to them.  Bennett developed a strong set of conservative convictions which Remnick explains:

Closer to his ideological core is an unswerving conviction that the Palestinian Arabs of Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem might as well relinquish their hopes for a sovereign state. The Green Line, which demarcates the occupied territories from Israel proper, “has no meaning,” he says, and only a friyer, a sucker, would think otherwise.

As one of his slick campaign ads says, “There are certain things that most of us understand will never happen: ‘The Sopranos’ are not coming back for another season . . . and there will never be a peace plan with the Palestinians.”

Bayit Yehudi’s political program unites the settler movement with the religious/nationalist conservatives who share the party’s rejection of any further talk of a two-state “solution”.

Bennett does not live in a settlement. It is ideology and nationalism, not residence, that unites Bennett to his party. He lives in Ra’anana, a small city north of Tel Aviv that Remnick says is full of “programmers and executives”, many of whom share his pro-settlement views.

Remnick:

To Bennett, there is nothing complex about the question of occupation. There is no occupation. “The land is ours”: that is pretty much the end of the debate.

“I will do everything in my power, forever, to fight against a Palestinian state being founded in the Land of Israel,” he said. “I don’t think there is a clear-cut solution for the Israeli-Arab conflict in this generation.”

During the recent assault on Gaza, Bennett was a proponent of a ground invasion and criticized Netanyahu when he limited the conflict to a week of air strikes.

This kind of talk has apparently electrified younger, prosperous and ideological conservative voters, who embrace the settlements as righteous claimants to the land that “belongs to Israel”.

Looking ahead, Remnick reflects on a possible scenario for Israel and Bennett:

If Bennett becomes Prime Minister someday—and his ambition is as plump and glaring as a harvest moon—he intends to annex most of the West Bank and let Arab cities like Ramallah, Nablus, and Jenin be “self-governing” but “under Israeli security.”

What would Chuck Schumer, the Israeli clearance officer for President Obama’s cabinet appointments, think about that development?

The picture above of Bayit Yehudi leader Naftli Bennett, is from the Jerusalem Post. It was taken by Marc Israel Sellem.

About wallwritings

James M. Wall is currently a Contributing Editor of The Christian Century magazine, based in Chicago, Illinois. From 1972 through 1999, he was editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine. Jim launched this new personal blog April 24, 2008. If you would like to receive Wall Writings alerts when new postings are added to this site, send a note, saying, Please Add Me, to jameswall8@gmail.com Biography: Journalism was Jim's undergraduate college major at Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia. He has earned two MA degrees, one from Emory, and one from the University of Chicago, both in religion. He is an ordained United Methodist clergy person. He served for two years in the US Air Force, and three additional years in the USAF reserve. While serving on active duty with the Alaskan Command, he reached the rank of first lieutenant. He has worked as a sports writer for both the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, was editor of the United Methodist magazine, Christian Advocate for ten years, and editor and publisher of the Christian Century magazine for 27 years.
This entry was posted in Middle East Politics, Netanyahu, Politics and Elections, Religion and politics. Bookmark the permalink.

10 Responses to Election Could Push Israel Further To The Right

  1. michael g says:

    Israel still has to pay for the land they stole from the Palestinians

  2. Cotton Fite says:

    Joel Greenberg’s report on Bennett in the Washington Post quotes Bennett as urging Israelis “to return to Jewish values” and to “lower the level of hate”. His words would be most welcome if the Jewish values he referred to were core rather than tribal and the hate he urges lowering was that contained in a blatant racism. These are ominous trends … which remind one, most sadly, of developments in Germany in the 30′s.

  3. “I will do everything in my power, forever, to fight against a Palestinian state being founded in the Land of Israel.” There you have it: this lust has been the guiding principle for the Zionists ever since they “accepted” UNGA Resolution 181 of November 1947. Via cunning parses of words and relentless action on the ground, coupled with their great success in “entangling” the U.S. in an alliance benefiting one side only with the hapless Palestinians strangled between, the Zionists — whether liberal, center, or fascist right — have made their arrogance and enterprise of domination and control clear to anyone who has a sense of the wholeness of this charade.

    Thanks, Jim, as always for keeping your readership current with events.

  4. AWAD PAUL SIFRI says:

    Thanks, Jim, for exposing Naftali Bennett for what he is..
    Naftali Bennett is a despicable “double dip” portion of “Ultra Extreme of Ultra Extreme” category.
    Netanyahu is simply a single dip of “Ultra Extreme” flavor.
    So, will AIPAC try to spin the Israeli election choices, as choosing the “docile” candidate of the two? Do they want President Obama to support the “docile” candidate?
    Israel’s “Right-Left- and Center” political leadership wants to take advantage of the destruction of neighboring Arab countries and the collusion of others, in order to grab their “historical opportunity” to complete the ethnic cleansing Holocaust they started in 1947/48/49.
    They want it all; have no doubt about it. And the Israeli public is going along, just like the Germans did in World War II.
    The only “difference” is that most Israelis do know exactly what is happening.

  5. Fred says:

    Israel will continue to do whatever it wants to the Palestinian people, without an iota of respect for their rights, simply because they are not Jewish. They are persecuting the Palestinians in ways the Nazis persecuted them.

    To add insult to injury, the US supports the Israeli persecution of the Palestinians. AIPAC runs our mideast policies, and they are all about what’s good for Israel, not the US. It is a national disgrace.

  6. Pingback: Election Could Push Israel Further To The Right | My Catbird Seat

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  8. Samia Khoury says:

    From day one after the famous handshake between Rabin and Arafat on the lawn of the White House it was clear that the peace the Palestinians were yearning for was not the same Peace Israel was planning for. While the Palestinians were taken for a ride by the many concessions that they made for the sake of peace, Israel used that golden opportunity as a stepping stone to the Arab World and for the creation of a new reality in Occupied Palestine, just as it used the Camp David to marginalize the role of Egypt in the struggle of justice for the Palestinians. Naftali Bennet is just the last link to close the circle of Netanyahu, Liebermann and to prove what has become so obvious that Israel is not at all interested in peace. They cannot afford peace because a common enemy is what is holding the country. “The minute we lower the level of hate, we can solve many problems.” That was the punch line of Bennet. Dare we hope for some wisdom?

  9. Pingback: Are Liberal American Zionists “Delusional”? « Wallwritings

  10. Pingback: Are Liberal American Zionists “Delusional”? | My Catbird Seat

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