Jews in the diaspora can afford to be liberal or left-wing, but for Jews in Israel it’s a different matter. During the 19th and 20th centuries as Jews in Europe became emancipated or assimilated they naturally were in the opposition. There was no place for them among the tribal elites (Hungarians, Germans, Poles, etc.) or the landed bourgeoisie. So Jews were heavily represented in the liberal, socialist and communist parties. They were in the opposition.
In 1977 a major shift occurred in Israeli politics, after 29 years of socialist governments in Israel Menachem Begin of the Herut/Likud party was elected PM. This was an earthquake in Jewish life, for the first time a nationalist right-wing party had commanded the majority of a Jewish population. I was working in the Weizmann Inst. at that time, and the day after the election results were announced there was doom and gloom in the faculty lounge. These were all academics, liberals and socialists, and they were not only depressed, but many of them predicted that there would be a catastrophe, war within a few months, that Begin the war-monger would deliberately precipitate a major war. I was also shocked when one of the children attending my daughter’s Zionist camp in the USA called Begin a “fascist.”
Of course, they were all wrong, not only was Begin a dedicated democrat, but he was also the peace-maker who made it possible to sign a peace treaty with Pres. Anwar Sadat of Egypt. Since then, apart from a few exceptions, the Israeli public has moved to the right. In the last elections the Labor Party was reduced to a shadow of its former self (16 seats) and the left-wing Meretz party was decimated (5 seats).
The question is, will this right wing trend continue? I believe it will, even though the polls are showing a slight majority for the Labor Party-Hatnua combined list. Part of the reason for this has been the emphasis last year of a large portion of the electorate on social and domestic issues, basically the cost-of-living and the cost of food. When it comes down to it, however, in Israel we are voting on existential issues: will we live or die, will we withstand external pressures to make fatal compromises to the Palestinians, will be subject to nuclear blackmail by Iran?
I am convinced that PM Netanyahu and the Likud are the best choice for our future, for two reasons. First, Bibi has the experience in dealing with a hostile President of the USA Barack Obama, who when he came into office, as evidenced by his Cairo speech in 2009, was all set to cater to the Muslims and force Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians. But, even though Bibi accepted the principle of a “two-state solution,” he was not prepared to be forced by Obama to make dangerous concessions as far as Israel was concerned.
Recently I heard a speech by Herb Keinon the diplomatic correspondent of the Jerusalem Post. He was asked what is the difference between Netanyahu and previous PMs? He said something very interesting. He said that while Rabin, Barak and Olmert regarded themselves primarily as peace-makers, Bibi is motivated by his intention to safeguard the future of Israel. In other words he puts survival before peace, and that for me is a key distinction.
We don’t know what Isaac Herzog would do as PM, he might be a good leader. But, I am not prepared to take the risk. I regard his colleague Tzipi Livni as an unprincipled prima donna, who puts her own ambitions before any consideration of the State’s interests. There are others like her, but I prefer to choose a tried and tested leader. Many people say “we need change” we need to have “anyone but Bibi.” But, to me it is the opposite, we do not need change, we need continuity, continuity of the economy, continuity of Israel in a strong defensive position.
Sure I would have liked the IDF to go into Gaza and destroy Hamas, but I think Bibi played it very well, he destroyed Hamas and Gaza enough to re-establish Israel’s deterrence, but not so much that there were major Israeli casualties in trying to conquer Gaza city. That is why Hizbollah, with tens of thousands of missiles, have hesitated to attack us again. The US has left a power vacuum in the Middle East, because of Obama’s tendency to cut and run. Israel has to partially fill that vacuum to protect itself. Who else can do that?
Note: This was prepared for presentation to the “Winter in Netanya” (WIN) Hadassah group, 26/1/15.