Since becoming a Knesset member in the 18th Knesset MK Yariv Levin from the Likud has argued again and again that even though his party has been in and out of power since 1977, it has never really learned what it means to rule.
His two main complaints are that on certain subjects on which Right and Left in Israel are divided, but especially the future of Judea and Samaria and the balance between Israel’s democratic principles and Jewishness, successive Likud-led governments have done very little to change the status quo, and specifically have failed to declare Judea and Samaria inalienable parts of the State of Israel, in which the right to Jewish settlement activities is not to be questioned, and the superiority of Israel’s Jewishness over its democratic nature.
In the eyes of Levin and his colleagues (including coalition chairman Ze’ev Elkin), the main manifestations of this weakness are the abstention from amending certain existing laws, and changing the make-up of the Supreme Court. The wave of bills on issues related to these two questions which were submitted by MKs from the Right in the course of the 18th and 19th Knessets (with more or less government support) is a manifestation of their attempt to rectify the situation.
Whether this wave will continue or be curtailed in the 20th Knesset largely depends on the results of the coming elections.
In the eyes of the Israeli Center and Left, the ideological positions of Levin and his colleagues are those of the extreme Right, as distinct from the moderate Right, and some have even questioned whether they would be willing to sign the following paragraph from Israel’s Proclamation of Independence: “The State of Israel will be open to the immigration of Jews from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”
In practical terms what distinguishes the extreme Right from the moderate Right isn’t belief in the rights of the Jewish people over the whole of Israel, the insistence on ignoring or belittling the demographic realities or even in the existence of an historic imbalance between the definition of Israel as a democratic state and its definition as a Jewish state. The main difference involves what should be done to ensure Israel’s permanent hold on Judea and Samaria, and how far Israel should go in terms of asserting Jewish rights in the land of Israel at the expense of the rights of non-Jews – be they the Arab, Druse or Circassian citizens of Israel, or Palestinians without Israeli citizenship.
Other factors that distinguish the extreme from the moderate Right have to do with the degree to which they believe that Israel should take into account external constraints on its freedom of action. Thus large sections of the haredi community, which is considered to be right-wing almost by definition, believe that irrespective of the will of God, one should try to avoid “provoking the gentiles” (which is why most haredim are ambivalent about Jewish settlement activities in Judea and Samaria).
Secular, moderate right-wingers simply accept the fact that Israel cannot live in isolation, and must reconcile itself to global public opinion, but especially that of the US and Europe.
What is worrying is that today the moderate Right is much weaker in Israel than ever in the past. People like President Reuven Rivlin and former defense minister Prof. Misha Arens – both Likudniks with IZL and Herut Movement backgrounds – are viewed by the majority of current Likud members, and certainly the religious Right, as nothing less than traitors. This is because even though the two continue to profess support for the Greater Israel vision, they believe that the only way Israel can continue to legitimately claim the right of sovereignty over the whole of Israel is by fully respecting the rights of Israel’s minorities, and making them feel like equal and welcome citizens of the state.
Though people like Rivlin and Arens share a concern for constitutionality and the rule of law with members of the Center and Left, what distinguishes them from former Likudniks who are now considered part of the Center – such as Tzipi Livni, Dan Meridor and Moshe Kahlon – is the fact that the latter believe that unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, Israel cannot continue to hold on to Judea and Samaria, and that it is unwise to oppose the two-state solution, even though at the moment such a solution seems illusive.
Even though we do not know what the make-up of the Likud list for the elections to the 20th Knesset will look like, I am willing to bet it will not contain any moderate right-wingers, though some moderate right-wingers will continue to vote for the Likud out of inertia.
However, I expect that most moderate right-wingers will opt for Kahlon’s new party, Kulanu, and Yisrael Beytenu, both of which may be considered Center parties with right-wing leanings.
What all this means in terms of the Likud’s election campaign is that its main battle for voters will be against Bayit Yehudi (unless the unlikely happens and the two decide to run on a single list). It will also fight for the votes of moderate right-wingers against Kulanu and Yisrael Beytenu. On a third front it will contend with a divided Shas over the votes of traditional Mizrahi voters.
The Likud will also undoubtedly focus part of its campaign on mocking and bad-mouthing the joint Labor-Hatnua list, even though it is hard to imagine voters who will seriously consider choosing both the Likud and Labor-Hatnua. However, the main worry of the Likud is that several parties the Likud has always considered part of its natural bloc seem willing to consider joining a coalition led by Labor-Hatnua. How serious this threat is to the Likud hegemony only the election results will tell.
The writer is a retired Knesset employee.