What happened to Israel's political right?

Opinion: Slowly but surely Israel's right is undergoing changes and attempts to portray its opponents in a negative light in order to get even more influence
Dan Perry|
Why does the Israeli right so hate the "elites"? Because in Israel, as in other countries, the right has mutated from old-school conservatism into a populist movement that strives by definition to pit the masses against those who have achieved success.
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This attaches to a cynical assumption that the successful are always a minority, such that inciting against them is a politically useful gambit.
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Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu
Donald Trump and Benjamin Netanyahu
(Photo: AFP)
When the populist right appeals to our basest instincts and lesser angels with horrible ideas that are deeply embedded in its DNA, almost everyone with education and experience rejects them. This is a feature, not a bug: studies in the U.S. and Europe show that as educational level increases, support for the populist right decreases.
But the highly educated are, per the plan, a minority. So the populist right attacks first expertise and education, and finally the facts themselves. Good rarely comes from this.
A classic recent example is Brexit. Almost all economists and businesspeople in the UK argued that leaving the EU would cause wreak havoc and cause economic devastation.
Leaders of the populist right like Michael Gove of the Leave campaign replied that “the people have had enough of experts." Now Britain is in a terrible economic slump, 60% want a do-over referendum, but the damage is done.
In the U.S., most "experts" want universal health care, restrictions on gun ownership, fairer taxation to moderate toxic inequality, and reasonable climate action.
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עצרת בחירות של נשיא ארה"ב לשעבר דונלד טראמפ ב וואקו טקסס
עצרת בחירות של נשיא ארה"ב לשעבר דונלד טראמפ ב וואקו טקסס
Donald Trump
(Photo: AFP)
The Republican Party opposes all of these things; to confuse the voters, its stalwarts savage the universities (and even the establishment in general) and constantly stoke agitation over race, gender, and other culture war issues.
The cuddly conservatives of old, equivalents of Gideon Sa'ar in Israel, have essentially switched to the Biden camp. That includes George W. Bush, a president and a presidential nominee who today could no longer win a Republican primary.
The same is true in France, where the classic right - which once represented a handful of the truly privileged – has largely joined Emmanuel Macron's center. Marine Le Pen's populist right, whose goal is white supremacy, has a different strategy: contempt for the educated. With this, she claims about 40% of the vote, for now.
This brings us to Israel and its benighted rightist government. The baseline is that the government wants the masses to hear "elites" and understand "the secular" or "Ashkenazim." At a more micro level, it foments a titanic conflict with the successful and the knowledgeable in almost every field.
So who do we find opposing the government’s plot to hand itself unlimited powers? Members of the "elites": academics, lawyers, opinion leaders, heads of the security establishment, senior officials, CEOs, cultural figures, and yes, certain journalists.
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מחאה באיילון, הערב
מחאה באיילון, הערב
Protests in Tel Aviv
(Photo: Adam Kaplan)
Such persons are difficult to sway with gas-lighting slogans and infantile talking points about majority rule. They understand well that the endgame is an omnipotent government that could cancel and game elections and throw opponents into prison. As in Turkey; as in Russia.
They also understand what will be done with such unbridled power in the case of Israel: religious coercion, harassment of LGBT people, muzzling of the media, marginalization of the opposition in all its forms and oppression of Israeli Arabs in the hope that they will no longer vote.
Who can prevent such outrages? Indeed, who might block a law banning yarmulkes in public by a different future government (if real elections are ever held again)? Only the legal system.
The “elites” are the ones who understand that this abomination will cause capital flight and a brain drain. The demand for the shekel will drop, the currency will weaken and with that will come a collapse of the GDP per capita which has already reached $55,000 - higher than that of Germany, France and Great Britain.
That’s what Israelis will be giving up. The finance ministry’s analysts recently tried to explain it to their minister, Bezalel Smotrich; but he, too, has plainly had enough of experts.
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בצלאל סמוטריץ'
בצלאל סמוטריץ'
Bezalel Smotrich
(Photo: Amit Shabi)
As the icing on the cake, the “elites” are the ones who understand with the sharpest clarity that while Benjamin Netanyahu promised to pursue “no tricks and no schticks” to evade his bribery trial, the “judicial reform” is the mother of all tricks and the grand-daddy of all schticks.
Under these circumstances, almost every senior figure in the security, business, technology, academic, and media communities is vehemently opposed to what is in fact an authoritarian coup, and they seem ready to fight. The situation, as the defense minister has said, is a security danger to the country.
The government's ignoring of all this is reckless but not surprising: like the populist right everywhere, it assumes that it will be possible to fool most of the people most of the time, no matter the facts and whatever the consequences.
I’m not sure they’re wrong. They might have overplayed their hand, but they might also succeed. Either way, this is the question at hand, and it is universal: to what extent can people be bamboozled? Since World War II, no nation has provided the world with such laboratory conditions for discovering the answer.
That’s why the world is captivated. That’s why the consequences are global. That’s why it is critical that the plot is foiled and that the conspirators pay a steep political price.
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