Most of Israel’s commentators insist that Tuesday’s Knesset elections—the fifth in fewer than four years—are about the same thing the last four were about: Benjamin Netanyahu. If you vote for Netanyahu’s Likud Party, or for the other three parties in his right-religious bloc, then you are for Netanyahu. If you vote for caretaker Prime Minister Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party, or for any of the members of his left-Arab bloc, then you are against Netanyahu. Nothing else is up for grabs.
The notion that politics in Israel can be boiled down to whether a person loves or hates Netanyahu was never true, at least for voters. Naftali Bennett, Ayelet Shaked, Gideon Sa’ar and their colleagues in the Yamina and New Hope parties who bolted the right and formed the current left-Arab government are rightly viewed as having betrayed their voters. Last May they put their hatred and envy of Netanyahu above their professed ideology and their voters to oust their camp from power and give Israel its first post-Zionist government.
Today, there is no “Never Bibi” right. Bennett isn’t running. Shaked is about to be wiped out at the polls. Sa’ar has joined Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s leftist National Unity Party.
Life in Israel has also moved on from where it stood in May 2021. Back then, it was still credible to call Netanyahu—whose corruption trial was in its opening stages—a crook. But in the intervening 18 months, the prosecution’s case against Netanyahu has completely disintegrated.
So too, the left-Arab bloc has shown it is incompetent to lead the country. Netanyahu gave his successors a country with a fast-growing economy, even as the global economy was sunk in deep recession following the Covid-19 lockdowns. Today, the economy is on a sharp downward trajectory. Inflation is galloping forward with no end in sight. And the middle class is straining to keep itself above water as prices outstrip wages.
Then there is Israel’s international and regional position. When Netanyahu was sent into the political wilderness a year and a half ago, Israel was at the pinnacle of its regional power and global stature.
Today, Israel’s core national interests are threatened to a degree we haven’t seen in years. Israel’s regional and global positions are weaker today than at any point since 2002. Australia’s announcement last week that it is rescinding recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital was an expression of the growing contempt in which the nations of the world now hold Israel.
If “Only Bibi” or “Never Bibi” was the leitmotif of the first four rounds of elections, that issue has been replaced by what is really driving our society apart. It’s not the economy, it’s something far more basic. Israeli society is being torn apart by the issue of national sovereignty.
In foreign affairs, the issue of sovereignty has come up most obviously in relation to the Biden administration. In the weeks before the Lapid-Bennett-Gantz government came to power, Lapid, Bennett and Gantz all promised the Biden administration that their government would not “surprise” the administration in its actions against Iran.
They fulfilled their pledge, and then some. Under their leadership, Israel surrendered its operational independence. They gave the Biden administration a veto over Israel’s efforts to block Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal. The number of reports regarding sabotage of Iran’s nuclear sites fell dramatically as soon as the three men replaced Netanyahu in office.
That U.S. veto over Israel’s foreign and defense prerogatives has since spread to Israel’s dealing with Hezbollah and the Palestinians. Under the maritime deal Lapid signed with Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon, Lapid and Gantz ceded Israel’s territorial waters and sovereign natural resources to the terror state to its north. The terms of the agreement were Hezbollah’s terms. And Israel’s capitulation was dictated by the Biden administration.
As for the Palestinians, reports over the past several weeks revealed that the Biden administration is interfering in Israel’s military operations in Judea and Samaria down to the company and squad level through its embassy in Jerusalem.
This state of affairs, in which a U.S. administration that has made little effort to hide its hostility and the hostility of its policies to the Jewish state has taken effective control over Israel’s foreign policy, is unprecedented. It has devastated Israel’s regional standing, and compelled Israel to adopt policies and positions that undermine its national interests and security.
In domestic affairs, the dispute over the continued sovereignty of the Jewish state is manifested in three main disputes. The first relates to the meaning and nature of democracy. The right-wing bloc supports the view that democracy means that voters elect leaders who reflect their views and values. Elected officials in turn have the duty to lead the nation in a manner that reflects the positions of the voters.
In contrast, the left-Arab bloc maintains that people’s rule is mob rule. Real democracy is “substantive.” “Substantive democracy” is a form of government where unelected, “enlightened” members of the judiciary and the permanent bureaucracy decide Israel’s course. The duty of elected leaders is to obey the bureaucracy.
Gantz’s National Union Party has made “substantive democracy” its rallying call. But all the parties in the left-Arab bloc support it because Israel’s self-selected Supreme Court justices, state prosecutors and IDF generals share their progressive, post-nationalist world view. That post-nationalist view eschews national strength for appeasement; national interests for “being on the right side of history.” The concept of “sovereignty,” like the concept of “victory,” is considered antiquated and dark.
The second main dispute is over Israel’s right to assert its sovereignty over its national boundaries. Israel has both permanent interests and sovereign rights in Judea and Samaria. Israel’s administration of the areas, which like Jerusalem are the cradle of Jewish history and civilization, is legal under international law. What Israel’s eastern border eventually looks like is a matter of dispute, both internationally and domestically. But until that dispute is settled, it is the right and the duty of Israel’s government to administer Judea and Samaria in accordance with Israel’s national interests and security requirements.
Rather than fulfill its duties, which fall almost exclusively on Gantz’s shoulders as defense minister, the government has endangered all of Israel’s interests and security imperatives in its derelict administration of Judea and Samaria. Illegal Palestinian construction has increased 80 percent in Area C, where 500,000 Israeli citizens live and where Israel’s military installations, including the eastern frontier, are located. This land theft imperils the lives of Israel’s citizens and impedes the IDF’s ability to perform its duties.
By facilitating the land grab, Gantz is eliminating the need for a negotiated settlement with the Palestinians. Gantz is establishing a Palestinian state de facto, while endangering Israel’s core strategic interests and the lives of the half million Israelis who live in the areas and the millions more who work and travel through Judea and Samaria. Gantz does this to advance his world view, which abjures Israel’s national rights and interests in favor of defining Israel’s national security interests as whatever the Biden administration says they are.
Within Israel’s sovereign borders, the government’s post-nationalist, post-sovereign view has imperiled Israel’s sovereignty in the Negev and the Galilee. Bennett, Gantz, Lapid and their colleagues agreed to grant effective autonomy to Israel’s restive Bedouin and Muslim minority. To please their Muslim Brotherhood coalition partner Ra’am, Lapid, Bennett and Gantz gave Israel’s Bedouin a green light to continue their wholesale theft of government lands and expand their illegal autonomous zones in the Negev. In Jerusalem, Haifa, Lod, Akko, on the roads in the Negev and the Galilee, Israeli law is barely enforced against Arab lawbreakers, including—indeed especially—those who have engaged in terrorist violence against their Jewish compatriots. Instead, Israeli policemen who have fought irredentist, violent Arab rioters have found themselves under criminal probes and indicted for using force to quell Arab mob violence.
This has gutted the very concept of sovereignty, especially Jewish sovereignty in the Jewish state.
And this brings us to the third dispute over sovereignty, that forms the basis of the rupture between right and left in Israel, as we go to the polls on Tuesday: The dispute over Israel’s Jewish character.
For the past year and a half, the government has joined the progressive, politicized legal fraternity in its longstanding war against Israel’s Jewish national character. The government began to crumble when Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz decided to end the bans on hametz in public hospitals during Passover. The implication of the act was that Jews who keep kosher for Passover wouldn’t be able to follow the strictures of Jewish law if they were hospitalized.
That move convinced Yamina MK Idit Silman to call it quits. But it wasn’t the government’s only anti-Jewish or anti-Zionist effort. Far from it. Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton has ended Bible instruction and pre-modern Jewish history modules in non-religious government schools. Holocaust education was effectively ended when the government announced it was ending trips to the death camps in Poland.
Shasha-Biton also canceled the matriculation exams in history and literature. Since high school curricula are built around the matriculation exams, in practical terms, Shasha-Biton ended all Jewish instruction in the schools. If left intact—as they will be under a left-Arab government, her reforms will doom a generation of Israeli Jews to ignorance and emptiness, rendering them incapable of understanding why their country deserves to be defended.
In place of Jewish and Zionist education, Shasha-Biton has introduced gender studies and other progressive nostrums, beginning in pre-school.
As religious affairs minister, Bennett’s lieutenant, Matan Kahana (now a loyal member of Gantz’s party), enacted reforms to lay waste to the state rabbinical courts, kosher certifications and religious councils.
Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel went after the ultra-Orthodox community’s ability to keep away from smartphones, and Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman directed most of his efforts to demonizing and impoverishing ultra-Orthodox Israelis.
Lapid and Gantz have both expressed their desire to gut Israel’s basic law, which defines Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people. Their position, supported by the post-Zionist Labor and Meretz parties as well as by the Arab parties, is nothing less that a disavowal of the foundations of modern Zionism, and the documents of Israel’s founding dating back to the Balfour Declaration.
In recent years, the gap between right and left in Israel, and worldwide, has become unbridgeable. The left likes to present the disparity as merely a disagreement about the character of rightist political leaders. By burying the substantive, indeed, existential issues that divide the camps, the left has been able to split their rightist opponents. They have managed to seduce a large enough fraction of the right to abandon their political camp and bring the left to power. But their success has only made the dispute more undeniable, and unbridgeable.
It isn’t Netanyahu that divides Israelis from their countrymen. Our domestic debate revolves around one question: Do we believe in our nation state and wish to preserve and defend it, or do we reject our national identity and national rights, and aspire to replace both with a globalist, progressive identity, devoid of Zionism and of Jewish sovereignty?
This is the question we will answer when we go to the polls on Tuesday.
Caroline Glick is an award-winning columnist and author of The Israeli Solution: A One-State Plan for Peace in the Middle East.