In 1981, the Israeli Labor Party held an election rally in Tel Aviv. The left hoped to wrest power back from Prime Minister Menachem Begin: the country’s first conservative leader, who had unthinkably broken the socialist monopoly and opened up free enterprise to the public.
The left pathologically hated Begin, calling him a fascist and a racist monster. They hated his supporters—poor Middle Eastern Jews, Holocaust survivors and traditionally religious Israelis—even more. At a Tel Aviv rally for the elites, TV star Dudu Topaz told the crowd that it was a pleasure to see that there were no Middle Eastern Jews there.
“Here is the beautiful Israel,” he said.
The left went on to lose the election, and the country. And the Beautiful People, the elites who had run it, turned against it. Today they bemoan the rabble, Middle Eastern “Mizrahi” Jews, the “settlers,” and the Haredi Jews who overran their beautiful country. Those who say this tend to no longer make Israel their only home. They have places in the French Riviera and Los Angeles. They return to vacation, throw some money around and complain about the country.
Each time the rabble elect another conservative government, the moaning gets louder. Israel, they insist, is on the verge of fascism and theocracy.
And now it’s happening all over again.
Netanyahu’s new conservative government ousted one of the Beautiful People, former Prime Minister Yair Lapid, a brainless TV star turned politician, who looked like, sounded like and was descended from the hoary old establishment that used to run the country. And, even more unforgivably, the new government offered prominent roles to Bezalel Smotrich, a cheerfully conservative and religiously devout settler with seven children, and Itamar Ben-Gvir, a right wing activist and, worse still to some, the son of Iraqi Jewish immigrants.
Even some pro-Israel types are allying with the left in bitterly bemoaning the “ugly” new government of “fascists,” “theocrats” and “far-right extremists.” Others are writing columns on how to square their support for Israel and even Netanyahu with their disdain for the “far right.”
Where was all this outrage about “extremism” when the previous, leftist government stayed in power with the backing of a Muslim Brotherhood party and cut an illegal deal with Hezbollah? The scolds who are hypersensitive to crudeness on the part of conservative Jewish politicians are very understanding of the parliamentary presence of a movement dedicated to destroying Israel.
These exact same columns have been written for over 50 years, beginning with Begin. And they reveal the same thing that the Dudu Topaz outburst did: There are two Israels. The Beautiful Israel gets its story told. The Ugly Israel of working class people is told to shut up. And when their representatives win an election, the Beautiful People claim they are a threat to democracy.
As the Beautiful People pen their heartfelt columns about how the Ugly People broke their hearts and how they struggle to cope with a government that has Smotrich and Ben-Gvir in it, they might want to pause for a moment and consider why so many Israelis voted for them.
How much violence, crime, fraud, abuse and misery are those ugly working class Israelis supposed to put up with to make the Beautiful People feel good about supporting Israel?
The two Israels are not just political: they’re cultural, and have very different concerns.
Beautiful Israel was blown away by the Abraham Accords. Beautiful Israel scrambled to travel to Dubai and stay in luxury hotels. Ugly Israel is coping with local Arab Muslim violence and trying to figure out how to feed their families in the wake of the pandemic lockdowns.
Beautiful Israel is enchanted by the state of relations with Arab Muslim countries. Ugly Israel is trying to keep its 20-year-old secondhand car from being stolen and taken to Palestinian Authority territory. While Beautiful Israel vacations in the Riviera, Ugly Israel is trying not to get shot on its weekday commute to the few places it can afford to live, only to be accused of being settlers or racists who are disgracing the country for trying to survive.
Ugly Israel is tired of promises and lies. It’s tired of being told to shut up when its children are killed, when its cars and livestock are stolen, and when rocks are thrown at it in the street. It’s tired of cities being overrun by illegal African migrants, by Muslim clans who move in and try to drive out their Jewish neighbors, of the theft, the fraud and the abuses by a corrupt bureaucracy. And Ugly Israel votes.
Modern Israeli elections have become a convoluted con game by the political establishment and the media to fool Ugly Israel into voting for its stalking horses—fake centrist parties or doomed right-wing parties that won’t pass the electoral threshold, or parties that claim to represent tribal interests, Yisrael Beiteinu or Shas, in a narrow political-machine way, while selling out to the left.
Beautiful Israel is a secular western elite trying to ride herd on a nation composed of a traditional majority, much of it of Middle Eastern origin, a growing Orthodox population, Russian immigrants and many others it considers to be ugly savages.
Ugly Israel isn’t thinking geopolitically. Its idea of relations with the Arabs doesn’t involve the UAE or the Saudis, but the growing Arab Muslim street violence inside Israel’s “Green Line.” Its concern about relations with the Biden administration revolve around housing shortages in Jerusalem or Judea and Samaria because of diplomatic pressure from the White House.
Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is the subject of endless media rants and will be the subject of many more, is in the new government because while Beautiful Israel couldn’t be bothered to listen to those people, he showed up waving a gun at Arab Muslims throwing rocks in Jerusalem.
Beautiful Israel condemned him as a “far-right fascist,” an “ultra-nationalist extremist” and a bunch of other media word salads—but that’s why he’s in the government and Lapid is partying. If Beautiful Israel had felt impelled to do something about the everyday Muslim violence, instead of selling off the country’s energy assets to Hezbollah and France’s President Macron while posing for selfies in Dubai, Ben-Gvir wouldn’t have a chance to show what he can do.
Israel now has a conservative government that is, at least on paper, not just in name only.
Prime Minister Netanyahu struck a deal that puts representatives of Ugly Israel in a position to do meaningful things, that will change the lives of people living in settlements and development towns, in parts of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv that are overrun by migrant and Muslim violence.
That may end up meaning nothing. Politicians have spouted right-wing rhetoric before to get elected, only to out themselves as squishes and grifters once they were given real power. It wasn’t all that long ago that the same hysteria aimed at Smotrich and Ben-Gvir was being directed at fake right-wing politicians like Avigdor Liberman and Naftali Bennett. The deal that gave the PLO a terror state inside Israel was made possible by fake members of a right-wing party defecting to the left. Such double crosses are how the left loses elections and still wins.
Ugly Israel has been betrayed many times. And the old establishment still controls the judicial system, which means that every conservative member of the government, beginning with Netanyahu, will face numerous fake investigations generated by the media. An activist leftist judiciary blocks anything that it politically disapproves of and the bureaucracy is a law unto itself.
Smotrich has stated that he wants to limit the power of the Supreme Court, introduce “procedural safeguards for defendants” and provide oversight of “government prosecutors, who too often abuse their wide scope of authority.” All of that means that the system that he proposes to reform will have a dozen cases pending against him by next week. And the media will gleefully report every “leaked” detail while shrieking in every paper that he’s a liar and a thief.
Under these conditions, getting anything done can appear to be nearly impossible.
Beautiful Israel has many ways of keeping Ugly Israel in its place; the media columns on both continents attacking the new government are the least of the weapons at its disposal.
But Ugly Israel has been slowly winning ever since Begin mobilized Holocaust survivors tear-gassed outside the Knesset for protesting the government’s deal with Germany. As well as Middle Eastern Jews with little interest in being the slave labor on the socialist kibbutzim of Beautiful Israel, only to then be ridiculed and mocked in TV skits as backward wife-beaters and superstitious “amulet-kissers” who sell their daughters. Russian Jewish immigrants, and religious Americans living in Jerusalem and Judea and Samaria, have also joined Ugly Israel.
The clamor about the “threats to democracy” posed by Ugly Israel is the voice of an elite establishment that lives in terror of democracy and does everything possible to usurp it.
“I hear the opposition’s eulogies about the end of state, the end of democracy—members of the opposition, to lose an election isn’t the end of democracy, it’s the essence of democracy,” said Netanyahu concisely.
But democracy as a fetish object has little to do with elections. When the media and the elites bemoan threats to democracy, what they really mean is threats to their political power and, more intangibly, to their cultural power. The rise of Ugly Israel is a reminder that Beautiful Israel, with its cafes, its chummy literary awards, its film industry, sneering bottle-blonde anchorwomen and corrupt bureaucracy, is a failed attempt to create a European socialist utopia.
That effort failed a generation ago when the kibbutz fell apart, the economy was liberalized and most of the country stopped paying attention to worthless leftist culture, to Amos Oz, A.B. Yehoshua, and the rest of the canon, and developed a hearty contempt for its ruling class.
The next time you hear some activist or media pundit fulminating against the new Israeli government, what you’re really hearing is the elite telling the rest of the country to shut up and take it for the sake of higher priorities, like relationships with the Biden administration, the United Nations and the European Union, and for the cultural sensitivities of the scribblers of Beautiful Israel, who deplore a beaten man shouting a slur at the thug who threw a rock at his head more than they do the thug.
Israel is becoming representative of all the people who were shoved to the back to make utopia happen. And despite being the majority, they’re still being shoved to the back, sold out and shouted down. Their lives are incomprehensible to a ruling class overjoyed at the thought of vacationing in more Muslim countries, but with no idea what it’s like to balance six kids, maintain a small business that can be shut down at any moment or shaken down by an African gang, dodge bullets and rocks, or to be threatened by the authorities and mocked by the media.
Beautiful Israel doesn’t care about any of this. Just as America’s political establishment doesn’t care about jobs being exported to China, fentanyl trafficking, the collapse of the family, runaway crime or any of the things that actually matter outside a handful of wealthy sub/urban enclaves.
In 2016, Americans made them care. In 2022, Ugly Israel made Beautiful Israel care.
That’s why Beautiful Israel is angry. That’s why you’ll see columns even from people who claim to be conservative and pro-Israel deploring the “ugly” “far-right” government.
They’ve been made to care, but they still don’t give a damn about the people of Israel.
Daniel Greenfield, a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, is an investigative journalist and writer focusing on the radical left and Islamic terrorism.
This is an edited version of an article first published by FrontPage Magazine.
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