Will the ‘New Right’ get it right?

It could well be that Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked have shrewdly diagnosed an inherent lacuna in Israel’s body politic and have identified a significant, yet untapped constituency of secular hawks.

Israeli Education Minister Nafatli Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deliver a statement during a press conference in the Israeli parliament on Nov. 19, 2018. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Israeli Education Minister Nafatli Bennett and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked deliver a statement during a press conference in the Israeli parliament on Nov. 19, 2018. Credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90.
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman
Martin Sherman spent seven years in operational capacities in the Israeli defense establishment. He is the founder of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies (IISS), a member of the Habithonistim-Israel Defense & Security Forum (IDSF) research team, and a participant in the Israel Victory Project.

The road to hell is paved with good intentions. An aphorism thought to have originated with Saint Bernard of Clairvaux (c. 1150)

Israel’s Education Minister Naftali Bennett and its Justice Minister Ayalet Shaked dropped a political bombshell when they announced that they were breaking away from their current party, Jewish Home, which in large measure owed its existence to them,and were setting up a new party, with the (somewhat bland) name of the “New Right.”

The ostensible rationale for the split was their desire to distance themselves from purported “extremist elements” within the Jewish Home and from the “radical rabbis,” who are thought to have dominant influence over the party’s decision-making. Apparently, Bennett and Shaked sensed that public perceptions of Jewish Home made continued association with it an obstacle preventing them from reaching wider segments of the electorate, and hence was an impediment to their ambitions of reaching higher office.

According to this line of reasoning, they needed a new political vehicle with a fresh image, unfettered with trappings of “excess” religiosity and political rejectionism. So the birth of New Right was announced, amid considerable drama in the media and commensurate acrimony from the Jewish Home, which, understandably, felt somewhat betrayed by the unexpected, unilateral split.

It is, of course, still far too early to judge whether the abrupt break-away will yield positive results. However, two things can already be determined. The first is that by their decisive action, Bennett and Shaked have demonstrated that they have the necessary nerve and ruthlessness for taking high-risk decisions—an indispensable requisite for the positions of leadership they seek. The second is that they have identified, at least partially, an important gap in Israel’s political landscape, which almost inexplicably has been left unfilled for decades and if suitably addressed has the potential for considerable political rewards.

By explicitly opening the party ranks to religious and secular sectors of the electorate, while adopting a hardline (“right” of Likud) approach to foreign policy and security affairs, they correctly challenge a widespread misconception. This is when it comes to the Palestinian issue, rejection of political appeasement and territorial withdrawal is largely limited to the more observant portions of the population.

Left-leaning hawks?

This is a common fallacy that flies in the face of both logic and historical fact.

After all, there is a sound secular rationale, backed by historical precedent, underscoring the folly of concessions to despotic adversaries. Moreover, historically, among the most hawkish opponents of territorial withdrawal was the hard-left (i.e., socialist) Ahdut HaAvoda faction of the Labor Party, led by Yitzhak Tabenkin, one of the leading figures of the Kibbutz movement, who vehemently opposed any territorial withdrawal after the 1967 Six-Day War.

Significantly, the Movement for Greater Israel, formed almost immediately after the Six-Day War to oppose any withdrawal from territory taken by the Israel Defense Forces, was founded mainly by prominent individuals with roots in the Labor Party, along with a few “right-wing” revisionists.

Indeed, the founders comprised towering figures in the formative history of the country, together with a slew of leading literary and cultural lights, including Nobel Laureate Nathan Alterman; Israel Prize laureate Aharon Amir; Israel Prize laureate Haim Gouri; Israel Prize laureate Rachel Yanait Ben-ZviYitzhak Tabenkin himself; hero of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising Yitzhak Zuckerman (aka “Antek); another leader of the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, Zivia Lubetkin; former Labor (Mapai) Knesset member Eliezer Livneh, Israel Prize Laureate Moshe Shamir; Israel Prize Laureate Shmuel Yosef (“Shai”) Agnon; Israel Prize laureate Zev Vilnay; legendary Mossad director Isser Harel; former commander of the Israel Air Force Dan Tolkovsky; and IDF Maj. General Avraham Yoffe, who later joined the Likud. Leading figures associated with the “right-wing” revisionists included Israel Prize laureate Uri Zvi Greenberg; Israel Prize laureate Israel Eldad; and former MK Shmuel Katz.

A latent constituency waiting to be tapped?

Accordingly, it could well be that Bennett and Shaked have shrewdly diagnosed an inherent lacuna in Israel’s body politic and have identified a significant, yet untapped constituency of secular hawks.

This is the constituency comprised of those who recognize the folly and futility of persisting with a policy of ceaseless concessions to the Palestinian-Arabs, but find the Likud too equivocating on security and overly accommodative of the ultra-Orthodox demands for religious legislation.

Indeed, there has been no serious attempt to enlist support of what could be a potentially significant voter pool ever since the  meteoric 1992 success of the secular hawkish party, Tsomet, which won an unexpected eight Knesset seats only to disintegrate later with the betrayal of some of its Knesset members, who in exchange for high-level appointments in the Rabin government,  crossed political lines to help pass the Oslo Agreements, including Gonen Segev, recently imprisoned for espionage on behalf of Iran.

Of course, it is still an open question whether the formula devised by Bennett and Shaked—of parity between secular and religious elements—is the right one to win over this constituency. For while I foresee little difficulty on some issues—reducing the tyranny of the judiciary, bolstering the Jewish settlement of Judea-Samaria and enhancing the emphasis on Zionist values and Jewish identity in the education system—other thorny and divisive issues may well arise.

Aiming of the center 

Indeed, it will be intriguing to see what positions the New Right adopts on matters such as public transport on Shabbat; recognition of pluralism in Judaism, opening of convenience stores on Saturday, and matters affecting conversions, homosexuality and so on, and whether it can remain a coherent and cohesive political entity despite the intra-party tensions such issues will inevitably generate.

These domestic issues, and the position the New Right adopts on them, are important in light of Bennett’s stated intention not to target potential voters for “right-wing” parties, but to draw off support for purportedly “centrist” parties, such as Yesh Atid headed by Yair Lapid, and the newly formed Israeli Resilience, headed by former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz.

Strategically, this is the correct direction in which to move, for as Bennett pointed out: “In the past few years, there hasn’t been any attempt to move votes from one bloc to another— only within the [same] bloc.” In upbeat mode, he declared, “the perception has changed. We’re doing the opposite,” predicting: “Votes will move from one bloc to the other for the first time in years … .”

However, the question might well arise as to whether can he really attract potential Yesh Atid voters (or Israeli Resilience ones, whoever they may be) unless he alienates religious voters on matter like public transport on Shabbat and so on. So will he be compelled to offer a toned-down religious agenda to draw votes for his “right-wing” agenda? Or offer a toned-down “right-wing” agenda to attract less hardline observant voters, who might migrate to the “center”?

The litmus test: Policy for ‘Palestine’

But with all due respect to these domestic issue, the real litmus test of the New Right’s strategic value will be in the manner it impacts the discourse on the “Palestinian” problem.

In this regard, there are considerable grounds for concern—both because of views Bennett himself has expressed, and because of those expressed by his party’s new acquisition, acclaimed journalist, Caroline Glick, who will doubtless prove an electoral asset, particularly among the Anglo voters.

Both Bennett and Glick have done an admirable job in pointing out the disastrous defects of the two-state formula. Regrettably however, they have advanced poorly thought-through alternatives to replace it—alternatives that are no less detrimental to the ability of Israel to endure as the nation-state of the Jewish people! Perhaps even more so!

Thus, Bennett has advanced a plan for Israel to extend sovereignty over Area C, which comprises about 60 percent of Judea-Samaria, includes all its Jewish communities and a relatively small (but disputed) number of Arabs. These, according to Bennett, can be offered full Israeli citizenship to avert any recriminations as to ethnic discrimination, without significantly adverse demographic consequences.

At first blush, all this sounds perfectly reasonable until one actually looks at the map. Then a completely different picture emerges (See, for example, Sovereignty? Yes, but Beware of Annexing Area C; and Annexing Area C: An Open Letter to Naftali Bennett)

Even a cursory glance at the map will show that Area C is not a continuous geographic area, but is interspersed with enclaves and corridors that comprise Area A and Area B, which are to be excluded for Israeli sovereignty. Area C itself has a wildly contorted border of nearly 2,000 kilometers, almost impossible to demarcate and to secure. But clearly, if one cannot demarcate and secure one’s sovereign territory, one’s sovereignty means nothing. 

Partial annexation: The Balkanization of Israel

Indeed, if economic conditions in Area C are better than in Areas A and B—as they almost certainly will be—Arabs from Areas A and B will inevitably migrate into Area C—whose frontiers are immensely difficult to demarcate and secure—totally disrupting any benign demographic calculations made at the outset!

Moreover, even if Israel could demarcate and secure the border of Area C, it would still be left with the grave diplomatic challenge of conveying to the world what future it envisages for the vast majority of the Arab residents—encapsulated in the disconnected enclaves and corridors of Areas A and B, which comprise merely 40 percent of the disputed territories. This is clearly a territorial configuration that is impossible to administer—even if some compliant Palestinian-Arab could be found, who agreed to take on the task. Bennett’s suggestion that these dispersed blotches of territory could be connected by a dizzying array of under-and over-passes, which would probably take well over a decade to complete, is so unlikely that it is difficult to take seriously.

Thus, Bennett’s blueprint for annexing 60 percent of the area would, in all probability, involve the same “political pain” as annexing 100 percent. Moreover, it is unlikely to solve any of Israel’s prevailing security and diplomatic problems. Quite the opposite, it is highly likely to exacerbate them. So, in the final analysis, it is an almost certain recipe for the Balkanization of Israel—i.e., dividing the territory up into disconnected autonomous enclaves, which will be recalcitrant, rivalrous and rejectionist, creating an ungovernable reality for Israel.

Full annexation: The Lebanonization of Israel

The New Right’s newly joined member, Caroline Glick has also proposed an alternative paradigm for the failed two-state formula. Regrettably, however, this, too, is likely create realities no less perilous for the Zionist enterprise. (See To My Colleague Caroline, A Caveat; Sovereignty? Yes, but Look Before You Leap; Islamizing Israel—When The Radical Left And Hard Right Concur)

Glick’s proposal, which is based on demographic assessments that the Arab population in Judea-Samaria is significantly lower than official estimates, entails annexing the entire area of Judea-Samaria, together with the Arab population, on the assumption that this will still allow a Jewish majority of 60 to 65 percent.

Even conceding that this may be true, such a measure is likely to herald disaster for the Zionist endeavor and Israel as the nation-state of the Jews. For the initial electoral arithmetic is hardly the defining factor in assessing the prudence of this approach, but rather the devastating effect it will have on the socio-economic fabric of the country and the impact this will have on preserving Israel as a desired/desirable place of residence for Jews inside and outside the country.

It would take considerable, and unsubstantiated, faith to entertain the belief that Israel could sustain itself as a Jewish nation-state with a massive Muslim minority of almost 40 percent as the societal havoc that far smaller proportions have wrought in Europe indicate.

Indeed, this is a clear recipe for the Lebanonization of Israeli society with all the inter-ethnic strife that tore Israel’s unfortunate northern neighbor apart.

Incentivized Arab emigration: A Zionist imperative

It is crucial to understand that, for a Jewish Israel to survive over time, it must contend effectively with two fundamental imperatives: The Geographic and the Demographic.

The former rules out any policy that entails large-scale territorial withdrawal from Judea-Samaria; the latter rules out any annexation that entails including large portions of Judea-Samaria’s Arab residents in Israel’s permanent population, whether or not they are granted citizenship.

Accordingly, the only policy proposal that can address both these imperatives, without the use of considerable “kinetic” force, is to induce large-scale Arab emigration by means of a comprehensive system of material incentives to leave, and disincentives to stay. The details of how this policy is to be implemented are unimportant at this stage. What is important is to grasp is its underlying principle and the unavoidable necessity for it to be adopted.

For while the “left” is willing to imperil Israel geographically to preserve it demographically, it appears that the “right” is willing to imperil it demographically to preserve it geographically.

Accordingly, if the New Right is really to advance “right-wing” causes, it must abandon schemes that inexorably lead to the Lebanonization or the Balkanization of Israeli society—and work towards legitimizing the idea of incentivized emigration of the Arab population of Judea-Samaria to third-party countries, where they can enjoy more prosperous and secure lives.

That should be the New Right’s Zionist imperative.

Martin Sherman is the founder and executive director of the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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