Israel Moves Further To The Right

Israel Moves Further To The Right
Are Afghan Taliban the only rulers bent on establishing Sharia rule in their country? No.

The recent victory of an alliance of right-wing political party with ultra-orthodox and far-right parties led by Benjamin Netanyahu has bagged 64 seats out of total 120 seats. Netanyahu’s Likud Party won 32 seats, ultra-Orthodox parties secured 18 seats, and a far-right alliance won 14 seats.

The victorious coalition partners of Israel will have no women in the government, and one of their coalition partners, the Religious Zionist Party, has an agenda to segregate have Israeli maternity wards segregated on Jewish and Arab lines, impose full Jewish sovereignty all in the country and run it on the laws of the Holy Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Bible. Bezalel Yoel Smotrich, leader of the party, calls himself a homophobe and refuses to shake hands with women for religious reasons.

Don’t these credentials appear to be identical of what the Afghan Taliban are famous for?

If the newly elected leadership of Israel succeeds to implement the religious laws, it will be another government in the world, after Afghanistan, that would be non-inclusive in nature, non-confirmative to democratic principles and oppressive towards minority communities especially Muslims.

The UN demand of inclusivity from the Afghan Taliban may need reconsideration if a well-established democratic country like Israel is to adopt a system similar to Afghan Taliban.

Compared to Afghanistan, Israel is a modern country that has 97.8 percent literacy rate (male 98.7 percent and female 96.8 percent) and its largest minority community is of Muslims – 18 percent of the total population. It’s a highly urbanized society with more than 90 percent of its population living in urban cities. Worldwide population of the Jews is 15 million which is hardly 0.19 percent of the total population of the world but, their contribution in science, technology, and all other fields of knowledge is way above their percentage of the world population. Of the 900 Noble Prizes awarded so far, 234 (more than 20 percent of all Noble Prizes) have been awarded to Jews from different parts of the world. During the last 74 years of its existence, Israeli Jews have been awarded thirteen Noble Prizes -- nearly one Noble Prize in every five years.

Would a country with such a rich literacy rate and highly appreciable socio-economic and scientific achievements, be led and governed by a political leadership that will pursue plans to be guided by religious orthodox leadership? This shift to radical fundamentalism in Israel has sent a shock wave throughout the world and made the left-wing and liberal parties of Israel to take an account of what led to their down fall.

There is no simple answer to this major shift in Israeli politics except a few obvious reasons.
The UN demand of inclusivity from the Afghan Taliban may need reconsideration if a well-established democratic country like Israel is to adopt a system similar to Afghan Taliban.

The Labor Party, a left-wing party with a past history of a dominant political power in Israeli politics, could not win more than four seats. Meretz, another political party with its record of being a champion of the peace movement, was completely wiped out. Yesh Atid, the centrist party, led by the former prime minister, Yair Lapid, who had succeeded in last election by mustering enough support from its leftist allies, won 27 seats this time and despite becoming the second largest party in the parliament, it has no chance to form the government because of the humiliating defeat of its left-wing allies.

The western press is linking this downfall of the left-wing parties to the unresolvable Palestinian issue that has gradually created a ground for the far-right and ultra-orthodox to become more popular and influential in turning the outcome of elections in their favour. A former Labor Party member of parliament, Einat Wilf, summarized this fall of the leftists in these words, “Ever since the Palestinians violently disproved the Israeli left’s assumption that withdrawing from the West Bank and Gaza would bring peace, the left has no compelling message for Israeli voters.”

A demographic change in Israeli society is another important factor that played a determinant role in the recent elections. According to a Pew Survey of 2016, 49 percent of Jewish Israelis in age group of 18 to 49-year favour expulsion of Arabs from Israel while 44 percent disagree (50 percent of Israeli population is between the age groups of 15-54). Within the last six years this trend has further extended its influence in the society and there are reports claiming that more than half of the Jewish Israelis now identify themselves as traditional, religious or Haredi (ultra-Orthodox). Demographers expect these politically conservative populations to increase further as a share of Israel’s population in the future.

By voting in favour of the far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties, the Jewish Israeli population has confirmed this demographic change in political views of the majority population of the country. It’s identical to what India has been going through for some time. The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) with its pro-Hindu policies has been constantly gaining popularity in India while the Congress Party, that led the country to its freedom from British rule and later governed the country for many decades on secular and inclusive policies, has been facing electoral defeats and defections of its party cadres. Like Israel, India has an unresolvable issue of Kashmir with Pakistan that had caused wars between India and Pakistan and the rise of insurgency movement in Kashmir.

India, like Israel, has a large segment of its society that also considers secular policies of the Congress responsible for its failure in resolving the Kashmir issue and they feel that instead of appeasing the Muslim minority they should be treated with strong hands. Following this desire, the BJP, empowered by an overwhelming majority in the 2019 election, went ahead and revoked Article 370 of its constitution that had granted autonomy to India-held Kashmir. Coincidently, the newly elected Israeli leadership also has plans to annex the occupied West Bank and thus end the hope of a Palestinian state.

A trend of majoritarian democracy that had set its feet in India soon after BJP’s ascendance to power is now making inroads into Israeli politics. Would Israel be successful in this endeavour? If it does succeed what impacts will it have on its image and world reputation? Would it like to be compared with countries that don’t match with the successes it has made in science, technology, and governance system? Choices are open and time is ticking fast.

Freelance Journalist and Senior Research Fellow, Center for Research and Security Studies

The author is a freelance journalist and Senior Research Fellow at the Center for Research & Security Studies