There is no non-extremist right in Israel. It’s impossible for there to be a non-extremist right in Israel. When the occupation is what defines the contours – morality, law, justice, democracy, equality – as well as Israel’s international image, there can’t be a moderate right. There is only an extremist right or a genuine left. There is no middle ground. There is black or white, there is no gray.
Itamar Ben-Gvir of Otzma Yehudit [Jewish Force] speaks to reporters, August 1, 2019.Photo Olivier Fitoussi
Anyone who supports the perpetuation of the occupation is on the far right. No one is further to the right; what’s more extreme than supporting a cruel military dictatorship that for decades has brutalized members of a different nation and stripped them of their rights? What’s more racist than supporting separate systems of rights and values for two peoples? And what’s more ultranationalist than the belief that one of these peoples is superior to the other?
Only someone who rejects all this and is willing to do almost anything to end this situation immediately is a leftist. All the rest are deceiving themselves and others in a sanctimonious effort to feel better.
After 52 years, no sedatives remain. The charade that the occupation is temporary has ended, and with it the possibility of being a liberal while supporting the occupation. There are no enlightened supporters of the occupation. There is no moderate approach to perpetual occupation.
One can be shocked by the Kahanists, disgusted by Otzma Yehudit and desire its defeat, but the truth is, except for their blunt and ugly style, there’s no great difference between them and most of the parties. The Israeli right has wide borders, and it includes all supporters of the occupation, active and passive, enthusiastic or apathetic; in short, the vast majority of Israelis.
On Wednesday, happenstance brought Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz to the West Bank. That morning, the prime minister met with settlers from Efrat and promised them: “No community and no resident will ever be uprooted.”
A little later and a short drive away, his supposed main campaign rival declared: “The Jordan Valley will remain in Israeli control forever.” Spot the differences. There are none. There is no end to the occupation with Efrat and there is no end to the occupation with the Jordan Valley. There is no two-state solution without a withdrawal to the 1967 borders, meaning that around half the inhabitants of this land will receive around one-fifth of it – without a single settlement, not in a valley and not on a mountain.
There is no difference between Gantz, who remains only in the Jordan Valley, and Netanyahu, who remains in Efrat. Neither wants the occupation to end, neither believes in a two-state solution nor, of course, in a single democratic state. For that reason, Gantz isn’t the lesser of two evils, he’s an evil – just as much as Netanyahu is.
True, Gantz’s voters see themselves as more enlightened and human than Netanyahu’s supporters, but they’re not. They’re merely more eloquent. The only differences are on secondary issues.
When Bezalel Smotrich said last week that Jewish and Palestinian offenders aren’t equal before the law – “There is no comparison between a brother and an enemy” – a storm broke out. Heaven forfend, the liberals cried, that’s apartheid.
But Smotrich the “racist” (unlike all the rest) merely described a situation that has existed for decades under governments of the moderate right, the center and the left – under the control of the army, the Shin Bet security service and the justice systems, the nation’s heroes – and opposed by only a small handful of genuine leftists. Smotrich says what most Israelis think, whether they support, are indifferent or are blind to him.
After all, we’re not like those people. And so we’ve created a conceptual model to cover up the ugliness. There are legal settlements and there are illegal outposts; if we only remove the outposts we’ll be righteous. There is Palestinian terror – for no reason, with no context and without any justification, and that’s why we can’t end the occupation now. Maybe some other time. There is the right of return for Palestinian refugees, which is anti-Semitism, so that’s why there’s no partner for peace talks and there’s nothing to talk about.
The far right doesn’t need all these distractions. Everyone else needs them. And that’s the only difference between the two sides – so small that it’s hard to say which is preferable.