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Monday, January 21, 2013

Israel Polls: Right Wing Now Means Ultra Right - Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: Israel needs strong party

Source: Otago Daily Times
By Gwynne Dyer


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was once seen as a right-wing figure. Now he's widely considered a moderate. But it's not Mr Netanyahu who has changed; Israel has.
His governing coalition will certainly win the largest number of seats in the Knesset (Parliament) again in the election tomorrow, but his new government will contain lots of people who make him look very moderate indeed.

Consider, for example, Moshe Feiglin, one of the ultra-right-wingers who recently displaced the remaining moderates in internal elections in Mr Netanyahu's own Likud Party.

''You can't teach a monkey to speak and you can't teach an Arab to be democratic,'' Mr Feiglin told the New York Times recently.

''You're dealing with a culture of thieves and robbers.''

Last October, when Likud merged with its hard-right coalition partner, Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home), it was hailed as Mr Netanyahu's political masterstroke. Polls predicted the new alliance would win 47 seats in the new Knesset, compared with the 42 seats the parties won separately in the last election. But even with Likud-Beitenu's lurch to the right, it's still not right-wing enough for many Israeli voters.

Just in the past month, a new party that is even further to the right, Bayit Yehudi (Jewish Home), has surged in the polls, and now Mr Netanyahu's alliance is predicted to drop to only 34 seats, while the upstart party gets 15. And what is Bayit Yehudi's leader like?

Naftali Bennett is the 40-year-old son of American migrants to Israel, a religiously observant man who made a small fortune in software development before going into politics. And he has no intention of wasting his time ''babbling about Israel and the Palestinians''. His solution to the problem is for Israel to annex about 60% of the West Bank, including almost all the land occupied by Jewish settlers, and to rule the rest forever.

Most of the issues being debated in this Israeli election are domestic questions about the economy and the social welfare net, as in any other country, but there is no doubt that the rise of the right has been fuelled primarily by its hard line on security and territory. What needs to be explained is why so many more Israelis are attracted by those policies nowadays than they were 20 years ago.

The founding generation of Zionists in Israel in 1948 were mostly secular and socialist, most of them voting for the Labour Party, which dominated Israeli politics until the 1980s. But the Israel of 1948 had only two-thirds of a million Jews. Today's Israel has six million Jews, and most of them are neither secular nor socialist in their outlook. Nor, in most cases, are they descended from that founding generation.

The early post-independence waves of immigrants were mostly ''oriental'' Jews, primarily refugees from Arab countries, who were religious and conservative in their outlook. They were numerous, and had much higher birth rates than secular Jews. Then, from the 1980s onwards, came the Russians and other post-Soviet Jews, who had no sympathy at all for socialism. Together, they have transformed Israeli politics.

About 50% of Israeli Jews now identify themselves as traditional, religious or ultra-Orthodox. Only 15% describe themselves as secular. And both the religious and the post-Soviet Jews are mostly on the right politically - in the case of the ultra-Orthodox, 79% of them, compared with only 17% of secular Jews. The new Israel is capitalist, religious and, in many cases, ultra-nationalist.

Together, Mr Netanyahu's Likud-Beitenu alliance and Mr Bennett's Bayit Yehudi will win around 50 seats in this election, which puts them within easy range of a majority in the 120-seat Knesset. Just bring in a couple of the minor parties (some of which are also quite far over on the right), and they will have a strong right-wing coalition. Mr Netanyahu will still be prime minister, but he will have to bring Mr Bennett and other hard-right leaders into the cabinet.

And then life in the Middle East will get even more interesting than it is already.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent London journalist.
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Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu: 
Israel needs strong party

Source: Pakistan Observer

Monday, January 21, 2013 - Jerusalem—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Saturday a country with as many enemies as Israel cannot afford a weak ruling party, after polls ahead of Tuesday’s parliamentary election showed a slide in his support. Two polls on Friday showed Israel’s right-wing and religious bloc winning a slim parliamentary majority of 63 out of 120 seats, with Netanyahu’s Likud-Beitenu group on course to be the largest party in the Knesset, albeit with eroding support. Iran, Lebanese guerrilla group Hezbollah and the Islamist Hamas movement, which controls the Palestinian Gaza Strip, were all following the election, Netanyahu said. “(They) want to know one thing, whether the ruling party has grown or shrunk. They want a weak Israel, a divided one and the most challenged country in the world must not be divided,” Netanyahu told Channel Two’s “Meet The Press”. Netanyahu says dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions will be his priority. Israel and the West suspect that Iran is working to develop nuclear weapons, an allegation Teheran denies. The polls in Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth newspapers both showed Netanyahu’s party winning 32 seats, its poorest predicted showing so far and some 10 seats fewer than Likud and Yisrael Beitenu took in 2009 when they ran separately.—Reuters