The rightward drift visible in Israel’s latest election results is doubtless attributable to numerous factors including force (or lack of force) of personalities and changing demographics. From a perspective of the last several years, though, a few key influences are apparent. Whether you sympathize with the Israeli population’s perceptions of events or not, here are several of the most important perspectives.
Anxiety about Long-term Survival
Israelis see constantly increasing existential threats. Iran’s advances in missile technology keep in lock step with Iran’s strident rejection of Israel’s right to exist. Iran vigorously upgrades and replenishes the weapons available to its surrogates Hamas and Hezbollah, both perched on Israel’s borders and equally dedicated to Israel’s destruction. Each generation of rockets extends the Iranian reach to a higher percentage of the Israeli population.
It would only take one nuclear strike to devastate Israel’s highly concentrated population. It is not reassuring that Israel has its own atomic weaponry, nor that part of Europe might also feel threatened by Iran’s weaponry. Nor is it any reassurance that an Iranian atomic strike would kill tens of thousands of Muslims along with Jews. Logic does not seem to constrain lethal events in the Middle East. Recall the hundreds and hundreds of thousands who died in the struggle between Iran and Iraq. That carnage had far less justification than the Jihadists have found in their current demonization of Israel
Given this perceived, looming threat to Israel’s existence, it’s not surprising that the Israeli electorate moved in the direction of those in Israeli politics taking the Iranian threat most seriously.
Frustration from Making Concessions without Peace or Security
The formula of land for peace motivated then Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s 2000 offer to Yasir Arafat of a Palestinian state with its capital in East Jerusalem on almost all of pre-1967 Palestinian territory. The Palestinians then spit on the extended hand. In the wake of rejection of that offer, over a thousand Israelis have died – the bulk of them civilians blown to bits in buses and public places.
From the perspective of Israel’s political center, Israel similarly pursued peace in Gaza (and Lebanon) only to see its efforts boomerang into hostilities. Israel unilaterally ousted thousands of settlers and withdrew from Gaza. Hamas promptly utilized that vacuum by violently wrenching control from Fatah (killing hundreds of Fatah activists) and launching thousands of rockets at Israeli population centers. (Don’t buy the Hamas myth that Israel itself provoked the rockets by closing down passages into Gaza; the Hamas bombardments preceded and provoked Israeli manipulation of the crossings). In short, the unilateral Israeli withdrawals (strongly supported by, if not engineered by, the left) have left public skepticism in their wake.
Resentment Against Moral Myopia
After years of ad-hoc responses to the cross-border bombardments, Israel in December 2008 sent military forces into Gaza in an effort to uproot and destroy the Hamas structure responsible for the years of terror directed at Israel’s civilian population. Moral outrage followed in the world press as though the Gaza operation was unprovoked or unfocused on permanently ending the Hamas attacks. Hamas’ pre-war atrocities were ostensibly ignored as were their wartime tactics of using civilian structures and human shields. Accusations of war crimes flowed after Israeli forces, seeking out all sources of rocket attacks, destroyed thousands of civilian-owned structures used and often booby-trapped by Hamas’ soldiers
These international responses over the last 2 months have caused severe moral whiplash to Israelis. The majority of Israelis have been startled and appalled by what they perceive as international indifference or hostility to their acutely felt security needs.
At the same time, the Israeli left showed little appreciation of the justifications for the use of force in Gaza. For example, left-wing Meretz (a party now reduced to 3 seats in the 120 member Knesset) wanted to end hostilities after 3 days – long before Israeli forces had attained their legitimate objectives. Part of the reason why a portion of the Israeli left migrated toward Tzipi Livni was her firm grasp of the reasons for force and the objectives of force in Gaza. (Note that after militarily crushing Hamas in Gaza, Israel is likely to enjoy at least a one and one-half year respite from Hamas’ bombardment, along with an increased chance of cutting the Iranian arms flow to Gaza).
Resentment toward Israeli Arabs’ pan-Arab Sympathies
Arab-Israelis have every right to be politically restive. Their abstract rights to full citizenship have not translated into equal status in the social, economic, and political spheres in Israel. They face plenty of hardship and frustration domestically, and they empathize strongly with suffering of their brethren in Gaza and the West Bank.
All that emotion had, and still has, the potential to propel Arab-Israelis to struggle within the democratic framework that gives every Israeli citizen an equal vote. Based on recent history, though, Arab-Israelis have cast their ballots with rejectionist parties that do not want Israel to survive as a democratic state. These rejectionist parties showed little or no sympathy with the plight of 300,000 Israeli fellow-citizens subjected to bombardment over the course of years. These parties tended to portray the Gaza operation as unprovoked, unrestrained violence. These Arab-Israeli political parties have also recoiled from the idea of national civilian service as though they were being conscripted to spread the bubonic plague rather than promote the national welfare.
Avigdor Lieberman and his Yisrael Beitenu party attracted many thousands of votes by their efforts to associate these separatist party positions with disloyalty to the multi-cultural, democratic state of Israel. At the same time, Arab-Israelis now have a golden opportunity to correct the temporary tilt in Israeli politics simply by exercising their potential political muscle in a positive way. Arab-Israelis can continue their legitimate struggle for full equality in Israel by pursuing mainstream representation to advance that struggle. I know a couple of parties (Labor and Meretz) that could really use that infusion of energy and purpose.
Duration of the Tilt
A multiplicity of factors determine Israel’s political fate. The leanings of Israel’s political center, though, will most immediately depend on whether the potential peacemakers – especially Presidents Obama and Sarkozy – are sufficiently responsive to the reality that Israel cannot make peace with Hamas, Hezbollah, and Iran lurking at Israel’s borders and smacking their collective, bloodthirsty lips
– Norman L. Cantor