A five-alarm fire in Israel

Image by Dave Hoefler via Unsplash

Israel’s new far-right government is being welcomed the all the joy of a five-alarm fire by half the population and by many of the country’s traditional friends around the world. Its enemies might well rejoice at what looks like a significant step toward self-immolation.

The natural inclination of sober-minded people is to dismiss this type of view as hysteria; anger by a losing side can always be attributed to bad sportsmanship. But this case is different, because Israel is that rare example of a country that faces genuine existential threats (not even counting Iran) and is so deeply divided over how to address them that the issue transcends politics.

To understand the agitation, consider the following:

Forget about talk that this is democracy.

First, a quarter of the people controlled by Israel’s government are the non-citizen West Bank Palestinians (despite the existence of their toothless and basically municipal Palestinian Authority, it is Israel that rules them). Second, many of the voters of Netanyahu’s Likud do not actually want the above-described scenario. And most critically, one-half of the citizens voted with the new opposition.

The reason why liberal Yair Lapid handed over the reins to Netanyahu today is because of an incompetent campaign. Inter alia, his side somehow allowed two critical splits — in the Joint Arab List and in the Israeli left — that caused two parties to just miss the electoral threshold and ended up wasting 6% of the vote.

The horrified half of Israel’s citizens includes the vast majority of Israeli taxpayers and accounts for almost the entirely of the economic and technological miracle that has been successfully and rightly branded as “Start-Up Nation.” If the current dynamic continues, expect mass emigration.

Lunacy and fanaticism have always featured prominently on the Israeli right, but in the past Netanyahu has been able to suppress his allies’ demands by threatening to instead form a majority coalition with centrist parties. In the past, once centrists lost elections they tended to amenable to forming “unity” governments. The current fire-sale results from the fact that this avenue has been closed off to Netanyahu: the center-left now boycotts him as illegitimate, on account of the corruption and his feverish incitement against the legal system (and basically any opposition).

I suspect, as the flames rise higher all around them in coming months, the resolve of these centrists will be severely tested. Netanyahu himself could hardly be more secular and surely understands the disaster over which he is presiding; he is so clever and cynical that he is probably deliberately fanning these flames in order to create pressure on Lapid to offer to step in and take the place of the far right.

That would be an excruciating compromise, and a Faustian Bargain at best. But then again, the house is on fire, and that has the tendency to focus a rational person’s mind.



Journalist and comms professional who led the Associated Press in the Middle East, Africa, Europe & Caribbean. Author of Israel & the Quest for Permanence.

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Dan Perry

Journalist and comms professional who led the Associated Press in the Middle East, Africa, Europe & Caribbean. Author of Israel & the Quest for Permanence.