Zvi Barel
Haaretz (Opinion)
October 31, 2012 - 12:00am

It took some effort to get worked up about the jubilant fanfare with which the Likud Central Committee welcomed the product of Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman's fusion. One might mistakenly suppose that two noble metals had just blended in the blistering crucible of the right wing. But all that happened is that the Likud absorbed the redundant, nationalist alloy that is Yisrael Beiteinu; redundant because, even without this chemical process, the Likud's ideology would have remained the same.

This is why the apprehension felt by a minority group within the Likud, whose members are concerned that the "movement" might now lose its grandeur and turn into a fascist bloc, is odd. Did the Likud not wholeheartedly adopt Lieberman's slogan, directed at the Israeli-Arab population, "No loyalty, no citizenship"? Were discriminatory laws not legislated under their party's leadership? Did that same party not do everything in its power to stall the peace process? Did it not steer the education system in a nationalist direction? Was the Likud not the party that first described Iran as an existential threat, only to suddenly relabel it a conditional threat that can wait until next summer at least?

There is one explanation for the anxiety expressed by the Likud's band of mumblers, who wring their hands over the merger of the two parties: The Likud is a party in denial. Its members are convinced that an ocean of values stands between their party and Yisrael Beiteinu. They are enlightened, liberal, moderate democrats, while Yisrael Beiteinu is the devil; they represent the Sephardi Jews, while Lieberman stands for the Russians. And now, to their horror, Lieberman turns to them and says, "No loyalty, no Likud." From now on, there will no longer be appointments reserved for the party's princes and kulaks; from now on, we are all Cossacks.

Abominations often present apparently humane justifications, and so it is in this case. Flying high above the circus tent is the flag of democracy. Isn't it good, say those responsible for the recent political concatenation, that we are gradually forming political blocs? They even recommend that the left follow suit and link up as well, so that Israel can pretend to be an enlightened nation. Like the United States and England, we too will have Republicans and Democrats, Conservatives and Laborites.

We certainly like to be complimented. We quiver with pride when we hear that we could be like America or England. But the right's leaders understand the Israeli left well. They know that it positions itself in accordance with the positions taken by the right, and not the other way around: When the right wing veers more to the right, the left inches closer to it. And they also understand the left wing's weakness: Unlike the obedience that characterizes the right's troopers, the left-wing movements - which now also include a "liberal" party - prefer to claw at one another's throats, each certain that it is the source of all light and truth, and each conducting its affairs as if it were an amateur soccer team. Netanyahu and Lieberman know that the Israeli "Labor bloc" is, at present, a rag ball.

The democracy potion that Netanyahu and Lieberman offer the left is made from a devious recipe. Creating an obedient nationalist bloc is a fairly simple trick, but the idea of an obedient and homogenous "liberal bloc" is a contradiction in terms. The claim that this is the way it works in other democratic countries is not accurate. England, for instance, has 17 registered political parties. Similarly, the United States has dozens of parties registered in its 50 states. Each state's citizens have a diverse range of choices, which can reflect more nuanced differences between worldviews and thus express a broader spectrum of opinion, even while politics at the national level is dominated by two ideological blocs. More importantly, elected officials in America owe their political existence to their voters, not to the party.

It would be more fitting to compare Israel to Turkey, where a nationalist-religious party has turned the country into a single-party nation. This is what Netanyahu and Lieberman aspire to when they lay their trap of unity for the left. They want its movements close together; close to the solid right-wing rock. For it is the right that decides the measure of legitimacy - an index that it bases on the parameters of nationalism and fascism.


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