Dear right-wingers: Be careful what you wish for

Those nationalists cheering Moshe Ya'alon's ouster in favor of Avigdor Liberman have a remarkably short memory.

Ari Soffer

OpEds Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer
Ari Soffer

Israel's "most right-wing government ever" is now upon us, or so the chattering classes would have us believe.

From the moment coalition talks with Avigdor Liberman began, we heard the shouts of "fascism," "right-wing extremism," "hardline," and other predictably choice epithets emanating from a wide variety of interested parties, each with its own distinct motives.

The Israeli Left for its part did what the Israeli Left always does; namely, react to being in the opposition by labeling its political opponents "fascist", "racist" and so on.

The further Left you go, the more pronounced and indiscriminate this doctrine becomes, to the point that Israel itself, indeed all of Israeli society, is racist, fascistic, anti-democratic and extremist, as long as it does not vote in a left-wing government. Since losing the last elections, that sour grapes mentality appears to have taken hold of ever larger portions of the Israeli Left. (Though in fairness, when the Left is in government those same terms are often employed against those on the Right who oppose their policies from the opposition as well.)

In the foreign press - from Reuters to AFP, from the BBC to CNN and beyond - where editors engage in a daily competition to find or invent new hyperbolic adjectives to append to "right-wing" Israeli politicians (they already possess an impressive array: "ultranationalist" Avigdor Liberman, "far-right" Naftali Bennett, "right-wing hardliner" Yehuda Glick, and so on), the headlines about Israel's "most right-wing government ever" were all too predictable. The narrative of an Israel veering into fascism has long been gleefully promoted within much of the international media, facts and nuances be damned.

But this line has also been embraced by some on the Right, in its own way, with many MKs from the Jewish Home and Likud literally kvelling over Liberman's inclusion in the government. Now, they mutter excitedly, maybe the discriminatory building freeze on Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria will end, after the "leftist" Ya'alon has been replaced by a "true nationalist" like Liberman.

Some are cautioning against embracing the ultimate Israeli political chameleon - who wants to reconquer Gaza while forming a Palestinian state in Judea and Samaria (and parts of the Galilee, mind you); and who insists on implementing the death penalty only for as long as he sits in the opposition - but they are largely drowned out.

Still, it is hard to deny that Israel's "most right-wing government ever" began on a rather odd note, with both "right-wing" Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and "ultranationalist" Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman repeatedly emphasizing their commitment to a two-state solution.

And then again on Tuesday, in his first meeting as Defense Minister with the IDF's top brass, Liberman trotted out that tired cliche - favored by the more self-righteous brand of two-statists - that "the unity of the people of Israel supercedes the wholeness of the land of Israel."

But it's all just lip service, of course. This, too, is a line shared by the Israeli Left, the international media and even a portion of the Israeli Right. Neither Netanyahu nor Liberman really mean it.

Perhaps that is true. After all, Binyamin Netanyahu has made it abundantly clear that, while he supports the establishment of a demilitarized "Palestinian state" in theory, in practice he believes it is impossible to do so in the current geopolitical climate without endangering Israel's very existence.

But consider for a moment what moves both Netanyahu and Liberman to take such great pains to declare their loyalty to the two-state religion in the first place - even at the cost of offering an opening to the Jewish Home party to attack them from the right (something the religious-nationalist party has already been quick to do): a dangerous blend of political expediency and a susceptibility to international pressure.

Indeed, right-wing leaders have often proven extremely sensitive to international pressure. Historically, it has been Likud prime ministers, from Menachem Begin to Ariel Sharon to Binyamin Netanyahu himself, who have made the most significant concessions (barring Oslo) - from territorial withdrawals, to mass releases of imprisoned terrorist murderers, to the granting of further international legitimacy to the gangsters of Ramallah at the United States' request.

Buffeted by hysterical criticisms and ominous "warnings" from ostensible Israeli allies, most Israeli "hardliners" tend to quickly fall in line, in return for open doors and international praise.

Those nationalist who attacked Ya'alon as a "traitor" or a "leftist" would do well to remember that, while he criticized John Kerry as "messianic" and "obsessive" for attempting to impose a two-state solution, it was the "hardline" Liberman who defended the US Secretary of State's efforts. Liberman has similarly attacked Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett for criticizing Kerry, declaring his support for the latter's efforts to impose a two-state solution - and drawing glowing praise from the US State Department in the process.

And it is reasonable to assume that the (unbelievably hypocritical, not to mention illegitimate) "concern" voiced by the likes of the US State Department has been carefully calibrated to cajole the notoriously politically agile Liberman back into his more "moderate" side - which, in western terms, translates as "compliant."

Maybe it won't work. Maybe Netanyahu and Liberman will stop at paying lip service, and withstand subsequent pressure to make unjust, suicidal concessions to the Palestinian Authority.

I wouldn't put my money on it.