The cultural transformation in Israeli politics

A "New Majority" emerged in Israel in the 1970s essentially composed of three constituencies that shaped election results, but did not manage to rule.

Dr. Mordechai Nisan, | updated: 09:02

OpEds Dr. Mordechai Nisan speaks to Arutz Sheva
Dr. Mordechai Nisan speaks to Arutz Sheva
Arutz Sheva/Israel National News

Hebrew University (ret.) political scientist Dr. Mordechai Nisan's latest book The Crack-Up of the Israeli Left sheds light on the actions and processes that led to the near disappearance of Left-wing parties in Israeli politics, while not mincing words on how the Left abandoned reality and principle to choose the Arab narrative rather than the Zionist enterprise.

Tracing the history of Israel's political development and also exposing the figures whose self-hatred leads them to malign and work against Israel in media, academia and politics, the book serves as background to the coming elections as political parties - Left, Arab, Left-leaning Centrist, Religious and Rightist -  jockey for positions and platforms.

Arutz Sheva has obtained Dr. Nisan's permission to post several excerpts from this forthright and courageous book. Below is the first.

The cultural transformation in Israeli politics

Demographic and cultural changes have altered the political map in Israel and led to the decline of the hegemonic Ashkenazi/European-origin elite power structure. This is a process that began in the 1970s, produced the Likud victory in 1977, and sustained Likud domination of the political arena in to the second decade of the twenty-first century. In combination with this development was the growing strength of ultra-Orthodox parties who generally participated in coalition governments with Likud and therefore consummated an alliance between the Right and the religious Zionists with Haredim against Labor and the Left. The emergence of apolitical Center as an axis on the political map was an elusive challenge that began in 1977 with the appearance of the Da'sh Party, resurfacing in 2013 with Yair Lapid heading the Yesh Atid party.

A majority ring-wing electorate emerged in Israel to shape the contours of politics for the upcoming generations. In 1983, Daniel Elazar, president of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, referred to "Israel's New Majority." This new majority was essentially composed of three constituencies in shaping public opinion; changing public discourse would take more time:

  • The Sephardi/Oriental/Eastern/North African Jews: leaning clearly in favor of Judaic tradition and identity, religious faith, bound to the Land of Israel and loyal to the state of Israel;
  • The Russian/former Soviet Union Jews: patriotic sentiments, tough on security issues, and liberal in economic matters;
  • The religious Zionist Jews: ideological believers in the historic and prophetic redemptive process, Torah-committed to the Land of Isral, resolute on security-territorial issues.

These voting blocs could assure – as they have for most of the elections in the last few decades – the rule of the Right. This is no conspiratorial scheme, rather an understanding of demographic trends and the alignment of opinion that favors territorial retention and settlement construction. The Israelis are political hardliners, suspicious of the Arabs, and patriotic in the pinch. The leftist media have been trying to brainwash the people for decades, but election results suggest this has been a failed and vain attempt to indoctrinate proud and vibrant Israelis. Three successive election successes by Netanyahu and the Likud, in 2009, 2013, and 2015, illustrated "the power of the people." The democratic game is ultimately played out at the ballot box and not in the television studios.

The decadence of the Left or far-Left, and its dragging Labor into the morass, is really a case-study of privileged class bias gone awry. The wealthy and financially strong middle-class was overwhelmingly Ashkenazi, and it suffered from a malignant arrogance against mainstream lower-class/economically deprived and regionally peripheral/Likud voters. Israeli youth's turn toward nationalist sentiments was also anathema to the Left. Class has always been a n awkward and deceptive factor in national voting patterns; but it is undeniable that the popular rebellion had about it a nuance of class poitics.

The three voting blocs of Sephardim, Russians and the religious, gave birth to sectoral and ethnic parties that otherwise could be seen as fracturing national unity. The Shas party spoke for Sephardi and Yahadut HaTorah for the Ashkenazi haredim, Israel Be-Aliya and Yisrael Beyteinu appealed to [first generation] Russians and former Soviet Union residents; Mafdal (National Religious Party) and then Habayit HaYehudi for the religious. Other small party initiatives failed to pass the electoral threshold and remained out of the Knesset, or entered the Knesset…but fell by the wayside thereafter. The Knesset has always been a fractious and rambunctious debating forum.

But a larger question still loomed on the political horizon. The people had fixed a prominent rightist-nationalist imprint on the fabric of Israeli politics, and a conservative cultural sensibility for tradition and country resonated deeply in the soul of the Jewish nation.


The Right did not contend effectively to remove the leftist/secular elites from positions and institutions of pervasive influence in the social and cultural, judicial, media and academic domains.
As R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. clarified about America, so for Israel: the conservatives do not really like to intensely engage in politics. For them, society should run and roll on its inner rhythm as organic capitalism does with the natural exchange of goods and services, and best if government is small and non-intrusive.

The Right did not contend effectively to remove the leftist/secular elites from positions and institutions of pervasive influence in the social and cultural, judicial, media and academic domains. The Right governed, but the Left continues - for now – to rule. Only time would tell whether democracy would win out in Israel, which also carried within it the subtext of whether Judaism and Zionism would win out. The Right proudly carries the national tradition in its heart and in policy-making and this gave it the advantage to authentically represent the people's yearnings and identity. Modernity, Westernization and secularism had not extracted tradition from the Jewish spirit of the Israelis.  




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