EducationEssaysLiberal Democracy in Question

The Cultural Basis of the Netanyahu Victory

I received this note the day after the recent elections in Israel. -J.G.

Dear Jeff,

As you know, I am frequently blamed for being “pessimistic.” Indeed I am. I am on record stating that Bibi would win three days before the election. Nevertheless, even I did not expect this MAJOR victory. It is “our” liberal biased view that blinds us from looking coldly at how Israeli culture is moving away from our cherished liberal democratic values. In some respects, and given what is going on in the Middle East, this development is quite congruent with the neighborhood we are in.

Since the late 70s, with two brief exceptions (Rabin’s and Barak’s short terms as PMs), the Israeli political right has ruled the country, usually aided in its coalition governments by the religious, ultra-orthodox nationalistic and conservative parties. While this rule had many cultural influences, two directly affected the recent elections.

One is that Israeli governments have invested billions of Shekels in settlements. The Jewish population in these settlements grew, became very active and politically influential, and has been fighting — quite successfully — to protect and expand its expansionist and essentially conservative interests.

The other cultural influence has been that under powerful, conservative and sometimes orthodox religious Ministers of Education, the politically oriented national educational system turned slowly into supporting increasingly strong national and traditional religious educational values and systems. The politically orthodox and ultra-orthodox branches of Judaism enjoyed state support for their independent educational systems. These long-term investments yielded a very large part of the population that supports national, traditional, religious and expansionist values.

While public rhetoric has always been that Israel is both Jewish and democratic, in recent years the “Jewish” aspect (in its orthodox and ultra-orthodox versions) has become dominant.

Add to this the Sephardi/Ashkenasi rift in which Sephardi Jews tend to support traditional, more right wing political parties, and the frustration from, and fear of, what appears to be a never-ending conflict with Palestinians (remember the bloody Intifadas?), pepper in this concoction with the Iran, and voila, we now see the results.

The electoral magic that “Bibi” supposedly used was based on a crowd sympathetic to national religious themes and harping on primordial hatreds and fears (some real, some imaginary). “Bibi’s” victory was based on deep cultural structures cultivated over a long period, resonating with a significant portion of the population.

The next government will most probably be nationalistic, confrontational, clerical and less tolerant/liberal. You read my book on Theocratic Democracy. This IS the direction to where this country seems to be heading.



Also for you:

Nachman Ben-Yehuda

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