When the State of Israel was declared in May of 1948, 35 men and two women signed the Declaration of Independence. The overwhelming majority was made up of activists of various left-wing factions, a few represented the interests of different varieties of religious Jews, and exactly two – Zvi Segal and Ben-Zion Sternberg – were connected with the right-wing Revisionist movement inspired by Ze’ev Jabotinsky. Menachem Begin, the leader of the movement, was not invited.
Animosity between the sides was high. The Left blamed the Revisionists for the unsolved 1933 murder of Mapai labor party leader Haim Arlosoroff, and during 1944-45 turned over members of the Etzel (sometimes called Irgun) and Lehi underground movements to the British, who imprisoned them. Shortly after independence, Ben-Gurion ordered his brand-new IDF to shell the Etzel ship Altalena, with Begin himself on board.
Ben-Gurion’s Mapai Party, the Histadrut labor federation, various pseudo-governmental enterprises, and left-leaning media became the official and unofficial backbone of the state. The arts, media, army, the legal and judicial systems, and more all followed the ideological lead of Mapai. The Prime Ministership was given to one Laborite after another. The right-wing, led by Begin, was marginalized into what appeared to be a permanent opposition status.
But almost immediately, the seeds were planted for an electoral revolution. During the 1950s and 60s, Israel absorbed 650,000 immigrants from Arab countries in North Africa and the Middle East. The establishment looked down on them as “primitive,” and treated them with condescension and discrimination. They ended up in development towns that suffered from a lack of resources, while Labor’s kibbutzim received the lion’s share. But they had no political power. Not yet.
In October 1973, as a result of faulty intelligence and lack of coordination, an unprepared Israel suffered severe casualties from the surprise attack that began the Yom Kippur war. In 1974, with the publication of a report critical of the performance of the IDF brass and (to a lesser extent) the government, PM Golda Meir resigned. Many blamed her for the disaster, perhaps unfairly, due to her lack of military experience. Yitzhak Rabin, also a member of the Labor Party, but a career military man and former Chief of Staff, replaced her.
In 1977, elections were called for May after a crisis with the religious parties. In March, Rabin was hit with a one-two punch. He met with US President Jimmy Carter, and returned home to announce that the US agreed with his concept of “defensible borders”; but shortly after their meeting, Carter called for a Palestinian “homeland” and said that Israel would need to return almost completely to pre-1967 lines. If that wasn’t enough, it was revealed that Rabin and his wife had bank accounts in the US (then illegal) containing $10,000. Rabin resigned as leader of the Labor Party and as candidate for Prime Minister.
At this point the chickens that had been fluttering as a result of the ill-treatment of Mizrachi immigrants, the Yom Kippur War debacle, the worsening relations with the US, and the perceived corruption of the Labor Party and its affiliates, finally came home to roost. Menachem Begin’s Likud party won 43 seats in the Knesset – a landslide by Israeli standards – and the period of one-party rule in Israel was over.
But the Israeli Left was not politically dead yet. In 1992, Rabin again became PM and presided over – perhaps “was dragged kicking and screaming to” would be better – the signing of the Oslo accords with the PLO. Almost immediately it became evident to anyone that wasn’t blinded by ideological considerations that this was a serious blunder, as terrorism spiked and final status negotiations went nowhere. After Rabin’s assassination in 1995, Shimon Peres was acting PM for seven months until he was defeated by Benjamin Netanyahu, an outcome that may have been related to the growing number of terrorist attacks, which many blamed on Oslo.
In July 1999, Ehud Barak beat Netanyahu handily. But the aftermath of his eight-month tenure would mark the beginning of the end of the Israeli Left. The abortive Camp David talks between Israel and the PLO, mediated by a frustrated Bill Clinton, ended when Arafat, offered a sovereign state and more concessions overall than ever before, walked out and refused to make a deal. Shortly thereafter he unleashed the Second Intifada, a campaign of terrorism that left more than 1,000 Israelis and considerably more Palestinians dead. It took Arik Sharon and an extensive military campaign (“Operation Defensive Shield”) in Judea and Samaria to end it by 2002.
In 2005, though, Sharon – under pressure from the US and threatened at home with criminal indictments – withdrew all Israeli military and civilian presence from the Gaza Strip. Shortly thereafter, Hamas took over from the Palestinian Authority and turned the Strip into a base for terror attacks against Israel, including launching thousands of increasingly sophisticated rockets at Israeli communities.
That was pretty much the end of the idea that concessions to the Palestinian Arabs could bring peace, for anyone except the extreme Left (although today they talk about “separation” or “realignment” instead of “peace”). Foreign pressure on Israel continues today, but the great majority of Israelis no longer believes in the possibility of a meaningful peace agreement – or trusts the Left to lead the country.
Since then, Israeli voters have moved farther and farther to the right, helped along by Palestinian Arab terrorism. The latest polls show the Likud ahead, with the center-left Yesh Atid party second, and Labor (now called the Zionist Union) a weak third, with only one more seat than the Arab Joint List. Overall, the combined strength of the “right-wing” parties is well over a Knesset majority, while the Left – even if it were to make a coalition with the anti-Zionist Arab parties, something that has never happened – isn’t close. Unless something unexpected happens, the next government will also be a coalition of the Right.
But although the Left is weak electorally, it still dominates what Americans like to call the “deep state.” The media, arts and letters, academy, Foreign Ministry, legal establishment and courts, and even the top IDF and security brass lean Left. In addition there are also a surprisingly large number of non-governmental organizations, funded by foreign interests, particularly European governments, which overwhelmingly push the projects and interests of the Left. Together they work to keep Israel from following the path that reflects the views of the majority of Israelis.
Today many of the elite are “post-Zionists,” citizens of the world. They are embarrassed by Zionist patriotism, which they associate with Mizrachim, whose distrust of Arabs they attribute to racism. How else to explain why they oppose the Nation-State Law which does nothing more than express the idea that the Jewish people have a collective right of self-determination? They don’t oppose it for Palestinian Arabs, why should they for Jews?
It’s ironic that this elite should wave the banner of democracy and equality as they try to maintain their undemocratic, minority rule. It’s ironic that they accuse the Right of racism, while their own prejudice against Mizrachi Jews is visible for all to see.
But more than 40 years after Begin’s electoral revolution, the popular will is beginning to express itself in the realm of the deep state as well as at the ballot box. The government, in the form of Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, and the Knesset, are beginning to reassert themselves against the Supreme Court, which has often acted in very unpopular ways – dare I say undemocratically? Changes are being considered in the way the justices of the Court are selected, as well as the possibility of some kind of supermajority of the Knesset being able to override it. Some steps have been taken to rein in the NGOs, and as their subversive activities are becoming more widely known both here and abroad (thanks to the efforts of the NGO Monitor organization), it becomes more likely that their money supply will be dried up.
More of the IDF’s young officers today are religious, Mizrachi, or right wing. Back in the 1980’s, I remember being told by an officer that he was the single officer in his entire battalion that was not a kibbutznik. Those days are over, and surely the top ranks will ultimately reflect the change.
The arts, media, and academy are still almost monolithically left-leaning. But the elite’s increasingly shrill complaints about “undemocratic” actions of the government indicate that they feel their position threatened. It’s enjoyable to see how irritated they are by Minister of Culture and Sport, Miri Regev, who has acted to limit government funding for some of the more egregiously anti-state “artists,” whose ideas of art have included placing an Israeli flag in the artist’s anus or defecating on one. And she has even demanded that state-funded radio broadcasts include Mizrachi music!
More and more it is becoming clear that the “deep state” in Israel is frantically struggling to get its privilege back. The old elite that felt that it owned the country and had a right to run things the way it pleased – and almost wrecked it in 1973, 1993 and 2000 – doesn’t want to give up. It still believes that it knows what a Jewish state should be, better than those “primitive” Mizrachim, Russians, and Ethiopians who today make up significantly more than half the Jewish population.
But its day is over. As Bob Dylan recognized some years ago, privilege isn’t forever:
The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is
And the first one now
Will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’.