From the April 2003 issue of World Press Review (VOL. 50, No. 4)

Israel's Elections: Diminishing Returns

The Right Isn't Crazy

by Nir Bar’am, Ma’ariv (centrist), Tel Aviv, Israel, Feb. 9, 2003

The pathological phobia that causes the Israeli left to fear a right-wing government is not purely ideological. It is not based on the different views on the economy or the occupation. Eighty percent of voters who voted Labor and 60 percent who voted for Meretz and endorse Labor in government weren’t worried about the inhumane stance of a right-wing government, nor were they worried about Yasser Arafat being held prisoner in his compound.

The difference between a unity government under Ariel Sharon and a narrow right-wing government headed by him is not significant. Both governments would continue present policies. A right-wing government wouldn’t punish Palestinians any more than a unity government would. Occupation, terrorism, and retaliation to terror wouldn’t stop. The settlements would not be removed, and the separation fence would not be built.

No new government will have a social or economic vision. So why the hell are people on the left—who know very well that the preceding unity government was a terrible mistake—again pushing for such a broad coalition?

The main element in the left-wing policy is an arrogant Western attitude that the right in Israel—comprised of [the ultra-Orthodox] Shas, large parts of Likud, and [the religious Zionist party] Mafdal—isn’t rational. Placing strong doubt in the rationality of those parties is the root cause of the fear that grips the left. That is why they are ready to go to extremes to form a broad coalition—because the alternative would be to leave the nation in the hands of irrational people who are not qualified to lead Israel’s affairs.

In the past, when Labor won elections, most Likud voters opposed the formation of a unity government. Why? Not because they believed that the left was irrational and ill-equipped to manage the state. They couldn’t wait to watch the left fail. It doesn’t matter where the entrepreneurs, industrialists, journalists, and ordinary leftist people, who insist on a unity government, come from. They all oppose a narrow right-wing coalition. It has nothing to do with politics, but rather with disbelief in the right’s rationality.

Every time the right takes over from the left, we witness the same circus. “I don’t have a spare nation,” the late [former Prime Minister] Itzhak Rabin once said in reaction to Likud coming to power. This attitude reflects an apocalyptic outlook and a disastrous detachment from reality.

[Former Likud prime ministers] Itzhak Shamir and Binyamin Netanyahu might have failed—but [former Labor Prime Minister] Ehud Barak failed too. And if we put the blame on one of the three in the ensuing apocalypse, we should put it on Barak. During the Gulf War, the governing narrow right-wing coalition acted responsibly. Now, after all the coalition talks in the last few weeks, the left has come to the conclusion that the right isn’t responsible. That is an insult to democracy. It implies that if the right is crazy, then those who elected it are crazy too.

Voters on the left must understand that this country wasn’t their fathers’ invention (well, maybe a little). The right won’t lead Israel to hell. It will continue the occupation and will expand the social gaps much as previous governments did. There hasn’t been a right-wing Israeli government that was clearly crazy. These are unfounded, paranoid allegations. Even the right is able to face pressure and understand the global balance of power. But if it fails, it will find itself in the opposition—and the left will have its chance to patch things up.
A democracy can’t exist if one political side continually denies the ability and the rightfulness of the other side to take charge of affairs. This constant questioning of the right’s legitimacy to govern is undermining Israel’s democracy.

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