Kadima's Big Bang

A new center.

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Until 1967, Israeli politics was reminiscent of the party line up in many European countries: a socialist Left (Labor) facing a capitalist-nationalist Right (Herut, the predecessor of today's Likud). Israel's conquest of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip in the 1967 Six Day War focused Israeli political discourse on one divisive issue: the future of the Territories. The Left's policy of negotiation and territorial compromise--"Land for Peace" --was rejected by the Likud and the religious Right who believed in ongoing Jewish control of the undivided Land of Israel.

The tension between Left and Right over the future of the Territories intensified until it was violently ruptured in a two-stage development. The outbreak of the first intifada (Palestinian uprising) in 1987 raised doubts about the possibility of continued Israeli control of the West Bank and Gaza. The Palestinians, it emerged, were simply unprepared to accept the Israeli occupation. The political fallout came in the 1992 elections: Labor swept back to power and in 1993 Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin signed the Oslo Accords with the PLO. But the peace process did not end the conflict. Just as the first intifada disrupted the fantasies of the Right, the outbreak of the second Palestinian uprising in September 2000--and its escalation into a campaign of murderous suicide bombings--undermined the Left-wing assumption that compromise would bring peace.

Blast Off

Since Oslo, pundits have been predicting a realignment of the political system. Once the question of the Territories released its choke-hold on political discourse, they reasoned, other vital issues would be able to retake their place in the national debate: poverty, sex-discrimination, multiculturalism, religion and state, the environment, education, and crime. And if the political debate was reshaped, maybe new parties with innovative, relevant ideologies would also emerge. In the 1990s, this certainly seemed to be the case, as evidenced by the dramatic upsurge of previously marginal parties: Shinui (middle class, secular, free-market), Shas (Sephardi/Middle Eastern, ultra-orthodox Jews), Israel B'aliyah (former Soviet immigrants).

Yet at the same time, Israelis' search for personal security since 2000 strengthened the Likud. The Likud's election broadcasts in 2003 featured one simple message from its leader, Ariel Sharon: "If you vote Likud--you're voting for me. When you vote for me--you're voting Likud." The subtext was clear: in the absence of a solution or any clear policies for putting an end to the intifada, vote for someone you can trust to protect you. The Israeli public responded enthusiastically, giving Sharon 40 seats in the Knesset. And Sharon optioned this political capital by carrying out the Disengagement Plan.

A New Center

By 2006, Israeli politics evidenced two parallel tendencies: the shift of ideological debate away from issues of peace and security and towards social, economic, and religious issues, and the emergence of a non-ideological center committed to finding pragmatic solutions to the conflict with the Palestinians.

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Matt Plen

Matt Plen is the Chief Executive of Masorti Judaism in the UK. He has taught and trained educators in diverse institutions in Israel, the UK and the USA and is currently researching his doctorate on Critical Pedagogy and Jewish Ideologies of Social Justice.