Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How Israelis Play Rock-Paper-Scissors

By Tuvia Brodie

If you know the childhood game called, rock-paper-scissors, you know that a rock wins over scissors. When children play this game, there are no disputes over this principle. The rules are immutable; rock beats scissors, scissors beats paper and paper beats rock.
That’s too complicated for Israel. Here, the political version of this game is simpler: Left beats Right.
Is this true? You tell me. Analyze the recent conflicts we’ve seen in Israel between Left and Right. Whether it’s the debate over NGOs receiving foreign money to fund anti-Israel activity within Israel, a debate over a High Court Leftist bias, the uproar over women singing in front of ultra-religious soldiers, the battle over drafting the ultra-religious or women on buses—the conflict always seems to be rock versus scissors, Left versus Right.
Every child knows the outcome. Rock beats scissors; Left beats Right.
Where’s paper? This is Israel. Why do you want paper?
Caroline Glick has recently written about Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood (The Brotherhood’s useful idiots, June 21, 2012, Jerusalem Post), where she argues that the Brotherhood has outmanoeuvred Egyptian secularists in their unfolding battle to control Egypt. In three short paragraphs, she captures not only the difference between the Brotherhood and the secularists in Egypt, but she might also (for us) clarify the relationship between Israel’s Left and Right. The one difference is, in Egypt, it is the religionist Muslim Brotherhood who wins while in Israel, it is the anti-religionist Left that wins. Here’s her argument:
The difference between the Brotherhood and the secularists is a fundamental one.  The Brotherhood has always had a vision of the Egypt it wants to create. It has always used all the tools at its disposal to advance the goal of creating an Islamic state in Egypt.
For their part, the secularists have no ideological unity and so share no common vision of a future Egypt. They just oppose the repression of the military.
Opposing repression is not a political program. It is a political act. It can destroy. It cannot rule.
In Israel, the Left might not have always had a vision of the Israel it wants to create—but it certainly has one today. Its vision is simple: to de-judaize Israel and to create a ‘State of its citizens’ that is devoid of Judaism but apparently neutral to Islam. If Israel is the world’s only Jewish state, the Left wants no Jewish state. Like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Israel’s Left uses all the tools at its disposal, including a compliant—if not culpable—media, to advance their goal of creating a non-Jewish Israel.
For their part, Israel’s Right has no ideological unity even though all on the Right share a desire to protect Israel. Not only do those on the Right share no agreed-upon vision, those who are Religious on the Right are so divided and sub-divided that they seem to offer no unified vision of anything— despite the fact that religious Jews have an understood vision of a future Redemption. Like the Egyptian secularists, all on Israel’s Right just oppose repressive actions of the government, albeit each for his own reasons.
But as Ms Glick suggests regarding the Egyptian secularists, such near-sighted behaviour when sharing the stage with a clear-visioned opponent can be political suicide. Near-sightedness is not an ideology. It’s a protest-tool. It cannot compete against a coherent dream.
When the Left beats its drum to un-Jewish Israel, the Right and the Religious Right have no answer. They fight. They protest. But they offer no competing vision.
By having no unified vision, the Right has no unity. Without unity, it cannot build a compelling case for itself; without a compelling case, it loses the opportunity to accumulate power; and without power, the Right goes nowhere.  
This is where Moshe Feiglin comes in—and why he is important. He has a clear vision. He gives pro-Israel Jews an antidote for Leftist ideology. When the Left attacks the ‘Jewishness’ of Israel, what’s his antidote? Jewish Israel. When the Left promotes the unJewish, Feiglin promotes the Jewish. This may be one reason his influence grows. People understand his message. He knows what he wants.
“When you know what you want,” Ms Glick writes, “you use all the tools at your disposal to achieve your goals. When you don’t know what you want, no matter what tools you hold, you will fail.”  This may be precisely why the Right and the Religious are weak: they fail to tell us what they want. They object. They cry out. But they present no unified voice. Feiglin, however, has a clear voice. He has built a ‘brand’ voters can identify with. This may explain why his base has grown from three per cent of Likud to thirty per cent of Likud while the rest of the Right remains relatively fractured.
Yes, some on Israel’s Right object to Feiglin. Nevertheless, his power grows because he builds a ‘brand’ people recognize.
For Israel’s Right, Feiglin’s thirty per cent of Likud might actually provide a far more powerful voice than a re-energized but small Party called Bayit Yehudi (which has recently been in the news), just as thirty per cent of an elephant will be far more noticeable than 100% of a gerbil.
Religious Nationalists realize they need to unify. But if reports circulating are correct, some Religious Nationalists associated with Bayit Yehudi appear to have developed a battle-plan that seems more battle than plan: let’s seek unity, the plan seems to suggest, by poaching Moshe Feiglin’s member-base in Likud. Such an effort suggests a desire to pull together by pulling apart. It seems a plan closer to Chelm than Israel. What’s missing here is an understanding of political reality: Israeli voters do not tend to choose their modern leaders from small Parties. Like most first-world countries, the tendency here is to prefer the mainstream; and Likud is not only main-stream; it dominates that main stream.
It is the premier ‘Political Brand’ in Israel.
Religious Nationalists in Bayit Yehudi seek power by draining Rightist power from the biggest ‘Brand’ in Israel? In the simplified Israeli game called political rock-scissors, that’s throwing away the rock to choose scissors. If you understand the rules of the game, then you know this plan is not a recipe for success.

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