The Department of Government
The Department of Government

The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right

Mon, December 3, 2012

It remains truly incredible how such a small piece of land continues dominating world politics, but such is the reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Given its endurance, however, the casual observer might wrongly assume that the politics on either side of the conflict have remained stagnant. In his new book, “The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right,” Ami Pedahzur shows how Israeli politics have been transformed and how the radical Right has come to dominate the state’s policy making apparatus.

Multiple factors are behind the ascendance of the radical Right in Israeli politics. Demographics are a large part of the story, both the threat that an Arab majority poses to Jewish Israelis and the post-Cold War waves of immigration that have transformed Israeli society. Closely entwined with these phenomena is the role played by Israel’s ultra-orthodox religious community. Historically, the ultra-orthodox opposed the Zionist political project, viewing it as against religious doctrine and also a threat to living peacefully in their biblical homeland. Today the ultra-orthodox are Zionist hawks, insisting on ethnic and religious purity within Israel and strongly opposed to accommodating Palestinian political claims. The upshot of these developments is that, once a fringe movement centered in the radical community of settlers in the occupied territories, the radical Right now inhabits the mainstream of Israeli politics, and Pedahzur is pessimistic that Israel is capable of reconciling ethno-nationalist politics with liberal democracy.

Perhaps most fascinating is the capture of the Israeli state. Long unable to rule through parliamentary politics, radical Right forces have come to dominate the Israeli bureaucracy and thereby dictate their ultimate prize: policy outputs. Through a vast political network the radical Right has been able to impose its policy preferences on Israeli society even in the face of strong domestic and international obstacles. While Israel has always been a Jewish state, its founders and leaders have historically been secular in nature and rooted in European political histories. Pedahzur shows how religious fundamentalism is now in the ascendant.

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