How conservative American money helped the religious right take over Israel

An ultra-Orthodox Jewish man walking past a Likud party election campaign banner depicting Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Donald Trump in Jerusalem, Sep 11, 2019. (photo: Ammar Awad / Reuters)
The religious right is successfully dominating Israel’s public discourse — with the help of funding and tactics used in the US.

By Rami Hod and Yonatan Levi | Haaretz | Sep 17, 2019

Perhaps what is most remarkable about Israeli politics’ swerve to the right is that it has no parallel, or precedent, in public sentiment. The vast majority of Israelis still support the two-state solution, progressive economic policies and freedom of religion.

Regardless of the election results, the Israeli religious right is on the rise. The public face of its success may belong to Benjamin Netanyahu — a patently secular politician, whose weakness for luxurious nonkosher restaurants is a well-known fact in Israeli politics — but the long-term consequences of its ascent will outlive the career of any specific leader.

A closer look at the political camp Netanyahu has been heading for over a decade — from its key institutions, to its flagship legislation, to its grassroots organizations — reveals that most of the right’s ideas and energies don’t stem from the prime minister’s palatial villa in seaside Caesarea, but rather from a new political elite based in the Jewish settlements of the West Bank. It also indicates just how radically the Israeli right has changed in the past few years.

Gone are the days when even right-wing politicians in Israel would speak about a necessary compromise with the Palestinians: A few years ago, Likud, Netanyahu’s party, endorsed the unilateral annexation of the West Bank as its official position. Gone, too, are the days when the Israeli right would proudly declare itself the champion of the poor: Today, its leading figures espouse a libertarian worldview of the kind that sounds much more at home in a fancy Washington think tank than a socialist-style government building in Jerusalem. And finally, gone is the age when the right would be the ultimate defender of the Supreme Court: Nowadays, its moderate wing calls for an overhaul of the court’s constitutional authority, while its more hot-blooded wing quite literally calls for the court to be razed by a bulldozer.

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