Naftali Bennett’s New Party Might Signal a Major Change in Israeli Politics

Jan. 10 2019

The announcement that Israel’s next elections will be held in April has led to a major political shakeup, with the fracturing of existing blocs and the creation of several new parties. Among the most surprising developments is the decision of Naftali Bennett (who is religious) and Ayelet Shaked (who is not) to defect from the party they lead—the Jewish Home (most of whose voters are religious)—to found the New Right party. Shmuel Rosner explores the significance of the move:

The Jewish Home, the party that made Bennett and Shaked, . . . used to be called Mafdal, the acronym [in Hebrew for] “the religious nationalist party.” For seven decades, Israelis belonging to [the religious-Zionist] sector voted in great numbers for this party, which in return focused on their own sectorial interests—more funds for religious schools, more accommodation for hesder yeshivas [that allow for a combination of military service and religious study], more legislation that favors the settlers, [and so forth]. This was a fine arrangement for a group that felt like a vulnerable minority, but it started to feel awkward and misplaced when religious Zionists started to play a much more pronounced role as leaders in all Israeli institutions.

Bennett and Shaked identified the changing times and wanted to turn the Jewish Home into something else—something less sectorial, with more crossover [between religious and secular constituencies]. They failed. The DNA of the Jewish Home is one of sectorial politics, and it proved resistant to dramatic change. [But] Bennett and Shaked have little interest in being the leaders of a sector. They entered politics to reach the top. And once they realized that the Jewish Home party limited their horizon, by insisting on playing the old sectoral politics of religious Zionism, the two leaders jumped ship. . . .

And this is just one example of an old political Israel that is cast aside as times change. Yesh Atid is a party of the secular and the religious, a party of centrism. Kulanu is a party of centrism. Gesher, a new party [founded by the parliamentarian] Orly Levy-Abekasis, is a party of centrism. These parties cast aside the old definitions of right and left, as do [the other parties founded in the past two weeks]. Sure, this is partially because the “left” is no longer a viable currency in Israel’s politics, so everybody must rush to the center. But make no mistake: this is not just tactics.

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More about: Ayelet Shaked, Israel & Zionism, Israeli politics, Naftali Bennett, Religious Zionism

Yasir Arafat’s Decades-Long Alliance with Iran and Its Consequences for Both Palestinians and Iranians

Jan. 18 2019

In 2002—at the height of the second intifada—the Israeli navy intercepted the Karina A, a Lebanese vessel carrying 50 tons of Iranian arms to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). But Yasir Arafat’s relationship with the Islamic Republic goes much farther back, to before its founding in 1979. The terrorist leader had forged ties with followers of Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini that grew especially strong in the years when Lebanon became a base of operations both for Iranian opponents of the shah and for the PLO itself. Tony Badran writes:

The relationship between the Iranian revolutionary factions and the Palestinians began in the late 1960s, in parallel with Arafat’s own rise in preeminence within the PLO. . . . [D]uring the 1970s, Lebanon became the site where the major part of the Iranian revolutionaries’ encounter with the Palestinians played out. . . .

The number of guerrillas that trained in Lebanon with the Palestinians was not particularly large. But the Iranian cadres in Lebanon learned useful skills and procured weapons and equipment, which they smuggled back into Iran. . . . The PLO established close working ties with the Khomeinist faction. . . . [W]orking [especially] closely with the PLO [was] Mohammad Montazeri, son of the senior cleric Ayatollah Hossein-Ali Montazeri and a militant who had a leading role in developing the idea of establishing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) once the revolution was won.

The Lebanese terrorist and PLO operative Anis Naccache, who coordinated with [the] Iranian revolutionaries, . . . takes personal credit for the idea. Naccache claims that Jalaleddin Farsi, [a leading Iranian revolutionary], approached him specifically and asked him directly to draft the plan to form the main pillar of the Khomeinist regime. The formation of the IRGC may well be the greatest single contribution that the PLO made to the Iranian revolution. . . .

Arafat’s fantasy of pulling the strings and balancing the Iranians and the Arabs in a grand anti-Israel camp of regional states never stood much of a chance. However, his wish to see Iran back the Palestinian armed struggle is now a fact, as Tehran has effectively become the principal, if not the only, sponsor of the Palestinian military option though its direct sponsorship of Islamic Jihad and its sustaining strategic and organizational ties with Hamas. By forging ties with the Khomeinists, Arafat unwittingly helped to achieve the very opposite of his dream. Iran has turned [two] Palestinian factions into its proxies, and the PLO has been relegated to the regional sidelines.

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More about: Hamas, History & Ideas, Iran, Lebanon, PLO, Yasir Arafat