Israeli conservatism has collapsed

In the space of two months, the politicians who had been fed for years by the conservative umbilical cord have succeeded in dividing Israel in a way we have never experienced.

Conservatism is a worldview that is wary of significant change when the outcomes are hard to predict. The conservative looks to the future with the understanding that she cannot foresee what is to come, and therefore prefers to approach it with small, calculated, measured steps.

While the progressive navigates the world – confident that he has the answers to the problems that arise, which he then seeks to rectify, sometimes with revolutionary fervor – the conservative conducts herself with humility.

She respects the existing reality and examines its limits with great caution. She cherishes the institutions that have developed within society and takes great care not to disrupt them, if only because they have proven their durability over many years.

Yet now, in the name of that “humility,” the Israeli conservative movement has pumped the ideological wind into the sails of the starkest, most dramatic and far-reaching change in the history of the State of Israel.

Conservatism is not the driving factor of the government-led revolution – it was forged by a coalition of identity groups and interests based on faith (religious Zionists and the ultra-Orthodox), unbridled nationalism (right-wing extremists of various kinds), ethnic identity and even cultural outlook. However, the conservative movement in Israel wholeheartedly supports the revolution, by placing it on a pedestal of conceptual and intellectual depth.

What might have been perceived as a populist struggle between sectors wrangling over interests, or as an attempt by political leaders to extricate themselves from personal predicaments, has been painted by the Israeli conservative movement as a local expression of a heavy-weight, political and social philosophy with a global reach.

Protest against the government. Drone photography: Or Hadar

A long line of right-wing Israeli politicians have been basking in the generous sunshine of global and local conservatism for the last decade. An entire intellectual ecosystem – conferences, research institutes, journals, websites, and visits by sharp-tongued American and European celebrity conservatives – has laid the ground for these politicians’ actions in recent years.

However, when the first opportunity for a “full-on right-wing government” presented itself to those politicians, some of them poster boys of Israeli conservatism, they readily renounced their faith. It is difficult to depict a more absurd spectacle than the one we are living in: conservatives, who are revolutionaries and anti-establishment, uprooters of reality, eager to jump – in the most irresponsible way – into the unknown.

And what a jump: Just two months ago Israel was a growing and flourishing country with the strongest currency in the world, whose defense forces – its formidable and cohesive people’s army – were unmatched in the region; whose leaders were honored guests in government corridors worldwide; whose democratic character was beyond doubt; and whose rule of law was a self-evident fact for the vast majority of its citizens. All of this is about to collapse before our very eyes.

In the space of two months, the politicians who had been fed for years by the conservative umbilical cord have succeeded in dividing Israel in a way we have never experienced – not by the Oslo Accords and not by the disengagement from Gaza.

So divided is the country, that there are calls not to allow elected public officials to represent the state at ceremonies on Remembrance Day for the Fallen of Israel’s Wars and Victims of Terrorism. If those calls were heeded, that would mark an unparalleled societal break from the past.

The magnificent economy we built here, which has weathered numerous global crises in an amazing way, may be facing a crisis in the near future, as predicted by some 300 of the world’s top economists, including the Kohelet Forum’s chief economist. Hi-tech barons around the world are holding their breath at the prospect of the Start-Up Nation performing hara-kiri.

The dispute has seeped into Israel’s holy of holies – the people’s army – where cracks are appearing that no one could have foreseen until the conservative revolution. Refusal to serve – even “gray” refusal, when soldiers don’t show up for reserve duty without explicitly saying they refuse to serve – is deplorable in my view, but it has undeniably become a presence in our lives, with all its immediate problematic implications and catastrophic long-term effects.

The entrance to the offices of the Kohelet Forum was blockaded by protesters. Photo: Ahim Laneshek

Will it be possible to put the IDF refusenik genie back in the bottle? And our prime minister – the super-statesman with impressive achievements to his credit – finds the doors of Washington and the UAE closed to him – persona non grata.

The realization that Israel is drifting away from the democratic world undermines the stability of our greatest strategic asset – the partnership of values with the US. Recently, and concomitantly with the government-led revolution, the support for Israel among Democrats has dropped by 11%, so that for the first time a majority of the American ruling party favors the Palestinians over us.

Diaspora Jewry, for the most part, is tearing its hair out over the unfathomable gap they see between what is happening here and their hopes for us. Zionist brethren, once a real pillar of support for the state, are becoming more and more discouraged by us.

And most importantly – millions of citizens fear that Israel is becoming a dictatorship.

We have experienced a miracle for the past 125 years – starting with the First Zionist Congress, the Jews nurtured a Zionism rooted in democracy. Thanks to this, Zionism is the only national movement to have succeeded in establishing a state (almost) without bloodshed between brothers.

Democracy was the only option for us until two months ago. And now – incredibly – under the auspices of a conservative agenda, Israel could become, at least in the minds of millions of citizens, an actual dictatorship.

The governmental institutions, the checks and balances between them, and rule of law itself could be put to the ultimate test not long from now, if and when the constitutional crisis unfolds. “And his hand shall rise up against the hand of his neighbor” is no longer a distant Biblical story, but a real possibility, just around the corner.

Israelis tend to be conservative. Unlike large swathes of the Western world, Israel celebrates family, community, and tradition. Israeli society ranks high up on the World Happiness Index (fourth place in 2023), among other things, because of these qualities. The Israeli is not an isolated atom rattling around a neutral public space, but rather “part” of a greater whole in which he feels “at home” – part of the ongoing “story” of an ancient people that transmits its legacy to the entire world.

According to its website, the Israeli conservative movement professes that its aim is to “translate the conservative, wise, and sober insights of Israelis into a clear language, and an intellectually coherent teaching translatable into a calculated public policy.”

These are things that speak to the heart, but do they speak to the revolutionary reality that is robbing us all of sleep? Is this jaw-dropping revolution a “calculated public policy?”

My fellow conservatives, if you are sincere in your beliefs, you must immediately denounce the governmental plan. Even if you think that the millions of citizens in opposition (including a quarter of Likud voters) misunderstand the initiative known as the “Levin Reform,” you must respect the fact that this is how your brothers feel.

Even if you believe that the tsunami approaching our shores is to be blamed on the opposition, which has shaken the earth beneath our feet to satisfy political ambitions, it does not matter. Your very conservatism should dampen the self-confidence that justifies this radical change to the Israeli status quo – this headlong “rush to the spoils.”

Israeli conservatives: Oppose the reform – immediately. Come back to your senses.

First published by The Jerusalem Post.