There was a good analysis last week by Dimi Reider of what is going on in the Knesset and why there has been so much far-right legislation being floated. He chalks it up to the stability of Likud’s coalition and to the shifting dynamics inside Likud itself that have given rise to a younger and more hardline generation of legislators. Reider portrays Netanyahu as seeking to keep his coalition together above all else, and so he is willing to tolerate domestic policies that are to his right while killing some of the more blatantly anti-democratic proposals.
I couldn’t help but thinking of the parallels to current trends in the Republican Party while reading Reider’s piece. John Boehner is in a similar situation as Speaker, trying to hold together a diverse GOP while being challenged on his right flank by the self-styled Young Guns trio of Eric Cantor, Kevin McCarthy, and Paul Ryan. Both Bibi and Boehner are establishment figures leading conservative parties that have moved even farther to the right, and one gets the sense that both of them are engaged in a delicate balancing act in which they need to placate their younger and more radical colleagues while trying to keep the ship from steering itself off a cliff. In both instances, the younger legislators are concerned with ideological purity and shifting the center of gravity more than compromising on their principles in the name of legislative accomplishments, and this leads to overreach.
One factor that Reider did not touch upon is the war of attrition between Netanyahu and vice premier Silvan Shalom, who are long time rivals and who do not like each other. The two go out of their way to antagonize each other by scheduling conflicting events and trying to embarrass the other through tactical voting on legislation, and Netanyahu even made sure that Shalom’s face was blocked in the official picture from the Cabinet meeting in which the Gilad Shalit deal was approved. While Shalom often comes across in these confrontations as bumbling and hapless, his resentment of Netanyahu is at the boiling point and Bibi cannot afford to make any of the younger MKs unhappy and risk a genuine leadership challenge within Likud.
The upshot of all this is that Likud is going to keep on shifting to the right, particularly on nationalistic matters in the domestic policy arena, and with Kadima destined to lose more than half of its seats in the next election and Likud poised to gain, there does not appear to be any political reason for Likud to moderate. The wild cards are Yair Lapid’s new party and whether Shelley Yachimovich – the first Labor leader in over a decade to appear both competent and uninterested in using her position to become Defense Minister – can revive Labor’s fortunes, but all that is best left for another post.