The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right

The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right

The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right

The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right


Two decades ago, the idea that a "radical right" could capture and drive Israeli politics seemed improbable. While it was a boisterous faction and received heavy media coverage, it constituted a fringe element. Yet by 2009, Israel's radical right had not only entrenched itself in mainstream Israeli politics, it was dictating policy in a wide range of areas.

Quite simply, if we want to understand the seemingly intractable situation in Israel today, we need a comprehensive account of the radical right. In The Triumph of Israel's Radical Right, acclaimed scholar Ami Pedahzur provides an invaluable and authoritative analysis of its ascendance to the heights of Israeli politics. After analyzing what, exactly they believe in, he explains how mainstream Israeli policies like "the law of return" have nurtued their nativism and authoritarian tendencies. He then traces the right's steady expansion and mutation, from the early days of the stateto these days. Throughout, he focuses on the radical right's institutional networks and how the movement has been able to expand its influence over policy making process. His closing chapter is grim yet realistic: he contends that a two state solution is no longer viable and that the vision of the radical rabbi Meir Kahane, who was a fringe figure while alive, has triumphed.


On the morning of the May 19, 1999, two days after the national elections, I leafed through the Ha’aretz newspaper, as was my daily habit. When I arrived at the opinion section, I felt a shiver of excitement run down my spine; the editor had published the op-ed that I had sent in a day earlier. My piece was first published under the heading “The Radical Right 1999.” It put forward the argument that the common definition of the radical Right in Israel, which was based on notions of territorial expansionism and the establishment settlements in Greater Israel (Eretz Yisrael HaSheleima), should be extended to include ethnic exclusionism as well as anti-democratic ideas—the same qualities that featured prominently in election propaganda campaigns of the Shas and Yisrael Beiteinu political parties. If we adopted this perspective, I argued, the power of the radical Right in the new parliament should be considered an unprecedented phenomenon in Israel’s history.

This elucidation, which had struck me some time before, I credit to Piero Ignazi, who is among the most important scholars of the radical Right in Europe. In August 1998, I had the privilege of spending two intense weeks in the company of doctoral students and senior scholars at a workshop held by the European Consortium for Political Research, the subject of which was political parties. During the course of the workshop, each of the doctoral students was asked to present his or her research to a leading scholar and receive that scholar’s comments. I admit to being a little weak-kneed as I presented my doctoral work on the institutionalization of the Israeli radical right-wing parties before the entire forum. Much to my relief, the atmosphere at the conference was far more relaxed than that to which I was accustomed in Israel.

My fledgling presentation was received with politeness. I attributed the mild smattering of questions and comments from the audience to a combination of good European manners and the fact that conference attendees longed to wrap up the morning session and make a dash for the dining room. I was delighted to discover that the conference organizers, Ferdinand Müller-Rommel and Kurt Richard Luther, had arranged that I would lunch with Professor Ignazi. On the . . .

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