There has been a change in the prevailing Israeli culture, which started slowly about ten years ago and really picked up in the last two years. For awhile it was only felt in small parts of Israeli society, but now it has spread out more and more, and it is obvious to anyone following the news for the past year or so.
I am talking about the new assertiveness of the right wing and those centrists that consider themselves pro-Zionist. In the next few posts I will give my overview of this change and how it came to be.
Know Your Place:
When we first came to Israel 20 years ago, we started out in the absorption center in Ranaana. There we interacted with the other English speaking olim (new immigrants) and the teachers of the ulpan (Hebrew language course) and the people taking care of our kids in maon (early day care). For the most part the English speaking olim were right wing or at most centrists – not one considered themselves left wing. The teachers and day care workers, on the other hand, were predominantly left wing. I knew this not because I was personally friendly with them, but by the opinions they expressed on a daily basis in our classes. This expression became more and more intense as the elections neared that brought Yitzchak Rabin to power. I remember the euphoria of the teachers, as they openly expressed their hope for peace with the Arabs. I was filled with foreboding – and envisioned disaster. It sounds overdramatic, but I remember thinking to myself that there would be blood in the streets (and unfortunately I was right). Those of us who were worried and disappointed did not express our opinions though. The prevailing liberal culture was very intimidating, especially for those of us who felt our newcomer status keenly. Although my gut feeling was that the future would be dangerous, my head said “maybe they do know better than I”.
When the Oslo Accords were approved by the Knesset, and the resulting terror attacks started, those of us identifying as right wing began the seemingly never-ending process of going to demonstrations. At first we went together with our kids (then in strollers). When that became too burdensome, we started to switch off – one parent would stay home with the kids and the other would demonstrate. All to no avail – Yitzchak Rabin famously derided our actions and called us “propellers” (in other words, we could just spin around and around but it wouldn’t get us anywhere). To an extent he was right – due to the complexities of the Israeli electoral system, even if a specific Knesset Member voted for something the public hated, he had a very good chance to get elected again, since the voters choose a party and not a specific representative. This system and the feeling that we were not being heard engendered quite a lot of frustration and feelings of hopelessness.
You Are Not Alone:
In addition, as in many countries, the media was dominated by liberal left wingers (as is higher education, and the judicial system, but that is a subject for another day). For a long time there was no right wing alternative. For a number of years Arutz 7 broadcasted by radio from its boat off the coast, but this too was taken away from us and they were closed down. (In order to get a license for a radio or television station in Israel, one needs to agree to a degree of government censorship of the news – which Arutz 7 refused. That is why they broadcasted from a ship off the coast – as technically they were not broadcasting from Israel. This arrangement was fine for years for the left wing Voice of Peace by Abbie Nathan, and the government did not bother them. When Arutz 7 got too successfull, they went after them and forced them to close. Now Arutz 7 has an internet site).
Things began to change in the media very slowly – starting with the establishment of the Makor Rishon newspaper in 1997. Until this time the only right of center newspaper was HaTzofe – which was a product of the NRP (National Religous Party), and was viewed by many as a trumped up Bnei Akiva newsletter (very long intellectual and idealogical articles that appealed only to a select few). Those establishing Makor Rishon wanted to produce a newspaper that would appeal not only to those who identified themselves as “national religous” but to all of the Israeli citizens who considered themselves right wing, which in Israel includes the Charedim (Ultra-Orthodox), most who call themselves “traditional”, and, especially after the immigration of those from the former USSR, many who consider themselves secular. They also wanted to produce a newspaper that would have influence in other spheres in addition to the political one. To that end they produced a newspaper that was “clean” (the other newspapers would have pictures of bikini clad beauties on the back page in order to attract buyers), family oriented (there is a separate magazine for kids), with sections on sports, entertainment, and Jewish culture. Over the years a woman’s magazine was added and is now sold separately.
At first the newspaper was dismissed by the Israeli media, and practically ignored. With time, though, and especially after Makor Rishon started printing a daily in addition to the weekly edition, the Israeli media started to quote them. (The fact that the circulation keeps growing from year to year, and the advertising revenue is healthy, has not hurt its acceptance.)
You cannot underestimate what this publication does for those indentifying as right wing or centrist and pro-Zionist in Israel. We now feel (rightly) that we have a voice, and that it is being respected. We also see that our views are shared by a wide swath of the Israeli public. For too long the left would characterize anyone who was pro-Zionist as a “religious settler” because it was in their best interest to try to cast a stigma. They were able to get away with it because many of the leaders protesting the Oslo Accords were indeed religious men with knitted yarmulkas, and most of the people going out to protest were also identifiable as national religious. This national newspaper, with its appeal to a much larger audience, helps to dispel the myth that we are just a “fringe group” in society.
Next up: the disillusionment after the disengagment from Gush Katif, and bouncing back.