Talking Points

Is Bibi-ism possible without Bibi?

The Netanyahu era appears to be coming to an end in Israel. Yesh Atid Party leader Yair Lapid announced Wednesday that the "change coalition" has support to form a government from an extraordinarily broad array of parties, from the ultranationalist settler-oriented Yamina Party, whose leader, Naftali Bennett, would be the coalition's first prime minister (and who will also be the first religiously-observant Orthodox prime minister in Israel's history), to the left-wing Meretz Party. It would also be the first Israeli government supported by an independent Arab party, the Islamist Ra'am, led by Mansour Abbas.

That breadth, and the extreme ideological diversity that it implies, is one reason to question the coalition's staying power. But it's also an explicit rebuke to Netanyahu's entire mode of politics. Netanyahu is not the most right-wing figure in Israeli politics — Bennett's party is far more extreme in its positions on the territories, for example — nor does he have the most aggressive record in foreign policy. What has always distinguished his career has been the divisiveness of his politics, defining whole segments of the citizenry (Arabs and left-wing Jews) as unpatriotic enemies of the state, and positioning himself as the nation's only true defender. The mere possibility of a left-right coalition, a coalition that includes Jewish settlers and Arab Islamists, gives the lie to the worldview upon which Bibi-ism depends.

What looms next for Netanyahu is his corruption trial. But the more important question for Israel's future is what's next for Bibi-ism, whether his mode of politics can survive him and continues to define the Israeli right. They should hope it doesn't, if only because it has plainly reached the point of not only diminishing but negative returns. Israel has, through four elections, been unable to establish a stable government because the leader of its right-wing majority has lost the support of the majority of the citizenry, yet retained the overwhelming backing of his own faction. That paradox is a natural consequence of Netanyahu's politics of division.

If the Israeli right, and Israel as a whole, wants to escape that trap, it needs leadership that will eschew his kind of politics and seek to represent the entire nation.