The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

The Likud

The Head Heeb has an excellent overview of Israel's Likud party and a discussion of the current vogue for the term Likudnik, notably to describe some American neo-conservatives. He does a great job of explaining the different factions within the Likud, reminding us that while the tag "Likudniks" is convenient, it does injustice to a complex reality. On the other hand, I certainly believe some of the neo-cons who are particularly attached to Israel (the "Clean Break" group) are closest to this type of Likudnik:

The majority of the Likud right wing, and possibly a plurality of the party, consists of the group known either as "rebels" or "loyalists" depending on the sympathies of the beholder. This faction, of which Uzi Landau is the current leader, is sympathetic to the settler movement and to Greater Israel, opposed to the withdrawal and against Palestinian statehood, but its institutional loyalties are firmly with Likud rather than the far-right opposition. Many of them are old-guard Likudniks who came up through Herut, Betar or other Revisionist organizations. Thus, while the "rebel" MKs often vote against the government on policy issues, they will generally support it in votes of confidence, although there have been occasional mini-rebellions. Nor are they as ideologically monolithic as the Manhigut faction, with some willing to consider limited territorial concessions in return for a proven defensive benefit (albeit opposing a withdrawal under fire) and most opposing such Feiglin proposals as denaturalization of Arab citizens and redemption of the Temple Mount.

But they should also be identified more closely with the neo-liberal tendency within the Likud, notably that of Netanyahu:

The Likud also divides along an economic axis that runs from the neoliberals at one end to the populists at the other - or, in other words, from those who should be in Shinui but aren't secular enough to those who should be in Shas but don't like taking orders from rabbis. The neoliberals, headed by Netanyahu, have the support of the current administration and have been given broad authority to implement economic reforms. It isn't clear who leads the populists, although Eli Aflalo has been one of the party's most prominent dissenters on economic policy and voted against the budget to protest cuts in social spending. Both factions draw their membership from all along the nationalist axis and from all major interest groups; to some extent, the neoliberals are more Ashkenazi while the populists are more Mizrahi, but there are exceptions.

This should be seen as part of the wider shift over the past two decades especially from Israel's roots as a socialist state to a neo-liberal one, a transformation that has been spearheaded by both the left and the right and is deeply interconnected with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in an economic as well as political sense. As Jonathan Nitzan and Shimshon Bichler write in their "The Global Political Economy of Israel":

Seen from this broader perspective, the current discourse in Israel is largely conservative, serving to bolster rather than undermine the existing power structure. This is achieved largely by presenting issues such as war, peace, ethnicity, religion, and formal political institutions, as if they were separate problems in need of separate solutions. These issues, though, are neither separate, nor are they 'problems' -- at least not for everyone. Instead, they are part of a much larger process on which there is practically no debate at all: the progressive emergence of Israel as a capitalist society. The new debates about international relations, identity, and domestic politics appear critical in tone only because the broader context in which they are embedded remains uncontested.

This applies to the US as well as Israel -- the fact that there has been little debate (outside academia) about the rise of neo-liberalism as conventional wisdom -- a conventional wisdom that is most stridently embraced by what we might call "the war party" in American politics. And this goes to the heart of the central conflict in the Middle East.