2018 was, as the Guardian put it, “the year of the autocrat”. No country or continent was safe from populist men concerned with nothing but advancing their own personal interests. In Brazil, far-right President Jair Bolsonaro promises to fight crime, put an end to corruption and in short, give the Brazilian people order. The irony of these promises must be lost on the newly-elected President as Viktor Orbán and Evo Morales from Hungary and the US, respectively, were joined by Benjamin Netanyahu for his inauguration in Rio de Janeiro last week. One more blatantly corrupt than the other, it seems like Bolsonaro’s entourage does not match the assurances he made to the people of Brazil. Most of these officials, however, represent recently elected world leaders, and there is not much we can do about the positions they hold for now, at least until the next elections. The exception is Bibi.
As his plane touched base in Rio de Janeiro last week, Netanyahu proudly announced that Bolsonaro, then President-Elect, promised he would follow the trend Trump set forth in May 2018 and move the Brazilian Embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. As Netanyahu lays the base for a new allegiance, he willingly associates himself with individuals like Bolsonaro and unavoidably becomes a member of his boys’ club. This should come as no surprise from a man who openly befriends Putin, and supports Trump’s every move, as long as the Commander-in-Chief reciprocates the favor.
I pray (as always, using my non-religious Jewishness to my advantage) that after the April elections in Israel, we will have one less autocratic leader to worry about. The opinion polls, combined with recent history (and my previous experience with Israeli elections), however, tell a different story. Despite three full-fledged national corruption scandals and plenty of domestic dissidents, it seems to be a clear way to a victory for Bibi in Israel’s April elections – again. It’s uncannily similar to Trump’s election: when I go to Tel Aviv and speak to my family who lives there, they don’t know anyone who voted for Bibi in the last elections. Yet, he always ends up winning. It seems inevitable, and as long as there is no clear alternative coming from the left, or even the center, it will stay this way. Naturally, instead of giving voters this type of alternative, Israel did just the opposite last week.
On the 29th of December, Naftali Bennet, head of the right-wing Jewish Home party in Israel, announced that he was forming a new party to run in the April elections. Bennet and his Jewish Home colleague Ayelet Shaked started their “New Right” to show that they are done with “moderating” their ideas and giving in to the more “centrist” Likud. They consider the last two right-wing coalitions, which included Jewish Home as a minority partner for Likud, to be too weak. They either cannot see how far right from the center Netanyahu has shifted in the past few years, or they simply think it wasn’t enough. For them, it is never enough. They stand for more nationalism, expansion of the settlements and tougher military, presenting a hard-line alternative to Netanyahu’s Likud Party. Together, Bennet and Shaked hope to appeal to both religious and secular voters, respectively with Bennet’s religious background and Shaked’s popularity amongst the people. In other words, by combining populism with religious fanaticism, Bennett hopes to get just enough votes to influence Bibi’s majority more directly than he ever has.
It seems that with all our strong military, powerful allies, prize-winning technologies and unbeatable defence systems, when it comes to politics, Israel manages to disappoint – again.