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  • Netanyahu’s Second ComingA Neoconservative Policy Paradigm?
  • Guy Ben-Porat (bio)

Until recently, neoconservatism seemed remotely related to the Israeli political landscape. Not only it was noted that Israeli politics lack a conservative foundation, but also the combination of a hawkish foreign policy and a free market economy lacked a designated constituency. Indeed, in June 1999, several weeks after the Likud and Netanyahu were defeated in the elections, nearly one thousand people gathered in Jerusalem to hear Irving Kristol, the "godfather" of neoconservatism. Kristol, a former advisor of Nixon and Reagan, who argued that neoconservatism has not yet crystallized in Israel, and advised his audience to follow the American example and create the local neoconservative intellectual tradition lacking in Israel. Less then a decade later, as this paper would argue, local efforts have combined with a changing global and local context to enable neoconservatism to make its mark on the Israeli political discourse and form an agenda based on privatization, liberalization, decimation of the welfare state, and a hard-line foreign policy.

In the United States, neoconservatism has made an impressive comeback into the public discourse less than a decade after its own forefathers wrote its eulogies, and is claimed to underscore the policies of the George W. Bush administration. Recent reports highlight the key positions that "neocons" hold in the Pentagon and the White House and describe "A web of connections [that] binds these people in a formidable alliance."1 Neoconservative proponents highlight the unanticipated "historical accident" that allowed neoconservatism to enjoy "a second life, at a time when its obituaries were still being published."2 Thus, in the wake of September 11, the hawkish foreign policy attitudes associated with neoconservatism gained popular ground and combined with the earlier emphasis on liberal economics to form a new policy paradigm. While neoconservatism is essentially an American phenomenon, its influence, both political and economic, due to the United States' power position and developments [End Page 225] associated with globalization, stretches beyond its original boundaries and is part and parcel of the political debate in other Western democracies. Canadians, for example, debate the impact of neoconservatism and the character of Canadian neoconservatism, despite its lack of a coherent political-ideological structure.3

The purpose of this work is to trace the influence of neoconservatism on policymaking in Israel, to identify its sources of power and speculate whether a new policy paradigm based on its tenets has gained significant ground. To do so, it explores the relations between ideas, politics, and policy. Thus, on the one hand, it describes the new ideological and discursive terrain of the right, and, on the other hand, its political practices and policy orientations. A combination of a changing global context and local sources of support, it would argue, enabled neoconservatism to enter the Israeli political discourse through different channels, most of them related to the former Prime Minister and current Minister of Finance, Benjamin Netanyahu. Specifically, the rise of neoconservatism in Israel is related to the collapse of the peace process in 2000 and the de-linking of two issues previously related: peace making and liberalization. Consequently, a neo-conservative agenda based on liberal economics could gain support from many previously associated with the "left" who were indifferent (or at times supportive) of its hawkish elements. The recent resumption of negotiation with the Palestinians, however, may break apart this consensus and force the neoconservative right to reassess its position. The first part of this work will discuss the role of ideas in politics. The second part will attempt to clarify the neoconservative agenda. The third part will describe the sources of neo-conservatism in Israel and their impact on Israeli politics.

Ideas, Politics, and Policy Paradigms

The study of ideas in political science, international relations, and international political economy has gained momentum in recent years. Ideas supposedly fill the void between individual choices and institutions, and as such can help to explain the continuity of policy but also social change. Studies of ideational variables engage with questions such as how ideas gain political prominence. How do ideas become embedded in organizations, discourses, and identities? And, how do ideas influence political behavior? 4 Research identifies three different...


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