- The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right, by Ami Pedahzur
This book presents the fruit of almost two decades of research by the most prominent scholar of the Israeli radical right today. As Cas Mudde notes at the back of the book, Pedahzur is indeed the successor of the late Ehud Sprinzak. The book is, first of all, the most detailed, systematic, and comprehensive work on the subject to date. If one wants to acquire a general knowledge of Israel’s radical right, this is the book to read. If one aims to study a specific aspect of the phenomenon (e.g., Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination or the disengagement from Gaza), a specific grouping (e.g., a political party, an organization, or social movement) or a certain personality, this is the place to locate it, and then place it in its proper context. These details, reinforced by a timeline of major events, an appendix with figures concerning the settlements and the settlers, a table that presents the electoral achievements of the right, and illustrative maps, make this a must-have book for any scholar of Israeli politics. Beyond that, The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right should [End Page 481] also be of interest to comparativists, especially those who deal with the radical political right, because, as the author claims, Israel is the only case within the democratic world, at least, in which the radical right became such a central political force.
Second, without sacrificing contextual factors and an analysis of unique elements (such as the centrality of religion for the Israeli right), the author succeeds in placing the Israeli case within a cross-national comparative perspective. Actually, the book starts with the understanding that the radical right is much more than the idea of Greater Israel. Using analytical tools that were taken from the comparative literature (the three elements of nativism, authoritarianism and populism), the author convincingly demonstrates that central elements of the radical right ideology and perceptions can be found within parties that are identified as moderate (Likud) and as mainly religious (the ultra-Orthodox parties).
This brings us to the third achievement of the book: the framing of the Israeli story as the development of a new radical right that replaces the old radical one. That is, beyond all the details, beyond the explicitly loose theoretical approach that describes the radical right as a network, lies a very parsimonious claim. We read here a fascinating account of how a force that includes energetic activists sends arms to all of the relevant arenas: civil society, parties, parliament, cabinet and the bureaucracy. At the same time, the force that is the far right cannot be identified with a single party or civil association. If one thinks that one must centralize power in order to make a change, Pedahzur proves them wrong; he convincingly demonstrates that decentralization can be an equally successful strategy. This is a very important theoretical claim and the author could have made much more of it. (It is, of course, not too late).
Writing an academic study about Israel, especially about its radical right, is not an easy task. Everything you write might be politically (mis)interpreted. Pedahzur succeeds in maneuvering around this problem and presenting a sound academic account. I believe that it is thanks to the deep knowledge and personal contact he developed over so many years with the subjects of his research, together with his ability to retain a critical view of them, and of Israeli society and the polity as a whole. Indeed, among the nice surprises that this otherwise academic work offers are accounts of the author’s personal experiences. But, or rather in view of his long experience, one cannot ignore the author’s warnings that some of the ideas coming from what has widely been thought of as a fringe group, started by ultraradical Meir Kahane, have made their way into what is considered to be a legitimate discourse and to political parties that are considered to be mainstream.
When I finished...