- The Rise of the Israeli Right: From Odessa to Hebron by Colin Shindler
In The Rise of the Right, Colin Shindler tells the sweeping story of where Israel’s political right came from, particularly the ideas and priorities that animated it. The book is timely: Shindler is right, as he notes in his acknowledgments, that there is popular renewed interest in the topic (p. xi). It certainly seems like its predominance in Israeli politics is now entrenched, so a deeper understanding of why and how is needed, given the lack of serious understanding of Israel in general in the public sphere and even among much of academia. In addition, tensions in the American-Israeli relationship are driven at least in part by the dominance of the right in Israel.
The book is richly detailed, starting with a fully glossary (including dramatis personae) and a chronology. 18 chapters cover considerable ground. Ze’ev (né Vladimir) Jabotinsky, the founder of Revisionist Zionism, is at the center of most of them: the first two examine his shift from indifference to Jewish matters to Zionism. The rest of the book traces the development of and changes within the political right, often around disputes within the movement. Some of these center on Jabotinsky’s own ideas—for example, on Jewish use of arms and regarding the Arab population of the Mandate. The story ends with a discussion of the premierships of Yitzhak Shamir, Ariel Sharon, and Binyamin Netanyahu, and the transformation of the political right during their tenures.
The book has two main contributions. First, the focus on Jabotinsky is not only appropriate, but necessary given the profound misperceptions of him among critics of the Israeli right. The most common assumption that one hears is some version of Jabotinsky as a paragon of violence and intolerance. But this caricature does not account for his commitment to liberal ideas, diplomacy, and defensive rather than offensive military measures. Shindler ably demonstrates this, not least through a discussion of Jabotinsky’s clashes with other leaders on the right over these issues.
The second contribution comes from a more detailed discussion of the key events and people driving the emergence of the Israeli right. In this way the book fits nicely into the small literature on the radical religious right and secular neo-nationalists, including Ehud Sprinzak’s The Ascendance of Israel’s Radical Right (Oxford University Press, 1991) and Pedahzur’s The Triumph of Israel’s Radical Right (Oxford University Press, 2012), as well as Shindler’s own The Triumph of Military [End Page 495] Zionism: Nationalism and the Origins of the Israeli Right (I.B. Tauris, 2006).
The value added here is the recognition that Israel’s political right has changed in part due to external factors and forces, such as the 1967 Arab-Israeli war and conquest of the West Bank, the decline of Labor Zionism and the general weakening of the Jewish left, and changing demographics. Indeed, as Shindler correctly notes, beginning in the 1980s, “a plethora of Israeli parties which deeply believed in the ongoing Jewish settlement of the West Bank were elected by an electorate which did not, but regarded it as the price to pay for security and protection” (p. 334). The dominance of the right is, then, as much a story of the ongoing Arab-Israeli conflict as it is of other things, and reducing the explanation for it to the settlements (one of the more popular common examples) is incomplete and misleading.
Chronicling this history is important. But at the same time, we need more discussion of the contemporary period. The story of the present-day right begins only on page 338, under the heading “Netanyahu and the Transformation of the Likud.” This era is the least-studied in general and so requires more elucidation than any other.
In particular, a focus on the younger generation of activists on the nationalist right and the religious right is very much needed. This should include a discussion of the Holocaust, the several wars fought...