Would Ra’am Be the Right Choice?

Israel’s Right is facing a “damned-if-you-do, damned-if-you-don’t” choice in order to keep Netanyahu in power

Ra'am party chief Mansour Abbas
Photo: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

The Right is caught up now with a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of choice. To form a government, Netanyahu has no choice but to rely on the support of the Islamic party Ra’am. But such a choice would not only require the consent of his potential right-wing allies, it would also contradict his remarks about the possibility of leaning on Ra’am, given as late as March 24, in which the prime minister stated that “I will neither propose nor rely on anything.”

However, given that head of Ra’am, Mansour Abbas, said that his party is considering supporting a right-wing government, it makes sense to assume that Netanyahu has behind the scenes encouraged such a consideration. Netanyahu isn’t the only one who may have to swallow this frog if the right-wing bloc wants to form the next government. And swallowing this frog is indeed difficult, considering that just a week ago former Ra’am lawmaker Ibrahim Sarsour participated in an event “honoring” Rushdi Abu Mokh, a convicted Arab Israeli terrorist sentenced for 35 year in prison for killing IDF soldier Moshe Tamam in 1984.

Some have said that Sarsour does not represent the “new” Ra’am party, but to date Abbas has not condemned his former party colleague, though he himself didn’t participate in the “celebrations.” This event, at which Arab Israelis commemorated the release of a terrorist, was, so to speak, a slap in the face for many right-wingers, who for a moment believed Ra’am had changed its stripes.

Red faced as many are right now, the Right is sharply divided over this issue, pitting people from the same party one against another. An example of this is the little skirmish between popular news show host Shimon Riklin and head of the Religious Zionist party Bezalel Smotrich. Riklin, who voted for Smotrich, reprimanded the latter for his dogged rejection of Ra’am, even if it means a left-wing government or a fifth election.

In a tweet addressed to Smotrich, Riklin wrote: “You (Smotrich) are saying that you want to save us (Israel). Reminding you that so far, we (Likud voters who voted for Smortrich to ensure his party would cross the electoral threshold) have saved you … and as one who just narrowly escaped a certain drowning by holding on to a straw, you have turned in a moment to someone who is not committed to Netanyahu and us … we want a right-wing government. ‘Be not overly righteous’ (Ecc. 7:16).”

Alluding to Ecclesiastes is quite revealing. On the one hand it shows how difficult is the idea of cooperating with a party viewed as supporters of terrorism. On the other it shows what those supporting this idea think of the Left. In an interview he gave to Channel 20, a leading figure of religious Zionism, Rabbi Yitzhak Shilat, referred to the Left as the “hate camp” and labeled it as far more dangerous to Israel than the Islamic Movement that Ra’am represents. In his view, Israel is better off with conservative Muslims than it is with post and even anti-Zionist Jews. Judaism, he argued, has much more in common with Islam than it has with post-modern Jews.

See related: Orthodox Jews Prefer Arabs to Leftists

Riklin and many others share Shilat’s rationale for supporting Ra’am. A left-wing government scares the daylights out of them, and for many good reasons. Nevertheless, repulsive as this idea is, at this time in history, a left-wing government is more dangerous to Israel than Ra’am.

But Smotrich will have none of that. He promised his voters that he would never bleach Ra’am, and he’s sticking to his word, even if it means closing the option on a right-wing government headed by Netanyahu. “I think a government supported by terror supporters who deny Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state may help Netanyahu, but not the right-wing government I have promised to establish. It is a dire mistake the Right must not do,” he wrote on Facebook.

Smotrich was so livid with Riklin that he told him: “If you (Riklin) and the rest of Netanyahu’s supporters (who voted for me) … will continue to insult me … I will ignore you completely.” While it’s not clear what was so upsetting about Riklin’s tweet, this skirmish within the ranks of the same party shows not only how wide the rift between the Left and the Right has become, it also shows that Ra’am may turn out to be the wedge that divides the Right between the pragmatists who are considering difficult compromises to realize their political aspirations, and the idealists who believe that there are certain lines one must not cross, like sitting with your enemy to oust your brother.

Being overly righteous is a not a virtue, and neither is being overly pragmatic. How the Right is going to solve the Ra’am dilemma without breaking its ranks remains to be seen. One option that has been suggested is making certain demands of Ra’am that would appease those who reject any form of cooperation with a party that as of the time of this writing still refuses to recognize Israel as a Jewish state.

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