Israel’s Far-Right: Its Roots and Rise

What is its future?

Written by Jack Elbaum

What’s happening: The far-right in Israel has more power now than at any time in the country’s history, as does its most popular figure — Itamar Ben-Gvir. What’s the story behind its rise?

Roots: An extreme version of Religious Zionism is the dominant ideology of the Israeli far-right. It holds that God gave the entire land of Israel to the Jews and that, in order to hasten the coming of final redemption, the Jews must settle and have sovereignty over the entire land.

Background: Rabbi Meir Kahane was the first poster boy for political religious Zionism. He believed the Arabs had to be expelled from Israel and the West Bank. He won one seat in the Knesset in 1984. But when he would give speeches, right-leaning parties would leave the room, and his party was eventually made illegal in Israel under its anti-terrorism law.

  • Terrorist sympathizers? Kahane’s party welcomed the news of Baruch Goldstein massacring 29 Palestinian civilians in Hebron, and Ben-Gvir put a picture of him in his living room.

The ascendant right: After the seven-year peace process from 1993 to 2000 that ultimately failed, the second Palestinian intifada (or “uprising”) started. It featured regular Palestinian suicide bombings and shootings. The sense that Israel offered its hand for peace and was repaid with a five-year wave of terrorism led to the rise in right-leaning, security-focused parties. And the terrorism never ended.

Mainstream breakthrough: As a part of this shift to the right, the heirs to Kahane rose again. An alliance of three far-right parties won 14 seats in 2022 — the most they have ever won, but many fewer than the mainstream right and centrist parties — and was welcomed into the coalition government by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Itamar-Ben Gvir was made Minister of National Security, and Bezalel Smotrich was made the Finance Minister.

  • Their platform: The far-right parties appeal to people by promising security, but in a more aggressive way than mainstream parties. They pledge to prevent a Palestinian state, deport “disloyal” citizens, shoot Palestinian rioters, impose the death penalty for terrorists, and give immunity to IDF soldiers for actions they take.

  • Why it matters: The inclusion of Ben-Gvir and Smotrich in the coalition has created tension between Israel and the U.S., as their influence is inimical to the goals of the U.S. in the conflict, such as a two-state-solution and more general de-escalation.

The future: Recent polls show that, if an election were held today, the far-right parties would win 14 seats again — even though Netanyahu’s Likud would lose many seats.