The Israeli right’s secret strategy to promote ‘Greater Israel’

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“I think I will always want to stay behind the scenes. I think that’s where I have the greatest influence. When everyone else is busily thinking about what to say on stage, I’m busily building the stage, [deciding] who actually listens to you. After they start listening, then we can talk about what we’ll say.”

– Moshe Klughaft, in an interview to Israel’s Channel 7 television.

Introducing Moshe Klughaft: Forbes magazine has crowned him the second most influential strategic consultant in Israel, and one of the 300 most influential young adults. He is the man behind the campaigns against the New Israel Fund, both the one by Im Tirzu and the Arab Gas campaign. Obviously, all links between the two campaigns have been denied. Later on we’ll see just why such denial is one of the cornerstones of the system.

Klughaft was also the behind-the-scenes leader of the reserve soldiers’ struggle after the second Lebanon war, a struggle which is already known to have been hiding a separate agenda: preventing the progress of the Gaza disengagement program. Front and center to this effort was Ronen Shoval. After this struggle Shoval, and his number two, Erez Tadmor, took part in an Institute for Zionist Strategy (IZS) young leadership program run by Israel Harel. Last week both organizations (Im Tirzu and the IZS) attacked the academic world, but denied any links between the parent organization and the subsidiary one, claiming that there was merely “a certain degree of ideological congruence” between them. After completing the training program Shoval founded Im Tirzu and Moshe Klughaft became his strategic consultant.

Klughaft is a man of many talents and schemes, but it seems that the thing that most concerns him is how to convey the right wing, religious message to secular people in their own language. Here is a quote, straight from the horse’s mouth:

For religious Zionism and the right, in general, even to penetrate the public, they must move into the colorful, secular rhetoric of the playing field they are in. What you think and how you see the world is nice, but when you get to this specific playing field of politics, of public action, you have to play by the rules that suit the place you are in.

In the two years following the disengagement, which is when planning started for the coordinated attack against everything that bears even the faintest scent of democracy, this point became critical. We are beginning to feel the results on this campaign only now. The leaders of the right wing religious public, the public which sees itself following Rabbi Kook as the ‘vanguard’ and the secular public as the ‘troops’, looked back and saw that the troops were no longer with them. In demonstrations against disengagement, almost all demonstrators wore yarmulkes, which is a hallmark of identification with the religious right.

This led to a strengthening of the separatist, ultra-orthodox wing, which has stopped seeing the Zionist state as “the beginning of redemption” and instead preaches right wing post-Zionism. According to this belief, secular Zionism has finished its job and it is now time for a “faith-based revolution”. The more traditional right wing, represented in the “Yesha council” settler leadership, which believes that secular people have a role in the divine plan as “the ass on which the Messiah shall ride upon” understood that the new trend distances secular people from the right wing. If it were to continue, the right wing would stop leading the country and become a marginal faction, just another one of many religious factions. Israel Harel along with his secular disciple Ronen Shoval have both stated that the rise of the ultra-orthodox nationalist post-Zionism is what called them to action.

It is important to understand how the religious right reads reality. Most of the Israeli public leans to the right, but it is a pragmatic right. In other words, it is a right which could, following various real-world constraints, declare its support for two states for two nations, freeze construction of the settlements, et cetera. In contrast, as far as the religious right is concerned, it is not some constraint of reality that leads to this but rather “a weakness of resolve” on the one hand and subversive elements of impurity that have lodged themselves in powerful focus points: civil society organizations, the academic world, the media, and the courts, on the other hand.

They believe the Jewish nation, which Rabbi Kook portrays as a direct delegation of divine presence onto the world, was contaminated by that riffraff and exchanged Messianic zeal with a passion for the comforts of secular life. They are of the opinion that when the Nation of Israel is committed to their vision the constraints of reality will have no meaning. The leaders of this group came to the understanding that in order to salvage the religious right, secular people must be recruited, ones who are not interested in messianic theology but self-identify as Zionists and are open to the idea that the problems of Israel are not due to stupid policy but rather, to internal subversiveness.

How do you do it? Like this: “You have to make this arena into an exciting one, you just have to. You have to bring in people so that some will say one thing and some will say another. You have to have it be exciting, colorful, to get people to talk about you, to evoke arguments, to have factions leaning this way and that,” said Moshe Klughaft. He has long since developed a theory of “in disunion there is strength." According to Klughaft, decisions like the Gaza disengagement were made possible because secular people supported parties like Shinui and the Retired Citizens Party, who did not declare a policy in matters of state, and these parties won votes due to other issues, but when it came down to brass tacks, they voted for what he saw as a left-wing policy. The religious right must deploy niche organizations and parties which are attractive to a broad secular public which would, at the moment of truth, vote for the Greater Eretz Yisrael. Pay attention to this: “Do you want to preserve Eretz Yisrael? Wipe it off your map! If it is important, shut up and don’t talk about it.”

That is why the Institute of Zionist Strategy, who established the Yesha Council, and its subsidiary, Im Tirzu, whose opinions on this matter are also well known, consistently avoid taking a stand on the matter of Greater Eretz Yisrael and object so vociferously when anyone tries to mark them as “right wing” organizations. No, they deal in “Zionist consciousness”, in strengthening the flagging national spirit, and in battling that very same riffraff (which would translate as “post Zionists”, when spoken in secular vernacular) which contaminates them: mainly democratic organizations, the academic world, the media, and the courts.

Over the past two yeas, many of us have felt that the democratic camp in Israel has been under a well-planned, coordinated attack. Factual information that has recently begun surfacing confirms that feeling: during [former Prime Minister] Olmert’s term in office, organizations from the old-style religious right, whose status has eroded continually since the eighties – the Yesha Council, the MAFDAL orthodox party, and the Hatchiya party which may be the clearest expression of this ideology – got together and planned, under the baton of one of the most talented and innovative strategic consultants in Israel, the move that would bring them back to the front of the stage as the hegemonic ideology of Israel.

Elements of the system are “laundering” the ideology of the messianic, religious right into terms which the secular public can more easily swallow, creating the appearance of a spontaneous national movement by evoking various organizations, with apparently-different agendas, led by Im Tirzu, which introduce themselves as grassroots activists while in fact they are nurtured, linked, and subsidized by the religious right and secular old boys network, where the secular messianic perception is shared (such as [Minister of Education] Gideon Sa’ar, who had been a member of Hatchiya Youth). This is all done while denying completely and untruthfully any connection between the various persons and organizations involved, and hiding the Greater Eretz Yisrael ideology, which is not shared by most of the public, until that “moment of truth." The primary working method is an attack on the democratic forces which could call a halt on them, an attack which relies on the willingness of a besieged society to seek guilty parties and the “left wing traitor” stereotype, which has been successful inserted into public discourse.

The first stage was an attack on the institutions of civil society. The second stage, the one we are currently experiencing, is an attack on the academic world. I wager that as soon as this campaign burns itself out, the media will be attacked, and thereafter, the judiciary system. In other words, anyone who can resist, criticize, and expose the true face of this organization will be slurred, sullied, and named as suspected of subversion and treason – before even raising objections about it.

And then they’ll go into politics. Everyone knows that. It could even happen in the coming elections. Following strategic consultant Moshe Klughaft’s system, I think we can expect more than one party, all of which will run on different versions of the same message, position themselves as “center” and talk about “Zionism”, “education”, “society, and “a struggle against post-Zionism.”

On a personal note, I really don’t feel like writing very much about Im Tirzu and its friends and relations. In fact, I’d much prefer to write less about politics and more about other things. But I sense danger, and my gut feelings about what is going on in this story have – so far – all turned out exactly as I feared. I can only hope that I am wrong about the next steps. What I propose is that we stop responding only after we get slammed on the head with yet another brick. What is being exposed here, and in other places, is only the tip of the iceberg. Storm the Internet, search, dig deep, cross-reference, expose – and tell the story. 

Shalom Boguslavsky was born in Russia in 1976, has been living in Jerusalem since 1981, studies history at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and makes his living as a group leader, facilitating discussions about Jewish-Israeli identity, dialogue & conflict management. This article originally appeared in Hebrew on the blog Put Down the Scissors And Let’s Talk About It. It was translated with the author’s permission by Dena Shunra.

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