It turns out this week that the Israeli daily Maariv is getting bought out by Makor Rishon, a small right-wing paper. Maariv, something of an Israeli institution, first published back in February 1948 a few months before the modern state of Israel was declared, had been falling off badly in sales. Seventeen months ago the Israeli tycoon Nochi Dankner bought Maariv in an attempt to revive it—which failed.
Makor Rishon, which has a small, dedicated, opinionated readership, is owned by Shlomo Ben-Zvi, a British immigrant who lives in the Judea community of Efrat and is identified with the hawkish wing of Likud. It’s thought that Ben-Zvi, after completing the purchase of the centrist Maariv from Dankner, will merge the two papers, keep the Maariv brand name, but move the new, revised paper considerably to the right.
That will mean two of the four leading Israeli dailies that still have print editions—Maariv and Israel Hayom—will be right-of-center. Israel Hayom is a phenomenon in itself; first published five years ago and owned by American Jewish casino magnate (and Romney supporter) Sheldon Adelson, it’s handed out for free at street corners and train stations and quickly became Israel’s most popular daily, edging out left-of-center Yediot Aharonot and leaving the old, struggling Maariv and leftist Haaretz far behind.
On a personal note, it can be an exhilarating sight: Israelis on a train reading a paper that both reports the news fairly and gives top-notch conservative commentary on it.
The rise of Israel Hayom coincides with the 2009 election, and continuing high approval, of Likud prime minister Binyamin Netanyahu with his center-right coalition. The former, of course, did not cause the latter; but the two are complementary parts of the same phenomenon.
Also much-reported in Israel lately is the annual survey of a research outfit called the Israel Democracy Institute—some of the results of which are a leftist’s nightmare. The IDI found 50% of Israelis defining themselves as rightwing, 30% as centrist, and only 17% as leftwing. Just 22.5% said they expect a peace agreement to be signed with the Palestinians—reflecting a realistic appraisal of where things stand between Israel and the corrupt, dysfunctional, deeply anti-Israeli Palestinian Authority.
Again on a personal note, here in Beersheva we were awoken Saturday night by the eerie wail of sirens and heard, a couple of minutes later, the jarring explosion of a rocket that was aimed at the city but landed in an open field. Soon afterward another rocket hit the nearby, smaller town of Netivot, badly damaging two houses and sending several people into shock.
The rockets were, of course, fired from Gaza, from which Israel withdrew completely seven years ago. While that withdrawal was initiated by then-prime minister Ariel Sharon, it was much praised in the West and in keeping with almost monolithic diplomatic admonitions to find “peace” by always being the party to withdraw, concede, and capitulate.
The recent Israeli rightward drift may have demographic components, including the large immigrant population from the former Soviet Union, which tends to be nationalistic and realistic about security affairs, and a steadily growing religious population. But it is mainly a response to experience, particularly the turning of all areas from which Israel has retreated (the West Bank, Gaza, southern Lebanon, Sinai) into sources of terror, the emergence of an Islamist regime in Egypt and of violent chaos in Syria, and the ongoing Iranian threat.
It’s to be hoped that whoever does emerge as U.S. president in November can appreciate this trend and the reasons for it, and refrain from treating Israel as an entity to be cajoled and pressured into still further withdrawals or, failing that, blamed for the fact that it does not exist in a zone of amity and tranquility.
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