Israel’s emerging ‘liberal nationalist’ figure

January 8, 2018 by Israel Kasnett -
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The crowd in Jerusalem’s Zion Square is civil as protesters hold up signs decrying alleged government corruption. Standing on the stage, Dr. Yoaz Hendel, with his trademark tussled hair, addresses the crowd…writes Israel Kasnett/

Dr. Yoaz Hendel, a former adviser to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaks during a rally against alleged government corruption in Jerusalem’s Zion Square on Dec. 23, 2017. Credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90.

Hendel is a well-known Israeli journalist who served in the elite IDF naval commando unit. He has a doctorate in military history and writes a regular column for the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper.

He also serves as director of the Institute for Zionist Strategies (IZS), a conservative think tank based in Jerusalem. He draws his ideology, which can be defined as “liberal nationalism,” from the legacies of former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Revisionist Zionist leader Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

“Israel as a national state is part of my identity, many aspects of which are derived from Jabotinsky and Begin,” Hendel said in an interview with JNS. “Unfortunately many people are not familiar with Israeli history and don’t realise that it was Jabotinsky who was the voice of liberalism and it was Begin who fought for human rights in the ’50s.”

He continued, “We believe that Zionism is still the main goal of our generation. We are neo-conservatives, coming from a patriotic position. At the same time, we understand that without democracy and liberalism, we will not be able to maintain this miracle that is the state of Israel.”

Decrying what he says is the perceived notion on both the right and left that they have a monopoly on certain issues, Hendel emphasised, “Zionism doesn’t belong to the right and human rights doesn’t belong to the left.”

To demonstrate this, he brings right-wing activists to Israeli checkpoints to monitor the soldiers and ensure they follow Israeli as well as international laws.

“My goal,” he said, “besides appealing to people abroad, is to speak to my own people here in Israel and educate them. What we are trying to do at [IZS] is break these monopolies.”

On his rally

Hendel said he is worried about how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is responding to corruption allegations and for this reason, he organised the Jerusalem rally in December.

As prime minister, Netanyahu should be expressing support for the state institutions, including the police and the courts. Instead, Hendel asserted, Netanyahu is creating the idea that everyone is against him. “It can’t be that a suspect can attack the investigators or the courts,” he said.

“The last two years have me worried,” Hendel lamented. “What started with criticism of the army’s handling of the Elor Azaria affair (regarding an IDF soldier found guilty of killing a terrorist while he was already incapacitated on the ground) has now turned to criticism of the police and the courts with regard to the three corruption cases involving the prime minister. People are starting to relate to the country and its institutions as if it isn’t theirs.”

Another reason Hendel organised his own rally is because he could not relate to the protests in Tel Aviv that have been calling for Netanyahu to be sent to prison. Hendel believes Netanyahu is innocent until proven guilty and said he will wait for the courts to determine that.

To many, the protests appear to be about removing Netanyahu from power, guilty or not. Hendel suggested that while the demonstrations might appear to be only about corruption, “let’s not be naïve. The opposition is involved in these protests and is deepening the divide.”

On Netanyahu

As former director of communications and public diplomacy for Netanyahu, Hendel has seen the prime minister’s bureau from within.

Ideologically, Hendel said he is close to Netanyahu in terms of economy and security. But in terms of how he is running the “tribal” issue—the divide between American Jewry and the Israeli rabbinate, for instance—and the discussion surrounding it, he disagrees.

“Netanyahu is doing a lot of damage,” he said.

Hendel said his biggest worry is internal discord among Jews, which has already led to division here in the past: the ancient Jewish states of Israel and Judah.

On entering politics

The Israeli media is full of speculation over the possibility of a governing coalition breakup and looming elections, and while there has been some talk of Hendel going into politics, he dismissed the idea. Hendel believes he can do more for the country from outside the government rather than serving it from within the Knesset. “I’ve been offered positions with [Yisrael Beiteinu party leader Avigdor] Lieberman, with [Jewish Home party leader Naftali] Bennett. I have no shortage of offers. I want to be able to say what I want and I can only do that from the outside,” he said.

On the Palestinians

Decidedly against the continuation of the failed peace process, Hendel conceded he accepts “the vision of Netanyahu, at least the way I see it.”

Hendel predicts that the Palestinians will ultimately gain maximum political independence, but minimum security independence. They would have a “state minus” or “autonomy plus,” without an army and without a border with Jordan—a situation that the current Israeli government views as too risky.

On the future of Israel

Hendel bemoaned the lack of discourse on the future and vision of Israel due to the insecure political arena in the country. “Before we define borders,” Hendel said, “we need to define our character—who we are, what we are. And what we are is a national state—a liberal and democratic one.”


One Response to “Israel’s emerging ‘liberal nationalist’ figure”
  1. Lynne Newington says:

    …”Hendel said his biggest worry is internal discord among Jews”.

    From what I’ve been reading [coincidently written by Shimon Peres on David Ben-Gurion A political Life in chapter 4], there were equal divisions and back in the early days, between the Laborites and Revisionist, with secret deals and inquiries [and later posthumous vindications] by Ben-Gurion and Jabotinsky so there’s nothing new and history still moving onward and upward with the same goals.
    Lets just hope nothing today does enough damage to warrrant 50 years later a further posthumous exoneration…….. Not that we’ll ever know of course.

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