By: Gayil Talshir
Issue 6, Fall 2022
Populism in Power: Is the Leader Bound by the People? “Illegal Infiltrators” and Netanyahu’s Rule
Currents: Briefs on Contemporary Israel
Populist leaders emphasize the bond between the leader and his people: but is the leader bonded by the people? The paper deciphers the phenomenon of ‘populism in power’ through the case study of Netanyahu’s policy change regarding the illegal immigrants from Africa to Israel. ‘Populism in power’ pertains to leaders who took their once-upon-a-time moderate rightwing ruling parties to the nationalist-populist end: Trump, Netanyahu, Orbán, and others. Netanyahu, often portrayed as ‘the magician,’ sought to maintain a distinction between virtual incitement against ‘others’ (Arabs, immigrants, and refugees as well as ‘the elites’) during election campaigns and a responsible leadership when in power. What brought him to abolish his own policy-outline devised with the UN to transfer half of the illegal immigrants to other democratic countries in return for provisional work permit for the other half, leading to all 100% remaining in Israel without a legal status? This case demonstrates that once a leader unleashes the populist genie, bottling it again is not an option: when in power, populism is not merely a rhetoric game, and the public would not let the leader back down from his populist policies. Who is the people, what is Netanyahu’s leadership style, and how does ‘direct representation’ work for populist leaders in power are critically examined.
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The McGill-Queens – Azrieli Institute Book Series in Israel Studies is pleased to announce our new publication!
Press Editor: Richard Ratzlaff, Editor, McGill-Queen’s University Press
Series Editor: Csaba Nikolenyi, Director, Azrieli Institute of Israel Studies