Friday, February 20, 2009

How Pork Changes History

One of the great things about being an environmental historian (and social historians at the very least can say the same thing) is that you realize how sometimes things like nature or food or sex or fashion or so many other things change history. Take the recent Israeli election. Netanyahu is taking over, the settlements are likely to be expanded, and more people are going to die. Political scientists are going to spill an endless amount of ink over analyzing these issues. But via Yglesias, Jeffrey Yoskowitz suggests what might have led to the far right Yisrael Beiteinu party being the key to Netanyahu taking power?


Specifically, that an ultra-Orthodox party that aligned with Likud alienated both secular and Russian immigrant voters who really like pork. These voters are the core consistuency of far-right, proto-fascist Avigdor Lieberman. And they vote for him in no small part because he supports their right to eat pork. He threw his support to Netanyahu. And there we have it. Lieberman rather than the extreme Orthodox party is making the government possible, thus making the Israeli government even more stridently nationalist than it already would have been.

Lieberman's core platform promised both the security of their borders as well as their culture--meats, cheeses, and all. It is not surprising, then, that Lieberman's gains in support coincided in a drop in support for Likud--which, according to the last published poll before the election (released the day before Yosef's speech), was slated to win a slim lead over the Kadima party. To be sure, many Russian immigrants were also attracted by Lieberman's ultra-nationalism; but the secular-religious rift embodied by the pig controversy seems to have been enough of a factor to siphon sufficient votes from Likud to prevent Netanyahu's predicted victory.

In an ironic twist, the likeliest governing coalition to emerge from the inconclusive election results is a right-wing alliance of Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Shas. But as illustrated by the pork posturing during the campaign season, the deep animosity between Yisrael Beitunu and Shas will make for a tenuous alliance that even security concerns may not be able to hold together for very long.