Israel's Opposition Needs Sincere Leaders

The great mistake of the camp opposing the right is that it hasn’t clearly demarcated the 'good' and 'bad' players, and hasn’t fought for its own truth

File photo: Former prime minister Ehud Barak speaks at a conference in 2017.
Ofer Vaknin

Opinion columns in Haaretz have lately described a sense of persecution, leading their writers to extol a handful of “heroes” who can look this sense of persecution in the eye and not yield. One example is Ehud Barak.

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Some of this stress can be attributed to attacks over social and digital media. These include reactions by an organized army of mercenaries who receive prepared notes, then post them online along with copious invective. Their role is to intimidate public figures. Indeed, some public figures are afraid of voicing their opinions for fear of being shamed online.

This sense of persecution does not stem from the quality of online reactions but from their quantity. They give a person under attack the feeling that he or she is “marked.” Realistically there is nothing to worry about, since no one is really under attack by Neta from Tel Adashim or Yanai from Hadera, and no one has measured the degree of support for such hate posts.

>> Israeli left should note history: When you try to appease the right, you lose | Analysis

Looking at the situation as it really is, one can conclude that the world is not closing in on people on the left side of the spectrum. If one discounts the ultra-Orthodox, it seems that Israel has two more or less equal camps. I don’t discount the ultra-Orthodox because their voice should not be heard but because they are not part of the messianic right-wing camp.

My call for renewed reflection stems partly from positions I’ve espoused in the past. I was a fresh Knesset member during the turnover of governments in 1977, and I mourned the rise to power of Menachem Begin. After 40 years I can also see his strengths, expressed in the breaking down of walls in Israel’s society and in turning the word “alternative” from an abstract promise to a tangible reality.

The right’s opponents of today are not contending with Menachem Begin. They don’t have that luxury. They are facing factions which believe that everything is permissible. Politicians’ fears of imaginary masses derive from their survival instincts. Yair Lapid has followers who want to propose a clear alternative to Likud, but their leader believes he can appeal to right-wing voters by humiliating and showing contempt towards groups like Breaking the Silence and B’Tselem. Thus, he believes, he can present himself as the representative of the sane and responsible Israel. Lapid doesn’t understand that he’s already been branded by the right, partly because some of his faction’s members, such as Yael German and Ofer Shelah, are identified as leftists.

The great mistake of the camp opposing the right is that it hasn’t clearly demarcated the “good” and “bad” players, and hasn’t fought for its own truth. It hasn’t come out in defense of Breaking the Silence, a patriotic Israeli group that has set itself the goal of exposing the crimes of the occupation, and B’Tselem, which exposes what others want to hide from the public. Anyone who, out of electoral considerations, doesn’t oppose the removal of Breaking the Silence from schools is bringing Naftali Bennett’s spirit of religiosity into these schools. The center-left camp should have also clearly marked out bad groups, such as the dangerous, McCarthyite Im Tirzu and the rabbis of Judea and Samaria, who endanger democracy while preaching a false messianic creed.

In fact, the leaders of the opposition are not afraid so much as they’re worried that supporting anything smacking of leftist attributes will hurt them politically. Thus, I’m not looking for courageous leaders. I’m looking for leaders who will reflect and fight for the values and symbols of democracy. Such leaders will sweep along multitudes, if only they deliver a clear and sincere message.