An Opportune Time to Be a Leftist

Now that the Gaza blockade is being eased, the Shalit family has no choice but to oppose and assail Netanyahu's capitulation to international pressure.


Noam Shalit is correct, from his standpoint. The father of captive Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit was told that the blockade of Gaza was a critical tool in the negotiations over the release of his son. Now that blockade is being eased, leaving the Shalit family no choice but to oppose and assail Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's capitulation to international pressure.

The opposition to the partial lifting of the blockade that is being expressed by the advocates for Shalit's release presents an opportunity to re-examine the contradictory values at the heart of the struggle for his return. On the one hand, we obviously take great pride in the Jewish-Israeli principle of arevut hadadit, mutual responsibility. That is reflected in concepts like "Israel will do everything in its power to redeem a captive soldier," "Shalit is the child of us all," and "Every soldier sent to battle needs to know that the state stands behind him."

On the other hand, we cannot ignore the fact that many violent operations have been launched as a means to obtain Shalit's freedom. One could argue that Israeli society is paying the price in terms of its psychological fortitude, and it is legitimate to ask whether it would be dangerous to release certain Palestinian prisoners in exchange for Gilad.

Aside from those on the right, it appears that many others live comfortably with these contradictions. What are the reasons that many who consider themselves "leftists" easily identify with the struggle for Shalit's release, even if this view entails the embrace of values that are contradictory to those of the left?

True, some of the parameters of a Shalit deal that have been mentioned thus far - like the release of a large number of prisoners - is acceptable in the leftist worldview. In addition, other actions that have been undertaken in the name of releasing Shalit, like tightening the blockade against Gaza, dovetailed with other beliefs cherished by the left - in that case, the assumption that the blockade would weaken Hamas and strengthen Mahmoud Abbas.

Yet perhaps the reason for ignoring the ideological challenges posed by the Shalit dilemma is the fact that the return of the captive soldier enables apolitical individuals to feel political, non-leftists to feel leftist, and leftists in general to feel as if they belong, for a change, to the mainstream. In other words, saying Israel should just free all the Palestinian prisoners allows the speakers to feel as if they made a political statement without bearing the risk inherent in uttering such a remark. Perhaps this also is part of the reason that some have assumed the blockade would indeed help topple Hamas and free Shalit.

It turns out, however, that the blockade did not weaken Hamas. To the contrary, it has provided Hamas with the moral upper hand against Israel. The debunking of this underlying assumption can be a good opportunity to determine how we let ourselves be sold the lie that the blockade will help bring Shalit back to Israel - as well as a chance for us to keep a more critical eye on the next batch of goods for sale. Now that the Shalit family is protesting the government's decision, the "leftists lite" will be relieved to have to contend with one less case of cognitive dissonance. In any event, the public discourse surrounding the Shalit affair looks like it's about to start revolving around the popular sentiment that we must agree to release all the prisoners Hamas wants.

Culture and Sports Minister Limor Livnat is seeking to enlist "Israel's most prominent artists" for a large-scale concert to be held near the Gaza border, with the aim of persuading Hamas to release Shalit. If the show is ever staged, it will certainly be a success - not because it will result in Shalit's freedom (if only it would ), but because the struggle for his release is the best opportunity for a nation that has surrendered its ideological fervor to the extreme right to fool itself into thinking that it has not yet lost all its zeal.