Opinion |

Extreme Reactions to Pompeo’s Announcement Explain Demise of Israeli Left

Labor leader Amir Peretz joined the chorus of critics ignoring the history of his own party and the importance of the settlement project

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Labor leader Amir Peretz during a tour of the southern Israeli town of Netivot on August 26, 2019.
Labor leader Amir Peretz during a tour of the southern Israeli town of Netivot on August 26, 2019.Credit: Eliyahu Hershkovitz

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s speech triggered a wave of denunciations — in the United Nations, in the European Union and, of course, in the “hard-core” Israeli left. As usual for Labor Party leaders in recent decades, Amir Peretz joined the chorus of critics. If he wants to know why the camp he heads has become a marginal element in Israeli society, he could find the reason (in part) in its automatic support for declarations and positions that a large majority of Israelis correctly see as contrary to the broad Jewish and Zionist program. Ever since this camp began hanging on to the coattails of homegrown post-Zionists, who cooperate with hostile foreign forces, the Israeli mainstream has lost its patience and has turned its back on it.

Many oppose the Judea and Samaria settlements for various reasons, some of them perfectly legitimate, such as the demographic threat. But there’s a difference between reasoned opposition and the extreme incitement and bitter hatred that has developed toward this enterprise and its people. Some of this hatred was demonstrated this week in the extreme reactions to Pompeo’s announcement. A genuine Zionist, even if he doesn’t support widespread settlement in Judea and Samaria, should have responded differently: welcoming its significance and this superpower’s ongoing support for Israel.

A man rides on a donkey in the Palestinian village of Kifl Hares opposite the Israeli settlement of Revava in the West Bank, on November 19, 2019.Credit: AFP

After all, the first settlements in Judea and Samaria — and in the Jordan Valley — were those of the Labor Party, which even today (still?) supports the settlement blocs. Peretz is the successor, supposedly, of David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir and Levi Eshkol, the last of whom headed the World Zionist Organization Settlement Division for many years. Today, regrettably, neither Labor nor any other left-wing party has a settlement division. No wonder Israelis are abandoning en masse a movement that is shedding its core beliefs. The election results of the past few decades prove this most clearly.

In the 1992 election, Labor won 44 Knesset seats; in 2003 – 19; in 2009 – 13; in 2019 – only 6. To paraphrase Jeremiah 2:13: This camp has committed two evils: It has forsaken the fountain of living waters of practical Zionism, and hastened to hew out broken cisterns that can hold no water. It’s one thing that the extreme left, which is becoming the opposition to the state and not only to Likud, is disappearing (and yet its longtime hold on the media still gives it considerable influence). But the disappearance of the Zionist left should concern us all. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called Pompeo’s statement a “historic declaration.” Interesting: the words, uttered at a meeting with Judea and Samaria council heads, were not accompanied by a promise to renew the momentum of settlement.

In 2016 David Friedman, now the U.S. ambassador to Israel, told the Israeli Hebrew weekly Makor Rishon that “Trump will be the first president not to accept the determination that the settlements are illegal. ... He doesn’t understand why Israel doesn’t build there.”

Pompeo’s speech is an important political asset. But as pleasant as it may sound to us, it is not the source of our right to continue settling the Land of Israel. This is an eternal right. True, in the early days of Zionism, and to a large extent today as well, international support for establishing a national home for the Jewish nation in the Land of Israel, as the Balfour declaration specified, was critical and pioneering. But neither that declaration, nor the November 1947 vote on the UN Partition Plan, is the foundation of the absolute justness. The long, tribulation-filled journey back to Zion, to hold to it and to restore our sovereign life as in days of old, draws its right – and also its duty – from millennia of yearning for renewed independence and sovereignty.