Israeli Leftists, Stop Fantasizing

If the left wants to turn things around, it has to refresh its message and find a leader who will connect it to the mainstream.

Aluf Benn
Aluf Benn
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The Israeli left has a fantasy in which a knight on a white horse appears in the figure of the president of the United States, coming to save Israel from itself and take it out of the territories. “Get rid of the settlers, return to the Green Line and give the West Bank to the Palestinians,” the knight thunders in perfect English, and the scary dragon of the settlers’ council and its lackeys in the government grumble and surrender. Cut!

The left has been telling itself this fairy tale for 46 years with the devotion of a Chabadnik who believes that the Lubavitcher Rebbe will return as the Messiah. It’s like the expectations that Jesus or Elvis will return, accompanied by fairies and unicorns. The disappointed believers know it won’t come true, but they continue to hope.

This week the latest knight will ride to Jerusalem, Barack Obama, who has raised greater hopes to fulfill the leftists’ fantasy than his predecessors. His life story and liberal positions have enticed the believers to hope the Messiah has arrived and will end the occupation and the settlement project. But at the critical moment Obama acted just as all his predecessors since 1967 did and made do with lip service − and with grumbling in “private conversations” against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is damaging Israel by expanding the settlements.

Obama believes that the occupation and settlements are immoral, harm Israel and impede America’s ability to become endeared to the Arabs and Muslims. But his positions aren’t the only things that set U.S. foreign policy. A superpower’s interests come first, and the United States has much more important problems than the building of a few apartments in Itamar or Modi’in Ilit, or the quiet annexation of Area C in the West Bank.

In his Jerusalem speech, Obama needs to tell the Israeli left the truth: The change must come from within, from the influence on public opinion and voters’ attitudes. Instead of making the mistake of believing in outside pressure, learn from the settlers how a small and determined group can connect with the mainstream and divert the public’s beliefs for its own purposes. Look at how Yair Lapid and Shelly Yacimovich, leaders of center-left parties, embrace and praise the settlements.

The left’s claims are worn out and barely heard by the public − or they achieve the opposite of their goal. “The demographic threat” isn’t convincing − that Israel will become an Arab country with a Jewish minority once the Palestinians reach a majority between the river and the sea and demand equal voting rights. The Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are closed up behind walls and separation fences and don’t exist in the Israeli consciousness. There is zero chance that Hamas will ask to leave Gaza and run in the Knesset elections to change Israel’s character. Waving the demographic problem as if the increase in the number of Arabs endangered Israel only strengthens the nationalism and racism here.

The next claim − “an agreement is within reach” − doesn’t sound believable after the Palestinians rejected the peace proposals of Ehud Olmert and Ehud Barak. It’s hard to convince the people that the Israeli proposals weren’t generous enough. It’s even harder to convince them that the territories to be evacuated in the West Bank won’t be used as bases for launching rockets at Tel Aviv, as Gaza has been used. Even those who oppose the settlements don’t want to live under the shadow of warning sirens and explosions.

The final claim is that “the occupation corrupts and is seeping inside the Green Line.” This is true, but it only strengthens those who benefit from disproportionate rights − and want to bolster them under the guise of the slogan “sharing the burden.” If we’re the masters and the others are the servants, what’s the problem?

If the left wants to turn things around, it has to refresh its message and find a leader who will connect it to the mainstream − as the settlers found Naftali Bennett and the Rothschild Boulevard protesters raised Yair Lapid to great heights. That’s how it works in a democracy − not by false expectations for an American knight on a white horse who outflanks public opinion. And if Obama wants to strengthen his faithful in Israel, that’s what he has to tell them in his Jerusalem speech.

Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.
Israeli Peace Now activists protesting in Jerusalem on May 15, 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum