Israel's Left Must Shout, Not Whisper, Its Support for Kerry

The dream of Israel's peace camp is coming true: Strong foreign support pushing Israel to end the occupation. Its leaders must not leave the field to the religious right's rejectionism.

The sad sport that has swept the Left in Israel in recent years has been identifying the cause of the Left's steady drop in popularity. Leftist leaders compete with each other in bemoaning their movement's failures and inadequacies.

One thing, though, they do not say, at any rate in public. They do not dare to say it publicly because the Right has captured the power to delineate the rules of public debate and the proprieties of political usage. "Zionism", "Judaism", and above all "patriotism" are at the mercy of the Right, chiefly the Religious Right, for their definition. The Left does not therefore rehearse in public their most yearned-for and most oft-repeated (in private) wish: That friendly foreign governments summon up the political will to force Israel to end the occupation at last, in the interests of its own future as well as in the interests of world peace.

The Left came to the conclusion long ago that, left to its own devices, Israel under rightist governments will just leave the present situation in place, even though more and more Israelis appreciate the dangers that the occupation holds out to the democratic and Jewish character of the state.

The Left also concluded, correctly, that to be seen or heard encouraging friendly foreign governments to take tough positions against the occupation – threatening, for instance, economic boycotts - would draw down domestic condemnation, because the public is fairly brain-washed by the usage and definitions of the Right. Privately expressed support for boycotting settler produce by both Israelis and by foreign friends has remained privately expressed and has not become part of the public debate. (Recent legislation, mirabile dictu, also outlaws it.)

But it is increasingly clear that this double standard of political debate, reflecting as it does a certain pusillanimity, drastically weakens the Left, psychologically as much as politically. Gagging itself is choking the Left. Members of the peace camp would naturally love to shout out their agreement and their thanks to U.S. Secretary of State for stating last weekend in unvarnished terms exactly where Israel is headed – strategically, economically and morally – if an end-of-occupation accord is not adopted.

But the Left hesitates, and they drop their voices, because of the domination of the religious Right over political correctness in this semi-theocratic, colonialist democracy. The vote-catching assertion, proclaimed or hinted by spokesmen of the religious-Right, is that Kerry is anti-Semitic (and so is President Obama). The religious-Right in Israel and in the Diaspora has appropriated anti-Semitism for its brainwashing purposes, as it also plays fast and loose with language ("delegitimization") to pursue those purposes. Thus, the religious-Right arbitrarily determines that to boycott West Bank settler companies is tantamount to 'delegitimization' of the existence of the Zionist state and rejection of the Jews' right to nationhood.

(The essence of this tactic, it should be noted, is classic Netanyahu spin. The prime minister always spreads and widens the import of Israel's critics' rhetoric so as to mobilize as many Israelis and overseas Jews as possible to actively oppose it and so as to shift the focus of the international debate on the Middle East away from Israel's pragmatic need to end the occupation toward the broad, emotional but cloudy issues of national self-determination.)

But self-gagging, though uncomfortable and energy-sapping, is not the most enfeebling element of the peace camp's conduct. The utter, ultimate weakening is caused by the constant need to hope and pray that Israel's foreign friends will step in and rescue her at last, effectively imposing the peace camp's policy on her, because the peace camp cannot seriously hope to win power in Israel based on that policy. It is that acquiescence, that reliance on others, that despair of domestic voters, which takes all the wind out of a political movement's sails.

Perhaps, though, things can change now. Having acknowledged the causes of its own painful paralysis, the peace camp would do well to seize upon Secretary Kerry's warnings as the moment when its dream of foreign support begins to come true and when domestic and international public debate can be pushed back into pragmatic parameters.

Naftali Bennett and Moshe Ya'alon each swooped down sordidly on the indefatigable American minister. They cast all inhibition, indeed all decent manners, aside. Their purpose: Each to bolster his standing among the Religious Right.

The peace campers, who whisper the truth among themselves, would do well to emanate that casting aside of inhibition. As Mr Kerry said, "Today's status quo absolutely, to a certainty, I promise you 100 percent cannot be maintained It's illusionary."

Heard that before? Yes, from the whispering Israeli peace camp, for forty years. It is time their leaders (the latest being Isaac Herzog) behaved like leaders.

Reuters