Separating the Sheep From the Goats in Israel's Opposition

A tour of the West Bank settlement blocs divided the Zionist Union party down the middle. It’s baffling why party leader Isaac Herzog, who led this misbegotten visit, is still leader of the opposition.

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Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog delivers a statement after failing to unseat Netanyahu, on March 18, 2015.
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog delivers a statement after failing to unseat Netanyahu, on March 18, 2015.Credit: AP

The left hasn’t had many opportunities for revival in recent years. But this week, thanks to the unending farce of U.S. President Donald Trump’s impending visit (if this is what the preparations for the visit look like, it’ll be interesting to see what happens during the visit itself), was a wide-open window of opportunity.

A series of embarrassing mishaps prior to the visit – from the flap over moving the American embassy to Jerusalem through the classified Israeli intelligence leaked by Trump to the Americans’ non-recognition of Israeli sovereignty at the Western Wall – has above all revealed the right’s nakedness. This huge, intimidating bloc, which toys with public sentiment and incites all the keyboard hoodlums and the shadows against the left, has been exposed as a bluff with nothing behind it when it encounters reality.

From the sidelines, one can shout anything: Move the embassy to Jerusalem, make the Palestinians disappear, liquidate Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh in 48 hours, annex the Gush Etzion settlement bloc or the banks of the Tigris River. But when you’re behind the steering wheel, the game of getting attention is over and reality begins. The president so beloved of the settlers has been revealed as a clown at best; the embassy isn’t going anywhere, because nobody really wants it to; and the Americans aren’t willing to be seen alongside Israel’s prime minister, even for a photo op, at the Western Wall, over which even Meretz party chairwoman Zehava Galon claims Israeli sovereignty.

The right’s response has been pathetic. Some continue to blame former U.S. President Barack Obama, who has long since been immersed in his new career of luxury tourism, while others propose practical steps: MK Bezalel Smotrich suggested that Knesset members force their presence on Trump at the Western Wall, while Culture Minister Miri Regev added her own unique contribution: a dress with Al-Aqsa Mosque on its hem. This is the essence of Israel’s government today: occupation and claptrap.

Out of this embarrassment, an alternative must emerge. A report by Chaim Levinson (yesterday’s Haaretz) revealed a rift between two wings of the Zionist Union over the party’s tour of the settlements. Ostensibly, the rift is between the hawkish wing and the dovish wing. But in reality, it is between those who are enabling the right’s continued rule and Israel’s accelerated gallop toward disaster, and those who could one day end it; between those who shout “we have voters there” and those who are willing to say, “thank you very much, but we’re willing to do without those voters, because we’re an opposition and we have principles”; between those who want pity or a pat on the head from the hoodlums who curse and smear anyone who dares criticize the government, and those who are willing to stand up to this exploitable onslaught while keeping their ideological spines straight.

Those who participated in the tour were MKs Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni, Yoel Hasson, Eitan Broshi, Revital Swid and Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin. “We began the tour by Zionist Union’s leadership in Ma’aleh Adumim, the city that Yitzhak Rabin founded and promised would be part of any diplomatic agreement,” Herzog tweeted from his fawning visit. Ma’aleh Adumim was undoubtedly of great assistance to Rabin in dealing with violence from the right. It’s baffling why Herzog is still leader of the opposition.

The polls forecasting a rich harvest for tricksters like Yair Lapid are impressive, but in the ultimate test of electoral results, two camps will be facing off against each other – one commanded by a divine promise to continue the catastrophic project of setting up a state ruled by religious law and apartheid from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea, another that wants a liberal democratic state with freedom of religioun and conscience.

The dystopian echo of the first option can be clearly heard in “united” Jerusalem, as can the world’s attitude toward that option – as is evident in the winds blowing from Trump’s visit. Anyone who chooses the second option must carry it forward with all his might, and with head held high.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Naftali Bennett and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman boast – emptily, in general – that they are strong against Hamas, strong against the Arabs, strong against Obama. But who wants to vote for people who are afraid of the settlers or the inarticulate boors on Facebook?