The 'Hounding’ of Israel's Hypocritical Left

Claims of a 'crackdown' on left-wing dissent are ludicrous self-promotion. If they really cared about free speech, where were they during the antinationalist witch hunts in the disengagement and after Rabin’s murder?

Amiel Ungar
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Left wing and right-wing protesters face-off in Haifa, July 19, 2014.Credit: Rami Shalosh
Amiel Ungar

To believe the Israeli left, it is encountering intellectual persecution that threatens to degenerate into political assassination. As proof, the left cites the dismissal of comedian Orna Banai from her job as a cruise liner presenter, and the recent decision by Attorney General Yehuda Weinstein to investigate MK Haneen Zoabi (an investigation that’s subsequently been dropped).

These self-serving premonitions of martyrdom are, of course, relayed by the leftist village tom-toms to like-minded sympathizers abroad. Now, in addition to "war crimes," they can charge Israel with stifling dissent.

It is also an act of self-promotion, because our intellectual shahids can congratulate themselves on maintaining their principles against the mob and they will undoubtedly reap rewards, invitations and perhaps film festival honors for playing the righteous in Sodom.

To round out this tragic soap opera, the left has even provided us with a prince of darkness – a heavy (literally and figuratively) who calls himself ‘Shadow’ – and provided him with international notoriety. If this goes on, we could even see a revival of the 1930s radio series that began with the immortal line, "Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows!"

Admittedly our "shadowed" Israeli left is not exactly flavor of the month because the war in Gaza has further demolished two of its favorite arguments: Gaza, or for that matter an independent Palestine, can never pose a threat to Israeli security; and if we are – however improbably – threatened, we would enjoy international backing to hit back hard. This was the logic behind Oslo and the disengagement/expulsion from Gaza and we are currently paying the wages of that folly.

However, to talk of a crackdown on the left is ludicrous. Meretz chair Zahava Gal-On and other left-wing talking heads remain welcome guests on our talk shows to spout the same nostrums. They are free to rave about the moderate Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, even though we saw Abbas Jr. and Abbas II in Arabic dismissing their father's talk about renouncing claims to pre-1967 Israel as window-dressing intended for gullible Israelis.

Israel can compare favorably with any country fighting a battle against an enemy that promises to destroy it and makes good on its threats by launching attacks on the homeland.

When Britain fought desperately on in World War II, it rounded up the fascist Oswald Mosley and his supporters; even the Duke and Duchess of Windsor were deported to the West Indies because of their known Nazi sympathies. The German American Bund, let alone Japanese Americans, were roughly treated in the United States.

Going back further in American history, President Abraham Lincoln, who viewed the Civil War as a test of whether the United States would hold together, suspended habeas corpus for the antiwar Copperheads.

The Israeli left faces no similar privations or restrictions, and has received deferential treatment when we recall political crackdowns against Israeli nationalists.

During the disengagement from Gaza, the Israeli police engaged in short-circuiting political dissent – frequently by arbitrary measures. The book was thrown at demonstrators whose tactics were far more restrained than those witnessed at other demonstrations.

Our current defense minister, Moshe Ya'alon, was sacked as chief of staff for daring to privately question the wisdom of the measure and replaced by the more pliable Dan Halutz. Opponents of the disengagement – who have since been vindicated – were then pilloried by a vicious government-sponsored press campaign.

They were charged in the press with planning armed resistance to the Gaza expulsion or hurling acid at soldiers tasked with their eviction. These charges were proven baseless, but no apology was ever offered.

After the Rabin assassination, a veritable witch hunt was launched for "Rabin's assassins." Despite the Shamgar commission's findings that Yigal Amir acted alone, the hunt was on for would-be inciters.

The only way to secure immunity from the charge of being Amir's accomplice was to recant opposition to Oslo. Those now trumpeting freedom of dissent didn't intervene but actually fanned the flames. So they should at least have the decency not to lecture us on intellectual freedom and political intimidation.

Zoabi represents the failure of the compromise, forged by former MK Geula Cohen, which would have barred politicians who either did not subscribe to democratic principles or undermined Israel's identity as a Jewish state.

The left was happy to use the agreement to block Meir Kahane's reelection to the Knesset, but they reneged on their part of the deal when it came to Arab MKs such as Azmi Bishara or Ms. Zoabi. The real question is not why Zoabi is being prosecuted now, but why she wasn't prosecuted long ago.

It is particularly rich of Ms. Banai to complain of persecution. When Arafat launched his suicide bombers at us, Banai knew whom to blame: the settlers. "Because of them we are dying like flies," she moaned.

She promised never to appear in a settlement. After the Jewish residents of Gaza were herded into buses so the bulldozers could destroy their life's work nine years ago, Banai piled on by accusing them of abandoning their pets.

Now, for however briefly, the usual boycotters have become the boycotted – and they find this situation unacceptable. Believe me, I don't want any harm to befall leftists because – to paraphrase De Gaulle on Sartre – they too are Israel.

I can only hope that the reversal of roles that the left has encountered may engender a more respectful political debate within Israel.

Dr. Amiel Ungar is a political scientist.

Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi attending a rally in Haifa against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, July 18, 2014, surrounded by police.
Knesset Member Haneen Zoabi attending a rally in Haifa against the Israeli military operation in Gaza, July 18, 2014. Credit: Rami Shllush

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