Why Israel’s Peace Camp Is Acting Up

Faced by an ongoing campaign by the right to delegitimize them, Israel’s peace camp has abandoned its customary defensiveness - and has taken its message to YouTube.

Yariv Oppenheimer
Yariv Oppenheimer
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Yariv Oppenheimer
Yariv Oppenheimer

Over the past week, my colleagues and I at Peace Now have been inundated with responses to the satirical video we produced in honor of the Purim holiday, starring leading figures in the Israeli peace camp. It's been a long time since any political clip, and certainly one from the left, has reached so many viewers. In the first four days, the Hebrew version of the video passed 130,000 views on YouTube, and that's not counting those who saw it covered in the news media.

But although it’s humorous, behind the words and music is a deep and growing concern for Israel's future and for the future of Israeli society. The video was made after years in which the left had become the right's punching bag, a result of the ongoing delegitimization of the left, which characterizes the progressive camp in this country being portrayed as anti-Israel and further than that - the dismissal of all legitimate criticism. The right's assault is not confined to mere statements; it is translated into important legislation in the Knesset. Every few weeks there's a new legislative proposal aimed at curbing freedom of expression and assembly, at delegitimizing the peace camp, and restricting by law its ability to organize, speak out or even be elected to the Knesset.

In recent years, the left has grown accustomed to maintaining a defensive posture and waiting each week for the next blow to come from the Likud or Habayit Hayehudi – anything from more money transfers to the settlements and increased construction in the West Bank, to depicting Kerry as obsessive and anti-Israeli and having messianic delusions. In the video, we decided to go on the offensive instead. We decided the time had come to reveal the true face of the other side and to raise public awareness about the damage that has been done to Israel and Israeli society in the last few years.

Beyond its entertainment value, not least the sight of a number of prominent leftists dressed up as rightists, our message is clear. The costumes, music and holiday atmosphere help to underscore a bleak reality in which the peace process is stuck, democracy is in retreat and construction and financial investment in the territories just keeps rising.

The line, "Oh, what fun it is to be a rightist" was born after another yet another media face-off against right-wingers, in which all their answers were brief and unequivocal, black-and-white. The Arabs? They all want to see Israel destroyed and there's no real difference between "moderates" and extremists. Criticism of Israeli policy in the Palestinian territories is anti-Semitism motivated by hatred of Israel. Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East, and there is no conflict between this and the occupation of the territories. The Israeli left is motivated by self-hatred and its actions constitute treachery.

Versus such catchy demagogic messages, we on the left choose to stick to the truth; as is our wont, we explain in long, complex sentences how complicated and multi-dimensional is the reality in which we live. Following another such discussion, we thought: How nice it would be to be a rightist and be able to describe a situation that's so apparently simple and straightforward. Add to that all the aid that right-wing organizations receive from the government to finance and spread these messages, we almost felt jealous.

The video format helped us reach hundreds of thousands of Israelis who are not usually exposed to our views, but we knew there would be criticism from both right and left. Contrary to what some critics say, the purpose of the video is not to defame an entire segment of the public but to depict in just three minutes the harsh reality of recent years. There are no anti-religious elements in the video. On the contrary, when the participants remove their costumes towards the end, former Jewish Agency chair Avraham Burg proudly puts his own kippah back on his head.

The response from Diaspora Jewry has demonstrated that there is also a significant audience abroad: Many are young Jews who love Israel but are wary of speaking out against its policy in the territories. It is the peace camp’s hope that a music video with a message will go some way to assure millions of people that their views are legitimate, and that they can stand up for what they believe – with a smile, too.

Yariv Oppenheimer is the director of Peace Now. Follow him on Twitter: @yarivop

Screengrab from Peace Now's video.

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