Opinion |

The Israeli Left’s Endless Misery in the Days of Netanyahu and Trumpistan

Leftists predict that current policies will prove disastrous - but also have to pray that they’re dead wrong

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addressing the audience at the ceremony inaugurating the new U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem, May 14, 2018.
Prime Minister Netanyahu at the U.S. Embassy inauguration in Jerusalem. Reality as we know it does not contain him. Credit: Emil Salman
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Leftists and liberals are grumpy grumblers by nature. They detest the present and pine for a better future. The left hates the status quo and yearns for change, while the right longs for the past but is willing to make to do with the here and now.

In his classic, late-19th-century “Devil’s Dictionary,” the clever and cynical Ambrose Bierce wrote: “CONSERVATIVE n. A statesman who is enamored with existing evils, as distinguished from the Liberal, who wishes to replace them with others.”

Recently, however, leftists have accumulated valid reasons for feeling even more despondent than usual. The democratic world is veering to the right. Americans have elected a populist president hell-bent on dismantling liberal achievements, and many European countries are following in his footsteps. In Israel, it’s even worse: The unrivaled leader of the right, Benjamin Netanyahu, seems to be going from strength to strength, his public support is rock solid and the left is nowhere near producing a viable alternative candidate who can challenge him.

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No less frustrating – or no less embarrassing, at least – is the increasingly enthusiastic Israeli support for Donald Trump: Jerusalem has named a square in his honor, a top-notch soccer team has adopted his name and a government minister announced on Tuesday that Trump would be the inaugural recipient of a “Defender of Jerusalem” award. A University of Maryland poll published the same day showed the wide extent of local support for Trump. Israel, more than anywhere in the world, is Trumpistan.

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Under the umbrella of Trump and his Israel-adoring evangelical base, Netanyahu is seen more and more as a grandmaster of politics and diplomacy. Reality as we know it does not contain him. He is chummy with Trump and pals with Vladimir Putin; breaks the Iran nuclear dealand bombs its troops to kingdom come; makes deals with Gulf countries and isolates the Palestinians; transfers the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem and basks in unqualified White House support that defines scores of casualties in Gaza as cheap propaganda. Security is intact, the economy is blooming and even Netta Barzilai’s recent victory in the Eurovision contest is somehow marked in Netanyahu’s favor.

Leftists maintain this is all just a fool’s paradise. The transfer of the embassy has already fomented violence and bloodshed, the cancellation of the Iran nuclear deal will create endless troubles, the derailment of the peace process will blow up in Israel’s face, and relying on Trump is a fool’s gamble. But there’s the rub, as Hamlet said: No one likes to bet against himself. Leftists who still love their country find themselves in a weird predicament of praying that their own predictions and assertions are refuted, and that they will be exposed as complete idiots needlessly spreading hysteria.

This is reminiscent of the situation of the right after the signing of the Oslo Accords, but unlike Netanyahu, who rushed to photo-ops near buses gutted by suicide bombers – the left finds it hard to blatantly “dance on blood,” as the Hebrew saying goes. Which is another reason for the dejection of the left: Unlike the right, which pursues power with no holds barred, it feels restricted by ethics-shmethics and codes of conduct. Gone are the days of revolutionary, take-no-prisoners leftist militancy: Today’s leftists are complacent and reserved. They complain themselves to death, or at least until ulcers and melancholy set in.

Their last hope is that the writing that only they can discern on the wall will be borne out in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy to the hubris-stricken Babylonian King Belshazzar: “But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory.” The problem is that most leftists have already resigned themselves to the possibility that Netanyahu’s successor will be just as bad, and even more to the right. They are busy preparing themselves for their next misery.

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