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The ‘Anyone but Bibi’ War Is Destroying Israel's Left

Noa Landau
Noa Landau
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Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in February.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset in February.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
Noa Landau
Noa Landau

With or without Meretz lawmaker Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi in the coalition, elections remain in the air, and once again, the left is stuck with the refrain “anyone but Bibi.” Because every sentence in left-speak currently ends with some Bibi-ist (as diehard fans of Benjamin Netanyahu are known), and the result is that conversation about actual policy has been shut down.

The response to both Zoabi’s announcement that she was leaving the governing coalition and her criticism of the government’s actions made this situation crystal clear: The vast majority of voters on the Jewish left – that is, Meretz voters – prefer the integrity of a government that keeps Netanyahu out of power to any other consideration. Or at least, they think that from a pragmatic standpoint, the alternative is worse.

When you consider passage of the Citizenship Law, the legalization of settlement outposts, construction in the settlements, settler violence, the Judaization of the Negev, the creeping annexation of Area C of the West Bank and the government’s conduct with regard to the killing of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, then with all due respect to the right’s crisis over chametz in the hospitals on Pesach, it’s clear that the people who agreed to swallow the vast majority of the frogs in this government were the left’s lawmakers and voters.

Throughout the Bennett government’s tenure, the Israeli ship has continued to steer comfortably to the right on all the important issues. The only difference is that this time, the left is on the bridge. This includes, of course, the diplomatic freeze with the Palestinians, the opposition to a nuclear deal with Iran, and issues of religion and state.

Ousting Netanyahu, and to some extent keeping his far-right partners out of government (“anyone but Itamar Ben-Gvir,” “anyone but Bezalel Smotrich”), has become the left’s be-all and end-all, one that justifies almost any compromise. In other words, to keep Netanyahu out of power there’s no choice but to give up on all the left’s principles. And thus, with their voters’ encouragement, Meretz ministers have been primarily engaged in branding themselves as statesmanlike technocrats.

Someone holds a sign that reads "Bibi no way go away," in Jerusalem, 2020.Credit: Ohad Zwigenberg

To see this, it’s enough to browse through, for instance, Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg’s Twitter account for the last few stormy weeks. Was there anything about the desecration of Abu Akleh’s funeral? Or even a brief word about the expulsion of Palestinians from Masefer Yatta? No and no.

Instead, it was all about climate change, veganism and parental leave for fathers, mixed with a dash of Israeli flags. Even her arguments against the Judaization of the Negev were environmental. It could just as easily have been the Twitter account of rightist politician and nature lover Yoaz Hendel.

Ultimately, we have to admit that in the moral scales of most voters on the Jewish left, this isn’t just a story about pragmatic considerations of the “lesser of two evils” type. There’s also a preference for a right whose behavior is more “statesmanlike” (“not corrupt,” “not divisive”), even if its policy is identical; there’s a degree of pleasure in taking part in the decision-making following a long period in exile (“coronavirus policy has improved”); there’s a desire to renormalize the left in Israel’s public and national arena (“look, we’re at the national ceremonies on Mount Herzl”); and there’s also an attempt to “buy time” in a strongly right-wing country.

That final argument is nontrivial even with regard to the Palestinians, since ultimately, there are human beings here whose situation could be even worse. But at the same time, it’s worth paying attention to the deeper, long-term implications. The left hasn’t put any real pressure on its partners over any of its ostensibly core issues; even United Arab List Chairman Mansour Abbas, with fewer Knesset members, has done more. And above all, the struggle against the occupation has been neglected.

A situation has thus been created in which right-wing values dominate both the coalition and the opposition. Criticism from the left is frequently silenced in the name of “anyone but Bibi.” It has been pushed to the margins of the political conversation and is voiced mainly by the Arab parties’ Joint List.

The left is normalizing its people, not its positions. The view that the occupation is an inseparable part of the Israeli reality, regardless of who is in power, has been bolstered.

And what about Ben-Gvir? Actually, he’s also been bolstered, because to keep him out of power, the left has largely fallen silent.

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