The Right's Losing Lessons

The settlers have lost by disengaging themselves from the Israeli public and moving toward resigning from membership in Israeli society.

It should have been over long ago. No disengagement, no Sharon. It was the war the settlers couldn't lose - and did. When Sharon dropped the first hints of his plan, the Jews of Judea, Samaria and Gaza, poised to quash the initiative and depose its author, had everything going for them. Not just brilliant, disciplined organization and full coffers from foreign donors and the budgets of a rainbow of government ministries; for the first time, settlers enjoyed genuine public sympathy as well. Palestinian atrocities in Israeli towns had erased the emotional Green Line that had long separated settler from city dweller. For the worst of reasons, Israelis felt a new kinship with the settlers.

This time, it seemed, only one man stood between them and the Greater Israel that suicide terrorists had inadvertently reincarnated. Nothing but an aged prime minister whose weaknesses the right knew by heart, a politician rendered even more vulnerable by graft allegations and open mutiny in his own party.

How could Sharon succeed? For decades he had been the outcast the left loved to hate, and the right hated to love. Now, with the right feeling betrayed and the left feeling nothing, Sharon had become the prime minister the right lived to loathe, and the left could not bring itself to forgive, much less support.

No Israelis ever knew better than the settlers how to win a political struggle. If they were to lose the battle of the disengagement, they would have to learn how to do so from others.

In the end, it now appears, it was the left - the modern masters of alienating and repelling the Israeli public - that taught the right to lose. The proof is in the lessons learned.

Lesson 1: Exalt military refusal. Nothing gets the goat of the average Israeli like the glorification of the refusenik, unless it is the extremist abroad who extols the refusenik as the martyred hero.

Thus it was that, when leftists in Berkeley took up collections for leftist refuseniks early in the intifada, the step played directly into the hands of Ariel Sharon in forging a consensus for fierce military action.

Thus it was when rightist tributes poured in last month from Brooklyn for Corporal Avi Bieber - the matinee-idol soldier who vocally refused to take part in the expulsion of anti-disengagement protesters - public sentiment in many quarters of Israel turned to those soldiers who, despite personal and political misgivings and emotional turmoil, carried out their orders as humanely and non-violently as they could.

Lesson 2: Appropriate the Holocaust. It was a fringe of leftists - notably the late Yeshayahu Leibowitz with his use of the term Judeo-Nazi - who coined the comparison between the IDF and Hitler's forces. Though the cases were few, they had a telling effect, antagonizing Jews the world over, not least because they were so widely quoted by the far left abroad.

Use of the Holocaust link has been far more widespread by anti-disengagement activists, to the horror of settler leaders who have seen how devastating this has proved to their cause. The orange Star of David patches, the epithets of "Nazis," "Judenrat," "SS," now routinely shrieked at soldiers and police, the incessant characterization of Israel as today's version of the Nazi annihilation machine have all done incalculable, perhaps permanent damage to the settler cause in the eyes of the Israeli public.

3. When public opinion fails, try sabotage. Leftists did pioneering work in this regard when they sought to convince Congressmen and Diaspora Jewish donors to withhold funds unless and until Israeli government policy changed course.

Abandoning half-hearted efforts to persuade the Israeli center to change its mind, rightists have taken the lesson to heart, expanding on it with exceptional creativity and vigor. From then-minister Benjamin Elon's bad-mouthing of Israeli policy before audiences of pro-Israel evangelicals, to the oil, nails and spikes strewn onto the Tel Aviv-Jerusalem highway during morning rush hour, to crippling and dangerous highway shutdowns, the idea of paralyzing the country and bringing the judicial system and the security forces to the breaking point has taken pride of place among legions of rightist activists.

4. Choose frontmen the public can't stomach. Aryeh Eldad, Effi Eitam, Daniella Weiss and the quietly terrifying Moshe Feiglin, like Yossi Beilin, Uri Avneri, Yossi Sarid and Shulamit Aloni before them, are articulate, creative speakers whom the Israeli public, by and large, detests.

5. Beatify the self, demonize the other, abandon the public at large. The settlers' undying admiration for themselves as long-suffering, saintly, deeply superior individuals is a faithful mirror of the left's.

For decades the left irked the public by looking down on the great unwashed, making no real effort to court them as allies.

Now the right has done the same. The settlers have been aglow for years in their fellow travelers' descriptions of them as the best of all Israelis. Now the religious right as a whole revels in its Woodstock Complex, staging major - in its own view mythic - demonstrations for its own benefit, attended only by its own. Witness last week's truncated Long March, during which parents told their children that they would one day tell their own grandchildren they had attended.

If, as the right insists, the sin of the left is an excess of self-hate, the sin of the right is an excess of self-love. So unconditional is their love for themselves, that even if the disengagement is implemented, they will clearly view their struggle as a victory, its goal retro-fitted to saving the West Bank settlements.

The fact is, however, that at this point, even if the settlers manage to foil the pullout, they will have lost. Their defeat is in having disengaged themselves from the Israeli public and in having moved toward resigning from membership in Israeli society.