Two nights ago, I found myself in Jerusalem’s central Paris Square, and witnessed a tantrum of the left. I saw protestors holding signs that said “Nuu, another war?” or “Wars—Elections.” I spoke to a few of them—communists, radicals, the types who have no bones about calling the government “fascist.” And when I asked them how they felt as leftists, the best I heard was a sort of knee-jerk “disappointed.”
It’s not that these people have no vision—some of them do. But at the end of the day, their argument boils down to a moral one, and the trouble is that holding up “no war” signs by the side of the road will elicit nothing more than an eye-roll and a pang of disgust from the average Israeli. Three people died in Kiryat Malachi from Hamas rocket fire—saying “no” to violence just now isn’t a feasible option. Welcome to the Israeli hard left: A pound of criticism for every ounce of political strategy.
On the flip side, there’s the Labor party, the traditional party of the left, which has become, in recent years, a “centrist” party. And where the hard left lacks political strategy, the Labor party has a glut of it. The Israeli public supports operation Pillar of Defense. And so it turns out that Shelly Yacomovitch, the head of the party, supports it, too. Here’s what she said on Reshet Bet radio a few days ago:
My support for this operation…comes from the fact that this operation is essential and justified, both the assassination and the airstrikes. It is the right and obligation of Israel and the IDF to respond to unceasing rocket fire and the endangerment of lives in the South…I’ve heard the purpose of the government. I entirely identify with and support them. Everything that’s been done up until now is entirely justified, correct and measured.”
But this tack is empty. It merely demonstrates that the conspicuous lack of long-term policy planning of the Netanyahu government ubiquitous. Instead of thinking through a thorough military-diplomatic strategy for Gaza (reengage with Egypt, consider options for strengthening Abbas, bring up the Saudi Initiative), the Labor “left” turns to the Netanyahu-right.
So Israel is left (pardon the pun) with a liberal camp that, on the one hand, is alienated, moralistic, and almost purely demonstrative, and, on the other hand, is almost pure ring-wing mimicry. The left in Israel needs to have its own political conversation, one that engages and is a part of a broader political universe. Until then, it won’t feel “Israeli.”