A new Israeli consensus is forming around Protective Edge, allowing the Zionist left to return to its national roots.
Operation Protective Edge has brought to the fore a sense of unity of purpose and political consensus not seen in Israel for a long time • Ran Baratz explains the reasons for this and examines the ramifications for the Zionist and radical left • Bottom line: Even the left understands that not much has changed in our struggle with Jihadist Islam, and Israel must still rely on its national strength and resolve for its survival
Operation Protective Edge reminds one of the days of Defensive Shield in at least one major aspect: a broad Israeli consensus stretching from the political right to some of the people holding positions between Zahava Gal-On and Dov Khenin. Everywhere you can hear: even A or B support the Operation – A or B usually being left-wingers, and not of the moderate sort. Such a consensus requires an explanation. And like any broad phenomenon, the reasons for it are many and varied, rare in their convergence at one time.
From whence consensus?
The Prime Mover of this phenomenon is one political move: the 2005 Gaza Disengagement. For the left, the disengagement was an opening for genuine hope of normalizing relations with the Palestinians. Nehemia Strassler, in an article at the time berating Netanyahu for peddling “doomsday scenarios” after the withdrawal, said it best:
The same day, he provided the public with a series of nightmare scenarios: “In Gaza, an Islamist terror base is being established, Hamas is becoming stronger.” He then ramped up the tone: “Missiles will be fired towards Israeli cities from terror bases which we are allowing Islamic terrorists to establish in Gaza.” Apocalypse tomorrow.
Strassler, of course, saw through this transparent grandstanding. He had an entirely different plan for Gazans, filled with profound insights on human nature – “an Arab, like any human, examines his personal situation above all” – and our relationship with the Palestinians:
Here the Palestinians have a chance to catch two birds with one stone: both to turn Netanyahu’s predictions into dust and to teach the Israelis an important lesson. If the Palestinian Authority and Hamas truly understand the Israeli public, they need to turn Gaza into the most peaceful place on earth. The most hospitable. No more threats, no snipers, no terrorist attacks, no suicide bombers, and obviously no “missiles on Israeli cities.”
Instead, they need to quickly line up the Gazan beach with humus and fish restaurants, and in tandem allow for a convenient and welcoming entry of Israelis into the strip […] as soon as it will be possible to sit in a restaurant on the Gazan beach, enjoying the waves and the breeze, to have humus for ten shekels and a fish meal for thirty – the Gazan beach will become the biggest hit in Israel […]
The minute Gaza becomes an economic success story and the high unemployment shrinks, Mahmoud Abbas will also become a success story […] When this happens, it will become clear to all Israelis that if you give the Palestinians what they deserve – it’s possible to live with them in peace and cooperation. If so, perhaps there’s a benefit to peace after all? And if so, maybe it’s worth copying this successful model a little eastwards, towards the West Bank?
That moment, alas, never came, and Strassler’s “when this happens” proved that he was not fully in touch with reality. Meanwhile, the “fear-mongering” and pessimistic Netanyahu proved to be far more grounded. Nevertheless, Strassler and his cohorts were completely serious.
It’s no wonder, then, that the Zionist left feels betrayed by Gaza. As far as they are concerned, the Palestinians received the opportunity of a lifetime to show the hysterical right that the left understands what will truly appease the Palestinians, and that it is no less politically astute than the security minded right.
The stage was completely prepared for this peaceful play to act itself out. The production stayed on top of things, the extras were great, the orchestra international, the tunes beautiful and the play Shakespearean. But the star of the show – the cursed Gaza – decided to rewrite its role. It fulfilled all the doomsday prophecies of the right and then some. Every rocket now fired at Israel is not just a physical threat but also a thumb in the eye of the left.
In fact, the ideological lessons of Gaza are even more painful for the left. Strassler’s hope – that this successful “model” of withdrawal be applied to the West Bank – is now dead in the water. The rockets and tunnels from Gaza send a clear message to left-wingers who still toy with the idea of a Disengagement from the West Bank and which largely remain loyal to the idea that Israel needs to leave most of it in a final settlement. Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid are explicit proponents of this approach.
But Gaza has proven that this is a very problematic approach, if not outright folly. It is very hard nowadays to convince your average Israeli that a withdrawal – either unilateral or in the framework of an agreement – serves Israeli interests. Suffice to remember that Hamas won the elections in both Gaza and the West Bank. Even Alan Dershowitz, an untiring proponent of the two-state solution, now realizes that the war in Gaza has delivered a mortal blow to this leftist panacea.
The left is also dealing with a clear and painful identification of the enemy and its aims. The missile and tunnel terrors have exposed the Jihadist mentality on the other side of the fence. They make no distinction between right and left; Tel Aviv, the bastion of the left, is targeted daily. Hamas has made it clear that as far as it is concerned there is no difference. It just wants to see dead Jews, and they don’t care who you voted for.
The left used to be able to contain terror. They were usually not exposed to it and even if they were, they believed they were not the real target, just collateral damage from strikes against the “real” enemy (this is the significance of Zeev Sternhal’s infamous article calling on terrorists to focus on killing settlers). And in any event, the left believed that terror is the result of the right’s misguided policies. All these conceptions have been thoroughly destroyed.
Hamastan is the left’s mistake, and Hamas for its part has no intention of differentiating between 1948 and 1967, Tel Aviv or Ofra, right or left. Hamas proved that in Gaza, one can only speak of how we will be murdered or wiped out. For their part, Israelis, left and right, have returned to classical Zionist defiance: we are here by right, this is our home, you won’t win.
Wake up and smell the Arab Spring
If all that’s not bad enough, the Gaza war is taking place against the background of sea changes in the Middle East in the aftermath of the 2011 Arab Spring. Israelis look around them, and see little cause for optimism: ISIS in Iraq, Syria butchering its citizens, rising anti-Semitism in Turkey – with a new flotilla on the way, no less – Jordan weakening, Lebanon Islamizing and Iran playing the West like a fiddle. Even Egypt, right now an ally against Hamas, changes regimes like people change their socks. Any left-winger with their head on straight understands no less than any right winger that the vision of a “New Middle East” needs to go back into cold storage and Israel needs to return to a higher state of readiness with a strengthened IDF.
There’s another variable that needs mentioning, even if it’s not comfortable to hear. It’s not just Israel’s surroundings that are on fire, but Israel itself. A portion of Israel’s Arabs have become a concrete threat. In the Negev, the Galilee and in the mixed and border cities, Jews are afraid for their physical safety. Arab nationalism, Islamist radicalism and political violence are rearing their ugly heads and spreading among Israel’s largest minority. We saw this after the murder of the Arab boy Abu Khdeir, when the country erupted in flames, we saw it when Hamas (falsely) announced the successful kidnapping of a soldier and many Arabs filled the streets with celebrations, and we saw it with the disturbances on the border and the pro-Hamas demonstrations in cities throughout the country. Under the cover of “human rights” and “free expression”, we have allowed dangerous phenomena to arise.
The Israeli public – both the right and the left – is starting to understand that these are explicitly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic phenomena that we have foolishly ignored. They are starting to realize that minorities’ rights should not serve as automatic protection for that portion which openly identifies with enemies of the state. The self-appointed “enlightened” academics who took over Israeli civics education may not want to hear this, but some of the Israeli Arabs are showing signs of being an irredentist group – a national minority openly identifying with a neighboring enemy state (where it is the majority) and openly acting against the state in which it is a citizen. The approach to Israeli Arabs needs to be twofold: encouragement and strengthening of moderates, and a determined policy against Islamist sparks. We have forgotten how to use the stick, and instead give the Israeli extreme Jihadists plenty of carrots.
The world is also changing its tune when it comes to Israel. Arabs and Muslims are of course going wild, but alongside this – and maybe even partially because of this – the political backing Israel is receiving is extraordinary. The first thing to come out of the mouths of the usual suspects of European leaders is not concern for civilian casualties, calls to stop the aggression or condemning the violence “from both sides”, but rather unequivocal sympathy for Israel’s right to defend itself as well as understanding the fact that Hamas uses civilians as human shields. Merkel and Hollande, for instance, were unequivocal in backing Israel up, and the same is true of Cameron in the UK, Harper in Canada, and others. Even the EU condemned Hamas for using civilians as human shields and even the UN Security Council recognized Israel’s right to defend itself. The End Times, they are a’coming.
American public opinion and media outlets are also showing unprecedented support. More than ever, studios are inviting Israel supports to be interviewed, and anchors, commentators and politicians who are usually not among Israel’s defenders are coming out in its favor. One can even find openly progressive and left-wing Rabbis who are “sick and tired of apologizing for Israel” and go over to the offensive against its haters. And the wolf will lie down with the lamb, and the Orthodox with the Reform Jew. Only the administration, which at the outset was balanced and recognized Israel’s right to self-defence, has now decided to side with Hamas and its main funders and supporters, Qatar and Turkey.
But undoubtedly the greatest pleasant surprise comes from Egypt. Much of the Arab World is naturally against Israel – but the rock-solid consensus now has large cracks. Suddenly there are Arab voices who blame Hamas for events in the Strip. These are not marginal voices, either, but the government of Egypt and its head. In fact, Egypt is today a buffer between Israel and the hostile Arab world. The Muslim Brotherhood is illegal Egypt and Saudi Arabia (though not in Israel; apparently it’s not “democratic” to ban organizations dedicated to your destruction), and Hamas is steadily losing support in the Arab world.
The combination of global, regional and local support gives Israel a great deal of breathing space, which the government must translate into operational determination. This unique convergence of circumstances provides Israel with the opportunity to deal a powerful, if not lethal blow, to Hamas in Gaza.
The Left Which was Left Behind
The global and Jewish consensus is particularly broad today. Hamas’ tunnel war against Israel revived a Zionist consensus buried for decades under the weight of political debates, authentic internal struggles, and no small amount of escapism. The nation today is uniquely united, and it is experiencing a feeling of national unity and old-new solidarity, a sentiment that can redefine political discourse and the boundaries of Zionist identity.
But, as always, there are those who missed the proverbial train. The justness of the war against Hamas is not at all clear to the radical left, which apparently forgot to notice the events of the past few years and sober up. Radical left organizations are still going strong: they organize pro-Hamas demonstrations of Arabs and extremist Jews, initiate and sign anti-Israel petitions, sow demoralization and incitement, publish anti-Israel articles in the international media, write legal opinions meant to tie the government’s hands in the war, inform enemy propaganda, and of course – come out against Israel as a bunch of war criminals. It’s “business as usual” on the extreme left, where they continue a conscious and intentional campaign against Israel’s national resolve and maintain ongoing efforts to limit its ability to fight its enemies.
But something has nonetheless changed. Members of the Zionist and national left now feel estranged from this approach. They don’t understand, and rightly so, how can one appeal in the same breath to “both sides” as equally culpable? How can one miss who is the criminal and who is innocent? Who are the righteous and who are barbaric? Zionist left-wingers are now absorbing the fact that the extreme left’s “Objectivity” is a cover for complete alienation from Zionism and a pathological moral dullness, that results in an extreme form of (Palestinian) nationalism. Left-wing politicians and NIF organizations keep making their automatic moral equivalency remarks regarding Israel and Hamas, but it’s not working anymore. Their facebook pages are filled with comments like: “I’m a leftist like you, but it’s time you connect to reality.” Suddenly, the Zionist left sounds a lot less like Amos Oz or David Grossman and a lot more like David Ben-Gurion or Berl Katznelson.
This atmosphere puts the extreme left in a state of cognitive shock. Up until now, it hid under the wings of the Zionist left, receiving legitimacy to act under its aegis. But now the extreme left feels rejected and unwanted. Its activists are driven away, its demonstrations are diverted and run into counter demonstrations, public opinion is far less tolerant of them, and the Zionist left is not too quick to defend them. The Israeli public now knows exactly what the fruits of the extreme left’s activities look like, and because the Zionist left supports this operation without hesitation, the last thing it wants to see is another Goldstone report.
Herein lies perhaps the most important lesson from the changes we have gone through as an Israeli and Zionist society. The process of sobriety which the Zionist left is undergoing, an important and encouraging process in every respect, will have to include a period of accounting with regard to the anti-Zionist and anti-national activity of the extreme left. The Zionist left will have to reroute itself, including a critical reassessment of a number of the axioms of the blueprint of legitimacy for political activity by the extreme left – Jews, Arabs and their Knesset representatives – some of which is funded by Europe and the NIF.
The truth needs to be said: for years, the post-Zionist left has invested an enormous amount of wealth and activity to undermine Israel’s national strength. The rationale of the extreme left is that only Israel is guilty for the fact that there is no peace, and since this Israeli stubbornness relies on Israel’s relative strength, its weakening will promote peace. I emphasize that by “undermining” I am not referring to expressing opinions, holding discussions or internal debates, public disputes or political actions. These are all necessary democratic measures. But there is a difference between those and real actions meant to harm the state of Israel and its capabilities, regardless of the political process, public debate or intellectual persuasion.
A man who runs for Knesset on the platform that the Defense budget should be slashed in order to invest in peace, is most welcome. A man who runs to the UN to libel Israel, based on Hamas activists’ reports, in order to stop its military operations and have its commanders tried in the International Criminal Court – this is already a clear undermining of democracy, and there are grounds for seeing it as treason, certainly in wartime. In fact, the history of democratic states is quite clear on this issue. And in Israel the extreme left’s attempts to undermine Israel’s sovereignty are very widespread, and intensify during military operations.
Israelis are told that this is “liberal” and “democratic,” but this is complete nonsense. There is not a democratic country around that would allow subversive activities of the kind found in Israel. Israel stands alone as a foolish country with no will for self-preservation, allowing those who harm it and work with its enemies to operate in a state of legal anarchy, in which they may do what they like, at any time, against their own country.
For its part, the Zionist left, as long as it thought that we’re heading towards peace, allowed the inclusion of such activities. Now it needs to rewrite its boundaries and leave the anti- and post-Zionism outside in the cold. It’s not easy. It’s not simple. But it is necessary in light of the national challenges we face. No longer can the left say “they also do good work.” From now on, it must be: “they also do good work, but they are mortally harming Israel’s national strength, its international legitimacy and its ability to defend itself, and this cannot be tolerated.”
The weakening of our ability to defend ourselves in this period of huge security challenges is nothing less than a moral and national crime, serving our worst enemies who are openly sworn to Israel’s destruction. One would hope that the war in Gaza serves as a wake-up call and that both right and left would now realize that we have to regain our dwindling national strength, for there is a Middle-Eastern tsunami of radicalism, Islamism and barbaric violence, and somehow all the roads of the Middle-East eventually lead to Israel.
Dr. Ran Baratz is Editor-in-Chief of Mida.
English translation by Avi Woolf.