Why has the left in Israel vanished?
he threats uttered against a possible Palestinian declaration of independence by our leaders Benjamin Netanyahu, Avigdor Lieberman and Ehud Barak let the Israeli sanctimony (usually tedious and belabored) drop to the floor for a moment, like a woman’s slip. It exposed the ugly skeleton of force that gives only us freedom of speech – we’re permitted, you’re forbidden. We are allowed to reiterate Israel’s Declaration of Independence over and over. You are not allowed to do so with yours.
The simplest explanation for our privileges, and one that is becoming increasingly significant, is the religious one – the land is ours, from God, not theirs, so we’re allowed to declare independence or harm civilians. The simplest explanation offered by secular people of those privileges is force – we’re strong. These two explanations are the axis of consensus. In the name of this consensus, the military rabbis and officers in the Israel Defense Forces, equipped with equal amounts of hysteria, set out to incite the units on their way to kill in Gaza.
And the left? In this spiritual context no left – which can only exist in a discourse of equality – can have air to breathe. So when the ethos “shut your mouth because we’ll punish you” rules everywhere, Peace Now was bound to disappear and be reduced to paid ads in the newspaper, with no foot soldiers. Meretz was bound to evaporate, and Labor’s doves were bound to crumble. This left insisted on clinging to the consensus, treating the conflict with the Palestinians as a war in defense of the state rather than as a massive policing of an occupied nation with tanks and F-16s.
In short, this left vanished because it was afraid to call a spade a spade – a colonial war. Gradually, tens of thousands of left-wingers altered their positions. They continued to sing ” Song for Peace,” came to terms with “large settlement blocs” and said “no more violence.” Their government plundered water and land, and they knew nothing about it. They told the Palestinians to “lay down your arms” and denounced soldiers who refused to serve in the territories as though they had betrayed them.
Throughout the 42 years of occupation, those moderate peace movements hardly made any contacts with the Palestinians. The Palestinians, for their part, did not always help, at least not during the first two decades of the occupation. But in that estrangement and in the peace camp’s clear preference to be on “the Israeli people’s side,” the left vaporized between one military operation and the next. It supported the IDF, sighed over the situation and waited for the Americans to make order in the region.
Every now and then dovish Israeli leaders cooperated a little with the Palestinian leaders in the territories; the Geneva Initiative, for example. But it was always accompanied by derision and moral preaching. Yossi Sarid’s “look for me” was the most concise summary of this connection. It said, you need us, we don’t need you.
There was one difference between the left-wingers hiding at home (they don’t even come to the Yitzhak Rabin memorial rally anymore) and the Barak-Netanyahu consensus. The first believed in the two-state solution, while Israel’s leaders always thought in terms of subordination – the Jordanian option, autonomy, or turning the Palestinian state into a dummy state, a subordinate in the shekel zone, existing precariously among Israeli-ruled settlements. A state with no economy or sovereignty.
This is why right-wing leaders who suddenly discover the need for “two states” – Ariel Sharon, Tzipi Livni, Shaul Mofaz and of course Netanyahu – haven’t really come a long way. Their aim was and remains to fritter away Palestinian independence into something doomed to continuous crisis, one that the IDF could easily solve. “Two states” was intended mainly for Israel’s image in the world.
But Israel, as the Israeli left sees it, now needs the Palestinians’ obstinacy more than anything. It needs their readiness to mark borders between the occupied territories and the State of Israel and to fight for those borders with protests, demonstrations, passive resistance and appeals to the international community.
Like the heroic stand of many South African whites in support of the African National Congress, a unilateral declaration of Palestinian independence gives the Israeli left a chance to finally launch a struggle with the Palestinians against Israel’s politics of force, for the sake of our normal life.