A Response to Yair Lapid

Yesh Atid party chairman Yair Lapid is loth to engage the Israeli press. This reluctance, however, transforms magically into unbridled enthusiasm when it comes to the international press, where Lapid interviews and Lapid bylines can be found every few weeks. This should not surprise any of us. After all, this is the future Prime Minister we’re talking about; nothing less than an impressive pedigree among the international chattering class is acceptable.

But in Israel, and especially when it comes to discussing Israeli politics, Lapid’s megaphone of choice is Facebook (Twitter, with its 140-character limit, is no place for a profound thinker of such substantial caliber as Lapid). Sometimes he is kind of enough to translate his thoughts into English, as he did today with a misguided attack on the Left.

“Something bad is happening to the Left,” Lapid opens. “Of course, they have full right to their stances, and I don’t mind the personal attacks against me (hey there Zahava), but their attempts to side with the Palestinians at all costs have become the only thing which they bring to the political table.”

As someone who has taken pen to paper to defend J Street numerous times, I am fully acquainted with this particular brand of distortion: A leftist, or a leftist group, is pilloried by opponents who can’t distinguish between empathy and subversion, explanation and justification. Zehava Gal-On has, of course, not opted “to side with the Palestinians,” and nor has any other Meretz or Labor politician for that matter.

In his attempt to distance himself from the Left’s camp, Lapid comes across as uninformed and, if I may say so, rather naive:

“And if a female Palestinian terrorist tries to stab a female IDF soldier she is not doing so because of the checkpoints. Rather, it’s because she wants to kill Jews because they are Jews.

“And if the soldier in response shoots and kills the terrorist, she is not doing so because she is part of the ‘occupation.’ Rather it’s because she is defending her life from the terrorist and because she does not want to die.

“And if Palestinian youth try to kill youth their own age in the streets, they are not doing so because garbage trucks don’t come on time in East Jerusalem or because their schools lack budgets. Rather it is because someone brainwashed them on the social networks with horrific incitement in which Jews are compared to monkeys and pigs and they are called to kill innocent civilians.”

To begin, no one on the Left, Zehava Gal-On included, doubts Lapid’s second point. It’s nothing short of libelous to imply that leftists don’t believe soldiers, police officers and civilians have a right to defend themselves when their lives are threatened. What they don’t believe in is a deterrent form of capital punishment before trial. Yair Lapid doesn’t seem to have a problem with this.

It’s clear Lapid isn’t writing a substantive criticism of the Left, but is rather trying to paint them as disconnected from reality. But the first and final examples Lapid cite actually demonstrate that it’s he who is refusing to listen to reason. Does Lapid really believe the occupation plays no role in motivating such attacks? Does he really think the gross political and economic inequalities between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem doesn’t contribute to hateful resentment? That the decades-long history of the conflict, where both sides have committed terrible wrongs, is utterly irrelevant?

The Left has a far more complex and credible narrative to explain the current situation. Writing in YNet, Eitan Haber faults the incitement coming from Raed Saleh and officials of the Palestinian Authority, but not before concluding that Palestinian youths “see no future” for themselves in Israel or in a State of Palestine.

It is an explanation, not a justification. Nothing justifies the stabbings of innocent civilians. But if explanations that involve self-criticism are suppressed or belittled, bad policies, which proceed from explanations, have a better chance at winning the day.

In this area, Lapid begins to exhibit some political lucidity. He still believes in a two-state solution, albeit one he defines in deeply divisive and ugly terms. Those who wish for a government led by the Israeli Left, myself included, know that this is unlikely to happen. The Left will have to support a centrist government in order to influence policy, as it did following the 2006 elections. It’s possible Lapid might be the one who leads such a government, and I hope (and believe) Zehava Gal-On will make the pragmatic decision to join the coalition.

But Yair: This is no way to treat a future coalition partner.

About the Author
Abe Silberstein writes on Israeli politics, Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and American foreign policy in the Middle East. He can be reached at abrsilberstein@gmail.com