Avi Shamir

Left Out In the Cold – part 2

The Israeli Left in wartime is like a secular Jew at the wedding of a religious relative. The Left in a war zone covers its collective big mouth to keep peace among Israelis; the secular wedding guest covers his head or her bare arms and legs to keep peace in the family. When the wedding is over it’s just like when the war is over: There is no real peace.

Religious-secular tensions aside, Israeli national solidarity is a wartime fantasy. It lasts only as long as the Left keeps its political agenda on a low backburner. Unity was the order of the day when an IDF soldier was lynched in Ramallah, or more recently when three teenage kids were kidnapped and killed on the road to Hebron. Both tragic incidents underscored our collective need to close ranks and fight a cruel enemy, and both postponed our longstanding argument over how to resolve our conflict with the Palestinians. Before Operation Protective Edge, no one had the patience to listen to those who said that working out a political solution should be our top priority. And in the wartime climate, anyone who suggests a peaceful alternative is silenced, or in some cases even threatened. So as this unifying war stumbles from one cease fire to the next barrage of rocket fire, the muzzled Left meekly gives in to the popular wartime slogan: “Quiet, they’re shooting!”

Unity among Israelis certainly isn’t a peacetime fantasy. During the early days of the Oslo peace initiative, those who were against the plan didn’t lapse into respectful silence or even make pretenses of giving it a fair shot. Instead, they called Yitzhak Rabin a traitor. Then, when Rabin was murdered and his dream of a peaceful solution faded, all the Right had to do was whisper their magical “shhh, they’re shooting!” mantra, knowing that they could depend on the Palestinian suicide bombers and silence of the Left to prolong this asymmetric war, and the asymmetric politics that go with it.

As long as Israel’s national security mindset rules out the option of forging alliances with the practical players in the Arab world to strike a deal with the Palestinians; as long as we confuse old and tired slogans like “there’s no one to talk to” and the “whole world is against us” with national policy; and as long as our political savvy doesn’t go further than the Right keeping the Left in its place, all this wartime solidarity is a coffee break, like our cease fires with Hamas.

When this round of the fighting ends the Left will reap no rewards for the grace period it gave to Prime Minister Netanyahu, which is more than he received from his coalition partners. No one will remember that at different times many high ranking IDF officers strongly advocated a political solution; no one will give points to Israeli peaceniks who sent food parcels to residents of the Gaza Envelope settlements, or wept when our soldiers were killed; and no one will notice that among the many battle hardened reservists who fought and bled in Gaza there are those who will say: Now let’s work out a political agreement, so we can say we fought for a reason.

No rapprochement with the Left or internal peace is likely, as many Israelis don’t believe that a political accord with the Palestinians is even doable.

The question is, just how many Israelis feel that way? Is there indeed a majority of naysayers? Or do all our hopes for normal relations with our neighbors depend on the whims of the Haredi parties who have the numbers to tip the balance of power? A reminder: Netanyahu can always reshuffle his troublesome coalition by bringing the opportunistic Shas party into the mix.

Would a Labor-led government be left with the same option? Like the secular guest on his best behavior at a religious wedding, the Israeli Left in a peace initiative is a Labor MK who smiles at his Haredi partners to keep the peace in the coalition – not something you can build on for our future standing in the Middle East.

Of course all this is very hypothetical. Labor is not in power these days, Meretz is widely looked down upon and one might say that the Left is still stranded in its more familiar surroundings – the political desert. At least for now, until the better-than-Haredi option, the political Center’s mythical “swing voters,” make the conceptual transition that demands a political settlement with our neighbors.

About the Author
Avi Shamir is a freelance writer, editor, translator and the author of "Saving the Game," a novel about baseball. A Brooklyn College graduate with a BA in English, Avi has contributed to the Jerusalem Post, The Nation, Israel Scene, In English and The World Zionist Press Service.
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