Avi Shamir

Left Out in the Cold

In times of war and all the patriotic hoopla that comes with it, the Left usually finds itself banned from polite society. Take the Cold War, classic example: The Red Scare had whipped McCarthy-crazed America into such a state of jingoistic jubilee that anyone who blurted out the catchphrase “social equality,” got photographed rubbing shoulders with an avant-garde painter in a Greenwich Village pub or shaking hands with a Jewish writer in Hollywood was branded an undesirable shade of pink. With the passage of time, the McCarthy era was looked down upon as a pothole on the American landscape and the Left raised its head, only to be shunned by more flag wavers.

This happened in the Sixties when those crazy hippies came out in droves to protest the Vietnam War. As peace activists demonstrated on campuses, burned their draft cards and shouted the F-word at Woodstock, mainstream Americans mocked them for their naïve view of the real world and accused them of disloyalty. Then, when the draft dodgers were pardoned and the Vietnam adventure was widely acknowledged as a tragic mistake, the Left was once more vindicated.

This didn’t make them any more popular, though. When Leftists started making noises about the deployment of US forces in Iraq, citing the Vietnam disaster, their detractors were as disparaging as ever. Now that the Americans have withdrawn from that death trap no one is sure what they accomplished there over eight years. Still, no one is giving the Left any points for making the right call.

The Israeli Left has an even rougher time selling its agenda, which is indeed multifaceted. Maybe that is because the Israeli wartime experience is so much closer to home. Unlike Berkley, for example, Tel Aviv University is within shooting range of our neighbors on all sides. This doesn’t make it any easier for those who advocate a political solution.

One reason that the Israeli Left has it so hard is that some Israeli jingoists make American rednecks pale by comparison. Recently, as I was getting my car fixed, I was sitting in the waiting room watching a televised news report when one of the cease fires was violated by our quarrelsome cousins from Gaza. The mechanic walked in, listened grimly to the report and said to me: “Israel is like a man who discovers late in life that he’s really a woman. What’s all this talk about cease fires? What is there to talk about? What would they do in Los Angeles –” he ejaculated, raising his voice five decibels, “if they started shooting rockets at them from Mexico? They’d turn Tijauna into a parking lot! What are we doing, sitting around yapping like a bunch of hysterical women? I’m telling you, we’re turning into a nation of transvestites!” – anachnu hofchim l’am shel cocksinelim.

How can anyone with rational Zionist Left tendencies respond to such jabberwocky?

In the wartime climate, the local Left has gone from its usual out in the cold state to a deep freeze. The opposition is behaving like tatellah, the only criticism of Netanyahu is coming from his own cabinet ministers and anyone who puts the words “political” and “vision” together draws funny stares from people.

A sparsely attended Left-wing rally held in Tel-Aviv to protest the IDF operation in Gaza had two notable no-shows: the Meretz party and Peace Now movement, both having opted to maintain national solidarity while the fighting was still in progress. A subsequent small gathering of peaceniks was addressed by Israeli author David Grossman, who suffered the loss of a son in the Lebanon War and has every right in the world to express hopes for a political solution that would benefit our children. What was shocking was not Grossman’s speech, which focused on coming to an understanding with the Palestinians, but the talkback reader responses on the online ynet news report. For airing his progressive views, this sensitive writer and bereaved father was called, by good flag waving Israelis, a self-hating Jew, a traitor and a spokesman for Hamas, among other unflattering epithets.

What is most absurd about all this name-calling is that Grossman, like most Israelis, loves this country and probably couldn’t find one good thing to say about Hamas.

So where does this xenophobic anti-Left hatred come from? How can Left-bent Israelis convince their Right-minded compatriots that they are no less horrorstruck by Hamas and no less loyal citizens of this beleaguered country?

Here’s an idea: The next time the Left stages a rally it should hand out Israeli flags and ask everyone to wave them in a stately show of blue and white, just like on Independence Day. Next, speakers for the Left should add to Country Joe McDonald’s statement at Woodstock and begin their speeches with a rousing F–k Hamas! They should repeat it three times, once to get the media’s attention, a second time to make sure everyone heard them correctly and a third time to let it sink in. All participants at the rally should of course join in on cue. Then they can get down to the business of presenting their case, which boils down to a political solution as opposed to a military one, with an optional combination thereof.

A public statement of loyalty may not impress too many Right-wingers, but the Center is always amenable to shifts in the national mood. And who knows, maybe such an outburst of patriotism can stop a yet to come, Hebrew-speaking McCarthy-type nut case from purging the very same Zionist Left that built this country.

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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