Turning the Tide
That’s my girl.
Very clever, getting the message, and quickly implementing hard-learned lessons. I’m not referring to my gorgeous one-year old daughter, but to Zahava Galon, leader of Meretz, who last Thursday publicly denounced racist comments made by some on the left against Likud and Netanyahu voters.
By condemning these remarks, Galon was clearly trying to begin the long and arduous process of mending what many see as the reason the left was pummeled in the elections – the huge chasm lying between the left and the center-right accentuated by the fact that the former is perceived, often justifiably so, by the latter, as being an elitist and patronizing group holding lofty ideals detached from reality.
A lot has been said of Netanyahu’s campaign tactics. During the last few days before the elections, he mounted what has been dubbed as the “gevalt” campaign (referring to a Yiddish term used to express shock and danger), with warnings of an approaching catastrophe, accusations against the international community for funding the left campaign, and also an extremely sinister attitude expressed towards Israel’s Arabs on election day itself.
And it worked.
It worked because this message resonated with underlying social and psychological currents. The failure of the Oslo Accords, and of consecutive efforts made in 2000 (the Camp David peace summit), and 2005 (the Disengagement from Gaza) left a deep scar. So did the last four years – with a new Middle East in turmoil toppling friendly or moderate Arab regimes and giving birth to extreme Islamic groups threatening to spread their violence and terror into Israel’s borders. Add to this the confrontations with Hamas in Gaza and barrages of missiles launched on Tel-Aviv last summer, and one begins to understand the aggregated result – an understandable shift to the right.
This shift was coupled with sad, but also understandable, conclusions. Peace as proposed by the left, is seen as an impossible option. Peace initiatives backed by the U.S. and Europe are perceived as detached from reality as the left parties in Israel advocating them. As Ari Shavit points out, this has helped many Israelis to develop “xenophobic tendencies that do not stem from inherent racism, but from a deep fear that the center-left in Israel and the international community cannot assuage.” Looking even further into the past, the shadow cast by the Holocaust is still very much at play, together of course with a very long history of persecution.
The second reason Netanyahu’s “gevalt” tactic worked so well is that it managed to rally those groups within Israeli society who feel belittled and trodden upon. These groups, located both geographically and socioeconomically in the periphery, still feel alienated to a great extent from an establishment perceived by them as being detached and elitist. Netanyahu’s inflammatory rhetoric hit close to heart within these dejected minorities, who still very much remember the discrimination they suffered by left governments in the past. Despite the fact that Netanyahu belongs to this elitist establishment as well, they felt an obligation to vote for Likud because of the past.
These underlying currents are the main reason why the left suffered a blow last week, and to begin setting the grounds for the next attempt to rise to power, it must adopt an entirely new paradigm. If the left ever wants to see the halls of government again and lead this country towards the future it believe in, it has to find a way to connect to the various groups who voted for the right in these elections.
To do this, the left has no choice but to stop promising a theoretical peace plan that is obviously not on the cards right now. This does not mean abandoning the idea of resolving the conflict. On the contrary, it means proposing a different alternative to the path Israel is currently on than the one proposed until now, while also taking into consideration past traumas and present threats. The lofty idea of peace with the Palestinians was never broken down into detailed actionable items during these elections so a good start would be to explain, in detail and down to earth terms, the danger in maintaining the status-quo, and highlight the fact that the only way to guarantee security is to either strive for a regional agreement or – if all else fails – begin thinking in terms of a unilateral disengagement from the West Bank.
The left must begin practicing what it preaches. Instead of the exclusive snobby attitude it normally exhibits, it must adopt an inclusive, liberal and tolerant attitude towards those groups of people whose fears and tribulations Netanyahu expertly exploits. The left must find a way to reconnect with the Orientals, the ultra-Orthodox, Russian immigrants, and the ultra-right, to even begin contemplating the notion of returning to power.
This is the only way I see a shift in Israeli politics taking place. Actually, there is another way – war. So let us all hope Galon’s step last week indeed heralds the beginning of a new grand strategy by the left.