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Several dozen right-wingers interrupted a leftist demonstration against the Israeli operation in Gaza, beating and threatening several demonstrators, Tel Aviv July 12, 2014 ( https://www.facebook.com/TalSchneiderPlog )
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Expect the second coming of the Israeli Left

Though a cliché, the saying "reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" certainly applies to the current condition of the Israeli political left. Too many headlines and statements repeatedly mourn the left in what has become part of the post-war ritual. Some express real sorrow, some unhidden joy. Others welcome what they see as a coming of age - finally - of a slow group of people who finally saw the light and gave up on the childish leftist rubbish. Many see the left as yet another victim of the war in Gaza, another casualty of Hamas.

Well, the left has been hurt and scarred by the war just like all Israelis, but declaring it dead is certainly premature - despite the social climate, in spite of the poor showing at the few anti-war demonstrations in the last seven weeks, and contrary to what studies show. And if dead – it certainly stands a good chance of being reincarnated and transmogrified into the right's agenda.

The most recent public opinion survey conducted by the Israeli Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv University about 10 days ago can indeed be bad news for the Israeli left: 34% identified themselves as part of the right, 28% as "moderate" right, 22% as centrist, 9% "moderate" left. Only 3 percent of respondents defined themselves as left. Thus, after many years of a right-left tie, and a decline to a low of about 17 % of Israelis who identified themselves as leftists, the new data reflects an all-time low. Yet the big question remains - what does it really mean. The range of answers is endless. Let's start with the more obvious one.

Any survey conducted in times of war, with respondents going in and out of shelters, is bound to reflect a certain mood. Operation Protective Edge was certainly confusing to those many leftists who found themselves supporting the war and opposing the more radical leftists demonstrating in the streets. Self identification as "left" in a survey becomes more complicated under those circumstances.

It's safe to believe that many of those respondents will revert to their traditional positions as soon as the situation calms down. In addition to the internal conflict of the leftists, the public atmosphere has certainly become non-conducive to self-declaration as "left". The terms "left" and "leftist" became obsolete, and people still expressing "leftist" opinions were often verbally and physically persecuted. Fear prevailed, as never before. So did confusion. Just like the lines between the military front and home front were blurred, so were the political lines between coalition and opposition.

A political extra-parliamentary camp needs a leader. The left hasn't had a strong one for a long time, certainly not during this last war when almost all the opposition was more loyal to the prime minister than his own coalition. In the process, the left just earned more enemies. Under the thin cover of unity, old angers and resentments lurked. When kibbutzim bordering Gaza – mostly associated with left-wing politics - were hit by rockets and their members killed – some media identified with the settlers and the Zionist religious movement opined that they deserved it. Their argument went something like this: the kibbutzim supported the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in 2005 and the evacuation of its settlements; now it's payback time." Cruel, mean and painful.

Having said that, the eulogy is way early. The future may prove it totally wrong. In order to assess the situation, we need some basic common definition of the term "left" in Israel.

Unlike other countries, it has nothing to do with a social and economic agenda. It's all about the future of the occupied territories and the nature of a solution for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This distinction may change the picture completely. Many of those who wholeheartedly supported the war in Gaza, even those who advocated greater military force, know the conflict cannot be resolved by force. They know that any ceasefire based on force only is a temporary solution, a short intermission between acts of violence. More and more Israelis have come out of the shelters with the growing recognition that only a real peace agreement can put an end to this endless cycle of violence.

Compared to Hamas, even Mahmoud Abbas, the president of the Palestinian Authority, often defined by the Israeli right as a "non partner"- seems a more appealing option. All the solutions proposed for ending the conflict – a two state solution, territorial concessions, a peace agreement with Abbas – have so far been associated mainly with the left. Now, more than ever, they are being reluctantly being considered by many right-wingers. They don't call them "leftist" ideas, but who cares. The situation is too serious to fight for credit.

Lily Galili is a feature writer, analyst of Israeli society and expert on immigration from the former Soviet Union. She is the co-author of "The Million that Changed the Middle East."


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  • Karine Cohen
    Karine Cohen - September 04th 2014 - 11:18am
    The left is Zionist and built colonies, the right is Zionist and build colonies, no difference between left and right in Israel, both are Zionists. Zionism cancels the other.
    The 2 states solution isn't in fair for the Palestinians, 2/3 of Palestine will be occupied for ever by the Zionists who didn't stop for one day killing, uprooting and torturing the Palestinians.
    The faire slution is to send back the Zionists to their homelands and stop uprooting the Jews from their countries for Zionists goals.
  • Bear Klein
    Bear Klein - September 03rd 2014 - 07:52pm
    Israelis no longer believe in a two state solution. This was the last main issue of the shrinking left. People like the Defense Minister Ya'alon (a Kibbutnick) learned from his experiences that Israel can not give up land to a people who have for 100 years decided at the end of the day they will not agree to a Jewish State no matter the size. A few people hold onto the wishful thinking if we would do a little of this or that we could have peace. Sorry Lily it simply not so. By the way the left is shrinking fast and will not be the majority in Israel based on a two state solution that is near dead and should be formally buried with the annexation of Area C in Judah and Samaria. Report
  • Aryeh Zelasko
    Aryeh Zelasko - September 02nd 2014 - 11:40am
    What is really dead is the Left-Right dichotomy in Israel. What is the correct divide is of those who are loyal to the Jewish People and those whose loyalty is elsewhere. Most of those who identify themselves as Leftists are not loyal to the Jewish People. This does not make them traitors or enemies. It just means that their loyalty to the Socialist International or Communism or whatever precedes any connection they have to the Jewish People. The continued existence and advancement of the Jewish People in Israel is either of no importance to them or a very low priority. They believe that there are much more important issues. As we have matured as a nation, our sense of connection to each other and Israel has grown and as a result any loyalties to outside causes has greatly decreased. To a great extent, those whose loyalties were elsewhere are now elsewhere and not in Israel. As a result, the extinction of the "Left" in Israel is an irreversible process. They will not come back. Report
  • Dan Friedman
    Dan Friedman - September 01st 2014 - 09:52pm
    Ms Galili, the Haaretz columnist, is dead wrong. I lost count long ago, but this would be the fifth or sixth coming of the Israeli Left. Report