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."