Elections and the Shell-Shocked ‘Left’

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The Dangerous Mizrachi Red-Herring

Currently, it looks as if it may prove harder to form the new coalition government than expected. This will provide at least some uplift to the spirits of the Center-Left which is still in a state of shock.

The election result obviously disappointed and dismayed many – especially in the media. As a result, many have been casting about for a scape-goat. This turns out to be voters of a Mizrachi background. They are variously supposed to be too hostile to Arabs to appreciate the finer points of genuine peace-mongering or too poor and too uneducated to understand that by voting for Bibi they were voting against their own interests.

This reminded me of a talk I attended many years ago in the UK given by James Klugmann. James was one of the brilliant group of Cambridge communists associated with the spies Philby, Burgess and others before the Second World War. He was also a marvelous lecturer. Almost everyone who met him immediately called him James (his name was actually Norman).

In this particular talk, his aim was to answer the question of why the then British Prime Minister, the Labour leader Harold Wilson, was such a failure and had betrayed the working class yet again. Klugmann said he had asked this question at an earlier version of the talk and a voice in the audience had shouted, ’because he’s a bastard’. Klugmann responded that while this theory certainly had its attraction, he wasn’t entirely sure it satisfied as an explanation.

The Dominant Issue

So what is the explanation for Netanyahu’s amazing election result? It seems to me that the main, central, leading issue, which continues to dominate all others, is the issue of how Israel is to survive in a nasty and dangerous environment. This trumps everything else. How Israel is to thrive in this environment (housing, cottage cheese, Haredi issues) plays second fiddle. Losing sight of this is a big big mistake.

This core problem can be simply stated. It is that insofar as the Palestinians & the Arab world recognize Israel as a state they refuse to accept its Jewishness. And insofar as they recognize its Jewishness they refuse to accept it as a state – adopting the derisory phrase Zionist entity instead. This refusal to accept Israel as a Jewish state kills stone dead any prospect for a final status agreement / peace agreement / 2-state solution based on 2 states for 2 peoples (see The Israeli Demand that Palestinians Accept Israel as a Jewish State).

Sadly, many lose sight of this or even deny it altogether. Currently, if we also add to this basic situation the observation (made by Netanyahu and others) regarding the unbelievable savagery all around us, the conclusion is unavoidable: a final status peace agreement on the basis of 2 states for 2 peoples is currently an impossible dream.

Unfortunately, in trying to remedy the neglect of the dominant issue by the previous Labor Party leader, Shelly Yechimovich, in the 2013 election, the Yitzhak Herzog-Tzipi Livni team suggested that in some unspecified way they could make some unspecified headway on this. In other words, they failed to see the obvious – and put themselves in opposition to it. This is a big problem. It means that many people, including me, deduced that they were sadly misguided and so cannot be trusted on the main issue facing us. In fact, before a previous election, I wrote arguments along these lines (see, Tzipi Livni: Inept or Dangerous).

Therefore, it is hard to see that a Mizrachi background or a certain income bracket or a lack of education leads to this conclusion. Of course, this line of thought is not to everyone’s taste. Many really don’t see it – and perhaps don’t want to see it? But the price for not seeing it is wishful thinking and a disastrous misunderstanding of what is possible and not possible with the peace-process.

The advantages of the ‘Mizrachi’ approach

The approach that blames the Mizrachim for Netanyahu undoubtedly points to a certain amount of ‘tribal’ voting. But ‘herd’ voting patterns exist pretty well everywhere. Unfortunately, in Israel this Mizrachi name-and-blame approach may itself be an expression of tribalism. Crucially, it means that if the required reconsideration on the dominant issue facing Israel continues to be evaded by the shocked and dismayed, they will remain shocked and dismayed.

But there is a contrasting idea about the Mizrachim. Perhaps a Mizrachi background provides a better underlying understanding for the absence of possibilities for a peace settlement than the wishful-thinking of many educated/wealthy/Ashkenazim? In other words, the Mizrachi poor did not vote against their own interests at all.

In fact, even if ‘own interests’ are deemed to be primarily economic, it is hardly clear that voting for the Left would have made them wealthier. In any case, no-one was stopping the Left or anyone else from crafting economic or social policies with an appeal to Mizrachim. Therefore, although the shell-shocked commentators and the Left want a scape-goat, the Mizrachi-thing is largely a red-herring that hides their own failure on the main issue faced by Israel.

Underlying all this is the widespread feeling that something should be done about the conflict with Palestinians; that we are marking-time and it is about time the conflict was ended. But the issue for practical politics is: what is that something? Equally obviously, a really good answer is needed.

Without a really good answer, the promotion by Herzog-Livni of the line that they had even the faintest idea that they could make a difference to the fundamental attitude of the Palestinians and Arab world towards Israel was mere chicanery. They were not only fooling themselves, but also the Israeli public. Crucially too, they fooled and pandered this nonsense to the US and elsewhere. Of course, this behavior weakens us internationally. It seems to me that a superior approach would have been a bipartisan consensus with only minor differences on the main issue – with major differences reserved for social and economic issues.

Herzog-Livni undermining Israel

Instead, by following a flawed ‘understanding’, various electioneering errors of a certain type were the result. For example, on Iran, it was very foolish for Herzog to have said he relied on Obama. Instead, he should have shouted from the rooftops a broad bipartisan support for Bibi’s position – and should have accompanied him to the US to demonstrate essential Israel unity. Instead, in a feeble attempt at party-political gain, he chose to weaken Israel’s international position on the two main issues facing us: the Palestinians and Iran.

Additionally, the name ‘Zionist Camp’ chosen by Herzog-Livni was unfortunate. It didn’t fool the right wing and it didn’t appeal to the Left or to the Arab List. It also meant that the Zionist Camp could hardly risk elaborating new policies with a direct appeal to Arab voters. Likewise, even though much of the media thought it a stroke of genius, the deal with Livni to alternate the position of PM was an error. She was unpopular, unreliable and very much the junior partner on the basis that Herzog was scheduled to supply 75% or so of their joint mandates. So why give her so much so fast – and then rescind it at the last minute?

As a result, it is very hard to avoid the conclusion that all this made Herzog look weak, foolish and incoherent. Sadly for the Left, if indignation and ideology continue to triumph over rationality, they will continue to be seen as foolish and incoherent. And if they continue with the astonishingly arrogant attitude that blames everyone else for being fools, it will take a miracle to get them re-elected.

The diplomatic initiative

In other words, Israel needs far better than Herzog-Livni can give. In particular, from diplomatic and solidarity points of view, Israel needs to avoid once again being embroiled in the fake final status negotiations they so dearly desire. These have the disastrous effect of obscuring the intransigence of the Palestinian zero-sum approach behind the appearance of a win-win procedure. This simply reinforces the impression that Israel and not the Palestinians is the obstacle to peace and thus solidifies international hostility towards Israel.

Instead, the new Israeli government will be better served by demanding Palestinian acceptance of Israel as a Jewish state as a prior condition for final status talks. If the Palestinians continue their rejection, it becomes easier to demonstrate that they are pursuing a winner-takes-all strategy that denies and makes impossible the solution of 2-States for 2-Peoples.

Therefore, it is better to bring this whole issue into the open and make it the corner stone of Israel’s public diplomacy. It would be hard to imagine a measure more able to raise the international profile of the foremost issue regarding a genuine end-of-conflict settlement. Yet given Livni’s track-record, it’s hard to see that she is capable of the adjustments in thinking and political positioning required for this. But is Herzog?


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