Thursday, February 5, 2015

Memo to the Israeli Left: Israelis Aren’t Quite That Stupid - P. David Hornik

by P. David Hornik

-- the latest poll shows that Israelis are not buying the left’s claim that a world of brotherly love awaits Israel if only Netanyahu’s policies can be replaced by kinder and gentler ones.

Prime_Minister_of_Israel_Benjamin_NetanyahuWhat do “right” and “left” mean in the Jewish world when it comes to Israel?

“Right” means the view that Israel has no choice but to cope with hostility from the Arab and Muslim world, and from Europe, that it does not cause except by existing, along with criticisms and pressures from U.S. administrations that are excessive and unfair. “Left” means the view that Israel itself does much to cause the hostility, criticisms, and pressures, and could become a much more accepted country by correcting its behavior.

In the current Israeli election campaign, the left-wing parties—mainly Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni’s Labor/Hatnuah or “Zionist Camp” and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid—have been sounding the theme that Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has caused Israel’s “isolation” and has soured relations with the United States, creating a rift for which, in their reading, President Barack Obama is blameless.
Although Labor/Hatnuah and Yesh Atid also harp on the theme of Israel’s high housing and food prices, so far they’ve been long on populist complaints and short on coherent proposals for remedies. Public discourse on economic issues in Israel rarely goes beyond slogans—in part because, in the end, almost invariably, security issues take precedence.

This time, too, security issues are paramount, and the latest poll shows that Israelis are not buying the left’s claim that a world of brotherly love awaits Israel if only Netanyahu’s policies can be replaced by kinder and gentler ones. The poll shows Netanyahu’s right-of-center Likud leading Labor/Hatnuah 25-23 (out of a 120-member Knesset). More significantly, it shows Likud along with its “natural” right-wing, religious, and ultra-Orthodox coalition partners gaining well over half of the electoral pie.

Israeli minds were concentrated last week when Hizballah fired missiles into Israel from Syria that killed two Israeli soldiers. They also know that an alleged Israeli strike earlier in January highlighted the fact that Iran is now busily involved, just across Israel’s border with Syria, in helping  Hizballah build an anti-Israeli front there—in addition to the 100,000-missile-strong front Hizballah already has in Lebanon.

Israelis also know—like other sentient beings on the planet—that the region as a whole has, more or less, been going to hell. They know that ISIS-linked terrorists just committed a mass attack in Sinai, that Yemen is on the verge of falling to an Iranian-proxy militia, that Iraq, Syria, and Libya have descended into primal Hobbesian savagery, and also that Europe is boiling with antisemitism. If the Israeli left ever wants to return to power, it will have to come up with some other notion than “If it weren’t for that accursed Bibi, there’d be peace.”

And while the above poll shows a slim majority of Israelis opposing Netanyahu’s upcoming speech to Congress out of fear that it will anger Obama too much, polls also show that Israelis distrust Obama and hardly blame the strained U.S.-Israeli relations on Netanyahu.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Israel’s Army Radio reported that
European officials have told Israeli officials in recent days that the United States and Iran are moving closer to an agreement that would allow the Islamic Republic to keep a large number of centrifuges in return for guaranteeing regional stability….
According to EU officials, US Secretary of State John Kerry and his Iranian counterpart, Mohammad Javad Zarif, have discussed increasing the number of centrifuges which Iran would be permitted to keep. In exchange, the Iranians would undertake an obligation to bring their influence to bear in order to ensure quiet in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria.
…According to Army Radio, the EU is opposed to the proposed linkage between the nuclear issue and other geopolitical matters. In fact, the Europeans suspect that Washington is operating behind Brussels’ back and that Kerry has not bothered to keep them in the loop in his talks with Zarif.
Whatever this report’s specific degree of accuracy, it well fits an emerging picture of a U.S.-Iranian “détente” verging on strategic alliance (see a well-informed, cogent account by former defense official Michael Doran), with Iran’s nuclearization as part of the bargain. With even the Europeans allegedly alarmed, it’s hardly the stuff of a left-wing electoral victory in Israel.

What will happen, then, in the Israeli elections on March 17?

Most likely the right-wing bloc headed by Netanyahu will win comfortably. Netanyahu will then ask Labor to join the coalition. He’ll have two main reasons for it: a desire to counterbalance the ultra-Orthodox and right-wing parties, which will make difficult budgetary and political demands on him, and a desire to attain as much legitimacy as possible, with as broad a coalition as possible, to face the challenges that Israel faces.

And most likely Labor—partly because it knows it has no other way of participating in government and getting cabinet positions—will accept Netanyahu’s offer as it accepted his earlier offer in 2009. Whether Labor can temporarily shelve its Bibi-demonization and act responsibly will then become a key issue.

P. David Hornik


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