OpinionIsrael-Palestinian Conflict

Israel’s left lost the public’s trust

The left’s irresponsible conduct during the 1990s and refusal to this day to concede that the Oslo Accords were flawed have seriously eroded its base of support.

Israel's Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and party members hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2020. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Israel's Labor Party chairman Amir Peretz and Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and party members hold a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 12, 2020. Photo by Tomer Neuberg/Flash90.
Dan Schueftan
Dan Schueftan

The Israeli public has already made its voice clear: It wants the right in power. While many right-wingers and centrists don’t give high marks to the Likud, they are not going to vote for left-wing parties but rather for other parties in the same ideological camp, including many who wrongly claim that Israel’s democracy is under threat. In light of the fact that the right’s base of support is actually centrist, the polls show only one clear thing: The left’s appeal has been shrinking.

There was a time when parties tried to cast themselves as something they are not. The precursor to the Labor Party, Mapai, used to be a centrist party during the pre-statehood period and definitely during the 1960s and 1970s, both on socioeconomic matters and on national security and foreign policy. But it cast itself as a Socialist party in order to set itself apart from the right, which it often portrayed as fascist and whose urbanites it mocked.

In these historical circumstances, the right was an outcast among those who saw themselves as champions of freedom and democracy. In other words, the center cast itself as left, whereas the right was relegated to fringe status.

These days the situation is reversed: Those who want to win over the core of the Israeli electorate go out of their way to make sure they are not perceived as leftists. The left is automatically suspect, and rightly so, as being reluctant to embrace Israel’s Jewish character and Zionist goals.

One of its slogans—“to be free in our land”—has shed “a people” from the original phrase, taken from the national anthem. Left-wingers also keep calling for “total equality” for Israeli Arabs under the Declaration of Independence and dilute the very premise of a Jewish state on which Israel was established.

Even the non-radicals on the left have lost the public’s trust due to their irresponsible conduct during the 1990s, and have still refused to concede that the Oslo Accords were flawed. When you preach some abstract concept of “peace” to the public, most people view it as some form of deception. When people hear about “socialism,” they just laugh out loud and when justices and State Attorney’s Office officials are cast as saints despite trying to impose their worldview on the public, people react with suspicion. The bottom line is that the left has no real base of support.

The right-wing base also includes hard-core, racist and dangerous elements, but it has not grown and must be isolated. Those who get the support of the suspicious right are the parties that are unabashed about Israel’s Jewish character and support national solidarity, and outright reject the Arab political leaders’ efforts to undo Israel’s identity and the Palestinian attempt to blame Israel for everything.

Those parties are the ones who do not shy away from confronting Arab-Jewish issues despite being accused of racism, and who have an unfavorable view of judges and prosecutors who use the courtroom to advance their careers. These are the parties who refuse to throw the baby out with the bathwater and embrace Israel as a whole. If the left mimics this behavior, then perhaps it will one day have a shot at winning.

Dan Schueftan is the director of the International Graduate Program in National Security Studies at the University of Haifa’s National Security Studies Center.

This article first appeared in Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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