I’ll be traveling to Israel for the election season, and keeping a travelogue of my experiences, including attendance at political events, interviews with politicians and activists, and a general assessment of the situation on the ground. Please feel free to email me at GuyFrenkel772@gmail.com with any questions or suggestions for topics you’d like to see covered. In addition, please follow our Facebook page and Twitter account, @Partners4Israel for daily update
It seemed only appropriate that my flight to Israel tied in nicely to my work with PPI, complete with the presence of the somewhat famous Dan Meridor. Meridor, as many of you may remember, is known for being a Likud ‘prince’, and was effectively banished from the party in the last primary cycle for not being hawkish enough. Merdior, along with Benny Begin, (current president) Reuven Rivlin, and Michael Eitan were the last vestiges of a sane Likud, before extremist candidates bumped them out of the running. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to converse with Mr. Meridor-a conversation that would have been especially interesting given his outspoken criticism of the right in general and the Prime Minister in particular.
So while I missed out on the opportunity to pick a former Likud politician’s brain about the elections, my seatmate provided me with stimulating conversation, and posed a question to me that I believe all readers of this blog should consider. After mentioning to her that I would be in Israel covering the elections (and her assuming that I was there to support Bibi’s campaign efforts), she confided in me that she was planning on voting for the Buji-Livni joint ticket. We both quickly came to an agreement on the dangers posed by the right, in particular Bennett, who has cleverly managed to hide his fascist leanings behind a slick campaign of catchy slogans. When I vented my frustration about how easily it seemed hoodwinking people into voting for him, she replied, wrly: “I hate to break it to you, but most people just aren’t that smart”.
I find such comments deeply troubling, not least because they are patently untrue; I tend to believe that more than anything, most people suffer from an intellectual laziness, especially during election campaigns when nuance is thrown out the window for the sake of expediency. This phenomenon is certainly not exclusive to Israel, as most of us can attest. However, because they have been so instrumental in alienating large swathes of Israeli society and aiding the far right, they are especially dangerous. Such resentment often surfaces, for example, as accusations against a party like Meretz, which is regularly derided as a Tel Aviv-centric group of condescending Ashkenazis out of touch with wider Israeli society. That the right has, of late, hypocritically gone out of its way to court and cater to a small extremist fringe of the settler movement goes unmentioned.
This poses even greater problems for progressive Diaspora Jews concerned about Israel’s wellbeing. Having by default, been pegged as elitists, they are additionally subject to a litany of reasons as to why their opinions remain invalid: not having served in the army, not having grown up here, not understanding policy in the context of regional developments, not having an accurate picture, etc. I admit that, even as the child of Israelis, and one who has lived, worked and voted in this country in the past, I sometimes feel kowtowed or inclined to censor myself when it comes to these issues.
Without self-abasement or absolute self-righteousness, we must ask ourselves: what can we, as progressives do in what can often appear to be a no-win situation? Where is the line between genuine concern for Israel and paternalism regarding Israeli behavior? Does such a line even exist, and if not, just how critical can we allow ourselves to be without ceasing to be effective?
I believe that there is in fact a middle way that exists. Israelis are often stereotyped as being stiff-necked, a quality that the right has exploited for decades. The notion that the world is ‘against us’ existed long before the rise of the right in Israel, and does in fact have some merit. That the right has so gleefully exploited it over the years to further its own agenda is another matter entirely. As such, threats to boycott and isolate Israel or condescending claims of knowing what’s best will not simply fall on deaf ears, but are almost always more likely to strengthen extremist elements in society. This does not, however, mean that we should stifle our criticism; it simply means that we must be smart in how we present ourselves.
As made evident by PM Netanyahu’s actions vis-à-vis the US Congress, it is clear that US-Israeli relations are seen by a large part of Israeli society as an integral part of their day-to-day well being. While intimidation may be unhelpful, it is well within our rights as progressives to make clear the alienation we feel towards Israeli society’s slow drift to the right. This goes double for younger American Jews who, having only grown up in a world in which Jewishness is no longer a social hindrance, are only aware of Israel as an occupying power, one with which they have little in common. Moving even further out of the circle, we have an American public whose support for Israel is predicated on the notion that Israel, like the US, respects democratic norms.
An Israel that continues to erode these norms and stall for time should not be surprised when support for it erodes as well, and along with it financial assistance and protection in international forums. This is not a threat, but simply a natural and eventual development to the situation on the ground, one that Israelis have a large amount of control over. In particular, there is only so much that Diaspora Jews can withstand before refusing to put themselves on the line and continuing to ‘foot the bill’ for Israel. Presenting the Israeli public with a situation of its own making, rather than an ultimatum will ultimately be far more effective in the long run.
It’s still too early to see if the current scandal with Congress will have an adverse effect on Bibi’s reelection campaign. Here’s hoping, however, that the alienation his actions have caused, and will likely continue to cause, may help make clear to the Israeli voter that the country can ill afford another term under a Prime Minister determined to drag his country’s reputation through the mud merely for the sake of his political survival.