Israel’s crossroads: The Zionist Camp or Netanyahu’s Titanic

The Right’s “strategy” of ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and internal cleavages within Israeli society has done infinitely more harm than good.

By NOAH ARBIT
January 28, 2015 21:39
4 minute read.
Netanyahu and Abbas

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) gestures as Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas looks on. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Though Israel’s upcoming elections were originally denounced as unnecessary, it has since become clear that the stakes could not be higher. Indeed, with these elections Israelis will cast their vote for the type of state they want – a Jewish and democratic one that fulfills the Zionist vision, or an isolated one that embraces extremism.

Concerned by increasing security threats, the Israeli electorate has undeniably shifted Right over the past decade. This trend stems from the widely accepted – but inaccurate – political paradigm which posits that Israel’s Right safeguards security effectively, while the Left jeopardizes it by pursuing a peace settlement with the Palestinians. But this paradigm, if it was ever accurate, has not been so for many years. The actions of Israel’s leaders across the political spectrum have invalidated this paradigm, and it is high time voters abandoned it.

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Indeed, if the past six years under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have shown anything, it is that the Right’s “strategy” of ignoring the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and internal cleavages within Israeli society has done infinitely more harm than good.

With Netanyahu steering the ship, the State of Israel has become increasingly ostracized by the international community, illustrated by the fraught state of relations with the United States, the International Criminal Court’s preposterous investigation of Israel for “possible war crimes,” the EU allegedly mulling sanctions for continued settlement construction, European parliaments recognizing Palestine, not to mention rampant BDS and anti-Israel rhetoric on American college campuses.

And yet, it’s no small wonder why the global prejudice against Israel has increased exponentially over the past few years. While undeniably stemming from classic anti-Semitism cloaked in anti-Zionism, it is also the result of Netanyahu and his right-wing, nationalist ilk’s self-defeating and irresponsible political actions and policies. From provoking international ire by annexing Gush Etzion at the height of Operation Protective Edge (when the world’s critical eyes were already focused hawkishly upon Israel), to announcing tenders for 1,000 homes in east Jerusalem during a visit by Vice President Joe Biden (affronting America, which is increasingly weary of defending a country whose actions do not match its words), Netanyahu’s actions have been consistently suicidal.

Indeed, the prime minister has displayed Oscar-worthy showmanship and politicking, but little in terms of logic or thoughtfulness; he suspended the peace talks with the Palestinians last spring, refusing to negotiate with the Palestinian Authority because of its rapprochement with Hamas, only to turn around and negotiate with the Gazan terrorist group in Cairo this summer.

Incompetent leadership imperils any country – but in the most vulnerable of countries, it can mean the difference between life and death. Israel is one of these countries, and it is in desperate need of an alternative to Netanyahu. Enter former justice minister Tzipi Livni’s and Opposition leader Isaac Herzog’s Zionist Camp – the game-changing center-left bloc uniting Herzog’s Labor party and Livni’s Hatnuah. Since its founding late last month, the Zionist Camp has galvanized Israel’s center-left electorate, and has enjoyed a small yet consistent lead over Netanyahu’s Likud in almost every opinion poll to date.

By promoting pragmatic policies to reverse Israel’s isolation and pursuing a secure and lasting peace with the Palestinians, the next government of Israel, if led by Herzog and Livni, will undoubtedly be more vigilant in ensuring the country’s security, preserving its Jewish and democratic character, as well as more effective at improving its global standing. Because unlike the prime minister, who has done nothing to temper the world’s growing hostility toward Israel – and everything to inflame it – prime ministers Livni and Herzog would do everything in their power to curtail it.

Yet, just as in every democracy, it is the voters – not Livni or Herzog – who will be the arbiters of Israel’s future. And the time has come for them to reject the fallacy that the Left will sacrifice security for a hollow peace.

Rather, it is the Right that has sacrificed Israel’s reputation to avoid the inevitable hard choices peace entails – in a phrase, eschewing the burdensome but vital responsibility of governing. It thus falls to Livni and Herzog to convince Israelis that peace and security are not mutually exclusive, and that they are most fit to lead Israel into a new era.

For now, they seem to be on the right track. As evidenced by their high-energy campaign, the political duo seems to have truly electrified Israelis, inspiring in them, as Barack Obama did for Americans in 2008, with hope.

And with the existence of hope, everything becomes possible – from the establishment of a center-left government, the ascension of Israel’s second female prime minister – even peace with the Palestinians. This is not some exhibition of naive idealism; the power of hope to galvanize the will of a people is quantifiable, potent, and real – and has always been at the heart of the Jewish experience.

As elections draw nearer and Israel’s future hangs in the balance, we must take heart in the words of Hatikvah: “Od lo avdah, tikvateinu – our hope is not yet lost.”

The author is a student of International Relations and Israel Studies at American University in Washington, DC. He is a proud Zionist and hopes to continue his involvement with Israel, politics, writing, and Judaism throughout his career.


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