Politics: 5769: The year the Left died?

Politics 5769 The year

The year-in-review television and radio broadcasts at the culmination of 5769 did not devote much time to internal Israeli politics. The elections in the United States and Iran were given just as much play as our own race. Perhaps it was because those elections could arguably have a greater impact on Israel's future. Or maybe it was because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu's election was seen as inevitable. The few moments devoted to Israeli politics focused on the biggest surprise of the election - the extent of the Left's downfall. It had been widely predicted that Labor and Meretz would take a dive, but not even the most pessimistic prognosticators on the Left would have predicted at the start of the race that the two parties would together yield only 16 seats. There were many causes for the Left's languishing. Kadima robbed Labor and Meretz of votes with its smart but false "it's Bibi or Tzipi" campaign. Labor chairman Ehud Barak's campaign didn't add new voters to his party's aging electorate. Meretz might have made a mistake in choosing 69-year-old Haim Oron instead of Zehava Gal-On, a crusader on civil issues who could have attracted young and frustrated voters. But what hurt the Left the most was that the election took place in the aftermath of a war in Gaza that created a rally-around-the-flag effect which moved people rightward, when they were already going in that direction after 16 years of failures in the peace process amid Palestinian rejectionism. Emblematic of this was Tair Soussana of Kibbutz Mefalsim near Sderot, who had voted for Meretz her entire adult life, but switched to Israel Beiteinu after eight years of rocket fire near her home. Since the election, Labor joined Netanyahu's government, President Shimon Peres has defended him around the world, Meretz has been invisible, and Kadima leader Tzipi Livni has struggled to remain relevant while a Likud-led government is beginning a diplomatic process and freezing settlement construction. A Shvakim Panorama poll broadcast on Israel Radio on September 10 even found that more Israelis gave Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman a positive approval rating than Livni. So if not Livni or Oron, who has functioned as the leader of the Israeli Left since Netanyahu's government was formed six months ago? The answer is not Barak, but Barack. US PRESIDENT Barack Obama championed a campaign against settlements, and he tried to advance the peace process. To date, he has failed on both fronts. But he continues to try. And more than anyone, he has had the impact that the Israeli Left once had of pushing the government's policies away from the Right. It is no wonder that whenever any Israeli politician attacks Obama, political reporters' beepers ring with a defense of the president of the United States from Oron. Some politicians on the Left have lamented that their activists are merely quiet because the Palestinians aren't giving them hope. But if the Palestinians started taking steps to move the peace process forward, they would be back on the streets pushing the government. Politicians on the Left have expressed frustration that they have no influence at a time when they believe the peace process must be moving forward fast in order to stem the demographic threat. Perhaps the politicians on the Left would feel better if they knew what their counterparts on the Right were saying. A minister known for his hawkish views reacted to a question this week about whether 5769 was the year the Left had died by saying that the opposite was true. He said that in the past year, the impact of the Left was considerable and disproportionate to its dwindling electorate. He added that the Left's power was now projected indirectly via NGOs, the media, the courts, academia, and the White House. For instance, former Meretz leader Yossi Beilin barely made headlines when his Geneva Initiative was re-launched in a September 15 press conference in which he presented a comprehensive, 400-page report about how to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But Beilin sent copies of the report to the Obama administration and leading politicians around the world. The minister speculated that Obama adviser Rahm Emanuel had probably already read it in depth. Peace Now's efforts against settlement construction have also born fruit in the White House and the courts. Until recently, the government regularly responded to Peace Now's lawsuits about unauthorized West Bank outposts by admitting that they were illegal, but claiming that the timing to remove them was not right. Only last month, after lobbying from Vice Premier Moshe Ya'alon, did Netanyahu begin to insist that the government's position in court be that the outposts were in stages en route to approval. The far-Left organization Yesh Gvul has had an impact in and out of Israel's borders. It initiated lawsuits against Israeli generals and politicians in Britain three years ago, seeking their arrest for the 2002 assassination of Hamas terrorist Salah Shehadeh. Since then, the organization's tactics have been copied around the world, culminating in this week's attempt to arrest Barak in London. Ironically, the first target of the legal battle against Israel that intensified this week was Barak, who purports to be the leader of the Left.