The Zionist Left’s conditional love

If the Israeli intelligentsia is ever to regain credibility among the public, it must stop treating large swathes of that public as non-people who don’t even deserve to be considered part of Israel.

Camp David 311 (photo credit: Bloomberg)
Camp David 311
(photo credit: Bloomberg)
In last week’s column, I discussed a key reason for the growing disrepute of Israeli intellectuals: that so many openly strive to undermine the Zionist project. This, I noted, has tarred even their pro-Zionist colleagues, due to the latter’s strident defense of the anti-Zionists. But another factor has also badly damaged the credibility of Zionist intellectuals: that their support for the Jewish state too often seems to conditional on its adoption of their policies.
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A shocking column by Ari Shavit in Haaretz last month provides a good example. Shavit unquestionably supports the existence of a Jewish state. Yet he nevertheless asserted that the Zionist Left would be willing to fight in Israel’s defense only if Israel adopted the Left’s policies on the peace process.
“Camp David 2000 made the Zionist Left stand behind Operation Defensive Shield in the spring of 2002,” he wrote. “Annapolis 2008 kept the Zionist Left from castigating Operation Cast Lead at the beginning of 2009. Barak and Olmert's far-reaching moves failed vis-a-vis the Palestinians, but succeeded vis-a-vis the Israelis.”
The clear implication is that had it not been for then-prime minister Ehud Barak’s offer of a Palestinian state at Camp David, the Zionist Left wouldn’t have supported military efforts to stop the second intifada’s deadly terror, and had it not been for then-prime minister Ehud Olmert’s offer of the same at Annapolis, the Zionist Left wouldn’t have supported military efforts to stop the rocket fire on Israel from Gaza – even though both intifada and rocket fire emanated from territory Israel had vacated in obedience to the Left’s policies. Moreover, the article continued, should another war erupt this autumn, the Zionist Left won’t support it, because Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu hasn’t made the requisite diplomatic moves.
I strongly doubt Shavit represents ordinary leftist Zionists; if he did, the number of people refusing to serve in the army for ideological reasons would be far higher than the minuscule figure it actually is. Most ordinary leftists would probably side instead with Major Yoav Te’eni, a 30-year-old reservist who, while serving in Gaza in 2003, argued passionately in a media interview that Israel should evacuate the Gaza settlement of Netzarim, but stressed that despite his personal views, “I feel a duty to serve wherever the state sends me, because that’s the basis of democracy.”
But Shavit definitely does represent a prominent slice of the leftist elite, which often seems willing to honor the state’s democratic decisions only if it approves them. In his book Law and Culture in Israel at the Threshold of the Twenty-First Century, for instance, Prof. Menachem Mautner reported on his study of all petitions submitted to the High Court of Justice by Knesset members from 1977-2005. He found that rightist, religious and Arab MKs generally petitioned over personal grievances. But leftist MKs generally petitioned over policy. In other words, while the Left likes to preach the virtues of democracy, its respect for democracy disappears the moment it loses on the democratic playing field: At that point, it asks the unelected court to overrule the elected legislature’s decisions.
Indeed, much of the leftist elite seems to feel that anyone who dares disagree with it simply doesn’t count as a real Israeli. Hence after then-Labor Party chairman Amram Mitzna was trounced in the 2003 election, his wife Aliza shockingly asserted in a media interview that he lost because “There are a lot of people who are still not flesh of the state’s flesh.” In other words, those who don’t support the Left aren’t really part of the state. Then-Labor Party chairman Shimon Peres, today Israel’s president, voiced the same sentiment in a media interview after losing the 1996 election. Asked what had happened, Peres replied: “We lost … We, that is the Israelis.” And who won? “All those who do not have an Israeli mentality.”
That is also the message of Shavit’s article. “The willingness in the last decade to divide the country has united the nation,” he wrote.  It “healed a torn, divided people … It united society and strengthened the state.” And what about those tens of thousands of Israelis who opposed the Oslo Accords, who opposed the Barak and Olmert proposals, who opposed the withdrawal from Gaza, who felt that all these moves were tearing the country apart? In Shavit’s world, they evidently don’t count. Only if government policy alienates the Left is Israel is “torn” and “divided”; policies that alienate the Right “unite the nation” - because to Shavit, non-leftists aren’t actually part of the nation.
Clearly, some on the Right are equally quick to dismiss anyone who disagrees with them as “anti-Zionist” or “un-Jewish,” and this is no less unacceptable. But since most Israeli intellectuals are affiliated with the Left, it is the attitude of the leftist elite that shapes ordinary Israelis’ view of the intelligentsia.
The problem is that the Israeli majority often doesn’t accept the Left’s policy prescriptions. After all, this majority voted for Netanyahu over Peres in 1996 precisely because it was unhappy with the Oslo process – specifically, with the fact that dividing the land caused terrorism to soar. This same majority voted for former prime minister Ariel Sharon over Mitzna in 2003 because it was unhappy with Barak’s Camp David offer and the terrorist war it sparked, and it held Barak’s Labor Party responsible. It then put Netanyahu rather than Tzipi Livni in power in 2009 because it was unhappy with Olmert’s far-reaching peace offer, and held his Kadima party responsible. And this same majority, according to opinion polls, largely supports Netanyahu’s diplomatic policy even today. 
Most people will not respect someone who is contemptuously dismissive of them, and consequently, they will have no interest in anything that person might say. Thus if the Israeli intelligentsia is ever to regain credibility among the public, it must stop treating large swathes of that public as non-people who don’t even deserve to be considered part of Israel. And that means it must stop threatening to abandon the Zionist project any time the “non-people” refuse to adopt its policies.
The writer is a journalist and commentator.