Terra Incognita: Is the ‘elite’ being alienated in Israel?

The secret of left-wing disdain for the country is that it’s no longer in control.

In March 1978, IDF reservists sent a letter to Menachem Begin which formed the basis for the creation of Peace Now. The letter stated that “a government policy that will cause a continuation of control over millions of Arabs will hurt the Jewish-democratic character of the state, and will make it difficult for us to identify with the path of the State of Israel.”
After 10 long years of running the West Bank and Gaza, the 248 signatories to this letter woke up and were suddenly supposedly concerned about the “occupation.”
Thirty-three years later, Ari Shavit, a left-wing journalist, wrote a column in Haaretz titled “Israel would be a backward country without the left wing.” He claimed that “at stake” in the recent debate about supposedly “un-democratic” laws before the Knesset “is the feeling of belonging of Israel’s enlightened elite.
The elite has been defeated in the battle for peace and the against the settlements.
It has lost control of the country and lost its public hegemony.”
He explains that without the tiny elite in Rehavia, Ra’anana and Ramat Aviv, Israel would have no left-wing intellectuals and would be backward and weak.
Shavit parrots the dialectic that Israel’s intellectual elites are always teetering on abandoning the country because the state has failed them, let them down, not lived up to its morals or whatever. It is an attractive thesis because it makes us wax romantic about these poor philosopher wanna-be-kings who, wishing to emulate the Roman aristocrat Cincinnatus, have retired and fear for the future of their people. But the reality is much darker and more hypocritical.
One example of this hypocrisy was revealed by a WikiLeaks leak of a US embassy cable documenting a meeting on February 10, 2010, between Hedva Radovanitz, then associate director of the New Israel Fund, and the embassy’s political officer. According to the cable, “Radovanitz commented that the NIF was working behind the scenes through many NGOs to prevent the NGO legislation from passing in its current form. She commented that she believed that in 100 years Israel would be majority Arab and that the disappearance of a Jewish state would not be the tragedy that Israelis fear since it would become more democratic.”
Radovanitz managed grants totalling $18 million a year. Although the NIF claimed these were only her “personal views,” they are not out of the ordinary among that segment of Israeli society which the NIF represents, the same society that Shavit writes about and the same one that signed the letter to Begin.
This society has argued for years that there is a risk it may abandon the country, whose values have supposedly diverged from its own. But the reality, as revealed by comments meant to remain among “friends,” is that these people gave up on Israel in 1978. The shocking, unacknowledged reason, though, has nothing to do with morals and everything to do with self-interest.
IN 1977 Menahem Begin became the first non-Labor prime minister of Israel. The elite which Shavit refers to is a left-wing elite, made up primarily of former Labor voters who have drifted to becoming adherents of more left-wing parties; Meretz or Hadash. The secret of their disdain for the country is that they are no longer in control of it.
Their opposition to the occupation of the West Bank can be put simply: It isn’t their occupation. This is the dirty little secret behind all the shrill voices that condemn the recent “anti-democratic” legislation in Israel.
The radical Left opposes the Libel Law because it isn’t their libel law. It is important to stress this because there are voices that have always opposed libel laws on principle. But those shrill voices on the Left are not serious in their opposition.
The Rudolf Kastner affair of 1953 was a Leftist crusade against the right wing, which accused Kastner, a Labor party honcho, of being a collaborator with Nazism. No one opposed the libel law when Kastner sued publisher Malchiel Gruenwald for daring to assert the truth: that Kastner had had dealings with the Nazis.
The story is the same with the rest of the laws. Acceptance committees are unacceptable when they are not their acceptance committees. Loyalty oaths are unacceptable because they are not their loyalty oaths.
Israel is a hyper-political country where everything is about politics; one must understand that the moralizing voices have absolutely nothing to do with the immorality of the occupation. Israelis and especially immigrants to Israel forget that.
They falsely assume that when someone tells them “the 1950s was progressive and utopian” that it is true.
Israelis should listen to the words of Amos Elon, another writer and moralizer who claimed the country had gone “quasi-fascist” in a 2004 interview.
“If the Zionism of today isn’t a success story... It’s because of the religiozation and Likudization... I have no common language with the people who are at the top in politics... there is alienation because I don’t know them anymore... I’m not surprised when you look at the population. We know where it comes from. Either from the Arab countries or from Eastern Europe. But on the political level, this arrogance was manifested in a total forsaking... of the elites.”
Israel abandoned the elites because it was too democratic, and in revenge the elites abandoned Israel and called it un-democratic.
The writer has a PhD from Hebrew University and is a fellow at the Jerusalem Institute for Market Studies.