Editor's Notes: Why is ‘Left’ an Israeli curse word?

In other words, reporting the news – and boy, was it news – is what makes you immoral and a leftist? Have we gone crazy?

Left wing protesters in Tel Aviv (photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Left wing protesters in Tel Aviv
(photo credit: BAZ RATNER/REUTERS)
Moshe Ya’alon was the IDF chief of staff during the Second Intifada, and one of the commanders over Operation Defensive Shield that saw Israel reconquer the West Bank following the Park Hotel Passover Seder massacre in 2002.
Gabi Ashkenazi was appointed chief of staff after the Second Lebanon War against Hezbollah. He oversaw the rehabilitation of the military, the bombing of Syria’s nuclear reactor, as well as Operation Cast Lead during which approximately 1,400 Palestinians were killed. Remember the Goldstone Report which accused the IDF of being overly aggressive and committing war crimes? That was after the Ashkenazi-led operation.
Benny Gantz replaced Ashkenazi. He commanded over the IDF as it began its covert war against Iran’s entrenchment in Syria, and ended his term shortly after Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, a 50-day military campaign in which over 2,100 Palestinians were killed.
Do these three sound like typical left-wingers? Do they sound like people who are weak and inexperienced, as Likud campaign videos would have us believe?
I know what some of you are thinking: Yitzhak Rabin was also a famous war hero and IDF chief of staff during the historic and transformative Six Day War. But he changed, signed the Oslo Accords, shook Yasser Arafat’s hand, and ended up legitimizing a murderous terrorist.
Ehud Barak, another highly-decorated chief of staff, became prime minister and went to Camp David, where he offered Arafat almost all of the West Bank, half of Jerusalem, and the Temple Mount. The Palestinian leader’s answer was an unprecedented terrorism onslaught against Israel.
That’s all true. Chiefs of staff can be left-wing, and that is perfectly within their right. The thing is that these three – Ya’alon, Ashkenazi and Gantz – seem to be different. Ya’alon, the most hawkish of the three, is completely opposed to a Palestinian state, supports continued Israeli building in Judea and Samaria, and is against the withdrawal of even a single Israeli settlement.
And while Ashkenazi and Gantz have previously expressed support for two states to end the Palestinian conflict – as has Yair Lapid, co-leader of Blue and White – both have said for several years now that they do not believe such a solution is possible in the foreseeable future.
This makes them not that much different from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who in 2009 gave the famous speech at Bar-Ilan University, in which he voiced his full support for a demilitarized Palestinian state. In 2010 and 2014, Netanyahu held peace talks with PA President Mahmoud Abbas.
The Bar-Ilan speech wasn’t the only step Netanyahu took to profess his desire for peace. In 2009, he was the first prime minister who froze settlement construction for nine months, and continued to refuse to permit construction even after the freeze was lifted.
He released over 1,500 Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons, and as finance minister voted multiple times in support of the disengagement from the Gaza Strip. In his first term as prime minister, Netanyahu signed the Wye River Memorandum  as well as the Hebron Accord, which allowed the Palestinian police to be deployed in the ancient Jewish city.
And most recently, he is the prime minister who is transferring $15 million every month to Hamas in the Gaza Strip. We can only imagine the field day Netanyahu would have if his political opponent was paying protection money to a terrorist organization.
Does all that mean that Netanyahu is left-wing? Well, if Gantz, Ashkenazi, Ya’alon and Lapid are Left, then based on what Netanyahu has done, he definitely seems to be there too.
THE POINT of all of this isn’t to determine who is Left and who is Right, but rather to look at why political leanings have become such toxic terms. What happened in Israel that being left-wing is perceived as treason? Why is the term so negative that even Avi Gabbay, when elected head of the Labor Party in 2017, said that the Left had forgotten what it means to be Jewish?
As seen in the ongoing election campaigns, something is wrong with the political discourse in Israel today. Last Friday, for example, I shared on social media The Jerusalem Post’s front page. It was one for the history books – a photo of Netanyahu across the top half of the page, looking down at the floor as he walked past an Israeli flag, his shadow looming on the nearby wall. The headline on the photo – “Bribery, fraud, breach of trust” – were the charges the attorney-general said that he plans to bring against the prime minister after a hearing in a few months.
It was a powerful and well-designed front page but it was straight-up in terms of the news. No positions were taken, and no personal opinions were presented. Nevertheless, a number of readers accused the Post of being a leftist newspaper and “immoral.”
In other words, reporting the news – and boy, was it news – is what makes you immoral and a leftist? Have we gone crazy?
People on the Right will tell me that the answer is simple: it is how you portray the news, or whether you take the attorney-general’s decision at face value. They will also claim that the Left tried to lead Israel to peace but instead led the state to disaster. The Left’s policies, these right-wingers say, are flawed, and its platforms are rotten.
All that might work well in a Likud campaign video, but real life is far more complex. Calling someone Left is meant to undermine the validity of what they say or do in today’s political climate. You don’t have to agree with the Left to agree that this is a sad state of affairs.
Let’s also be honest – the only reason this kind of rhetoric is even tolerated is because no party is really banking on votes moving from one camp to the other. Real leftists vote for parties on the center-left and will not vote for parties on the Right, while the same is true about voters on the Right. The fact is that in all of the recent polls, while Gantz might be up in numbers, he is still not moving large numbers of voters from Likud over to Blue and White.
A FEW YEARS ago, I asked one of the ministers in Netanyahu’s government how he managed to sit in cabinet meetings with the prime minister and work with him. In the recent elections, I said, he attacked you ferociously. How do you just put that behind you?
“That was politics,” the minister said. “The day after the elections that is no longer relevant.”
For better or for worse, that is the Israeli system – Netanyahu calls Gantz a weak leftist one day, while Gantz and Lapid accuse him of being corrupt and a “yored,” the derogatory term used for an Israeli who left the country. But then the next day one will offer the other to be his defense or foreign minister, and jointly they will determine the fate of our nation.
This is important to keep in mind when thinking about the type of government that will be established after the election on April 9. While Blue and White might be leading Likud by five-to-six seats based on recent polls, it cannot form a coalition. On the other hand, while Likud appears to get closer to the 61 seats needed, it still doesn’t have a majority of the parliament.
In short, if the current polls are the way the elections will end in just over a month, there is a chance that Israel could find itself in another election if both Netanyahu and Gantz refuse to join together. As of now, without Gantz’s party, Netanyahu does not have a coalition, just like Gantz doesn’t have one without Netanyahu.
Netanyahu, let us not forget, likes coalitions in which he is in the middle. In 2009, for example, he had Ehud Barak and Avigdor Liberman, and in 2013 he had Tzipi Livni and Naftali Bennett. One party on each flank to give him cover, from the Left and the Right. This way, he believes it makes him seem like the responsible and mainstream leader.
How he pulls that off this election season remains to be seen. While a narrow right-wing government might be possible depending on if the smaller right-wing parties pass the threshold, if it isn’t, Netanyahu will need to try and bring in Gantz, who will face the same challenge if he is tapped to form the coalition. He too might not have enough seats without Likud, and will then need to partner with Netanyahu, or his successor at the party’s helm.
The rhetoric and personal attacks are likely to get worse before they get better. On April 10 though, the real work will begin when the leaders will need to try and find a way to bridge the divide and form a stable and responsible government that the people of Israel deserve. Until then, let’s try to remember – this is just politics.