Israeli leaders must plan for divide with diaspora elections will cause

This election is not about Right vs Left, but rather about who from the Right camp will lead Israel.

Voting in Israel   (photo credit: REUTERS)
Voting in Israel
(photo credit: REUTERS)
This upcoming election will be like none other in Israeli history.
For its first 30 years, Israel was ruled by the Labor Party, alternated between Right and Left for the next two decades, and has been pretty much run by the Right in this century. Now, heading into the March 23, 2021, election, three of Israel’s top four parties are right wing, and all candidates for prime minister with a chance to form a governing coalition coming from the Right.
In fact, if the four right-wing parties – Likud, Gideon Sa’ar, Yamina and Yisrael Beytenu – were able to work together, they could easily form a coalition alone without the need for any other party to join.
So this election is not about Right vs Left, but rather about who from the Right camp will lead Israel. And that leads to the quiet danger that Israel faces leading up to this election, and beyond.
In presentations I make around the world on behalf of Israel, I am constantly questioned by members of parliaments, university students, and many Jewish groups about Israel’s lack of progress toward peace with the Palestinians, which they routinely blame on Israel’s right-wing leadership. I explain to them that it is not Israel’s leaders but that Israel as a whole has shifted to the Right, and that the cause for this shift is the Palestinian failure to accept Israel’s overtures for peace.
I point to the Oslo Accords in the early 1990s, Palestinians rejecting Israeli concessions at Camp David in 2000 (over 90% of the land that the Palestinians were asking for!) and the disengagement from Gaza in 2005, which all led to increased terrorism against innocent Israelis. They are surprised to hear that for decades a majority of Israelis were willing to give up so much for peace with the Palestinians, but that it has now all changed, as a majority of Israelis do not believe that the Palestinians are sincerely interested in peace with Israel. A week like this one, with the murder of Esther Horgan by Palestinian terrorists, only reinforces this sentiment.
But while regular readers of The Jerusalem Post know these facts and this reality, most in the international community and the majority of Jewish communities in the Diaspora do not. They see the right-wing leadership and believe that it is the radical Israeli leaders who are hindering any peace deal with the Palestinians. But whereas in previous elections they rallied behind those who were polling as serious alternatives to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – Yitzhak Herzog of the Zionist Union in 2015, or Benny Gantz of Blue and White in 2019-2020 – now they literally have no one to support, and no hope for a non-right-wing prime minister.
This will inevitably lead to even nastier anti-Israel rhetoric than the norm. And even worse, it runs the risk of creating an even greater divide between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, as Jews around the world – especially students – have a difficult time connecting and engaging with an Israel that they view as responsible for conflict.
Sadly, former US president Barack Obama promotes this belief about the Israeli Right’s responsibility in stopping peace with the Palestinians in his new memoir, A Promised Land. Obama blames right-wing leaders like Netanyahu and Ariel Sharon outright for the lack of progress with the Palestinians, and totally exonerates the mainstream Palestinian leadership. He does mention that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have turned to violence to prevent peace, but places no blame on the Palestinian Authority leadership for inciting terrorism through its school system and for providing financial rewards for terrorists.
Obama then takes it one step further and blames the Israeli people for the lack of progress on peace, a message that will now be read by millions around the world. He writes, “Most important, Israeli attitudes toward peace talks had hardened, in part because peace no longer seemed so crucial to ensuring the country’s safety and prosperity.... Terrorist bombings and attacks within Israel had all but ceased.... Every so often, rocket fire from Gaza still endangered those living in Israeli border towns, and the presence of Jewish Israeli settlers in the West Bank sometimes triggered deadly skirmishes. For most residents of Jerusalem or Tel Aviv, however, the Palestinians lived largely out of sight, their struggles and resentments troubling but remote.”
Aside from the many outright falsehoods presented here, and the lack of recognition of the violent terrorism and rocket attacks that Israel has suffered through all of its existence until today, a well-respected former president has now told millions that the “hardening” of the Israeli people as the scapegoat for the lack of peace between Israel and the Palestinians.
As this election unfolds, voices like that of Obama’s will become louder and stronger, and there is nothing that we can do to stop this from happening. In addition, the liberal Jewish majority in the Diaspora will see Israel’s almost exclusively right-wing election and will become more critical and distant from Israel.
Israel’s leadership should be ready for this and devise a strategy to address the increase in anti-Israel rhetoric that is surely coming. Moreover, and even more importantly, our leadership must develop a plan to address the greater divide between Israel and the Diaspora that will result from this election.
The writer served as a member of the 19th Knesset.