The revolution of the left wing

Regardless of her reasons, Yechimovich's ultimate victory in the primary indicates a new trend.

Shelly Yacimovich 311 (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
Shelly Yacimovich 311
(photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)
When Shelly Yechimovich was running to be Israel’s Labor party leader, she needed to project an image that was different from her competitors’. In an interview with Haaretz in August 2011, she made a comment that not only set her apart, but also signified a dramatic revolution in Israel’s left wing. She said, “I certainly do not see the settlement project as a sin and a crime.”
Was Yechimovich trying to gather support from settlers, or was she showing the entirety of the Labor membership that she had a relatively conservative foreign policy when compared to the other Labor leader candidates? Regardless of her reasons, her ultimate victory in the primary indicates a new trend. Due to several factors, the peace process is no longer the number one issue on the agenda for left-wing Israelis.
One of the issues that has distracted the Left away from the peace process is social justice. Last summer’s tent protests had such an enormous affect that they forced politicians to take on platforms dedicated to supporting social democracy above all else. However, while this issue is an indication of a deep economic problem facing Israelis, it is certainly not the primary aspect of this revolution.
But the main factor is that from Yasser Arafat’s rejection of a Palestinian state at Camp David to the second intifada; to the shelling of Israel’s northern population by Hezbollah terrorists; to the shelling of Israel’s southern population by Hamas terrorists; to the occupation of the Sinai Peninsula by Pro-Hamas Beduin terrorists, many Israelis have realized that land for peace is not a holy contract that the Arabs will respect.
Many leftists are sick and tired of defending territorial concessions.
IN A recent poll by Dr. Miriam Billig and Dr. Udi Label of the Ariel University Center of Samaria, 64 percent of respondents said they support continued settlement activity in Judea and Samaria. While Efrat Forsher of Israel Hayom has said that this poll indicates Israelis have “shifted politically rightward,” perhaps this is not the case at all. Maybe the very dynamics of Israel’s left wing are changing in such a way that it is becoming acceptable to be hawkish on the peace process and still vote for a left-wing party.
Yechimovich points out in the interview that “It was the Labor Party that founded the settlement enterprise in the territories.” Does this mean that the revolution is one with deep roots in the Labor party itself, and therefore not alien to the Israeli Left? Is Israel’s Labor party (and the majority of the Left) readopting the hawkish mindset that began with former Labor leader David Ben-Gurion and continued with many of the Labor leaderships’ successors? Recent polls show that Labor is most likely to be the largest left-wing party in the next Knesset. Kadima’s leader Shaul Mofaz has spent too much time discussing the Palestinian issue, such as when he declared to the New York Times two months ago that he will “respond to 100% of the territorial demands of the Palestinians.”
The Left is tired of daring peace initiatives that risk the lives of millions of Israelis, and prefer that politicians try to tackle simpler issues, such as the price of cottage cheese (about which Yechimovich has been livid).
This may have powerful implications for future coalition governments.
A unity government may be more likely since Labor is under the leadership of someone who has more ideological similarities with the Right on the peace process than former Labor leaders. This may give Binyamin Netanyahu, who is projected to stay on as prime minister, the ability to anger current coalition partners (for instance, the haredi parties over a Tal Law replacement) and not worry that he is creating future enemies that will make coalition building impossible.
WHAT DOES this mean for the Palestinians? Twelve years ago, the Palestinian Authority rejected a generous peace deal, initiated a war of terror, and in return was given Gaza absolutely for free. Now, they may have to provide confidence building measures to the Israeli government since Israeli voters are less eager to sacrifice territory than before.
When the new Labor leader became leader of the Opposition, she was provided with the traditional Audi. In the theme of modesty, she declined the $280,000 vehicle for her own Mazda.
This is the kind of left-wing leadership that Israel can expect to see over the coming years. Cautious, conscious and unpretentious.
This writer is a Politics and Hebrew & Judaic Studies student at New York University. He is also the president of Violets For Israel, the pro-Israel political organization at NYU.