21 April '16..
The other night during a speech to the left-wing J Street lobby, Vice President Biden lamented the fact that the Israeli people don’t agree with the Obama administration. From the moment they took office, President Obama and his team have been very clear about their disdain for Prime Minister Netanyahu and his Likud Party. But to their dismay, Netanyahu has won the last three elections and is regarded, despite being personally unpopular, as the only conceivable candidate to lead the country during the coalition negotiations that, in the Israeli system, are part of the postscript to each vote. To the applause of the J Street crowd, Biden said that he looked forward to the day when the views of a Knesset member who happens to be on the left-wing of Israel’s Zionist Union/Labour left-wing opposition party would once again prevail in the Knesset.
Biden shouldn’t hold his breath. Labour hasn’t won an election since 1999. For those who are counting, that’s seven losses in a row. But Isaac Herzog, the party’s current leader, can count. That’s why he’s been doing his best to try and re-position the party that now goes under the name Zionist Union (as part of its merger with former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni’s short-lived party) as part of the country’s political center rather than part of the left.
As I noted back in January, Herzog bowed to reality and stated publicly that a two-state solution — a stand that has been synonymous with the leading party in what used to be called the peace camp — was impossible to achieve in the foreseeable future. Though Herzog has plenty of criticisms to make of Netanyahu and wants to implement some limited unilateral measures on the West Bank to make the situation more livable that aren’t too different from the prime minister’s proposals, he also understood that Israel has no partner for peace among the Palestinians. Even Palestinian Authority Mahmoud Abbas, the man that Obama has lauded as a champion of peace, won’t recognize the legitimacy of a Jewish state no matter where its borders are drawn. Nor will Abbas condemn terrorist attacks against Israelis even when, as happened during Biden’s recent visit, a shooting rampage resulted in the death of a non-Jewish American tourist who was a U.S. Army veteran.
But, with his party still lagging in third place in the polls behind the centrist Yesh Atid Party led by Yair Lapid as well as the still dominant Likud, Herzog has gone even further. At a meeting with Labour activists, he told them they were losing ground to Yesh Atid specifically because Lapid had positioned them to their right on national security while seeking to take a more populist stance on economic issues. If Labour wanted to ever win another election, it was going to have to stop giving the Israeli public the impression that they were primarily “Arab lovers” rather than one that knew how to act as a “ruling party” that could act in defense of the nation’s interests against Palestinians that still seek the Jewish state’s elimination.
Predictably that rather frank yet completely truthful evaluation of Labour’s problems has given the Israeli arbiters of liberal ideology conniption fits. Since the speech, Haaretz, which bills itself as the New York Times of Israel but whose politics are actually more analogous to an American left-wing rag like Mother Jones rather than the liberal mainstream media flagship, has been comparing Herzog to Donald Trump and blasting him as promoting hate.
The comparison between the mild-mannered and restrained Herzog and Trump is ridiculous. Herzog wasn’t trying to deny or denigrate Israeli Arabs. But Herzog, who has been dealing with a corruption probe about the campaign he waged to win his party’s leadership, has bigger problems than Haaretz. So does Labour. What he was talking about was the perception that the party and other members of Israel’s left-wing opposition don’t understand the concerns of the Israeli people. The vast majority of Israelis don’t like the prime minister or even vote for Likud, but they want Netanyahu leading the governing coalition because they understand that he gets it about Palestinian intransigence.
Following the Palestinians’ refusals of several Israeli peace offers that would have given them the independent state they claim to want and the withdrawal from Gaza that enabled Hamas to rule that area as an independent state in all but name whose only purpose is terrorism, Israeli politics changed. The voters would like a two-state solution and peace. But until the Palestinians show they are ready for peace, they want someone who won’t further endanger them by following the advice that Obama and Biden have been the Jewish state about more territorial withdrawals.
Rather than being hateful to Arabs, Herzog just wants his party to stop acting as if the Israeli people haven’t been paying attention to the Palestinians. Once the natural party of government, they are now marginalized because they hitched their wagon to a peace process that was based on false hopes and a lack of realism about what Palestinians want.
And that’s where Obama, Biden, and even Bernie Sanders, who has been campaigning for president while denouncing Israel for not showing enough respect to the Palestinians and defending themselves against terror in a “disproportionate” manner. American liberals may think Haaretz — whose editorial stance has at times seemed more pro-Palestinian nationalism than Zionist, speaks for Israeli values. But even the leaders of Israel’s opposition parties like Herzog and Lapid don’t agree.
What’s happened in the last 15 years is that American liberals have ignored the reality of Israel’s security dilemma that has, at least for the moment, completely altered the country’s political alignment from where it was in the 1990s.
Biden can, if he likes, wait for the views of a far-left member of Zionist Union who opposes Herzog, like Stav Shaffir, to prevail in Israel. But until the Palestinians embrace peace and reject terror, there’s a better chance that the Congressional Hispanic Caucus will endorse Trump.
Even Israel’s liberals aren’t listening to their American counterparts anymore. The dustup over Herzog’s “Arab lovers” remark hasn’t resonated in the U.S. the way not an entirely dissimilar comment from Netanyahu before the last election in which he called for Israeli voters to turn out to ensure that anti-Zionist Arab parties don’t become part of the next ruling coalition. But Israel’s liberal critics should pay attention to it because they need to understand why the vast majority of Israelis think their attitude about the peace process is not so much wrong as it is crazy. Until they do, they’ll never grasp why the Israeli people keep ignoring their advice.
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