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What's the left's right way?

November 24, 2016 23:26

What is it going to take for the left to win an election in Israel?

This vote should have been theirs for the taking. Netanyahu, running for a fourth term, was suffering from voter fatigue, beset by personal scandal, and had a poor record on cost-of-living and other domestic issues. The deterioration of his relationship with President Obama and many Western European leaders alarmed many regular Israelis.

Further to the right, Shas, the strictly Orthodox Sephardi party, had split, while Lieberman's Yisrael Beytenu faced electoral annihilation.

So, if not now, then when for Israel's left? In the aftermath of the election, much analysis focused on Bibi's strength as a campaigner, and Herzog's nebbish character. But this misses the point. The left is virtually unelectable - much as Labour was here in the UK in the 1990s - because it remains completely out of sync with the Israeli electorate on two crucial issues.

The first issue is its commitment to driving forward negotiations with the Palestinian Authority, in order to secure a two-state solution. While most Israelis believe in a two-state solution in principle, the electorate has been absolutely clear that it does not trust the current Palestinian leadership and does not believe an agreement can currently be reached.

The left does not truly understand the plight of the poor

Herzog clearly recognised that this was not going to be a winning issue for him, and tried to focus on social issues instead. But, still, the impression is that the left is made up of naïve peacenik fantasists who will endanger the security of the state.

There are only two ways this will disappear. Just as Peter Mandelson became intensely relaxed about people becoming filthy rich, the Zionist Union needs to become intensely relaxed about Israel managing its conflict rather than solving it. It must become more realistic about the prospects of peace, or develop a new plan which bears no resemblance to the one they've been pushing for years.

Alternatively, they can wait for peace to break out in the Middle East, making their plan suddenly palatable to the electorate again. Or perhaps Bibi will implement it for them, neutralising the issue. This is less unlikely than it sounds - Netanyahu's draft peace plan from 2013, leaked during this campaign, showed he was willing to make significant concessions - but in the meantime, the Zionist Union should prepare to spend another generation or two in opposition.

The left's second problem is that it is still perceived as elitist, secular and Ashkenazi, while the population is increasingly financially stressed, religious and Sephardi. During a leftist election rally, artist Yair Garbuz disgusted the country by playing right into stereotype, denouncing "the kissers of amulets, the idolaters and those who bow and prostrate themselves on the graves of holy men".

Yet the religious people he slandered abandoned their own parties this cycle, and helped hand Bibi his victory. The right speaks their language, the left holds them in contempt.

In addition, while the Zionist Union did campaign on social issues, the perception is that it is standing up for the rights of the middle class to buy expensive flats in Tel Aviv - and does not truly understand the plight of the poor on the periphery.

The fact that "Anyone but Bibi" was the best slogan the left could come up with shows how little it really had to offer. To become electable again, it needs to develop a genuinely inclusive, fresh vision.

The tragedy is that this column could have been written at almost any point in the past 20 years. These issues have shackled the left for too long, and yet they never learn the lessons.

November 24, 2016 23:26

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