The Israeli Left Shoots Itself in the Foot by Demonizing Benjamin Netanyahu

January 25, 2019 | Evelyn Gordon
About the author: Evelyn Gordon is a commentator and former legal-affairs reporter who immigrated to Israel in 1987. In addition to Mosaic, she has published in the Jerusalem Post, Azure, Commentary, and elsewhere. She blogs at Evelyn Gordon.

For years, leftists in Israel—from moderates like the Hatnuah-party leader Tzipi Livni to post-Zionists writing for the newspaper Haaretz—have painted Prime Minister Netanyahu as a dangerous threat to democracy and an enthusiastic builder of settlements. Not only are these claims false, argues Evelyn Gordon, but they have done Netanyahu’s political opponents no favors:

[This leftist] narrative about Netanyahu . . .  has been widely embraced by American Jews and the Democratic party. That’s bad for Israel as a whole, as it has contributed to growing anti-Israel sentiment among both groups. I don’t think either group’s alienation stems primarily from Israel’s policies, whether real or alleged. Nevertheless, had prominent Israeli leftists told the truth—that Netanyahu was doing very little settlement- building [and] that his actual positions are far from his hardline image—it might have slowed the process.

[Moreover], this false narrative hurts leftists themselves since it impedes Netanyahu’s ability to adopt policies they favor. Many such policies, like the dearth of settlement construction, are indeed very unpopular with his base, but he could justify them if they were achieving something important for Israel, like maintaining its bipartisan support in America.

In reality, however, they don’t achieve anything. For instance, despite Netanyahu’s restraint on settlements, the Obama administration repeatedly accused him of “aggressive” settlement-construction, with full-throated backing from Israeli leftists. That makes it impossible for Netanyahu to justify restraint to his unhappy base, which is precisely why he sometimes “caves to them” [as Livni herself put it in a recent interview]. Finally, this false narrative hinders his ability to form a broader-based government. . . .

Many of the same evils obviously derive from Israeli rightists’ favorite trick of calling left-wing opponents “anti-Zionist,” though most Israeli leftists are no such thing. Inter alia, the false narrative that anti-Zionism is widespread on the Israeli left helps legitimatize anti-Zionism as a normative left-wing position overseas.

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