Commentary Magazine


Why the Left Lost

The Israeli Left is undergoing political introspection – an obligatory process for every party in the wake of electoral defeat. What went wrong? The Left finds itself so weakened post-election that as former leader of leftist Meretz Yossi Sarid remarked today, it is not even certain whether it will be able to lead the opposition! He explained the tendency of Left-wing voters to support Tzipi Livni in this election in terms of “strategic voting” gone awry: it did not block Benjamin Netanyahu; it just tore the left to shreds. In the aftermath, the Right captured not only the government, but also the opposition.

There is certainly something to the above interpretation, but it’s still too mechanical to capture the essence of why the peace camp fell out of favor with Israeli voters. Obviously, strategic voting by those opposed to the rise of Netanyahu played a significant part in obliterating the electoral standing of parties like Meretz and Labor. However, focusing the debate on voting patterns rather than political principles is counterproductive to the Left’s efforts at rehabilitating itself. Until the Left grasps that its core failure was one of ideology – not of political tactics – its self-corrective measures will be superficial and ineffectual at persuading a majority, or even a significant minority of voters, that its leaders and political platforms deserve another opportunity.

So – what’s the fundamental problem with the Left? Popular Israeli author Eshkol Nevo has got it right: the Left lost because voters are convinced that it is excessively concerned with the welfare of Palestinians and insufficiently invested in Israel’s interests. His recipe for the successful resurrection of the Left starts with the following points:

Stop mortgaging all resources in favor of the Palestinian issue: Throughout the Western world, the Left entails a comprehensive worldview that includes civil, moral, economic, and environmental aspects. Only around here, being part of the leftist camp means mostly worrying about Mahmoud Abbas’ wellbeing. Resolving the conflict with the Palestinians is critical, yet in practical and moral terms it can’t be the only thing that matters.

And speaking of the Palestinians: Perhaps the time has come to admit that the idea of “land for peace” was attempted twice in recent decades and achieved problematic results? The Left is allowed to keep on believing that the Gaza disengagement failed because it was not coordinated properly and that the Oslo Accord collapsed because Netanyahu violated it, yet perhaps it would be more productive to think in new directions: The Arab League’s proposal? A diplomatic breakthrough vis-à-vis Syria? More massive international involvement in the negotiations?

Making peace with the Palestinians and “ending the occupation” have become the Left’s overarching goals — to be achieved at all costs. That’s the real reason most Israelis — even some who are generally sympathetic to the Oslo days’ principles — are uncomfortable with its platforms. They want leaders working toward peace while keeping clear priorities: Israel first, the rest of the world second; Israel first, “ending the occupation” second; Israel first, making life better for Palestinians second. Of course, many Leftist leaders argue that their passion for the Palestinians’ interests is motivated by their concern over what’s best for Israel. I actually believe in the sincerity of their conviction. But along the way they’ve lost the Israeli public’s confidence; not simply the confidence in the policies they have been prescribing – but also the confidence that they can keep their priorities straight.