Recent charges that the NGO Breaking the Silence has engaged in espionage in addition to its ‘normal’ activity of collecting and disseminating unverifiable information to embarrass the IDF have stirred a hornet’s nest on the Left.
Someone hearing about the affair from outside of Israel probably gets the impression that the nation is bitterly divided. It is not. Israelis overwhelmingly oppose the activities of BTS and other left-wing organizations.
The NY Times columnist Thomas Freidman likes to talk to taxi drivers to hear the views of the man in the street (or behind the wheel). My guess is that 99 out of 100 Jewish Israeli taxi drivers will tell you that hanging is too good for BTS, B’Tselem, etc. Even some of the Arab ones would agree.
The recent Pew survey of political and religious attitudes in Israel found that only 8% of Israeli Jews self-identify as part of the Left; the rest place themselves in the center (55%) or on the right (37%).
Those who find it hard to understand how it can be that Benjamin Netanyahu – a moderate and a centrist despite what the NY Times and the Guardian like to write – has been Prime Minister longer than anyone else, even Ben-Gurion, can relax now. It’s because Israelis vote for him.
Nevertheless, this 8% has remarkable power inside Israel, as well as the ability to project its voice to the world. The Left absolutely dominates the creative and performing arts here. Exhibitions feature their work, prizes and grants are given to them by committees made up of their ideological twins. Their films and books picture Israel to the world. Try making a right-wing film in Israel! The universities, at least in the humanities and social sciences, are solidly packed with leftist instructors. These academics serve as visiting professors at universities in the US and Europe on a regular basis.
All but one of the TV stations, plus the state-operated radio service and even Army Radio lean leftward (which is one of the reasons the BTS exposé, on Israel’s TV Channel 2, was so shocking).
Israel’s ‘newspaper of record’, whose English Internet edition is read by diplomats and foreign journalists around the world, is the extremist Ha’aretz. Its print circulation in Hebrew is minimal; the center-left Yediot Aharonot and the center-right Israel Hayom together reach 17 times as many Israelis than Ha’aretz. Regular columnists in Ha’aretz include Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, who bash Israel consistently, as well as a legion of less well-known but equally anti-state writers.
These and others contribute op-eds in English to publications like the NY Times and are interviewed on NPR in the US and the BBC in the UK. Sometimes one of these outlets will present a discussion between an Israeli Jew and a Palestinian; the Israeli is almost always a leftist academic or journalist. If a right-wing person is interviewed, he or she will be presented as extreme and not be allowed to be persuasive.
Finally, there are the numerous leftist NGOs like BTS and B’Tselem and publications like +972 Magazine, which in engage in anti-Israel propaganda within Israel and abroad, legal activities against the state and the IDF, and which cooperate with anti-Israel politicians and UN officials. While they are staffed by Israelis and registered as Israeli organizations, they get the greatest part of their funding from foreign sources, especially the European Union and individual European governments.
All of these, in addition to their ability to throw obstacles in the path of the government in Israel, have a huge information footprint outside of Israel. So it is no wonder that people think that many Israelis are on the Left.
They are not. The Left in Israel is dying, strangled by the reality of the Second and Third Intifadas, the hostility of Hamas, and the knowledge that no concession to the Arabs can end the threat from Iran, Hezbollah and Da’esh. The kibbutzim, formerly leftist strongholds, have become mere neighborhoods. The Army, formerly led by left-wing (but still Zionist) kibbutzniks now has more and more young officers who wear knitted kipot. They will move up the ladder to the top spots.
The Left is increasingly composed of aging ideologues and bitter anti-state extremists. It is on life support with money flowing from Europe. If that stopped – and attempts are being made to at least control it – Israel would look quite different from outside.
A correspondent recently wrote to me saying that he was worried by the lack of a will to fight and pointed to the “rot of left-liberalism” weakening Israel and the West and even “moral decay” in Israel. He pointed to the remark by Ehud Olmert that “Israel is tired of fighting…” that I quoted in a recent post about Israel’s response to the Iranian threat.
I would like to assure him that at least in the case of Israel, he should not be too quick to think that the culture as a whole is decadent, just because the ‘rotten’ Left has such a loud voice. Unlike Europe and the US, the real Israel is getting stronger, psychologically as well as militarily.
The Israeli Left is a Potemkin village, a Hollywood set. There is no substance, only surface. Don’t let its big mouth fool you.
As you point out the disturbing thing is the undue influence the Left have had and do have in various spheres of Israeli life. This is bad enough but the Left has too played a tremendous part in supplying ammunition to Israel’s enemies.
So I do not think it is right to dismiss the Left as something without substance. The problem is that its substance has been so damaging to Israel.