Analysis from Israel
As an explanation for Israel’s global unpopularity, this thesis simply doesn’t fit the facts.
When a theory unsupported even by minimal evidence becomes accepted as truth, it’s time to worry. And you know it’s happened when it’s cited as unchallenged fact even by people outside its political home base. That’s why I was appalled by Gil Troy’s Jerusalem Post column last week, in which he attributed Israel’s unpopularity overseas partly to “Likud’s rise and Labor’s decline” and the existence of “ideological” settlements deep in the West Bank.

Troy is no radical leftist; he’s a political centrist, ardent Zionist and tireless defender of Israel. He’s also a professor of history at McGill University, which makes his lack of historical memory doubly distressing.

Take, for instance, his claim that “millions toasted” Israel’s victory in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, but subsequently, “The Likud’s rise and Labor’s decline made Israel less popular in Europe and with Social Democrats,” a trend exacerbated by “escalating the settlement project.”

Can Troy really have forgotten that during the Yom Kippur War, when Israel came perilously near annihilation due to lack of arms with which to continue fighting, not one European country would even allow American planes bearing these vital supplies to land in its territory for refueling? Nothing Europe has done to Israel in the 40 years since – including the recent economic boycott efforts – even comes close to this collective complicity in Israel’s attempted eradication. Yet back then, Labor was still the unchallenged ruling party (Likud took power only in 1977) and “ideological” settlement hadn’t yet begun. As then-Prime Minister Golda Meir complained bitterly at the next Socialist International meeting, the “good” old Labor-led Israel won no support from European social democrats, either. 

Then there’s Europe’s longstanding relationship with the PLO, which dates to the “Euro-Arab Dialogue” of 1975 – long before the PLO officially (if insincerely) renounced “armed struggle” in 1988, and just a year after it adopted its famous “phased plan” for Israel’s ultimate eradication. France, Italy, Luxembourg and Ireland supported making the PLO a full partner in the newly launched dialogue. Other European Community members weren’t quite ready for that, but they did agree to the PLO’s inclusion in a pan-Arab delegation.

In short, far from cheering Israel’s survival in 1973, Europe promptly sought to undermine that survival by recognizing an organization whose 1968 charter made no secret of its genocidal goals. And this, again, happened while Labor was still firmly in power and no “ideological” settlements had yet been built.

Nor should we forget the UN’s infamous “Zionism is Racism” resolution of 1975. As delegitimization goes, it’s hard to beat having two-thirds of the world’s countries declare that while self-determination is laudable for other people, it’s “racist” when practiced by Jewish people.

Troy does mention this resolution, but fails to note that it, too, was adopted when Labor still reigned supreme and no ideological settlements yet existed. Indeed, as Yossi Klein Halevi perceptively noted, the first such settlement, Sebastia, was authorized three weeks after this resolution passed – and might not have been had many Israelis not been so revolted by  the resolution that they saw Sebastia as a fitting “Zionist answer.”

The thesis that Likud and the settlements are responsible for Israel’s unpopularity has an equally counter-factual corollary: If Israel would just elect left-wing governments and evacuate settlements, its popularity would increase. Troy trots out that fallacy as well, declaring that the 2005 disengagement from Gaza “helped staunch” the “exorbitant military and diplomatic price Israel was paying for staying in Gaza.”

Really? Has he forgotten that three years and 6,000 rockets later, when Israel finally took military action to end Gaza’s nonstop bombardment of the Negev, it was slapped with the Goldstone Report accusing it of war crimes (including deliberately targeting civilians) and recommending its indictment in the International Criminal Court? That slanderous document, ultimately repudiated even by its lead author, won overwhelming backing not only in the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly, but also in Europe: Only eight European countries voted against it.

Thus when a prime minister considered a super-dove – Ehud Olmert, the man responsible for Israel’s most far-reaching peace offer ever – launched a three-week incursion to stop rocket fire from territory Israel had fully evacuated three years earlier, Israel’s reward was the Goldstone Report. Yet nothing comparable occurred in 2002, when a premier then considered an uber-hawk (Ariel Sharon) permanently reoccupied much of the West Bank to stop the intifada. In short, far from being staunched by Israel’s pullout from Gaza and election of a left-wing premier, the diplomatic bleeding only got worse.

As even leftist Haaretz columnist Ari Shavit subsequently admitted in a moment of candor, “When Ehud Olmert’s Israel turns out to be less legitimate than [hardline Likud premier] Yitzhak Shamir’s Israel, there is no true incentive to continue to give in.” And there’s no intellectually honest way to keep blaming Likud and the settlements for Israel’s unpopularity.

One can certainly understand why leftists keep doing so anyway: Propagating the myth that Likud and the settlements are to blame furthers their goal of persuading Israelis to abandon both. One can even understand why many non-leftists buy this myth: Quite aside from the fact that anything people hear often enough starts sounding plausible, the delusion that it’s “only” Likud and the settlements the world hates – that if we just got rid of both, the world would love us again – is much less unpleasant than acknowledging that much of the world will hate us no matter what. Yet the evidence simply doesn’t support this theory.

The good news is that most Israelis seem to grasp this intuitively: In a 2010 poll, 77% of Israeli Jews agreed that “no matter what Israel does or how far it goes towards resolving the conflict with the Palestinians, the world will continue to criticize Israel.” The bad news is that this myth nevertheless continues to dominate the public discourse, thanks to the silent majority’s failure to challenge it publicly and consistently.

So next time someone tells you Likud and the settlements are to blame, challenge them to explain how this thesis fits the facts. Europe’s behavior in 1973 might be a good place to start.

Evelyn Gordon is a journalist and commentator. Follow her on twitter here.

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How Israel’s Electoral System Brings the Country’s Fringes Into Its Center

Like Haviv Rettig Gur in “How and Why Israelis Vote,” I, too, think the advantages of Israel’s parliamentary system outweigh its disadvantages, and for essentially the same reason: because it keeps a great many people in the political system who would otherwise remain outside it.

Critics of the system’s plethora of small parties—as Gur notes, no fewer than 43 parties have been vying for Knesset seats in this year’s election—maintain that it should be streamlined and redesigned so that only big parties would be able to enter the Knesset. In that case, the critics argue, people who currently vote for small parties would simply switch their votes to large ones.

No doubt, some voters would do so—but many others would not. There are at least three groups among whom turnout would plummet if niche parties became by definition unelectable: Arabs, Ḥaredim (including some ḥaredi Zionists), and the protest voters who, in every election, propel a new “fad” party into the Knesset. (In 2015, as Gur writes, the fad party was Kulanu. This year, it’s been Moshe Feiglin’s pro-marijuana, libertarian, right-wing Zehut party, which Gur doesn’t discuss although polls have consistently showed it gaining five to seven seats.)

Together, these three groups constitute roughly a third of the country, and all three are to some extent alienated from the mainstream. If they were no longer even participating in elections, that alienation would grow.

Why does this matter? In answering that question, I’ll focus mainly on Ḥaredim and Arabs, the most significant and also the most stable of the three groups (protest voters being by nature amorphous and changeable).

It matters primarily because people who cease to see politics as a means of furthering their goals are more likely to resort to violence. Indeed, it’s no accident that most political violence in Israel has issued from quarters outside the electoral system.

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