One of the biggest criticisms of the left wing and its arguments is that they have failed to convince others outside the left camp. It’s not a genuine argument in the long run, given how many top Israeli leaders over the last two decades have at least described sea changes in policy – even if they have not implemented them. But the current challenge of making the policy real is enormous – those who define themselves as left wing in Israel cannot end the occupation alone. Their electoral power is insufficient and their numbers scant.
How can the urgency of ending the occupation, ending human rights violation, reaching a two-state solution and bringing some measure of justice to the region, be conveyed to a broader spectrum of Israelis whose active support is desperately needed? That was the question of a panel at J Street’s conference – here is a summary of the analysis I provided.
Data collected in November showed serious opportunities for expansion to the center. In general, there’s been a great deal of of talk about working with the center at this conference. There is a strong Kadima presence here – in fact, there are more MKs for Kadima than from any other party: Nahman Shai, Orit Zuaretz, Shlomo Molla, Yoel Hasson – Danny Ben Simon is holding up the Knesset representation for all the left-wing parties on his own.
The Israeli ideological map: Here’s how Israeli Jews break down today. When asked to describe themselves in a survey, Israeli Jews break down as follows.
• 45% call themselves “right,” 27% are “center” and 17% describe themselves as “left.” Twelve percent of Israeli Jews say they don’t know.
• The Left breaks down into 7.5% left and 9% “somewhat left” – more than half of the self-defined left-wingers lean center. For the right it’s the opposite: 29% are “right”, just 16% “somewhat” right – right breaks down into much more than half who feel strongly
• Who are those who don’t identify a political leaning? It’s a bit hard to gauge. But here are some of their characteristics: They are somewhat disproportionately made up of former Soviet immigrants, who probably don’t want to say their political opinions. The fact that they are slightly older than the rest of the population could be a confirmation, as the Russian-immigrant population is significantly older than the veteran Jewish population in Israel; a strong plurality don’t state a religious preference. Many also report lower than average income and education. So although we don’t know exactly who they are – most of these qualities would put them into a right-leaning camp.
Major opportunities from the center. For the purposes of moving the beyond the left, this data yields critically important opportunities found within the center and the findings are very consistent throughout the survey (and in others). The basic finding is that when it comes to the conflict, the center behaves more like the left than the right.
There are many examples:
• Although just 38% who feel favorable, 73% of the left feels favorable, and fully 52% of the center. There’s even 19% of the right who are favorable to an agreement.
• When asked about the country’s priorities, 18% of the center respondents placed peace highest – compared to 8% of the right; and in fact 21% of Kadima voters placed peace first, a higher percentage even than among Labor voters (15%).
• Over 80% of the left is dissatisfied with how the Prime Minister has handled the peace process, but also 68% – more than two-thirds of the center. Only 51% of the right is disappointed and that’s logical – since the peace process has not yielded the peace they oppose.
• When asked if “a peace agreement is essential for Israel’s survival” – again, two-thirds of the center believe this is true, compared to just 30% of the right.
The data also shows the consistent problem regarding young people and support for a peace process. Young people are consistently less interested, more complacent and more actively opposed.
• Just 11% of young people (18-34) place peace as the highest priority for the country, compared to twice as many among the oldest (22%) respondents
• Only 36% – just over one-third – think that peace is essential for Israel’s survival, compared to 57% of middle aged respondents, and 63% of the oldest respondents.
• Nearly 60% of the young people believe a peace agreement could hurt Israel’s security.
A number of audience members asked why young people are becoming increasingly hard line when it seems so out of character for young people. There are many reasons: growing up during a decade of hopelessness regarding the peace process, the violence of the second Intifada, the two wars in recent years, has not helped. In my analysis, the events have left youngsters unable to place hopes in any form of peace; as a result they cling to an increasingly exclusivist nationalist rhetoric under the banner of Zionism. In this context, the fact that irresponsible opinion leaders in Israel have turned “Zionism” into a litmus test of legitimacy for groups and individuals who express criticism of Israeli policy just legitimizes that self-destructive meaning of Zionism. Wielding a twisted “Zionism” of intolerance, anti-democratic and anti-Arab sentiment in order to banish the realistic, pragmatic critique that is the only true response to the events on the ground is a grave and dangerous mistake.
*The data from this post comes from a survey I wrote and analyzed for a private client, examining Israeli attitudes towards peace. The survey was conducted from 15 October – 5 November, 2010, by New Wave Research, among a sample of 1008 adult Jewish respondents. Margin of error: +/- 3%. The presentation is not yet available on-line.