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The key to an election victory for the Israeli Left

The Right in Israel will not fall over economic issues, period. It will fall only if its lies about political solutions are disproved.

By Eli Shmueli

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo. (From right to left) Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. October 12, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Ya’acov Sa’ar)

The Nobel Peace Prize laureates for 1994 in Oslo. (From right to left) Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres and PLO Chairman Yasser Arafat. October 12, 1994. (Photo by GPO/Ya’acov Sa’ar)

No one in the Israeli public dares convey three simple messages: 1) There is a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; 2) We have a partner for peace; 3) The Israeli Right, not the Palestinians, are preventing the solution. No one in the Left is trying to explain to the public, step-by-step, why these messages are correct. No one is trying to debunk the lies of the right wing. Instead, they speak about economic issues.

The Right will not fall due to economic issues, period. It will fall only if its lies about political solutions and security issues are disproved. Tell me that many years will have to pass before people can hear the words “an agreement with the Palestinians” without it being automatically translated to “these damn leftists want thousands of people to be murdered here – just like what happened during the Oslo accords.” But this is exactly what I mean. The Left must debunk the story told by the Right about Oslo.

Fighting extremists on both sides

The Right’s story about Oslo began in 1994. Before this story, every terrorist attack by Hamas (which was a small organization at the time) was seen in the prism of another Holocaust – the first step toward the annihilation of the Jews. A terrorist attack represents all Palestinians, while an agreement on security cooperation represents no Palestinians. In 1993, the Right’s goal was to incite against any compromise in order to prevent the return of the West Bank or Gaza to Palestinian hands. Israel was only the means, and no price was too high: a bi-national state, a dictatorship or the danger of unraveling the state through outside pressure, similar to what happened in South Africa during apartheid.

The Left’s inability to counter that manipulative story was born back in the 1990s. Even back then there were no left-wing politicians who could tell the story of “the moderates and the extremists.” The story about two societies at war, initiatives for compromise — the story that says that if we continue fighting the extremists, peace will be possible. (There is a new war taking place in which the moderates from both sides are taking on the extremists who are trying to prevent a compromise.) The Left was afraid of saying these things, to admit that war, rather than quiet, followed the peace accords.

The fear of telling the story of the extremists and the moderates, where terrorist attacks become almost inevitable, led to the Right to victoriously control the narrative. Someone should have told the Left: fight for the narrative! Explain that attacks that come in the wake of an agreement are neither another Holocaust nor the work of traitorous other side. Rather, they ought to have told the public that these kinds of acts are to be expected, that they represent a minority whose goal is to drive a stake through the negotiations. They should have told the public that it needs to be patient. Instead, media consultants told left-wing politicians: “the word ‘Oslo’ pushes away voters. Avoid using it.” And that’s just what they did in every election.

There are two problems with this tactic. First of all, as long as no one fights over the word Oslo, or tries to debunk the lies of the Right, it will continue to push voters away. This leads to the second issue: the public knows that Oslo belongs to the Left. To avoid defending this fact is equivalent to the Left’s death knell. This leaves the public thinking that the Left made a “mistake” or lead to a “catastrophe.”

Election after election, something whispers into the politicians’ ears: “Oslo keeps the voters away.” Once again they avoid debunking the Right’s narrative, once again the Left is seen as the ultimate loser and once again it loses elections.

The day they beat Hamas

But defending Oslo is possible. Defending Oslo requires a well-reasoned argument that bears repeating over and over again. It includes explaining that extremists on both sides have tried to sabotage every single historic compromise that sought to put an end to hostilities. But it also includes explaining that fighting the extremists while maintaining restraint between the signatories has lead to the victory of the moderates. There are plenty of historical precedents: The Good Friday Agreement between England and Northern Ireland, after which dozens were murdered before calm took root; or the negotiations between black representatives and the white leaders of South Africa, where similar violence followed the agreement. And yes, the same happened after Oslo.

While the Right was busy inciting against Oslo to prevent the return of territories, Israel and the Palestinians were able to defeat Hamas. March 3, 1996 marked the final suicide bombing of the Oslo era. Apart from a few shooting attacks, most of which took place near West Bank settlements, the terrorist attacks ceased. The Right loves to gloat over the fact that the attacks ceased on May 29, 1996, three months after Benjamin Netanyahu was elected prime minister. This, of course, is a complete distortion of what happened: the attacks actually ceased when Shimon Peres was prime minister. This was the result of the fact that the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government fought side-by-side against Hamas and Islamic Jihad.

The suicide attacks continued a year later, in March 1997, under the leadership of Netanyahu, who halted the peace process, opened the Western Wall Tunnels and sparked another round of violence.

Defending Oslo is possible. It requires explaining, time after time, the need for Oslo. Many Israelis believe that Oslo was merely a whim of bleeding-heart leftists, when in reality it was a necessity – a solution to the First Intifada in which 155 Israelis were murdered, and which no one knew how to stop. Oslo, in the middle of 1996, brought about calm and an end to the Intifada. Had right wingers not sabotaged the process – whether from the Knesset chambers or from the city square – chances are that the quiet would have continued until today.

The Left must explain this to the Israeli public. There is no point in waiting. The Left has been waiting for the last 20 years. No one will “forget” Oslo, the Right made sure of that. But the Right’s narrative vis-à-vis Oslo is a central tenet of its indoctrination. Without it, its worldview crumbles.

Eli Shmueli is a resident of Jerusalem, writes research proposals for a living is the founder of the “Leibowitz Was Right” page on Facebook. This article was first published on +972′s Hebrew-language sister site, Local Call. Read it in Hebrew here.

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    1. Pedro X

      Poor Eli he understands so little about politics. Economic issues are what gives the left its strength. The electorate is most interested in matters economic. The left can capitalize on these issues.

      The left can not capitalize on the peace issue. Most Israelis believe there is no current peace partner. Israelis believe that there is the possibility of a two state solution but not now. Most Israelis believe that Palestinians are not wanting a two state solution, but a two stage solution. Palestinians want a state of their own and then they want to continue the conflict to make the Israeli state another Arab state.

      If the Zionist Camp ran on making peace with the Palestinians the Camp would not even receive the meager seats it received in the last election.

      Reply to Comment
    2. Jellox

      You are setting yourself up for failure with this approach.

      All one needs to do is to completely destroy your narrative for electoral purposes is to point out that the ‘moderates’ pay salaries to the ‘extremists’ sitting in Israeli prisons for murdering Israelis, or to point out the ‘moderates’ treat as heroes the dead ‘extremists’ that were successful in murdering Israeli civilians along with themselves.

      The truth is that 1) There is no resolution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at present 2) There is no partner for any viable peace at present 3) The Palestinians are preventing a solution by continuing to refuse to accept living in peace next to a Jewish State.

      Nothing that Israel has done, including settlements, changes any of that. You probably will not agree, but who are the people more likely to believe? People like you that promised peace and security after Oslo, or people that warned early and often that it would only lead to more dead Israelis? Who was proven right in the end?

      Reply to Comment
    3. Bruce Gould

      “Israeli forces uproot Tubas olive trees”: http://www.maannews.com/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?id=759477

      The plan: deprive the Palestinians of agricultural land, water and housing until they all leave or live in refugee camps, but do it in small pieces – no one will notice.

      Reply to Comment
    4. Brian

      Finally someone speaks the plain unvarnished truth. Thank you Eli. Pedro X and JelloX are anxious to say it won’t work. Eli says: the public has been misled all these years and believes the Rights manipulative lies. Pedro says: the public believes the lies so it’s a losing strategy don’t bother. Which only confirms Eli’s argument. The Right has had a winning strategy of course because it knows to reach much farther down Maslow’s hierarchy of needs in manipulating the public than the Left has known to do. And those felt needs for security and safety of course are extremely powerful among the Jewish public. These heartstrings are so easily pulled an idiot can do it. We see idiots do this all the time. And not-so-idiotic people. This is why Eli is correct. Pedro X, with his incessant whitewashing and disinformation peddling on this site, is a poster boy for the Right’s habitual practices. Eli identifies the problem. Good for him.

      Reply to Comment
      • Jello

        If the right-wing has a winning strategy that even an idiot can follow and with which he can succeed, then how can Eli be right in playing directly into such a strategy?

        The left can make a long-winded and ultimately futile case that is/was right about the Oslo process or it can try to win an election, but it can not have both.

        Reply to Comment
        • Bryan

          There have been many winning right-wing strategies in the past, such as the Divine Right of monarchs and feudal aristocrats to rule the world, the stupidity of granting the vote and other rights to ordinary working men and women, the wastefulness of investing in education for any other than the elite, the idea that rewards given to the wealthy will eventually trickle down to ordinary people, the idea that the only way to achieve security was by the building of bigger battleships, the idea that stealing resources from the third-world was the white man’s burden and would bring civilization to the world. All have eventually been superseded by more human and progressive ideas, as will the Israeli right-wing nonsense that occupation is necessary and just. The right-wing ideologues have their day in the sun, but soon fade from the pages of history.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            The Israeli right-wing “nonsense” is that making concessions to the Arabs leads to more terror. The problem with this “nonsense” is that it is true as far as any sane Israeli can see. So, again, the claim made in this article that the Israeli Left should make a case for Oslo to win an election is pretty stupid given that as far as Israeli voters are concerned Oslo brought suicide bombers and rockets to Israeli cities, and they actually happen to be right.

            Reply to Comment
    5. Richard

      God promised the land to Abraham and HIS seed. God keeps his promises! No matter how people vote God will keep his promise. Still we are to vote in the way that God would want us to vote, no matter what country you are from. The Bible also states that a covenant will be made with the Anti-Christ that will bring Israel an evil peace. People should be aware that voting for someone that you know will be willing to give up some of God’s land is a sin, if you have an alternative person to vote for. In my opinion, the world today is a match for what the Bible calls the end times. I wrote a small book about the end times and prophecy and the tribulation period. It’s just for your information and consideration and it’s free. I don’t even accept donations on my or anyone else’s behalf. It’s a short read of about 7 pages. I encourage you to take a look. http://www.booksie.com/religion_and_spirituality/book/richard_b_barnes/after-the-rapture-whats-next

      Reply to Comment
      • Bryan

        People like you, Richard, put other people off the idea of Christianity – why would any decent human being want to worship a nasty vindictive “God” who has favourites, who wants people to vote for right-wing bigots, and who wants an oppressive occupation to continue? Now if you could portray a God of love and peace and justice that would be another matter.

        Reply to Comment
      • sh

        Richard, Abraham’s seed included not only Isaac, but also Esau, Jesus and the prophet Mohammed. Remember Abraham’s first-born, Ishmael? Thus, Israel/Palestine and some of the neighboring countries were “promised” to all three religions and tricks and deceptions, notably over birthright, were punished.

        There is no anti-Christ in two of those religions so I suggest that if end-times are in the offing, you wait until they actually happen instead of working tirelessly to persuade the peoples in this region that conflict is going to be good for them.

        Truth is, you only really think that it’ll to be good for you.

        Reply to Comment
      • Brian

        Hey Richard could you kindly fax to the ZOA and the PMO that part at the end of your”booksie” that comes after all that floridly insane stuff in the middle, the thrilling conclusion part about how those who obstinately refuse to accept Christ as their lord and savior get tossed into the lake of fire in the end? Just on the outside chance those innocent naive lambs at the ZOA have no idea just what lunatics they and Bibi are jumping into bed with? I’m sure Bibi will be shocked, just shocked!

        Reply to Comment
        • JeffB


          I don’t know why you on the left think it is some great secret that Christian Zionists want the ingathering of the Jews so that Christ can come redeem his people (which only includes 144k of the Jews in his Israel).

          Jews do not believe in Jesus. They do not believe there will be a 7 seals of the angels, a messianic return of the Lamb of God to judge the churches… Zionists, Jews, don’t care what they believe. If we are wrong and Jesus shows up we get tossed in the lake of fire with the beast. And if I’m wrong about the killer space aliens from Mars our planet gets zapped with plasma beam. So what?

          In the meanwhile on the ground they work with us to accomplish our goals. Any political coalition is formed of people of who join to accomplish different ends. That Christian Zionist’s goals are impossible only makes them more attractive as partners.

          Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            I have always been amused by people on the left complaining that we shouldn’t trust the Evangelicals because they only help us because they want Jesus to return. As if that is supposed to matter to me. They know full well that we don’t believe in what they believe and they are fine with that. Why on god’s green earth would I reject their help if it is entirely obvious that their desire to help is genuine?

            Reply to Comment
          • Brian

            Oh I’m not intending some fancy political-theological analysis here nor do I think there’s any “secret” nor do I think you should mistrust these zealots at the moment (though I’d keep a close eye on them if I were you because it wouldn’t take much for these nutty people to turn on you if they saw the right apocalyptic “signs” in the heavens and earth). I was merely poking fun at the combination of sheer fanaticism and cynicism, Jewish and Christian, in the whole thing. It’s the 21st Century bug-eyed fanaticism mixed in with cynical exploiters on both sides that is so amusing. Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly up.

            Reply to Comment
          • Jello

            Yep, it is amusing. We exploit them for gains in the present. They exploit us for their permanent reward after the tribulation. I think we are getting the better part of the deal. They would probably disagree.

            Reply to Comment
          • C.C. DeVille

            Brian appears to believe that the friends of his enemies are his friends too. Thst is why he mocks Chrostians for their beliefs.

            Reply to Comment