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Left For Dead

The Israeli left has collapsed in the last decade. But the right, despite its successes, is dying, too, brought down by Russian-imported maximalism and American-imported political consultants.

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Avigdor Lieberman surrounded by Ze’ev Elkin, Benjamin Netanyahu, Alex Miller, and Faina Kirschenbaum. (Leiberman: Uriel Sinai/Getty Images; Netenyahu: Menaham Kahana/Pool/Getty Images; Kirschenbaum: Michael Feigin/WikiCommons; Alex Miller:; Elkin: WikiCommons)

Anyone following Israeli politics is likely, at some point, to come across the following brief history of the past decade: After the collapse of the 2000 Camp David talks—a catastrophe generated, depending on one’s worldview, either by Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s inflexibility or by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak’s incompetence—the majority of Israelis drifted rightward, and the left, once a robust voting bloc, melted into thin air.

The demise of the Israeli left is a fact. Together, Meretz and Labor—formerly the twin pillars of the Zionist left—currently hold 11 Knesset seats, four fewer than Avigdor Lieberman’s ultra-right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu party. But these numbers don’t tell the whole story. Ignored by most political commentators is the strange and unexpected death of the Israeli right. And like all good thrillers, this one, too, is a murder mystery.

At first glance, pronouncing the Israeli right dead sounds like a bit of sophistry. The current governing coalition, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, is widely regarded as the most stringently conservative in Israel’s history. Since being voted into office in 2009, it has, among other achievements: de facto outlawed the public commemoration of the Nakba, the Palestinian narrative of the events that led to Israel’s establishment in 1948 and to the expulsion of nearly three quarters of a million Arabs from their homes; passed a bill requiring new immigrants to swear a loyalty oath to Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, a stroke of legislation that mainly targets Palestinians from the West Bank who wish to marry Israeli Arabs and become Israeli citizens; enacted the anti-boycott bill; and threatened to establish official committees of inquiry targeting human-rights and civil-rights nonprofits. But this busy résumé hides the fact that the political and ideological leviathan that shaped so much of the country’s character for its first five decades has been supplanted by a new and foreign political culture that would have been utterly unrecognizable to Israelis even a decade ago.

One major influence on that culture arrived in Israel from Russia after 1989, along with the million or so immigrants who made aliyah after the collapse of the Soviet Union. While it is never wise to speak of a culture as if it were inalterable and hereditary, it is not much of a stretch to suggest that, to the extent that Russian political culture can be discussed, it is a ghastly oppressive enterprise. This is, after all, a nation that has spent much of the past millennium stumbling from one oppressive autocracy to the next. The majority of Russia’s population lived, until as recently as 1861, as serfs. As Richard Pipes, professor emeritus of history at Harvard and a former Soviet expert, suggested in a recent essay in Foreign Affairs, given the Russians’ iron-fisted history, they have traditionally expected their leaders to be groznyi, a word that, applied to Czar Ivan IV, was improperly translated as “terrible” but really means “awesome.” This, Pipes wrote, explains why a 2003 survey found that 22 percent of Russians supported democracy, while as many as 53 percent actively disliked it. Pipes called this phenomenon, still very much in force today, a flight from freedom, and he explained it had much to do with Russia’s perception of itself as a country under permanent siege. The prominent newspaper Izvestiya, he noted, captured this spirit perfectly when it described Russians as “living in trenches,” surrounded by enemies.

It takes a very small leap of imagination to see how perfectly this mentality translates into Hebrew: In Israel, aspiring politicians born in the former Soviet Union found that talk of trenches and enemies made for stellar political currency.

The most renowned example of this new autocratic style is, of course, Avigdor Lieberman, Israel’s current foreign minister. The Moldovan-born politician started his career as Netanyahu’s assistant; within less than two decades, he surfaced as his former boss’s most valuable political partner and, some say, puppet master. Lieberman’s path to power was simple: Whereas most other right-wing politicians spoke sotto voce about ideological opponents, he favored incendiary statements. The Israeli left, he told a radio interviewer in 2007, was responsible for all the nation’s woes. Appearing on television that same year, he compared a prominent civil rights group to concentration camp capos. He snubbed or humiliated foreign dignitaries who would not play by his protocol, refusing, for example, to meet with the former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva when da Silva chose to skip the customary visit to Theodor Herzl’s grave. While most Israeli pundits saw such acts as petty and harmful to Israel’s standing in the world, most Israeli voters think Lieberman is groznyi: In mock elections held in Israeli high schools in 2009, a majority of students said they would vote for Lieberman.

But Lieberman is far from alone. Nearly every one of the current government’s repressive bills was sponsored by politicians who immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union. The Nakba law, for example, was sponsored by the Moscow-born Alex Miller of Yisrael Beiteinu. The anti-boycott bill was the brainchild of Ze’ev Elkin of Likud, who emigrated from Ukraine. The bill to form official committees of investigation targeting the left, defeated last week in the Knesset, was formed by Faina Kirschenbaum, also from Ukraine. The list goes on.

Even some staunch Likudniks have been appalled by the Russification of the Israeli right. Most vocal among them was Reuven Rivlin, the speaker of the Knesset and one of the party’s most prominent figures. A day after the anti-boycott bill passed, the chairman took the unlikely step of criticizing the parliament he himself headed. His ire was reserved for his colleagues on the right; they, he argued, are a disgrace to the legacy of Vladimir (Ze’ev) Jabotinsky, the founder of revisionist Zionism and the ideological founding father of Israeli conservatism.

“I stand ashamed and mortified before my mentor, Jabotinsky, for not having succeeded in protecting the individual, whom he likened to a monarch, against the parliamentary fists of the majority,” Rivlin wrote. “It might have been hoped that in an era in which Jabotinsky’s followers are scattered across the whole political spectrum, from the coalition to the opposition, things would be different. But in the absence of an ideological backbone, it appears that even the deep commitment to democracy and individual freedoms of those who call themselves his successors is conditional. It is the State of Israel that is compelled to pay the price of political interests that supersede national interests.”

Other Likud stalwarts were equally horrified. Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, for example—the son of Eliyahu Meridor, a former Likud Member of Knesset and close confidant of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin—gave repeated interviews in which he called several of the legislative initiatives brought forth by Lieberman and his associates “very dangerous.” Lieberman wasted no time: Meridor, he told the Israeli media, was a “fineschmecker,” a derogatory Yiddish term for an elitist dandy.

And, as American legislators are learning, once politics becomes a zero-sum game, it is very hard for moderate and mindful legislators to thrive. Ze’ev Elkin, the author of the anti-boycott bill, is a great example. When former Prime Minister Ariel Sharon abandoned the Likud to form Kadima, he was searching for a token settler to add to his new parliamentary faction as a nod to his former supporters in the settler movement who had largely abandoned him in light of his commitment to withdraw from Gaza; he found Elkin. In Elkin’s native Ukraine, the young politician had been known as a capable and committed Zionist activist. After emigrating to Israel in 1990, he excelled in his academic studies, earning degrees in both mathematics and history. When interviewed by Sharon’s associates, he expressed views that were right-of-center, but he stood out as a pragmatic, fair-minded, and soft-spoken individual, a perfect choice for Kadima’s transideological aspirations. Elected to the Knesset in 2006 as a member of Kadima, Elkin soon realized that the winds were blowing away from Sharon’s centrist platform. In 2008, he quit Kadima and joined the Likud. Within a few years, he learned that the only way to survive in a perpetually rightward-moving political universe was to move even further to the right. This, claim some who have long known Elkin, is what’s really behind the anti-boycott bill he sponsored. Aviad Friedman, the Sharon aide who recruited Elkin to politics, told the Israeli daily Maariv last week that “the anti-boycott bill may be good for Elkin when he faces off his rivals in the Likud, but it is very bad for Israel, and I think that deep inside, Ze’ev Elkin knows this well.”

The ideas of the Russified Israeli right find a clear reflection in current Russian political culture, down to the details of the bills that Russian-born Israeli politicians sponsor in the Knesset. In his 2004 State of the Union address for example, Vladimir Putin, then Russia’s president, announced his intention to investigate nonprofit human rights organizations “obtaining funding from influential foreign or domestic foundations.” Accepting international funding is standard operating procedure for many nongovernmental organizations the world over, but Putin’s speech insinuated that those who criticized the government and profited from foreign funds were disloyal to Russia and somehow dangerous. Within a few years, Putin and his henchmen have succeeded in creating an environment in which it is nearly impossible for NGOs to operate successfully, thereby severely crippling the possibility of a robust political opposition. Faina Kirschenbaum’s proposal to investigate left-wing NGOs, and her allegations that the foreign funds some of those NGOs receive—lawfully and transparently—are a sign of nefariousness, are a page out of the Putin playbook.

The blame for the death of the Israeli right, however, lies not only with Russia but with the United States as well. Orchestrated mainly by Netanyahu, a parade of American political consultants began marching into Israel’s electoral battlefields in the 1990s, changing what was previously a cantankerous but civic-minded political culture into a toxic terrain of secrets and lies familiar to anyone who has grown up on American campaign ads. Take a look, for example, at this extended ad for Labor from 1988. Even in the midst of mad inflation and shortly after the breakout of the first Palestinian intifada, the party’s leaders, Shimon Peres and Yitzhak Rabin, used their on-screen time to calmly address potential voters, offering up the key points of their political plans, sitting at a desk.

By 1996, political ads looked a lot scarier—the ominous voice-overs, the allegations that political opponents are not just wrong but dangerous: They’re staples of a particular style of campaigning introduced to Israel by the American Arthur Finkelstein, the spin-master Netanyahu had hired. Finkelstein had made his political fortune in the United States by applying simplistic tags to the mostly liberal candidates he’d helped unseat. New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, in his catchy formulation, was “too liberal for too long,” and the 1992 Democratic candidate for Senate in New York, Robert Abrams, was “hopelessly liberal.” Both men lost despite overwhelming odds in their favor—Cuomo to George Pataki, Abrams to Alfonse D’Amato. Liberals lost, too: Finkelstein had helped turn the very term “liberal” into a bad word.

In 1996, Finkelstein was recruited by Netanyahu to run a rather hopeless campaign. Rabin, the popular leader of Labor, was assassinated a year prior to the election by a right-wing fanatic whose act was preceded by months of vehement demonstrations featuring signs portraying the elderly prime minister wearing a Nazi officer’s uniform. Netanyahu, the leader of the opposition, was severely criticized after Rabin’s death for fanning the flames of hatred and failing to denounce the violent language and imagery favored by his supporters. To make matters worse, Netanyahu’s opponent was Shimon Peres, Rabin’s closest political ally and co-recipient with him of the Nobel Peace Prize. Early polls predicted an easy victory for Peres. This was when Netanyahu called in Finkelstein.

The American adviser applied the same tactics that worked so well stateside, but he turned up the heat considerably. He orchestrated ads showing the aftermath of suicide bombings. He devised numerous spots showing Peres with Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat, accusing Peres of blindly succumbing to Arafat’s schemes. Most memorable was his leading slogan: “Peres will divide Jerusalem.” It was false; as prime minister, Netanyahu signed on to the very same peace accords that Peres and Rabin were committed to, and none of them advocated the de-unification of Israel’s capital. The slogan was scary, and it worked wonders: Netanyahu won by slightly less than 1 percent.

Finkelstein’s engagement was the first time an American consultant was so deeply involved in an Israeli campaign, but it wasn’t the last—nowadays, many Israeli politicians, left and right, hire Washington’s brightest minds to orchestrate their quests for power. In less than a decade, Israeli political culture, once staid in a C-SPAN sort of way, has become a horror film, with ads and jingles featuring fear, loathing, and blood.

It is, of course, naïve to expect any political culture to remain unchanged and free of outside influence. But when a transformation as massive as the one that has swept the Israeli right in the last five or 10 years occurs, it is time to stop and recalibrate. Old-time Israeli right-wingers like Dan Meridor and Reuven Rivlin are far more likely to see eye-to-eye these days with Meretz’s Nitzan Horowitz, say, than they are with Elkin and other members of Likud.

A few weeks ago, when the anti-boycott bill passed into law, I walked to my bookshelf and pulled out a volume. It was my wedding present from my father, a book bound in thick, rich leather, on its cover a copper emblem featuring the map of Israel crossed by an outstretched hand grasping a rifle and the words rak kach, meaning “only this way.” It was the emblem of the Irgun, the paramilitary organization that fought to expel the mandatory British regime from pre-state Palestine. The book’s author was the Irgun’s last commander in chief, Menachem Begin. It was inscribed to my great-grandfather, Chaim Leibovitz.

“Let justice be the cornerstone of Israel,” Begin wrote in Hebrew, “established with labor, with tears, with suffering, with battle, with blood.”

If only the same spirit still guided the Israeli right.

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Yitzhak K says:

I suspect your grandfather would be deeply disappointed in your exoneration of the Palestinians for the demise of the left in Israel. He would be disappointed in your anti-Russian racism, the same kind that contributed to the failure of the Evian conference. Since you appear to treasure your grandfathers book, I suggest that you learn about the dignity of labor, and work for a living, perhaps cleaning hotel rooms in Jerusalem. Since you choose to dishonor your grandfather in this article, why dont you sell the book from your grandfather on Ebay? It would be a more honest way of making a buck than you are presently engaged in

Jennifer says:

I am tired of Tablet reader co.mental that attack the author if an article simply because the do not like the opinion expressed. If you disagree with what is said in an article then offer an alternative viewpoint but don’t just attack the author. Both Judaism and democracy have a history of respect for opposing viewpoints. It would be nice if the same could be said of TM readers.

Gene says:

I did not know that Liel has such racist views. When she speaks about Arabs she avoids stereotyping them or making suggestions that their culture and religion led them to become terrorists and murderers. I guess only Russians deserve such generalizations. However, I must disappoint Liel – we are talking here not about Russians but about Russian (Lithuanian, Latvian, Ukrainian, Georgian, Bukharian, Moldavian and so on) Jews who have as much to do with Russians and their history as conventional American Jew has to do with Great Britain and its history. (Ukrainians and Moldavians, by the way, are not Russians. Don’t call them “Russians” if you don’t want to get into trouble). As to the notion of “political culture” among Russian Jews I advice Liel to do a better research since the majority of the leading members of the Russian community in israel fought for the human rights in the Soviet Union under conditions Liel did not see even in her worst nightmares: many spent time in Gulags, lost their jobs, means of living, everything; only because they wanted to help oppressed people to find freedom. Many among Russian Jewish leaders in Israel are holocaust survivors who spent time in concentration camps and ghettos or fought nazis in the war. I understand Liel frustration: why do all those human right activists, dissidents, holocaust survivors, etc instead of joining naive leftist organizations support conservative values and ideas? But she should ask rather herself: what prevents her to understand them and their actions? Why she thinks she is right and not them – people who saw and experienced in their life much more than Liel ever did? (instead of making ignorant accusations and generalizations). How about that?

In a similar vein, many of the early Zionist leaders such as Ben Gurion etc on the left (Mapam, Mapai etc) were wedded to Russian (and eastern European ) extreme left wing socialism and communism and those political traditions – which allowed them to even kill Jews (as in the sinking of the Altalena) in pursuit of their political agenda.

Jonathan says:

Jennifer, it’s ok to criticize the author here, isn’t it? Or do you think these talkbalks are simply a lovefest? Perhaps in the ensuing days, either you or Liel will offer a plan for peace with the Palestinians. I am guessing (might be wrong) that you favored Sharon’s withdrawal from Gaza and the displacement of the Gush Katif residents. Let us know if you think that was a success. Have any of the thousands of rockets from the Gaza launching pad hit your family? Israel’s PM has stated unequivocally that Israel supports a two state solution. Tell me what the leaders of Hamas have said to suggest that this is a viable solution. I agree that Lieberman is a bit crude (perhaps an understatement) and that Bibi is a bit too strong at times (perhaps considering the folks on the other side, he has to be) and that Israel’s leaders are prone to mistakes. So Jennifer, please tell us what you would do do forge a lasting peace with the Palestinians and how would would secure the safety of the Jewish people. No doubt you have the answers and I look forward to reading about how you would elegantly, sweetly and diplomatically deal with an enemy that is sworn to the destruction of the State of Israel. Oh and by the way, since I assume you think the folks Israel has to deal with can be reasoned with, perhaps you can suggest how Israel can secure the release of Gilad Shalit, who has been in captivity for years, without a visit from the Red Cross or contact with his parents, while Palestinian murderers in Israeli prisons are treated with privileges that are unheard of just about any other place in the world. OK, let’s not criticize Liel. For the most part, he has written alot of great stuff over the years (he should probably stick to the Parsha). I look forward to the constructive criticism you will impart with great sensitivity for Israel’s leaders, who are dealing with much more than a cottage cheese strike.

GlennGulliver says:

The author clearly does not like the Israeli right, but I didn’t see him put forth a convincing case that they are “dying”. In fact, the opposite is true… if elections were to be held today, we’d see a Likud-led coalition yet again. As for the Right “playing dirty”, there’s nothing the Israeli Right has done that the Left hasn’t. As was pointed out by an earlier commenter, Israeli leaders’ attitudes toward those who opposed them have often come straight out of the Soviet playbook.

Steph F. says:

As David Foster Wallace (of blessed memory) pointed out, these are dark times, and stupid ones. What we do about that, I don’t know, other than to hold fast to our ideals and to remember that if the light cannot completely banish the darkness, so too can the darkness never completely extinguish the light.

Rachel says:

@Gene Liel is a man.

Yoni says:

If a biased author puts something in a headline it must be true. The right is dying because Liel said so. Brilliant

Gene says:

To Rachel: Thank you. I thought it is a woman’s name

arcaneone says:

I didn’t notice any case made for the proposition that the Israeli Right is “dying”. BTW, the new law doesn’t criminalize boycotts but makes them into a civil tort. Likewise, anti-nakba laws simply forbid state money from being used in the commemoration; private funds may still be used. Careless.

a) So, Jabotinsky, Russian-born, would be…what? Or is it a matter of liberal/democratic nationalism vs. political pyrotechnics, without ethnicity?

b) does this free all Brooklynites from the responsibility for Kahane-style Zionism?

c) this formulation is problematic: “Deputy Prime Minister Dan Meridor, for example—the son of Eliyahu Meridor, a former Likud Member of Knesset and close confidant of former Prime Minister Menachem Begin…”. Who is the “former Likud MK? Dan (who is at present a Likud MK) or his father who died in 1966, as a Herut MK, 13 years before the Likud was established?

d) and darn those Pal. suicide bombings. Otherwise, Peres would have had a chance against Netanyahu, not to mention the peres-Netanyahu love affair of the past two years.

arcaneone says:


Basharat did well to try to distinguish between his party, Hadash, and the other Arab factions – because Hadash is, in essence, a Jewish-Arab party, centered around the Israeli Communist Party (Maki ). However, Basharat cannot deny that Hadash has long since lost its unique character on the Israeli political landscape, and its leaders, especially on its Arab side, are not preoccupied with an ideological, social and political discussion, but rather with slogans and a chauvinistic, populist competition with the other groups in the Arab sector.

Blatant evidence of this can be found in the words of Mohammed Nafa, the secretary general of Maki, which were published in Arabic on the Hadash Web site. You have to read his words in order to understand the deterioration of the party that in the past presumed to be Jewish-Arabic, with a progressive civic and social agenda. The secretary-general of the party unashamedly comes to the defense of the murderous and tyrannical Syrian regime: “We will never surrender to the Israeli prostitution that is trying to portray Israel as a victim,” he writes to his readers in Arabic, adding: “We must be more involved in the struggle against the Israeli and American occupation rather than in attacking the Syrian regime. The Syri

arcaneone says:

read the whole thing at haaretz if you want to see what has happened to the Israeli Left.

Thank you Liel Leibovitz for enlightening me to the Russified Israeli. As Russia has now become Putinized , Israel has lost
to right wing extremists like Lieberman. Israels need for an American PR man like Finkelstein is like I need a
“luch in kup”. I learned more about Zionism from the many links in Liel’s article. As an American Jew, now 81, I remember going to a Zionist camp sponsored by BOBONEM .
This article re-awakened wonderful memories. Thank you !
Sy, Fort Lee NJ

Jay A Friedman says:

I had expected to read a political polemic describing how – in the next election – the right wing of the Israeli politic scene will disappear.

Instead, I was met with an ideological diatribe.

Now, as a centrist, I can agree or disagree with Mr. Leibowitz and/or Mr. Lieberman. (I prefer to make a decision on a case by case basis — not merely because Mr. Leibowitz decides to live in the United States for most of the time or because Mr. Lieberman came to Israel; from Moldova. I happen to have come to Israel from the United States 47 years ago but have not yet fit myself into an ideological straight jacket.)

Frankly, I am not interested in Mr. Liebowitz’ opinions. I am far more interested in facts – why does he claim that “the right is dying”. Is it because Mr. Lieberman has taken over the right? Will he garner a majority or a plurality in the next elections?

I think not.

Jason M says:

Be honest – how many of those who are attacking Mr Leibovitz actually read what he had to say? It’s one thing to disagree – it’s another to attack what you think the article said, but didn’t.

Gene says:

One thought came out. Liel claims that Russians like “iron fist” leaders because up to 1861 they were serfs, living under oppression, serving their masters. Therefore such lifestyle got in their culture. If we follow the same logic could we claim that since black people in America got their freedom at approximately the same time as Russian serfs did – they also developed a culture that drives them to be servants to white people?

joel smith says:

I am an American, and I admit that I am not really conversant with Israeli politics – but I’d like to know. I do know that Netanyahu and Likud are right wing, but A. Lieberman is what..? farther to the right? He is what…? more dogmatic? more “it’s my way or the highway”? in his approach to all things political? Is that it? And Netayahu is what..? more diplomatic? more cautious? more realistic? I hope someone will answer my questions here.

The Liel Leibovitz article is one of the most powerful I have read. Many of the comments are by people who are simply not cognizant of the foreign and unassimilated culture brought to Israel by Russian immigrants. I wish it were not so, but one look at the English-Israeli press, both right wing and left, shouts out an Israel far different from the one I knew when I first visited Israel some years back.
Israel is in a crisis situation and it needs rationality not the nervous invective of the new politicians.

Herb K says:

dear Mr Liebowitzz
please let me know when you are ready to sell your great grandfathers book inscribed by Menachem Begin. I would be interested in purchasing it

philip mann says:

`At first glance,pronouncing the Isaeli right dead seems like sophistry`.

Huh. It doesn`t fare much better at second or third glances.

Jacob.arnon says:

Jabotinsky was not someone I would ever support politically.

However, there was another side to the man that is seldom spoken about, at least in the States.

jabotinsky wrote number of novels most of which had never been translated into English.

One of the few that was translated is:

“The Five: A Novel of Jewish Life In Turn-of-the-century Odessa”

Another one which is very hard to find is Samson. You can purchase this novel for a measly $400 dollars.

In any case, Jabotinsky and Begin while not liberals were committed to the political process a game they loved to play. Jobotinsky was a lifelong admirer of the British parliamentary system.

I believe that Liel Leibovitz’s point is that Lieberman and to a lesser extent Netanyahu are more at home in authoritarian and paternalistic regimes than in democratic ones.

I hope Israelis wake up to the disastrous political consequences of the current political policies of this government.

Here is something that many mainstream Jewish “opinion leaders” do not wish to internalize: 30 years ago you demonstrated to “let my people go.” Now we are free, and free to vote as we see fit, even it makes you uncomfortable. That’s democracy.

arcaneonne says:

Author LL seems to be arguing that the succcess of the Right in pursuing its agenda as well as total(and well-deserved)collapse of the Left are evidence of the “death of the Right”. Huh?

arcaneone says:

I live in northern Israel, an area that has been heavily populated by residents of the former Soviet bloc. If these people are excessively “authoritarian”, I must have missed it.

Why are we(Jews)supposed to understand and tolerate the “narrative” of those who would kill us(Arabs), but have only a sophistry-contrived rejection for those who suffered so much under the Soviets?

As an Israeli right winger, there are points in the article that I can agree to. But mostly not. I don’t think Leibovitz is racist against Russian, but if someone would say the same thing about Arabs politicians he would ne the first to call you fascist.

Anyway, a few things our friend forgot:
– The collapse of the left was caused by the Intifada and the understanding that all the left’s plan – territories for peace – was a fraud.
– But it was also caused by the left itself and people like Leibovitz who went further and further to the extreme. When you hear left-wing people today, they just express hatred – for Israel, for the Jews, for Judaism, for themselves. They support our enemies and speak like nazis.
– Bibi won in 1996 not because of Finkelstein but because of the failure of Peres to stop the bombings that started in February 1996. By the way, the Rabin assassination was a catastrophy for the Israeli right: before that, Bibi was sure to win against Rabin (who was not very popular), and he would have cancelled the Oslo agreements immediately and save us from hundreds of casualties, but after the murder, he had to shift to the center and support the agreements (that had become almost “holly” like Rabin himself). Only that allowed him to win.
– The main problem with this article is of course that the title is a lie: the right is not dying at all and the article never even tries to explain us why it should be dying.

And by the way – for many Israelis, Lieberman is not a rightwinger and a leftwinger. He is ideologically much closer to Kadima, Meretz and Avoda than to the Likud.

Roni says:

please come to NYC on Septenber 21:

Stanley Revich says:

Tablet keeps publishing the writings of fools like Liel Leiobovitz who are so accommodating to the intellectual elite and so indifferent to their own people. Lieberman and the Russians are “ultra right”? It is ultra right to want the survival of your own country? Does Lieberman shout out to kill all the arabs as Abbas in arabic calls for the destruction of Israel and to drive the Jews into the sea? Only fools cannot see the writing on the wall. Obviously Liel is a very sensitive person, an idealist. well this world has known a lot of idealists who have led to the murders of millions of innocents. Unfortunately in this world her ideals will lead to my death.

David Zohar says:

I think it is premature to declare the demise of either left or right in Israel, and it is incorrect to identify these terms with a pro or anti peace policy, as so many do. The Palestinians have made themselves quite irrelevant politically with their antics and there seems to be nobody to talk to. That being so Israel looks inward:

The main preoccupation of Israelis, like Americans, is the economy. There are mass demonstrations protesting the cost of living and the housing shortage. All are affected, whether they call themselves left or right, religious or secular.

My impression is that Likud governments have aped US “trickledown” economic theories without success. The rich have got richer and the poor now include the former- now struggling- middle class.

The arrival of staunchly anticommunist Russians, spouting nationalism, jingoism and more than a whiff of fascism, has taken Israel far away from its egalitarian beginnings.

Paradoxically what the country needs today is- MAPAI. Maybe that is what we shall see in the next elections.

“My impression is that Likud governments have aped US “trickledown” economic theories without success. The rich have got richer and the poor now include the former- now struggling- middle class.”

Your impression is wrong. Everybody has got richer. Growth is 5% a year and unemployement is the lowest ever with 5.7%.

The protest are not mass demonstrations but leftwing groups trying to use a real problem – house prices – to bring the government down with the help of the media.

Now, the problem is real – Israel always lacked competition. The situation is better now than in the past overall, but still a few cartels control great parts of the economy and prices are too high.

Housing also increased for a lot of reasons but mainly because not enough apartments were built in the last 10 years. This is changing and the prices will go down (slightly) in 1-2 years.

People are also angry because the haredim do not serve, do not work and get public aid. The same for the Arabs. The government priority (all government, not just this one), are not what the majority wants even if I must admit this particular government is doing a very good job and very good reforms.

carrie says:

Liel makes generalizations about Russian Jews he wouldn’t dare make about Arabs. Hypocrisy.

Dani ben Leb says:

Funny thing is, most of my lefty left friends in TLV are children of Russian Olim. Their kids go pick olives with the Palestinians. Truly a bizarre – borderline racist – theory regarding the Russians. amazing.

If a certain part of the population consists of first-generation immigrants from a country with strong nationalist sentiment but no experience with Western-style liberal democracy, then it is not racist to make generalizations about that population based on that data. Roman Bronfman, Dimitri Shumsky, and the like, are exceptions. Any Israeli knows that.

Gene is mistaken when he says that the majority of the leadership of Russians in Israel were staunch human rights advocates. Actually, none of them was or is, neither Scharansky, Nudel, Begun, Mendelevich, etc. They were Jewish nationalists in Russia who were dubbed “human rights” activists by anti-Soviet Westerners, mostly Zionists and hard-liners ranging from Scoop Jackson to Ronald Reagan. What Natan Scharansky and other prisoners of Zion did had nothing to do with human rights, and everything to do with Jewish rights. Tothis day Scharansky has shown no real interest in human rights — ditto for Robert Bernstein, who founded Human Rights Watch as a weapon against the Soviet Union in the Cold War, and as a way to help out the two tribes to which he belongs (American and Zionist). As soon as that organization started to get serious about human rights, Bernstein resigned and later started another organization.

It is no surprise — and certainly no criticism — that immigrants adhere to the political culture with which they grew up. What is unique about Israel is that no other country in the world has such a large proportion of its leader composed of foreign immigrants with no grounding in the values or culture of their adopted country. The reason for that lies in the law of return, which allows a foreign born citizen to become prime minister several months after he applies for citizenship, even if he or she knows nothing about the state, including the language. (Remember Flatto-Sharon, who was elected to the Knesset, fraudulently, as it turned out, without being able to speak Hebrew)

Gene says:

Liel (and whoever agrees with him) does not understand one thing: that Russian Jews are not Russians. Russians indeed were oppressors for many years. They oppressed people of Caucasus, Baltic states, Ukraine, etc and it is possible that such conduct over the years affected their general psyche and/or culture. Everything is possible. However, Russian Jews are not Russians and they were oppressed by Russians on the same or even bigger scale than any other ethnic minority. Liel puts attributes of the oppressor on those who were oppressed by him. This is not just imprudent and foolish and but even insolent, to a certain extent.

Daniel says:

Brilliant article! I was never much of a rightist, and I’d never had thought I’d come to miss Begin. He was a sometimes insufferable rhetorician and a demagogue, but he also was a straight arrow who was deeply committed to the principles of a Jewish democracy. I am deeply grateful to the author for pointing out the damaging effect of the latest batch of Russian political culture imports, and I do not mind being called a racist along with her for standing up against the fundamentally antidemocratic and dejudeizing russification trend.

masortiman says:

I think Liel is overly subtle in his title.he is saying the democratic spirit of Jabotinsky and Begin is being undermined, not that the rightwing parties do not do well.

He is a little odd in implying that Israeli politics have not always been rough, probably also a legacy of Russian politics.

The distinction between criminal and civil penalties some here are making strikes me as naive. Suppose there were CIVIL penalties for supporting Zionism, or opposing Obama – would it make you feel better than you were being sued for damages, and not threatened with jail? Freedom of speech is freedom of speech. I think that is what the Likudniks who opposed this bill knew (and I suspect others are counting on the Supreme Court of Israel to overturn it). As do many resolutely pro-Zionist American jews. I do not see how fearing the weakening of liberal (in the broadest sense) democratic values in Israel makes one a sympathizer with Israels enemies.

I dont think Abbas is much of a liberal democrat. But he is not considered a possible PM of Israel.

masortiman says:

BTW Sharansky AFAIK has never left Likud. I do not know that its fair to group him with someone like Avigdor Leiberman.

Gene says:

I disagree with Jerry Haber when he claims that Jewish dissidents in Soviet Union were Jewish nationalists and not human rights advocates. First of all: one does not exclude another. Any person can fight for the human rights in general and for the rights of just one specific group simultaneously. We have many examples like that: Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., etc – they all fought for the rights of their own specific group (to which they belonged themselves) and for the rights of other oppressed people as well. To this list we can add Scharansky, Ida Nudel, Igor Guberman, Yuli Kim, Meiman and many other Soviet dissidents, who were persecuted and imprisoned by the Soviet authorities not for their Zionism but for their activities directed toward improvement of human rights in general, for their participation in Helsinki Human Rights group, etc and who are now living in Israel and giving (or gave – Mr. Meiman has passed away) full support to Lieberman’s and/or for Likud parties. (Some other, non Jewish or non Israeli former Soviet dissidents, like Yelena Bonner, Bukovsky and Orlov, publicly expressed their full support for the actions of Mr. Lieberman and his party as well). It is not fault of Jews that they were born Jews and that in Soviet Union they experienced persecution both – as Jews and as human beings and such fact by itself does give Mr. Haber right to claim that one thing must exclude another.

Nathaniel says:

If you want to say that ethnic/cultural backgrounds and experiences shape political norms of a group, then you have to accept that type of analysis for every group of people (if you don’t, that’s known as prejudice).

So, the following then would be a legitimate argument: The Palestinian and Arab hostility to Jewish nationalism, Jews in general, and their incapacity to compromise is explained by their desert background, their Muslim religion, etc.

You wouldn’t have to agree with it, but just accept it as a legitimate critique. And I have a very hard time imagining Mr. Liebowitz accepting that.

Thank you Mr Haber for revealing that, for left wing people, Jews are not human beings, and Jewish rights are not human rights.

arcaneone says:

The distinction between “criminalizing” an
act and assessing damages to an act is important to maintain.I take these discussions seriously and it’s important to get terms right. The implication that boycotts have been criminalized is very widespread, possibly more so than the truth that boycotts are now an actionable tort. Its important that we get this right. The propagandists who are making the “criminalization” complaint know what they are doing–obviously Leftist provacateurs think that the lie they are spreading is more harmful than the truth(Making boycotts an action for monetary damages)or they would be telling the truth.. This deception, further, increases the climate for future deceptions.

Once a lie becomes ingrained in the public’s psyche it becomes very hard to root it out. Look how the denunciations of Israel because it stopped the Mavi Marmara in international waters. The UN seems to have conceded Israel’s point(As well it should)but there is a large core of “True believers” who simply refuse to get the message. Words and nuances matter.

The Israeli right or left are defined by whether one wants to give back the territories or not.
Most of the parties in Israel have no ideologies about inside policy. I mean that if they want to give some better education or health program ,less income taxes for the middle class, better retirement conditions for the elder people; this has nothing to do with being left or right in Israel .Shas (the spharadic religious party ) or Kadima
are the best examples.

Hershl says:

Well, you could have fooled me!

The Israeli right is dying?

Wow,it is articles like this that make me kiss my computer screen after reading The Tablet.

Since all the facts point in the opposite direction, that the Israeli right is getting stronger as the rest of the world condemns and attacks Israel, I would never have known that the right is dying in Israel unless I had the good fortune to read the blessed words of Liel Leibovitz.

Leibovitz’s next article will be healined: Israeli left makes miraculous recovery and will soon ( give or take a hundred years) retake the right.

Where, pray, do you find such talented writers, Tablet?

Lynne T says:

How seriously can anyone take the political analysis of a writer who would carelessly describe the Naqba as a wholesale “expulsion” when, in fact, the bulk of the departing Arab population were taking what they believed would be a temporary flight on the advice of their own leadership so as to facilitate the annihilation of the newly recognized state of Israel?

Salomon Mizrahi says:

The columnist is misunderstanding the meaning of Naqba… That´s quite common within the Jewish Left… Indeed Naqba marks the day the Arab League said NO! to a second Arab State in Palestine…. Don´t forget that the first one was Jordan (in 1948, it was know The Hashemite Emirate of Transjordan)…

James philadelphia says:

How can one be fair when Palestinian leaders , secular and religious , promote hatred and violence, against Israeli Jews all of the time. The same happens in the Moslem countries, with total distortion of facts. When Hamas and Hizbullah want the total destruction of Israel . You want Israel to teach the nakba? Are you going to teach Arab nationalism that allied with nazism through Jerusalem Grand Mufti fully engaged in the Holocaust. Yaser Arafat claimed to be his nephew. Your criticism is typical anti-Israel. Unbalanced and extremely dishonest. It is difficult to have a civilized discussion with an extreme leftist fanatic and keep once composure. But at the end of the day all countries had their traitors. We have the anti-Israel gangs. We have our internal cancer typified by this article and by Haaretz.

James philadelphia says:

Go and figure. Israel had that infusion of one million Russian Jews. Highly educated professionals that has made Israel the start up model of economic progress. Musicians sports men and women, and so on and on. They defend the country. They are not blind to their enemies that want Israel destruction, Moslem countries, Palestinians , self hatred Jews. Avigdor has been a super jewel confronting the Turkish insults, the Brazilian insults and a alliance with Iran assertively. I am proud of such defender of Israel. Too bad he has been unable to put Barack Hussein Obama in his proper place by insulting Israel prime minister at every opportunity. Yes Avigdor has cojones and fanatic leftists are a bunch of cowards.

James philadelphia says:

Are the Palestinians and Muslim countries going to teach that one Jews were expelled from the Arab lands when Israel was created. Jews that had lived in those Muslim countries for thousands of years. They came to Israel with only their cloths on. This ultra leftist self hatred Jew got under my skin, he should be ashamed for being a liar. These sort of people is what gives the anti-Israel gangs a bad name. The sorry spectacle is that self hatred Jews are joined by Gentiles that their only objective is to be anti-Israel. Misinformation and hatred is paid by Iran leaders to distract from their terrorism activities. Iran uses with gusto this misinformation, that is true of the Palestinian leaders. One Muslim commentator wrote today that Syrian army killings of unarmed civilians was the fault of Israel. Maybe some self hatred Jews have gotten the sickness of being liars so typical of the oppressed people in the Muslim countries. certainly it is true of ultra leftists fanatics. We have a free society where we accept and protect homeless and ultra leftists. Tablet magazine should double check for accuracy in commentators. At the end of the day I am sorry I read this article and the manure it expresses. This is exactly what has killed the ultra leftists in Israel. The crazy nuts like Guideon Levy and the rest of Haaretz..

James philadelphia says:

I just read who Liel Leibovitz is. Makes sense his specialty is video games that is all his brain is capable of. Shame Tablet Magazine you let this guy write a serious piece. I guess you were just kidding. Back to night school and brain rehab. What a waste. Although evil brings goodness. Hurray for Avigdor and all those Russian Israelis. They are the saviors of Israel. Technically, scientifically, militarily, culturally, sportsally, financially, politically. Eat your hearts ultraleftists bunch of louse losers. Back to your video game Liel LeiboSchlemiel..

The antiDemocratic right, the rally cry of the left since the 1930’s, which justified everything from killing Revisionist Zionists on the Altalena to the GSS operationon that spu out of control, ending with the assassination of Rabin.

You will excuse me, if I vomit from the saccharine hypocrisy and histrionic myopia.

Let me add my voice to Ron Lewenberg. There is so much wrong with Leibovitz’ screed that I hardly know where to begin. First, I don’t accept the outmoded notion of a “right-left spectrum.” That said, how can Leibovitz say in his first paragraph that the “the majority of Israelis drifted rightward” without describing the mass murderous war of Arab terrorism against Israeli civilians? Maybe Leibovitz never heard a big bomb go off in the distance within a city. I have. I remember the Sbarro restaurant massacre, Bus #18 that was hit several times, the Bus #1 massacre that killed many children & babies. I was in the Old City when I heard that last bomb go off just a few blocks north of Damascus Gate. I remember the depression that I felt when I heard the bomb, hoping that maybe it was just artillery practice. I recall how Israelis felt after the Park Hotel bombing in Netanya during the Passover Seder, murdering a final count of 30 or 31. Leibovitz glides over all that as if it never were, writing only that some blame arafat for “inflexibility.”
Leibovitz next falsely claims that “nearly 3/4 of a million” Arabs were “expelled from their homes” by Israel’s establishment in 1948. In fact, the Arabs began Israel’s War of Independence by attacking Jewish civilians on the morning of 30 November 1947, right after the UN GA partition recommendation. The first refugees of that war were Jews who fled their homes in south Tel Aviv, Haifa, & parts of Jerusalem that eventually came under Arab Legion occupation in the part of the city that subsequently became known as “East Jerusalem”. These Jews began to flee in December 1947. At that time, the Arabs themselves & Western military observers believed that the Arabs had the upper hand in the war. Most Arab refugees began fleeing later in the war when the tide of war turned & under pan-Arab encouragement to leave their homes. Moreover, Israel at that time, 1948, was ruled by the Labor Party [= Mapai] whom he praises as “Left.”

You could certainly see your expertise in the work you write. The arena hopes for even more passionate writers such as you who aren’t afraid to mention how they believe. At all times go after your heart.

Thanks for another fantastic post. The place else could anybody get that kind of info in such an ideal way of writing? I’ve a presentation next week, and I am on the look for such info.

what is some fun online sites to blog on and make fun posts besides facebook and tumblr?

“Left for Dead” by Liel Leibovitz
Tablet Magazine
A New Read on Jewish Life

gabriel says:

article recommandé.
“Left for Dead “Liel Leibovitz
Tablet Magazine
A new Read on jewish life

lipglos says:

As a Russian Jew, I find this article deeply offensive.  I think that linking Russian emigres to Putin and his policies is egregiously wrong.  The world-view that Russian Jews possess comes from decades of intense repression in the Soviet Union (and before).  Perhaps we are keenly aware that conciliatory gestures by the Left toward Israel’s enemies  creates a perfect storm of terror and war.    


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Left For Dead

The Israeli left has collapsed in the last decade. But the right, despite its successes, is dying, too, brought down by Russian-imported maximalism and American-imported political consultants.

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