Middle East

Influence Of Israel's Leftist Peace Movement Wanes

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/130542131/130744784" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

In Israel, a recent poll shows that support for traditional left-of-center parties is slipping dramatically.

Analysts say it's an indication of the waning power of the peace movement in Israel. The mostly right-wing government of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reflects a fundamental shift in Israeli politics.

'Reflecting the Israeli Mood'

On a recent afternoon, Israel's parliament, or Knesset, tables a no-confidence motion in the government's settlement policies in the occupied West Bank. A few left-of-center politicians take to the podium, but the hall is mostly empty.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu i

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the winter session Oct. 11 in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem. AP hide caption

toggle caption AP
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks at the opening of the winter session Oct. 11 in the Knesset, Israel's parliament, in Jerusalem.


It's a sign of the times in Israel. Netanyahu leads what analysts here say is the most right-wing government in Israel's history. Parties that up until recently were marginal at best now have a powerful voice.

The recent poll shows that if elections were held today, left-leaning Labor, the party that used to control Israeli politics, would only get nine seats in the 120-member Knesset. Left-leaning parties in all would only get about 47 seats.

On the other hand, the right-leaning nationalist and religious parties would get about 73 seats.

And the group that has been making the biggest inroads is Yisrael Beiteinu, or Israel Our Homeland, led by Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

"In a way, he's reflecting the Israeli mood more than I do, more than the Labor does," says Daniel Ben Simon, a member of parliament for the Labor party. "I have witnessed it from the parliament. I am sitting next to the people from Yisrael Beiteinu Lieberman party. It's their Knesset, it's their time, it's their period. They are moving within the Knesset as if they were the owners of this place."

Rise Of The Right

Analysts say there are several reasons why the rise of the right in Israel is no temporary phenomenon.

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman i

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visits Mount Gerizim, overlooking the West Bank Palestinian town of Nablus, on July 26. Getty Images hide caption

toggle caption Getty Images
Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman

Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman visits Mount Gerizim, overlooking the West Bank Palestinian town of Nablus, on July 26.

Getty Images

The first is demographic. Israel's population is becoming more religious. Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews have bigger families.

But, critically, the failure of the left's long push for peace with the Palestinians has gutted its support.

"The Israeli peace coalition was subject to a tremendous defeat," says political analyst Yaron Ezrahi, a professor from Hebrew University and a member of the intellectual left in Israel.

He says the failure of the Oslo peace process, followed by the wave of suicide bombings that took place during the second Palestinian uprising undermined Israelis' faith that there can be peace with the Palestinians.

Finally, the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza and the response from Palestinian militants there has only made the left-leaning party's case harder to make.

"The slogan of the left, 'land for peace,' was destroyed by the missiles that came from the place evacuated by the Israelis in the Gaza Strip — and it turned it into 'land for missiles,' " Ezrahi says.

And, so, the political left in Israel, Ezrahi says, has lost its way.

Labor is the only left-leaning party in Netanyahu's coalition, and observers say it has failed to sway the cabinet on crucial issues related to the peace process.

For the moment, talks are on hold over the issue of Jewish building in the occupied West Bank. The Israeli government has so far refused to extend a settlement freeze. The Palestinians say without one they won't continue with direct negotiations.

Growth Of The Grass-Roots Left

While leftist political parties here are suffering, new grass-roots leftist movements have sprouted up.

For the past year, every Friday in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, Israeli activists have gathered to protest the eviction of Palestinian residents to make way for Jews. On a recent rainy afternoon, about 100 demonstrators — watched by 20 Israeli policemen — banged drums and chanted.

"We feel that the Israeli left, the political parties of the left, has gone bankrupt. ... They are not activist enough, they are always apologetic, they pose no serious opposition," says Hillel Ben Sasson, an activist and post-graduate student. "They are absolutely predictable."

So, Ben Sasson says, they have created their own movement that makes a point of having no connection with the traditional leftist parties.

"This struggle in Sheikh Jarrah evolved from a deep sense that if we don't do the work, no one will do it for us," he says. "We cannot wait and expect that someone would come and lead the younger generation ... so we have to get up and start struggling and creating in Israel a different voice."

But he acknowledges they still have a long way to go.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

NPR thanks our sponsors

Become an NPR sponsor

Support comes from