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Why We on the Israeli Left Feel Hit From Both Sides

We have battled Netanyahu and the right wing for decades. And now we feel alienated from a global left that won’t see Hamas for what it is.

A candle vigil in Tel Aviv for those killed or taken hostage by Hamas
Leon Neal/Getty Images
A candlelit vigil in Tel Aviv for those killed or taken hostage by Hamas earlier this month

On the morning of October 7, over 2,000 Hamas terrorists marched into Israeli towns and kibbutzim in the south of Israel, entered the houses, killed their inhabitants, burned the houses of those who were hiding in safe spaces, and kidnapped over 230 Israelis, including babies, children, old people, and women. Many of those who were killed, burned, and kidnapped were left-wing peace activists: three volunteers who used to drive Gazan patients to Israeli hospitals, one of the founders of Women Wage Peace (which calls itself “the largest grassroots peace movement in Israel”), relatives of leading human rights organizations in Israel who fight against occupation and injustice, and many more.

In fact, the population of the now-destroyed kibbutzim near the border with Gaza included perhaps the most left-leaning communities in Israel, despite suffering for years from rocket fire, burning fields, and terrorists’ infiltration.

Today, when these communities keep burying their dead and look into an uncertain future for themselves and their children, they also have to deal with many other issues. There is the blame game being played by right-wing supporters of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who have tried to deflect from his obvious responsibility for this catastrophe. There is the feeling of loneliness in light of the global left’s support of Hamas. And finally, there is the question of the future of the left wing in Israel during and after the war.

A prophet is not without honor, except in his hometown.

As I write these words, Netanyahu still hasn’t directly assumed any responsibility for the unbelievable failure of his policies of “divide and rule” vis-à-vis the Palestinians: appeasing Hamas and weakening the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah. In fact, soon after the shocking discoveries of the mass murder in the south during the first few days, the political games in the prime minister’s office resumed as usual. He blamed the IDF and the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, and insisted that he was never informed of the upcoming attack. At the same time, his multiple supporters started blaming the left for the disaster, mentioning the Oslo peace accords with Palestinians, the unilateral disengagement from Gaza of 2005 (that was actually executed by then–Likud chairman Ariel Sharon and supported by Netanyahu, then a minister in his Cabinet). It’s known that in Netanyahu’s world, everyone who doesn’t align with him automatically becomes “left.”

Nowadays the right-wing goons are not shy about shouting at the relatives of kidnapped Israelis who demand their loved ones’ return and wish that they also will be kidnapped by Hamas. A friend from the south told me that she wasn’t surprised—Netanyahu would not be Netanyahu if he stopped messing with politics even for a second—but still felt betrayed and hurt.

As a matter of fact, it was the left in Israel, as well as some politicians from the center, who repeatedly warned the public of Netanyahu’s warm embrace of Hamas and the free hand that he gave to settlers in the West Bank. In retrospect, the endless warnings and admonitions of Israeli human rights organizations and of left-wing politicians and journalists about the damage done by Netanyahu’s policies toward the Palestinians seem almost a prophecy.

After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, Israeli politics moved to the right and the left-wing Labor Party lost power for many years to come. It is tempting to think that following the war in Gaza, the political map will bounce back, at least to the center. Yet given the strength of the right wing today and the national trauma of October 7, it’s difficult to see it happening now. Inevitably there will be significant changes in the political map, but it’s unclear whether the left will be able to reinvent itself and regroup in order to have a stake in power.

The liberals’ betrayal

Just recently, when Israel was consumed by its internal rift caused by the so-called “judicial reform” and many thousands of Israelis rallied for their democracy in central squares of their towns, the Mitvim Institute, a progressive Israeli think tank, published a document calling for cooperation with liberals in the European Union and the United States in order to prevent democratic backsliding.

At that moment, it seemed that the shared concern for the future of democracy should bolster this alliance between the left and the center in Israel and the liberals in the West.

But the overall muted reaction to Hamas’s atrocities against Israeli citizens in the ranks of the liberal left and what is perceived in Israel as blind support on campus of a terrorist organization that kills both Israelis and Palestinians had a chilling effect. “We have realized that the Israeli left isn’t part of the international left, and vice versa,” Lilach Wolach wrote this week in Haaretz, in her op-ed titled “All I want to say to the international left is go to hell.”

The left in Israel was never shy about criticizing the policies of Netanyahu’s consecutive governments. In fact, we are the ones who told him repeatedly that his conceptions on Gaza as well as the West Bank were deeply flawed and warned of a great danger to Israel if the Palestinian issue were not resolved.

But at the same time, Israelis who believe in peace and in a two-state solution know that Hamas is a hard-core Islamist terrorist organization that seeks full destruction of Israel, not negotiations or compromise in any form. Hamas terrorists killed both Jews and Arabs, tortured civilians, chased children who hid under their beds. Shouldn’t it have been enough to sharply condemn Hamas without providing ridiculous justifications for this ISIS-like sadism and cruelty?

In the past, during the Oslo Accords, it was Hamas that worked hard to derail the peace process, bombing civilians in Israel on buses and in markets while the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority were struggling with implementation of Oslo. While too many liberals in the West see in Hamas “freedom fighters,” every Israeli sees in it a manifestation of a jihadi version of Islam and a long-term Iranian plan to destroy Israel. And it’s impossible for us to understand how people who deeply care for human rights suddenly became Hamas apologists.

These are not easy days for any Israelis, and especially for those on the left who believe and work for peace with our Palestinian and Arab neighbors. Our ideology and values have not changed, and we still believe that it’s essential to talk to the moderates and achieve a historical compromise with them. At the same time, we also know that this cannot be achieved with Hamas in the picture, and that the bloodthirsty terrorists who called their relatives to share their joy of the killing spree want to live here instead of us, not next to us. Any attempt to explain and gain support for this nuanced position in a black-and-white world of today, both in Israel and abroad, is excruciating.