The Left as Israel’s Sacrificial Lamb

Image by Taylor Brandon.

Just today, October 24 2023, Hamas released two hostages, among those two Yocheved Lifschitz, an 85 year-old peace activist from Nir Oz, one of the kibbutz communities near the border of Gaza. Ms. Lifschitz stated: “We were very hurt by the fact that the IDF did not know. We were the scapegoats! They warned us three weeks earlier, with people who came to the roads and burned fields. Sent incendiary balloons to burn our fields. And the IDF did not address this seriously.” She went on to explain that she shook the hand of her Hamas captor because “they treated us kindly and took care of our needs”.

“We were the scapegoats” …? Yocheved Lifschitz’s comment could not have been more of a validation of the view that I present in the following article about the current Israel-Palestine conflict and its roots.

Near as I can recall, the last major peacebuilding event in Israel with a wide media reach and deep support from Israeli society, was the 1995 rally in what is now called Rabin square, at which Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin joined in singing Shir L’Shalom – a popular anthem of the Israeli peace movement at the time. That very night he was shot and killed by a member of the “knitted kippah” religious settler movement.

That evening I had been laying in the music tracks for my movie, If You Make It Possible – profiling grassroots Israeli and Palestinian peace activists across the political and religious spectrum. The assassination of Rabin was more than a devastating gut punch to me, and to all others still hopeful for a real peace process. It was a takeover of the Israeli government by violence, a coup d’etat.

And the political struggles since that time have carefully orchestrated an avoidance of that watershed reality.

That heinous overthrow had been prepared for months, years, by the Zionist religious right wing under the leadership of Benyamin Netanyahu. They had plastered hundreds, thousands of posters of Rabin dressed in a Kefiyah, a traditional Palestinian headdress. The photo wasn’t real, it was a photoshopped image, on poles, walls, in corridors, all over Israel. And Netanyahu spoke at right wing rallies, in ominous words, of the dangers of making peace with the Palestinian people. He implied that the peace makers should be stopped, by any means.

At the time, David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, tells us, “There were moments when Netanyahu was advised that there are real nutcases in the national religious camp that we see, that we need to calm down, even gesturally… Netanyahu never did that, he never did that, to his enormous discredit”. Recalling quotes from some of his speeches at that time, I would say that contrary to mediating or “calming down” the settler zealots, he was driving the violence and hysteria of those “nutcases”.

Since that time, while the Zionist left including Labor and Meretz parties have struggled to maintain their historical influence on Israeli politics and society, they’ve sacrificed those who have always made the difference for them, in elections – the non-Zionist left including “Arab” parties and the Israeli peace movement.

The Netanyahu coup d’etat not only sidelined the peace movement and put Israel in denial of Palestine. It also brought more privatization and the dismantling of agencies such as the Histadrut, Israel’s original organization of workers and labor unions. And above all, the coup solidified Netanyahu’s, and Israel’s, pact with the international masters of war, weaponry and violence.

Israel’s most creative and humanizing organizational network, its kibbutzim, have also been drained of attention and support, in favor of propping up religious settlements in and near the West Bank and Gaza.

Confined in its open-air prison, blockaded, starved and constantly subject to the repression of Israeli military surveillance, did Gaza note that the kibbutzim nearest its borders, Kerem Shalom in particular, were against the Israeli occupation and actively seeking peace and understanding? Did that matter, finally, to those who escaped the prison and wreaked devastation on those kibbutzim?

Steven Zunes, an author and professor of politics and international studies at University of San Francisco, gave a nod to the sad fact that, in addition to being marginalized in Israeli society, those left-leaning kibbutzim took the hit for a right wing government and its increasingly ethno-nationalist policies. On KPFA radio Zunes recently said:

“One of the tragic ironies of this is the vast majority of the casualties were kibbutzim and the people at this outdoor concert. And people who live in kibbutzim and people who go to raves tend to be the more left-wing, secular Israelis who oppose Netanyahu. Who oppose the occupation, who oppose the seizure of Gaza. Not the right wing ultra-religious nationalist types. I have a good friend who, just a few months ago we were doing training in nonviolent civil resistance to war and occupation, for activists. She lived in kibbutz Kissufim, and she is missing and likely dead or kidnapped. Kerem Shalom, which is probably the most left-wing kibbutz in Israel, they’ve been involved in nonviolent direct action against the occupation. They were overrun, massacres there …”

Kibbutzim, communities carrying on a mostly socialist communal life style, were the founding roots of Israeli society in the early days of the nation. They have a politically progressive tradition. Steven Zunes

gets to the heart of a controversy about kibbutzim: “ That’s one of the great contradictions of Zionism as a whole. On the one hand it was a national liberation movement for an oppressed people that was led by …social democrats, but it was also a settler colonial enterprise on land that was already inhabited.”

Perhaps a major hope for lasting peace between Israel and Palestine, and for co-existence on contested lands there, has been the willingness of those progressive kibbutzniks to advocate for understanding with their Palestinian neighbors, and to develop humane, mutually respectful ties. And now, the debacle of destruction of those left-wing kibbutzim.

With the coming of the Hamas attack on October 7, 2023, came a slew of articles in the Israel Times, Ha’aretz and other journals pointing out that whenever Netanyahu was prime minister, Israel propped up Hamas, funneling it up to $1 billion through Qatar, in order to hobble Mahmoud Abbas’ Palestinian Authority and prevent the formation of a Palestinian state. So in essence, Netanyahu armed Hamas.

I hate to think this, let alone write it, but is it possible that Netanyahu and his henchmen, Smotrich, Ben Gvir and others, knew of or anticipated the Hamas attacks, and were willing to sacrifice those left-wing kibbutzim?

Certainly, Smotrich, previously arrested of inciting racist violence in Israel, would not be above that kind of cynicism, and he stated on October 8: “We must be cruel now and not think too much about the hostages (in Gaza). It’s time to act.”

After international outrage erupted over the bombing of a Gaza hospital, which killed hundreds of Palestinian civilians, Netanyahu reinforced his customary racist memes of Palestinians as “children of darkness” – as opposed to Israel’s “children of light”.

Further, the report that 40 Israeli babies had been decapitated by Hamas, which the Israeli military won’t confirm, has now been walked back by the Biden administration and most credible news organizations. But that “news” inflamed fury and revulsion, and US president Biden rode that wave of hatred with comments about the “pure, unadulterated evil” of the Hamas attack. And by implication, of course, of Hamas itself. Israel trumpeted its usual condemnation of what it termed “animals”.

Why was Netanyahu assisting in the preparation of those “animals” with financial support? This doesn’t add up… the black and white here is so, so gray. Good and evil here are not, certainly not, at all clear.

I want to recount an incident from my time – two years aggregate – in the Middle East. When I arrived in Israel/Palestine for the first time, to study Hebrew, I took a tour of the Burnt House Museum, Katros House, presenting an excavated home from the second Temple period, in ancient history. The tour guide, a knitted kippah (yarmulkah) religious settler, asserted that the reason Jerusalem was burned, and the second Temple destroyed, was that Jews became too “liberal”, and their departure from orthodoxy infuriated Creator, and the catastrophe came from that.

Basically, that tour guide was teaching people that anybody liberal, or left-leaning, was responsible for Israel’s heaviest suffering.

But I had learned, in Torah study, that the reason for the burning of Jerusalem and the destruction of the second Temple, was because of sinat hinam, unreasoning hatred. Not because of liberals.

That experience was my first hint that religious intolerance, and condemnation of those with differing religious or nonreligious views, was precisely the unreasoning hatred, the sinat hinam,

the scapegoating, that brought down the Temple and ancient Israeli society, according to most Torah analysts.

Netanyahu, Smotrich and Ben Gvir have spewed racism, hatred and violence for decades. Could it be that they were willing to set up those kibbutzim near Gaza, and those ravers at the concert, those left-wingers and secularists, as the scapegoats for their current imposition of chaos on Israel and Palestine?

Is the left in Israel the Hevel, the Abel, to the right wing’s callous, authoritarian, and much more violent, Cain?

Maybe it doesn’t really matter if they “knew and planned” the assault on those kibbutzim and those ravers. They are clearly and directly responsible for the current violence and vitriol.

How will you get rid of those “leaders”, Israel? Start planning that now.

Lynn Feinerman is a media activist. Her award-winning movie If You Make It Possible profiling Israeli and Palestinian peace activists, screened on PBS, the International Channel and cable in Israel. Her radio series Women Rising Radio is broadcast and podcast with Progressive Radio Network 24/7 online.