02.10.2013 video Molad
J Street 2013    

How the Israeli Left Can Change Reality

Mikhael Manekin, Molad's Director of Policy and Communications, took part in a plenary at the J Street 2013 conference where he discussed the root causes of the weakness of the Israeli left

The plenary session is moderated by New York Times columnist Roger Cohen (September 29, 2013).


COHEN: Lets get real a minute. Most Israelis don't know where the Green Line is anymore. There are half a million living to the East of it, maybe more, if you include East Jerusalem. Settlement construction is continuing. Prime Minister Netanyahu now is probably a liberal within the Likud movement. Many in the government are far to the right of him. Bennett, Minister Bennett, recently totally dismissed the very notion of a Palestinian state. So how do you, in that situation, where the occupation has been going on for decades and its reality is scarcely even recognized any more by many Israelis, how do you generate that kind of determinination that says "enough"!

MANEKIN: But all of these things are irrelevant, I think, to why occupation continues. And what frustrates me a bit about some of the parameters of this conversation is that we're using heavily the terminology of the right to why things are not moving forward.

First of all the issue of negotiations. Negotiations are not a left wing concept and anti-negotiations, a right wing concept. That might have been true in the late 80s, that might have been true in 1994, but since 1996, everybody in Israel believes in negotiations. We even had, I was talking about this in a previous panel, Uri Ariel, who's a radical right Minister of Housing, said that he's for negotiations as well, he's just against the manifestation of negotiations. This is all public knowledge.

So the idea that we keep on saying — lets go to negotiations, and wait a minute, what are the problems for the negotiations, oh maybe they're not, the camps are separated, the Palestinians, so lets first unify them, and when they're unified, oh wait they have Hamas in the room so lets separate them. The question is not the question of negotiations. The question is of the fact that there is roughly 50% of Israelis who are not interested in ending the occupation. Now that's a sad thing, and that's terrible, and I wish all Israelis would want to end the occupation but we have to be honest enough and listening enough to understand that there are parts of — and the reason I'm only stressing Israelis and not Palestinians is because within the context of occupation and not the context of a peace agreement, the context of ending the occupation — and these two things are different — in the context of ending the occupation, this is the sole responsibility of the Israeli government [applause].

And today we have around 50% of Israeli society which are represented by their leadership who are interested in managing that status quo, and if you ask me, I think it's sustainable, I think it's viable. I think it's awful, but I think it can last for a very long time. I mean, it's lasted for a very long time, there's no reason to think that something's going to happen tomorrow or the day after and Israelis think that it can happen for a long time. So why are we constantly doing two things? Why are we constantly — and you even presented it in your question: "If you could say something to Bibi tomorrow, what will you say?" So maybe I get that opportunity and I tell Bibi something, the problem is that there — there are two problems with that: One, he doesn't want to listen to me, because he has a different opinion. And two, even if he does, he has a hundred other people whispering to his other ear who are saying the thing which is the exact opposite from me. So why do we continue using that track? Why don't we focus all our energy on building our track? And again, this is important for me to state, in the last elections, the right got weaker. The left got stronger. That's not sort of a fantasy of activist optimism, of optimism of a 'new voice'. That's numbers. The center stayed the same, the right got smaller, the left got bigger, this is a new trend that's been happening over the last couple of years. And it's exciting and it gets me excited because I see it…

COHEN: Well isn't Israel growing more and more religious…Do you really see...

MANEKIN: Well I'm also growing a bit religious, but I know what you mean…

COHEN: Absolutely, yes. A lot of opinion is well to the right of yours.

MANEKIN: We have our Tea Party, and we have our problems and we have our issues.

COHEN: But you see a real genuine chance to build a center-left movement that says enough of this.

MANEKIN: I see a real real chance of a center left party that says I want to be in power. But I want to ask what are those stumbling blocks that make that stop happening. And I want to give three examples.

So the first example I gave us the issue of us cheerleading the other side. The second example I want to give is — and all of this is because of this depression — we're not creating our own language. We're using the right's — we're talking demography. What progressive in the world talks about 'demographic threat'? We're using that language because we think we will always lose, and we think we need to convince the other side.

And the third issue is that we keep on aggrandizing the settlements. And this happened before in the conversation — the settlements are a failure. And I'm not saying they're a failure in the sense that there are a lot of settlers living in the settlements, that's obvious. But they're not sustaining themselves. The only reason they last a day is because we're heavily subsidizing them. That's not true for any other area in the country. It's a weak failure. And you know the only people who are saying that is the settlers themselves, right? I mean lets talk about numbers: 67% of settlers work inside Israel, another 30% of settlers work in government sponsored jobs inside the settlements. Only 3% of settlers actually have jobs within the settlements that have to be you know — it's like a percent and a half in agriculture and a percent and a half in industry. That's insane. It's a failure.

COHEN: So why is there a taboo about discussing this? In the Knesset or in wherever...

MANEKIN: Well first of all, we're discussing it right now. The taboo is not in discussing it, the taboo is how do we create a conversation that is proud of itself.

COHEN: Even the number is taboo. Nobody knows how much is spent on it.

MANEKIN: Well look, well there's a lot of … because we work in a think tank and we're trying to get that information out, the right's doing a lot of work to try and hide that information. The right's trying to do a lot of work to hide that information because they know it's true. So why are we not focusing on making that clear? Why are we not saying, you know, 25% of the roads that the Ministry of Transportation built is within the occupied territories. And that's not only because they know how to mooch from the government more. I mean they also know how to mooch from the government more, but it's not only because of that. It's because the project doesn't make sense geographically. And we need to put a ton of money into roads in order for it to make sense. That's the definition of a geographic failure. It's weak. You don't need to — theoretically you don't even need to evacuate it, you need to turn off the faucet [applause].

But the first people who talk about civil wars are the left. We're afraid. What civil war? It's not the North and the South — they don't have an army, they don't have hospitals. They don't have a functioning agriculture they don't have a functioning economy. They're bourgeois more than … But the first thing Israelis say is "but there are so many religious people in the army, and they're all becoming religious, and Naftali Bennett" … We can't be afraid of the right. We can't be afraid of the right because they're hurting Israeli society — and that needs to be the focus. The focus needs to be not how do we whisper to Netanyahu's ear, but how do we whisper to the ear of the person who we want to be in government, and that should be, again, the focus of the camp [applause].


MANEKIN: I heard some things here which are pretty similar but I want to add another dimension. There's a lot of talk about despair and hope, also in your opening words and also in things which were said by all three previous speakers. I, just as well as Stav, it's hard to know when something erupts and what gets people excited. So we don't know what that will be, but we do know preconditions to what needs to happen in order for people to get excited. And here I think one of our main challenges is actually our own camp. Because, as opposed to the issue of the social protests, I think we've internalized, in the peace conversation, that we're not going to win. Meaning that we're always going to be in the opposition. We're always going to be the ones who are — it's sort of like our camp has become a huge NGO which is trying to move the right, which is always going to be in leadership, maybe a bit more to the left. And I think that's probably our largest challenge because its very hard to get involved and to get excited and to mobilize by cheerleading the other side and trying to convince them to be a bit less of who they are.

And I think it's such a deep challenge and problem of our camp today that if you look at the more, I mean, for me, frustrating aspects — so you take an example, I mean even some one like Yossi Beilin, who, you know, one of the architects of Oslo, one of the architects of the Geneva Initiative, and literally — and its important to say — if the people sitting here around the table — I don't think would need nine months of negotiations. We already know in many ways what the format of our agreement should be.

COHEN: What would you agree on in a couple of weeks?

MANEKIN: No, what is important for me to say regarding that, and in alluding to Beilin, because we saw recently that he was proposing some sort of interim agreement, some sort of "bettering" of the status quo for the next fifteen years. And he's not doign that because he doesn't have the right solution, he knows a better circumstance. He's doing that because he doesn't think he can get anything better out of the right wing government.

Because if we know that Netanyahu is the primary reason that we don't have a two state solution and to end the occupation, the whole focus of the whole entire camp should be getting rid of Netanyahu. And it shouldn't be trying to convince him to be a bit more like us. So if you want to know about what [applause]. In our opinion, what needs to happen, I'd like to see more leaders like Stav who want to end the occupation, who want a two state construct, and then the whole conversation becomes different, because negotiation should be about implementation. They shouldn't be about finding common ground. If we don't have the same common ground, if we don't know where we're going, then then negotiations are pointless. Now, again, we've been through 20 years of this. I was thirteen when Oslo started. I'm aware of all the different maps. I'm not interested in sitting in a room and drawing those maps again. We know where we're going. But we need to be in power in order to implement it. And if we can't conceive ourselves in power, then we're always going to be frustrated, we're always going to be depressed.

COHEN: But what is often striking in Israel, with the wall-barrier and with the fact that you don't read a lot about what's going on in the West Bank is this sense of exhaustion, the sense that, you know, we can't do it. You seem to be saying something different, but I often get the feeling in Israel that you know, the belief just isn't there. If you ask Israelis "will there be peace?" perhaps a small majority might — if they want a two state peace — a small majority might say yes, but if you ask them do they believe in it, probably no.

MANEKIN: For sure. I mean for sure. I'm not saying, God forbid, that we're talking about an easy battle. I'm not saying all we need to do is do something different. I'm asking: what is a battle that we want to fight. Where do we want to see ourselves as a camp. And what I'm suggesting is, that a precondition of hope is the understanding that you can lead the way and that you're not following and cheerleading the other side. That's my suggestion. The left narrowly lost the last election in Israel, the left in Israel. It's not all doom and gloom. Our main focus and our main pressure should be how do we build a comprehensive and coherent, very progressive, very pragmatic camp which can lead the way. And then the questions are about implementation. The questions aren't about, you know, what are talking — the questions aren't about what are negotiating in the negotiations? I don't need to have that conversation with any of the Palestinians sitting here. My conversation is a conversation of implementation and that's the conversation we should be having, but we can only have that conversation from a place of leadership and from a place of political power, which is something that we're not allowed to give up on. 

For the full video of the J Street plenary in which Manekin participated, click here.

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