'For Whom the Jackals Howl'

New book offers a searing critique of how the Israeli Right lost the narrative to the Left - and how it can take it back.

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Ari Soffer,

Professor Schneider
Professor Schneider
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Recent weeks have seen escalated opposition from the Israeli Right over the US-led initiative to impose an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA), amid boycott threats by US Secretary of State John Kerry, and reports that his "solution" would include dividing Jerusalem and an almost complete withdrawal by Israel from Judea and Samaria.

But if the "Kerry Process" presents yet another dangerous incarnation of the two-decades-old "land-for-peace" idea, which has failed so miserably in the past, that is only because the Right has itself failed to communicate their own alternative vision.

So says American-Jewish academic Professor Samuel Schneider, a Hebrew and Jewish World expert at Yeshiva University and the author of a new book "For Whom the Jackals Howl".

The title of the book is a play on words: a cross between Hemmingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" and Israeli left-wing author Amos Oz's book "The Land of the Jackals", which Professor Schneider describes as Oz's "manifesto, and in many ways an ideological manifesto for the Israeli Left at large."

Professor Schneider hopes his work - a collection of essays on a wide range of political topics - will serve as a counterweight. Amos Oz founded the far-left Peace Now movement, and his ideology and strategy Schneider says has served as a template for the next generation of the Israeli and wider Jewish Left, and can be credited for the success it has achieved in the past decades.

One such example was Oz's very decision to turn to a foreign media outlet to lobby for outside pressure on the Jewish state - in his case a New York Times article entitled "Did Israel Alter It's Vision?" - to criticize the Israeli government and lobby for outside pressure on the Jewish state, which Schneider points out is the "classic modus operandi" of contemporary left-wing Israeli groups. Far-left organizations such as the New Israel Fund, Peace Now and others not only receive foreign funds to "reshape" the character of the Jewish state, but make up for their marginal support within Israel by mobilizing pressure from abroad, he notes.

But "For Whom the Jackals Howl" is not a critique of the Left; instead, Schneider pulls few punches in describing what he sees as the failure of the Israeli Right to communicate its political alternative beyond its own core supporters and into the mainstream, and which made little if any effort to influence the political discourse - a lack of initiative which paved the way for left-wing dominance.

"The Right and 'conservative' political movements - both in Israel and elsewhere - have always traditionally been reactive instead of proactive," he explains. "From the British conservative movement's emergence as a reaction to liberal radicals, to the current Christian Democrats in Europe, the descendants of traditional conservative forces in Europe."

As far as Israel is concerned, he outlines what he sees as the Right's fixation on creating "facts on the ground" at the expense of all else, and until recently almost ignoring the field of diplomacy altogether. This attitude is best illustrated in his description of "the settlement movement's response to pressure by US Secretary of State William P. Rogers in the early 1970's. How did they react? They schlepped another caravan onto a hill!"

"They adopted the attitude that 'it's not important what the world thinks - only what we do'. But it doesn't work that way," he said. "It was an echo Ben Gurion's famous saying: 'Um Shmum', it doesn't matter what they say in the UN ["Um" in Hebrew - ed.], but what we do'!"

As proof he cites the ease with which the communities of Gush Katif in Gaza were destroyed. The political discourse and momentum built up by left-wing advocates of territorial concessions destroyed decades of painstaking "practical Zionism" on the part of the nationalist movement.

The conclusion which logically must be drawn from the "Disengagement" is that the political reality is shaped as much by discourse as it is by "facts on the ground" - perhaps more so, he insists. 

In contrast to the Right, the Israeli Left communicated a clear if romantic vision, based on a myth that when left-wing parties were in power - prior to the election of Menachem Begin - things were going all but perfectly.

"Their mentality is: we built the country, so it should be shaped in our image," he says of the left-wing establishment. "In their mind, everything was going in the right direction until the waves of olim - especially 'the Sephardim' - came and ruined their socialist paradise."

"Now, 'the settlements' and 'the occupation' are destroying the 'idyllic' reality which existed prior to the Six Day War. They pretend that in days of Mapai and Mapan everything was just dandy - but of course, the reality was completely different."

"The country wasn't built by the Kibbutzim at all," he points out "You don't fuel an advanced economy and a modern nation-state through small agricultural communities but via the cities, through industry. And of course, Israel's military power did not come from the Kibbutzim but from the industrial-military complex built by precisely those 'olim' who were not 'Kibbutznikim'."

Yet instead of formulating an independent discourse through which to communicate their alternative vision to the wider public, the nationalist and religious camps remained either reactive or - in the case of most of the religious parties - content with tagging along with the prevailing discourse.

In some cases, right-wing figures bought so far into the Left's discourse that they felt the need to justify themselves as the "heirs" of the Labor party's "pioneering past". Schneider notes as an example the attempts by Hanan Porat, the late leader of the Gush Emunim settlement movement, to convince leftists that "the settlers are the new halutzim (Zionist pioneers)," pointing to the incredible achievements of his movement in building and working the land.

"He missed the point completely."

"The Left are not interested in 'building Israel' - they are interested in building their Israel, and in building their power-base and maintaining their means of control over the country", and hence there was never any common ground claims Schnieder. For them, "the settlers" were the only thing preventing their vision of a socialist Eutopia of Jewish-Arab coexistence from coming to fruition and hence were the enemy - a sentiment recently clearly outlined by veteran Israeli leftist Yossi Sarid.

In essence, the message of the book is that it is not enough to be right; a proactive and concerted effort to communicate the justness of one's cause is in fact the key to political success.

Or, as Professor Schneider puts it: "It's not enough to 'settle' the hilltops - we need to settle the hearts and minds of Rabin Square (in Tel Aviv)" and among the general and Israeli population. 

For Whom the Jackals Howl Professor Samuel Schneider