What Became Of The Left In Israel?

In May 1977, after practically 30 years of absolute domination by the Zionist left in Israel – first with Mapai from 1948 to 1968 and later with the Labor Party – the right led by the Likud (Netanyahu’s party) took over. power for the first time in its history. The person in charge of this milestone was Menájem Beguín, who was the leader of Irgún, the Zionist paramilitary organization that in 1946 he attacked the King David Hotel, killing 91 people. Since then, in the last 44 years the left has only led the Executive in eight of them. The last Labor Prime Minister, Ehud Barak, left office in 2001, 20 years ago.

In the last elections, held in March, the historic Labor Party reached only seven of the 120 seats in Parliament. The same ones obtained by the far-right Naftali Bennett, who has all the ballots to become Israel’s next prime minister (he will take turns with Yair Lapid) if the Government’s agreement to unseat Netanyahu in parliamentary vote is confirmed on June 13. Netanyahu is doing everything he can to break that weak alternative majority.

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Bennett has denied the existence of the occupation: “What occupation? Can one be an occupant in his own home? This is our house.” He has compared the situation between Israel and the Palestinians as Annoying shrapnel stuck in the ass that cannot be removed and is the author of other phrases such as: “When you were still hanging from the trees here we had a Jewish state“;” I have already killed many Arabs in my life and there is absolutely no problem “; and” I will do everything I can to fight against the creation of a Palestinian state in the land of Israel. “

The other left-wing forces with representation have 12 seats: six for the anti-Zionist Joint List (led by Jadash, successor to the Communist Party) and six for Meretz (Social Democrat and Green). Thus, there are 19 seats in total for the left compared to 72 for the right, extreme right and conservative religious parties; the 25 of the formations considered to be the center, although without great proposals for change regarding the conflict with Palestine; and four from the conservative Muslim Arab United Arab List party, which has entered the new Executive.

“The Israeli left has problems. It has practically disappeared. And this is because it has lost its political program. It has become a weak shadow of the Likud. The Labor Party is the one that built the settlements, carried out the occupation, rejected the two-state solution and spoiled [los acuerdos de] Oslo… That’s why there is no reason to vote for the Labor Party if you can vote for Likud “, Jeff Halper, pacifist activist, director of the organization tells elDiario.es Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions (Israeli Committee Against House Demolition) and co-founder of One Democratic State Campaign (Campaign for a Democratic State).

For many experts, now that the two-state solution is practically dead, left-wing Zionism has lost all its meaning.

This is the case of the Israeli historian Ilan Pappé: “The Zionist left has disappeared. Now there are more anti-Zionist members in Parliament than progressive Zionists. I think that liberal Zionism is an attempt to square the circle and there is a moment when people stop believing in it. Israel is at the crossroads and has two options: be a democratic state or be an apartheid state, “he says. “The two-state solution of trying to be a Jewish democratic state and not an apartheid state might have worked, but not anymore.”

“The left in Israel has been in crisis since the collapse of the Oslo peace process in the early 2000s. Since then it has failed to present an alternative vision with which to mobilize society and compete with the right,” says Ben Reiff, director of communications of the socialist movement Standing together, a Jewish-Arab organization from Israel, writer, and Master’s student at Oxford University in Modern Middle Eastern Studies.

“Over the past two decades she has tried to beat the right at her own game, that is, security. She has chosen retired army generals over and over again as leaders. In the meantime, she remains clinging to the inherent ‘separation’ paradigm. to the Oslo process, even as the reality on the ground makes such a separation between Palestinians and Israelis seem less and less feasible, “he adds.

“If left-wing Zionism existed, today the right-wing Israeli forces claiming to be the Zionist left have to rethink themselves: either they propose a real left-wing project or they broaden their ties with Zionism and therefore turn to the center. to the detriment of progressive ideals, “he argues Thomas Vescovi, author of the book ‘L’échec d’une utopie: Une histoire des gauches en Israel’ (The failure of a utopia: history of the left in Israel).

Reiff says that precisely the rise of this more secular center “has been the main change in Israeli politics in the last two decades.” “Many who identified with the left have come to identify with the center. This is because since the collapse of Oslo and the increase in violent escalation during the Second Intifada, many Israelis who supported the two-state solution are now More skeptical. Hence the growth of parties such as Azul y Blanco and Yesh Atid, which are committed to minimizing the occupation rather than ending it. Economically, these formations are on the right, given that their voter base is largely made up of the Upper-middle-class Ashkenazi elite. “

In the last two years, Israel has held four elections due to the inability to form a government. The centrist Blue and White party drew with Likud in the first, won in the second and fell behind just three seats in the third. In the fourths, Yesh Atid parted ways with Blue and White and came second with 17 seats (30 from Netanyahu). The latter was punished for supporting a unity Executive with Netanyahu, accused of corruption.

“It is clear that the emergence of centrist parties that propose an articulation between economic globalism and secularism attracts more to the progressive population of Israel than does the Zionist left, which seems tired and out of date,” says Vescovi.

“To rethink a progressive project, the Israeli left should start by observing that the progressive Jewish population is in the minority in Israel. Therefore, to form a government without religious or far-right forces, the Israeli left must inevitably look at the Palestinian population. of Israel to propose an egalitarian and social project “, adds the writer and professor.

Vescovi believes that it will be interesting to analyze the trajectory of the leftist Meretz formation. “In Meretz there is a division between a part that wants to remain loyal to Zionism and another that affirms that they need to be more united to the Palestinian population of Israel and create an Arab and Jewish front for a new project,” he says. “A year ago, in the March 2020 elections, it became clear that the people who prefer to stay in the Zionist political field won and they managed to form a union with Labor and the center. However, in the March 2021 elections, Meretz He proposed a list with five Palestinians in the top 10 on the list, “he adds. It is a new project that can determine the future of training.

The distinction between left and right in Israel is not as straightforward as in other countries. “The distinction doesn’t really exist. Since the 1980s, the left has become practically synonymous with the so-called ‘peace side’. That is, all those who support the principle of land for peace as a way to resolve the conflict through a two-state solution, “says Reiff.

“Given that socioeconomic issues are irrelevant to this axis, there are supposedly left-wing parties whose economic program is more socialist than that of supposedly left-wing parties that promote neoliberal policies,” he adds.

Vescovi points out along the same lines: “The political question is no longer predominant. There is a consensus in the Zionist camp on colonization and that consensus is that international law will not be respected.”

“The real divide today is about what the State of Israel should be like. A Jewish state on a religious basis, as Netanyahu asks, or a Jewish state in which the synagogue is separated from the State, like what Yair Lapid asks ( Yesh Atid). But the new coalition between the Zionist right and left is only based on the desire to expel Netanyahu, “he adds.

The writer maintains that “Israel is a very unequal country economically.” “The Jewish popular classes generally vote to the right because they do not put the socio-economic question at the core of their demands, but rather the defense of a state in which Jews maintain a privileged position, especially from the religious point of view. In this sense , they fear that the left, which they perceive as anti-religious and in favor of a land exchange with the Palestinians, will come to power. ”

“The Zionist left has never been able to appeal to these more popular communities because it is predominantly secular,” says Reiff.

“The left that currently exists in Israel will never be able to come to power. To win an election there must be a new kind of left that has not existed before in Israel. A left capable of uniting all those who have been marginalized and committed to the real equality of all citizens and with the end of the occupation. There can be no equality without peace and peace without equality, “adds Reiff.

Halper goes further: “The only solution is to establish a single democratic state over historic Palestine. Zionism is a colonial project and the only way to end it is decolonization: not conflict resolution, not negotiation, not conflict resolution. agreements… Simply dismantle the colonialist structures of domination and control and establish a new State with a new civil society that offers the same rights to all, as well as the return of refugees.

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