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The question about the Israeli left-wing, its size, truth, and especially its political, social and cultural identity, is difficult and complex and includes many issues.
The situation in Israel is different from elsewhere, where the left-wing’s features are determined by its political and social identity, which converges public and private freedoms, aligns with the interests of the poor classes, and struggles for a world of social justice and the values of democracy, modernity and progress.
The left-wing’s image in Israel has always been very blurry and ambiguous. The Labour Party, for example, is considered a leftist party given its adoption of socialist experiments (cooperative villages) in the early days of Israel (kibbutz and moshav), its establishment of the Histadrut organisation to defend the interests of Jewish workers, and its affiliation with International Socialism.
But this party transitioned several decades ago towards economic liberalism and abandoned its fundamental social identity, on which it was formed in the Jewish settlers’ view. On the other hand, this party adopts a right-wing view of the state identity as a Jewish (religious) state on the cultural level.
It has done nothing to separate religion from the state in Israel given its adoption of the Zionist ideology, which identifies Judaism as a religion and as national identity (a modern concept that includes secularism). According to this notion, Jews are a people with “national” features, regardless of their national or ethnic affiliations. It is an obvious exception, as it is impossible to identify those belonging to Christianity or Islam, in all parts of the world, and from different ethnicities, on a national basis.
Furthermore, the Labour Party was responsible for the establishment of Israel and the plight of the Palestinians. Israel launched several wars against some Arab countries during its tenure, including the Six-Day War (1967). This party is responsible for establishing the settlement movement in the West Bank and the Judaization of Jerusalem. It is also responsible for tampering with the Oslo Agreement (1993) during Ehud Barak’s administration (1999-2001), as well as for the outbreak of the second intifada (2000).
Based on this, the Labour Party is, in fact, a centrist party. Several other parties adopt this stance. The list includes the Yesh Atid party and the Blue and White party, which explains the fall of the Labour Party on the Israeli political map in favour of right-wing or other centrist parties.
That leaves the Meretz as a left-wing party that supports separating religion from the state. This party opposes economic liberalism and calls for filling the living conditions gaps in Israeli society, in addition to securing peaceful relations, free of occupation with the Palestinian people. Therefore, Meretz can be considered the only Jewish party that can be dealt with as a left party on the social (reducing living conditions gaps) and cultural (secularisation of the state) levels. Still, it is a small and ineffective party.
The terms “right and left” in Israel have become more closely related to the issue of opposing the occupation, control of the Palestinian people, and how to deal with the settlement process.
The dilemma here is that the Israeli left (with limited exceptions) does not address the Palestinian issue at its roots. Instead, it bases its stance on what it considers the right of the Jews to own the land of Palestine – the land of the fathers and grandfathers, as they say. It is a left that adheres to Zionism and the following myth: “a land without a people for a people without a land.”
At its best, this left considers the ongoing struggle over Palestine a struggle between two peoples, two rights, and two narratives. Thus, this left is reconciled with Zionism and the reality of establishing Israel at the expense of the Palestinian people. It only establishes its “leftist” narrative of the Palestinian cause based on its rejection of the 1967 occupation. When it talks about the colonial nature of Israel, it is talking about the occupation of 1967, while it refuses to approach the Palestinian cause since 1948.
All of this explains reducing the settlement to the saying “land for peace” or merely the establishment of a (limited) Palestinian state in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, considering this settlement as the end to the demands of the Palestinians.
The other dilemma is that the Israeli left-wing, despite its contradictions and problems, also suffers from a significant decline, like other leftist currents in the world, where the right-wing, and the extreme right, be it religious or nationalist in Israel, control the Knesset as it controls the street, under the Zionist and religious ideology’s dominance that affects the various aspects of life in Israel, an ideology that the Israeli left-wing has not done anything about because it forms part of its legitimacy and narrative, as well as the legitimacy of the Israeli entity.
Who remembers today, for example, once-prominent leftist figures such as Yossi Beilin, Yossi Sarid, Shulamit Aloni and many others? Who remembers the new historians and the post-Zionism? This means that today, more than ever before, Israel is in the grip of settler leaders and national and religious rightists. Therefore, if Israel did not offer anything to the Palestinians when it was ruled by its “left,” what will it offer under its right?
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