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"Israel's Jewishness is like a sword against our necks," Hadash general secretary MK Mohammad Barakeh declared at his party's convention last Friday. "Hadash," he added, "does not accept the demand that every Jew can come to Israel." With this, Barakeh coined a new interpretation for the slogan "Two states for two peoples": one national state, Palestine, for the Palestinian people, and a second state, Israel, for those who live there. A national home for the Jewish people - no way.

This interpretation has prevailed in Hadash in recent years and has silenced other voices. The movement still takes pride in its definition as a "Jewish-Arab party" and calls upon leftists "to support the movement in which Jews and Arabs are partners, who without blurring their identities work together for peace and a just distribution of the state's resources," but these words have lost their meaning.

The argument under way in Hadash is not heard outside the circle of its voters and supporters, but it exemplifies the depth of the rift in the party and how its new leadership is dragging it into a narrow, dead-end street. It's hard to believe that the new leadership, which has pushed out a politician with definite civil-leftist positions like Issam Mahoul, is connected to the social movement it was back in the mid-1990s.

Hadash then, headed by Tamar Gozansky, succeeded in raking in votes from the veteran left, which was persuaded that Hadash was the only party truly concerned for the weak and that it was ahead of the entire political spectrum in its insistence on partitioning the land into two states.

A look at the internal debate within the party shows that there is disappointment over the disassociation between that Hadash and today's. It is expressed in two central complaints: First, against Hadash's linking up with nationalist groups and even forces of an Islamic nature - both of them ideologies that contradict the character of the movement; and second, against the edging out of women from realistic places on the party list for the Knesset, and Jewish women in particular. Hadash members and veteran leftist activists have no hesitation nowadays in saying openly that they regret the grating division into "Jews and Arabs" and the movement's distancing from the civil definition of "Israelis."

"The Hadash convention and council," wrote Alex Macias in Hagada Hasmalit (The Left Bank) journal, "are held in Nazareth and Haifa, almost entirely in Arabic. The Israeli flag is not flown at them. The Palestinian flag is." Macias should not be suspected of fighting for "Jewish" nationalist symbols. On the contrary: He wants a civic symbol that unites. Many of those disappointed with Hadash, especially Jews, but also Arabs, feel as he does that the new values voiced by the leadership are no longer concordant with their basic principles.

Macias' protest against the ethnic division expresses the root of the problem. The question is not whether it is the number of Arabs and the number of Jews on the Hadash Knesset list that determines the party's character, but rather the question as to how many Israelis will be on the Knesset list, and to what extent the leaders of the party still see Hadash as Israeli, with a civil-rights agenda. Since Hadash succumbed to the separatist-nationalist and populist stream, and decided to join up with MK Ahmed Tibi of Ra'am-Ta'al and later with Balad, and chosen to turn its back on a social and civil agenda in favor of questions related to Palestinian nationalism, to the detriment of the right to national realization for Jews - it appears that the answer to these questions is negative.

Many people will unite against the occupation; few will agree to knock the national ground out from under their feet in order to be acceptable to former MK Azmi Bishara and his successors. As Hadash has chosen to slam the door in the face of anyone who is not capable of being a Balad enthusiast, it has lost a large public, which is seeking and not finding elsewhere a home on the militant economic and social left. In so doing, the party is not only thinning its ranks and becoming marginal and negligible, it is also playing into the hands of the right and strengthening its anti-civic, nationalist agenda.