Back to the future
Responding to the political and media furor stirred by her recent interview in these pages, Shelly Yachimovich asserts: My only 'sin' is that I do not meet the demands of the post-Zionist order.
How easy it has been for some publicists and politicians to revert to the old familiar, timeworn talk about right-left! What a sigh of relief has been heard from those quarters! For a whole month, 30 days, thousands of smart and idealistic young people forced people to use a new language: deep, all-embracing and social-democratic; sophisticated, knowledge-based, humanistic. For a whole month, huge demonstrations were held here that rocked the country's foundations and threatened the monoliths of the conservative right-wing economic agenda, which both left and right sanctified and exalted and were glued to - and whose governments they had joined.
For a full month, people who understand social democracy about as well as a donkey understands fruit compote were compelled to talk about it, pretending that they had been waiting on pins and needles for the social revolution to break out, trilling trippingly on the tongue terms like "privatization," "social justice," "attainable housing," "fair distribution of resources" and "erosion of the middle class." For a whole month they wandered about in a distraught daze: How was it possible that not even once in the course of this marvelous protest, did anyone hoist a familiar left-wing-type poster of the kind they're used to in demonstrations? It's hard, very hard, to change a mindset.
Then along came Gidi Weitz's interview with me in Haaretz Magazine ("A woman's place," August 19 ) and brought salvation. An all-clear siren. The socioeconomic discussion was over. Go back to cursing settlers - a reassuring, familiar, groundless tribal ritual - in unison, and to lashing out at me, with a righteousness both violent and boring, for my firm refusal to take part in the ritual.
Once more we could return to the mildewed rhetoric that has been spouted for decades, which distances us thousands of miles from peace, but also acts as a soothing lullaby for those who have lost all desire to influence the Israeli reality and have long since ceased to understand it. The biggest sigh of relief was heard from the headquarters of some of those running for the Labor Party leadership, who had been deeply depressed by the polls predicting my victory in the primaries, and from the ranks of the Old Left - those who purify their conscience with limited rhetoric focusing on unfortunate Palestinians and criminal settlers.
At last we can curl up again in the old bed, which reeks of aged mold, lie idly in it and go back to reciting the old familiar mantras.
Why is this so? Because the interview with Gidi Weitz revealed that I do not meet the demands of the post-Zionist order, which holds its meetings in the telephone booth in Bil'in. Yes, I am a peace-loving social-democratic humanist. Yes, I support the Clinton blueprint: 1967 borders, settlement blocs, partitioning the neighborhoods in Jerusalem. Yes, I refuse to invoke the right of silence in regard to my voting record and explain that 16 years ago (when the two-ballot system was in effect ), I voted for Shimon Peres as prime minister and Tamar Gozansky for the Knesset. Yes, I declined Ehud Barak's offer to serve as minister of industry, trade and labor in the Netanyahu-Lieberman-Yishai government, because it was an extreme-right economic and political government, alien to the values of the Labor movement. Yet, at the same time, my colleagues clung terminally to their deerskin seats, shamefully buttered up Netanyahu and were partners to racist votes and political escalation and to an extreme capitalist orientation. Anything rather than have their bodyguards and government-issue cars taken away.
But all this is not enough to achieve validation. Because it turns out that I suffer from serious flaws which are beyond atonement. I love this country, I am a Zionist. I draw my creed from the values of socialist Zionism, a potent combination which was the huge engine for the heroic act of the state's establishment. I love the national anthem and want children to learn its words, as in every civilized country. I am against refusal to serve. I mention an unpleasant historical truth: that Labor governments fomented the settlement enterprise. And most incomprehensible of all: I refuse to perform the de rigueur ritual of hatred against the settlers, but seek a political solution in which the element of hatred will not be part of the driving force.
And add to this my rejection of the mathematics of "if there will be no settlements, there will be money for a welfare state." I plead guilty: I too thought this, six years ago. In exactly the same way I also truly and sincerely believed that slashing the defense budget would channel money to education. Six intensive years as a member of the Finance Committee and a profound knowledge of the economic ideology of finance ministers and two prime ministers - Netanyahu and Olmert - honed the essential insight I gained in terms of understanding the system.
It's not that the state is short of money. It's the neoliberal, Thatcherist, extremist ideology that holds that state services (education, health, welfare, housing, justice ) should be anorexic. That they need to be privatized, frozen, cut and dried out in favor of "market forces" and the "invisible hand," which will impose justice here instead of the state. As long as this is the ruling religion, there will not be a welfare state here and not a shekel of what's cut will be diverted to the citizens' welfare.
For decades, every form of economic, social, national and moral discourse unrelated to the settlements and the occupation was suppressed here. So preoccupied were we with the issue of the borders that we forgot that another very trivial matter was lurking within the borders: the State of Israel. First we will fight and then we will look after our society, the right said. First we will make peace and then we will look after our society, the left said. And both of them alike conducted an exclusivist, narrow, destructive debate whose vitality was based only on widening the rift, on demonizing the other and on hatred.
This was a convenient debate. Political parties trumpeted it and recruited automatic tribal support in elections. Under its cover, governments ignored the public that had elected them. The owners of capital grew fabulously rich at the public's expense, enjoying the total absence of an ideology-driven economic discourse, and aligning themselves, in unbounded cynicism, with the Israeli left.
The existing political order, which until the tent-camp protest dealt almost only with political right and left, is a narrow, unimaginative agenda whose spokespersons are good at verbiage, but devoid of any action and indeed exempt from it. It is an agenda which blindly clings only to the tip of the iceberg, which stifles and buries every other discussion about our life here, which is utterly divorced from the in-depth processes occurring in the country and throughout the Middle East. This agenda did not carry a hope for peace, because those who articulated words of peace alienated themselves from the Israeli public, hooked up with the economic right and became a marginal element in the political constellation.
That is not a genuine national agenda. It does not serve Israeli society and does not serve the striving for peace. On the contrary: It has sabotaged them both deeply and continuously.
Observing the country through the prism of the distribution of power and resources among the citizenry is critical for understanding the situation. The rising poverty and the broadening and deepening infringement of the human dignity and freedom of working people, stand in contrast to the incomprehensible enrichment of a few fortunate souls. The worship of mammon, the corrupting proximity between the elite of capital and government, the incessant privatization of the state and the slice-by-slice transfer of it, with its natural resources, to the hands of a few families amid defamation of the state and the deification of everything that is private. The relentless crushing of the middle class.
Where there is poverty, ignorance and vast gaps, there will also be racism and extremism, and the flowers of peace will never bloom in that soil.
Before we embark upon a just war to defend the state, or engage in a struggle for peace, we need to have a state. A state which justifies taking the risks entailed in war and peace. Because even if a comprehensive, secure peace is established in the Middle East, it will be of no value if we become a Third World country with terrible disparities between poverty and wealth, with internal moral rot and an oligarchy of capital. In that case, both victory in war and victory in peace lose their value, together with the entire Zionist vision.
The return to a deep and authentic social-democratic agenda, free of hatred and factionalism, is the only way to return to a position of leadership. One from which it will be possible to make peace - with ourselves and with our neighbors. A true peace, not empty babble about a peace "process." And yes, that is also when the time for tough decisions about the settlements will come, without the foam of hatred on our lips.