What Have Mapai or Mapam or Labor or Meretz Ever Done for You?

Ilana Hammerman responds to Eva Illouz's piece from January 4, 'Why the left is the right track for Israel.'

Eva Illouz’s lovely piece in praise of the left concludes with a statement that ought to open the next article and be a guiding light to Israel and its citizens, even if they aren’t leftists but “just” humanists who believe in the universal principle that all human beings are entitled to a life of liberty and equality. For great multitudes of Israelis must surely see themselves as part of this camp.

The statement begins as follows: “Not only political parties, but also civil society and ordinary citizens can oppose the politics of death of the New Likud ....” Illouz precedes this with a citation from American historian and social activist Howard Zinn: “It is true that the most important social changes in the history of the United States ... have come about not through the ballot box but through the direct action of social struggle, through the organization of popular movements using a variety of extralegal and illegal tactics.”

Indeed, the next article, which should open with these words, will have to survey the history of the direct political struggles in Israel on behalf of the values whose achievements over the past 300 years Illouz describes. It will survey the narrow scope of these struggles, the minority of citizens that took part in them, the lack of Israeli civic courage, the actions and failures of leaders of the Zionist center and left, and of the vast public that supported them for decades.

It will survey all of these from 1948 to the present, beginning with the 18 years of military administration and draconian rule of the security forces over the Israeli-Arab population, to the military and civilian, ideological, economic and legal takeover of the West Bank and the brutal oppression of its residents and the residents of the Gaza Strip, all the way to the blockade of Gaza and the acts of destruction and killing committed there.

The survey of all this which has already been well documented in countless books and other writings will inevitably lead to the dramatic assertion that the State of Israel never conducted itself in the spirit of universal values and that the Israeli public never stood steadfastly by their side. Moreover, in Israel there was never a Zionist left that truly defended these values, physically as well as in spirit. Israel has never genuinely upheld the basic idea expressed in the article that “human beings are endowed with natural rights that no state or political authority can ever take away.” Israel has denied and continues to deny these rights to millions of people who are not part of the majority of its citizens.

Neither Mapai nor Mapam nor Labor nor Ratz nor Meretz, nor anyone that popped up among them or on their fringes, has ever spearheaded a genuine policy and uncompromising struggle to fulfill this idea. Not in the governments they were a part of, nor in the Knesset or out of it when in the opposition. On the contrary, under their leadership and during the membership of nearly all of them in Israeli governments, the military administration was in existence, the wars in Sinai and Lebanon and Gaza were fought, settlements were built and a regime of separation was imposed throughout the territories that were conquered in 1967. By virtue of their surrender to the nationalist consensus, for which they themselves laid the foundations, the right grew and became stronger and came to power in Israel.

The right triumphed over the left not only because it made ‘left’ a dirty word, as Illouz says, but because under cover of the center and the left, it embarked on direct, persistent and determined action, intellectually and physically. First it built the settlements and the outposts, and then it took over the street, until a prime minister was assassinated a prime minister who, the statistics show, also generously continued the settlement enterprise.

If it were really true that “the left has won the battle against the right by making it obvious that it is the only voice that speaks in the name of universal morality and political pragmatism,’ then the “New Likud’s policy of death” (and that of all the Israeli governments before it) could not have completed its work in these very bleak and scary times. It’s a big mistake to say that the “members of the New Likud [who] are now largely identified with the settlement project” will be the ones, once they attain power, to bring us a country that is “unstable and volatile.” For this project and this unstable policy were outlined and developed long before by their predecessors in power.

And they did this exactly as the article describes: as a broad-scale operation whose legal and economic systems are based upon an ever-closer identification of the state with the Jews, upon a belligerent foreign policy and upon the negation of basic human rights freedom of movement, the right to build, the right of ownership.

If only Israel truly had a civil society, civil parties and movements that fought to defend these rights in the Knesset, in government institutions and directly in the field, their activity would have borne fruit long ago and the new-old Likud would be no more than a marginal group now.

If Israel had a truly courageous and democratic civil society and here is just one small very recent example then dozens of decent citizens would not have made do with lending their good name to large newspaper ads headlined “Not for Jews Alone” in support of an Arab MK’s right to run for reelection. They would have shown up to physically protect Hanin Zuabi from the rightist thugs who swarmed around her as she left the Supreme Court, and they would have forced the police to disperse them, rather than to force her, the person under attack, to flee through the rear exit.

But not one of them showed up there, apparently. Nor against the bulldozers that for decades, with the protection of the army and court orders, have been demolishing Palestinian Arab lands and houses and preparing them (contrary to international law) for settlement by Jewish Israelis. Nor have they made an appearance at the military courts which, on the basis of absurd laws and regulations, send (contrary to international law) tens of thousands of Palestinians to detention in Israel. Nor have they made a stand against the settlers and “price tag” vandals who shoot at people and vandalize property and uproot trees (contrary to all normative law).

Nor has the Israeli public even taken a real stand against the laws that are legislated in order to block opposition to this policy and these actions: laws of discrimination and separation, the law that bans calls for a ban on products from the settlements, the new loyalty declaration law all ideological laws that demand from citizens (in a total antithesis to democracy) loyalty to the ideology of the ruling majority, not to the state.

All these issues should be addressed in the next article about the left. And it also ought to mention the small handful of Israelis, ordinary men and women, who at the price of social ostracism and damage to their livelihood, their liberty and even their physical welfare, have nonetheless dedicated themselves for years to acts of opposition – from refusing to serve in the army to participating in protest actions in Palestinian villages. Perhaps they are the ones continuing “the struggle which many men and women have fought for the last three centuries,” whom Illouz cites in the final line of her piece. Perhaps this is the way to draw inspiration from their struggle? Yes, at long last this must also be considered in Israel, and not merely as food for thought.

Tomer Appelbaum