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The Myth of Israel's 'Radical Left'

Dmitri Shumsky
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Chairman of Labor-Gesher party Amir Peretz lays flowers on the spot where former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot in 1995, in Tel Aviv, July 2019.
Chairman of Labor-Gesher party Amir Peretz lays flowers on the spot where former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was shot in 1995, in Tel Aviv, July 2019.Credit: Nir Keidar
Dmitri Shumsky

In her response to my Election Day piece in which I criticized her compulsive and systematic bashing of what remains of the Israeli left, Tzvia Greenfield argues that the left has destroyed itself. And she says this is because, since the 1980s, the “radical” left (her term, for as she sees it, there is no other kind of left) in Israel has been preaching “against the legitimacy of Israel’s Zionist and even Jewish existence.”

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For Greenfield and others in the “centrist” radical right, “the 1980s” and “late 1980s” have become code terms in building a whole socio-historic narrative about the “crash” of the Israeli left. In Greenfield’s view, these were fateful historic moments in the history of the left and its collapse – moments when a series of influential intellectuals with post-modernist, post-nationalist and post-Zionist views appeared in Israeli academia and supposedly held the political left in their thrall.

And so, the theory goes, under the intoxicating and ruinous sway of these elitist and aloof circles, Israeli politicians from the left turned their back on the idea of Jewish national self-determination and, therefore, lost all political relevance in Israeli society.

Presumably, any researcher of Israeli history and society who impartially analyzed Greenfield’s narrative would quickly conclude that this is a baseless theory that does not meet the empirical test of the historical and sociological reality in Israel in the last generation. For, in reality, the handful of “New Historians” of the War of Independence (One of whom, Benny Morris, has insisted from the start that he is a devout Zionist) and the critical sociologists – upon whom Greenfield pins the start and development of the Israeli left’s self-imposed “de-Zionization,” had no concrete connection to the shapers of Israeli leftist policy and ideology from the 1990s onward. Thus they had no real influence on them.

In the 1990s and 2000s, the left’s “spiritual leaders” were not Ilan Pappe and Baruch Kimmerling, but AB Yehoshua and Amos Oz, whose Zionist commitment should require no proof to any reasonable person.

Israeli author A.B. Yehoshua speaks with late Israeli writer Amos Oz, in 2006.Credit: \ Alon Ron

Indeed, since the era of the Oslo Accords until today, the Israeli political left – especially Greenfield’s detested Meretz, has actually been fighting for the completion of the Zionist diplomatic project of making the Jews a free and normal people, for a people that denies another people’s liberty cannot itself be free and normal.

Did any of Meretz’s leaders, from Shulamit Aloni to Nitzan Horowitz, ever disavow the principle of political self-determination of the Jews in Israel? Could a more baseless claim possibly be made about the only party in Israel’s current landscape that so prominently advocates the two-state solution?

The false and misleading linkage of ideas and figures who carry no real weight in the life of the Israeli political left with the actual political playing field in Israel is clearly just an ideological myth that is totally unsupported by the Israeli political reality. A myth Greenfield asserts in her publicity-seeking writings.

The roots of this myth lie in the Israeli right’s relentless unbridled incitement against advocates of the two-state solutions since the beginning of the peace process during the second Rabin government.

From the moment the Oslo Accords were signed, the right continually depicted the Rabin-Meretz government as an anti-patriotic, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish endeavor. Left-wingers were portrayed as haters of Israel, and their aspiration for a diplomatic accord with the Palestinians based on territorial compromise as an anti-patriotic, anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish plot.

Notwithstanding that the purported connection between the Rabin-Meretz government and the anti-Zionists was utterly baseless in reality, as was the Communist image of the Social Democrats in the right-wing propaganda in the Weimar Republic, for example. Yes – just as in the Weimar Republic, here, too, the delegitimization of the left in the public-national arena succeeded far beyond the right’s wildest dreams: The idea of dividing the land and the Israeli political players who stand firmly behind this idea are now perceived by much of the Israeli public as destroyers of the people and its nation-state.

But then there is this question: Unlike Im Tirtzu and the Bibi-ist right, Greenfield does appear to support the two-state idea. This is what her writings often seem to indicate, and quite explicitly so. Why, then, does she choose over and over again to adopt the right’s delegimitization rhetoric that is directed against positions she ostensibly supports? Doesn’t Greenfield understand that as long as she proclaims herself an adherent of the two-state approach, the right, whose language she persists in employing against Meretz, will continue to view her as an “anti-patriotic post-Zionist”? Who is really the one with a self-destruction complex?

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