Opinion

A Distinct Smell of Ashkenazi Ethnocentrism

Eliyahu Hershkovitz

The merger between the Labor Party and Gesher keeps on rolling, and not because anyone thinks it’s a natural, ground-breaking match. On the contrary, a sour feeling prevails.

There hasn’t been one interview of Amir Peretz or Orli Levi-Abukasis in which they weren’t asked repeatedly and pointedly whether they would sit in a government with Benjamin Netanyahu. Every time, they have clearly stated – in writing, on radio, television and every social network – that they wouldn’t sit with Netanyahu. Uri Misgav outdid himself in an oped (“Peretz, commit yourself not to sit with Netanyahu.” Haaretz Hebrew edition, August 22), supposedly proving why Peretz’s pledge not to sit with Netanyahu isn’t reliable.

It’s hard to avoid the disapproval the Labor-Gesher merger provoked among journalists, analysts, leftists and columnists. The merger doesn’t sit well with the liberal left. It’s hard to avoid the feeling that there is an anti-Mizrahi subtext to this opposition, wrapped up in thick layers of seemingly rational arguments, and pat explanations intended to show why Peretz and Levi-Abukasis aren’t a good match, while Meretz and Ehud Barak, who doesn’t even have a party, are.

Here’s the “consensus wisdom” on the mergers: The Gantz-Lapid merger before the April election was considered brilliant, with the potential of defeating Netanyahu, and was welcomed with great fanfare. The Gantz-Ya’alon merger also enjoyed the same support because it could bring votes from the right. But the merger between Peretz and Levi-Abukasis that could also attract votes from the right? Here everyone put their foot down and howled that Peretz was drifting to the right. Amir Peretz, right? One of the first politicians identified with the peace camp.

When Benny Gantz says he doesn’t rule out Likud, only an indicted Netanyahu, it goes over smoothly. When Peretz and Levi-Abukasis say exactly the same thing, the claim is that they are handing Netanyahu the government on a platter. When Zvi Hauser, one of the nation-state law proponents (a hard rightist, nowhere near the center, Ya’alon and Yoaz Hendel join Gantz and Lapid, everyone applauds because it’s a wonderful merger. When Peretz merges with Levi-Abukasis, who abstained in the nation-state law vote, it’s perceived as a disaster, a subversion of values, a rightward turn of Labor that will lead to its destruction.

When Isaac Herzog merged with Tzipi Livni, a right-winger from the heart of Likud, a scion of a family of underground fighters, it was a brilliant move. When Peretz merges with Levi-Abukasis, who left Yisrael Beiteinu long ago and formed her own independent party, it was seen as opportunism. When Ehud Barak forms a fictitious party, everyone embraces him and no one says he is dismantling the left, even though if he were to run alone his party wouldn’t cross the electoral threshold and would throw away votes on the left. And no one takes Barak to task for his part in the October 2000 protests, in which 12 Israeli Arabs and one West Bank Palestinian were killed by police, or for one of the most destructive blows dealt to the peace camp when he declared that there was no Palestinian partner for peace.

However, when it comes to Orli Levi-Abukasis, they check every vote, statement, online post, blink and glance. When Meretz erases itself from the electoral map and establishes Democratic Union, it’s received as a positive merger for the sake of common values. When Labor and Gesher build a common social denominator and present a detailed platform for social justice, it’s described as nearly traitorous. Does no one see the natural fit between Labor and the values espoused by Levi-Abukasis?

Politicians’ promises are written on ice; you don’t have to be a brilliant analyst to understand that. Therefore, everything politicians say before elections are part of the campaign. Politicians are tested mainly on the basis of their deeds and the values they project. Did I miss something? Isn’t there a distinct smell of ethnocentrism?

Disclosure: I am not a member of Labor, Meretz, Gesher, Kahol Lavan or any other party.