Opinion

A Good Word for Israel's Radical Left

If a Jew threatens the integrity of an Israeli cop’s skull, one may assume he’s no anarchist but rather a great patriot, Amona-style

Riot police uses water cannons against protesters in the Schanze district of Hamburg following the G20 summit in Hamburg, July 9, 2017.
KAI PFAFFENBACH/REUTERS

It’s time to put in a good word for the radical left in Israel – seriously, irony aside. One must see the violent rioting of the anarchists in Hamburg – thousands of rioters, destruction, arson, hundreds of injured policemen – to understand how non-violent the Israeli radical left is. For decades its level of violence has been negligible. A few anarchists have damaged the separation barrier, and even that is extremely rare.

Our anarchists pale in comparison to those in Hamburg, or Athens or Paris. It’s impossible to think of an Israeli parallel to the Baader-Meinhof Gang, or the Red Brigades in Italy. Displays of leftist terror may have become rare in Western states, but they do still occur occasionally. Harsh violence is much more prevalent in left-wing demonstrations. But not here. If a Jew threatens the integrity of an Israeli cop’s skull, one may assume he’s no anarchist but rather a great patriot, Amona-style.

Why, actually? After all, there’s no shortage of ranting rhetoric on the left of the kind that has triggered violent outbursts and even terror in other places. Andreas Baader and Ulrike Meinhof didn’t say anything worse about West Germany at the time than what has often been said in radical left circles about Israel. It’s also clear that the situation in Israel objectively constitutes a first-rate provocation as far as leftists (not necessarily radical ones) are concerned.

The Israeli right, too, is not exactly like the Christian Democrats in Germany. The fact that most leftists, even the radicals among them, don’t even think of being dragged into violence is expected and self-evident. But why is it that until today, not even a small minority that would want to cross that line has appeared?

A possible explanation could be that the left’s world view is based on humanitarian values. This is true, but it’s true of everywhere. The left’s values didn’t prevent murderous dictatorships and brutal terror organizations that committed their crimes ostensibly in the name of these same values. The Hamburg thugs can also most likely recite all the enlightened, progressive slogans.

One could argue that the radical leftist of these times is spoiled bourgeois rather than oppressed proletariat. But that too is true worldwide, not only in Israel. And a few terrorists could sprout even among spoiled bourgeoisie and intellectuals. One could argue that the radical Israeli left is small and cannot produce mass disturbances. But this is precisely the situation one could expect to generate a small minority that would translate its frustration into even graver violence.

I want to propose an answer, which will certainly not please those on the radical left. But I only promised to put in a good word about them, not to make them happy. It appears that they (most of them, anyway) are simply better Jews than they’re willing to admit. That’s why they’re partners, to their embarrassment, to the quasi-familial sentiment characterizing Israeli Jewish society.

They deeply despise that sentiment, and indeed it has annoying displays and problematic aspects. But without it this society would have been much more violent and brutal. The policeman may represent a fascist state, but he’s still one of ours. We don’t really want to hurt him, as our anti-fascist European colleagues do unhesitatingly, in the name of humanism and progress.

The radical right doesn’t stop talking in the name of Jewish fraternity, but violates it more than any other group in Israel – although relatively to its colleagues around the world, it is also very restrained in this respect. The radical left doesn’t stop renouncing that fraternity, but isn’t free from it at all.