You Call This Centrist?

It is true that in Israel the terms left, center and right are defined mainly by the attitude toward the Israeli-Arab conflict, but if Labor is centrist in this respect then what does centrism mean.

Shelly Yacimovich declares that Labor is a centrist party, and that anyone who calls it left is doing it an injustice. In my opinion Yacimovich's use of the term "centrist" does it an injustice. A social democratic party is naturally considered moderate left or center left. It is true that in Israel the terms left, center and right are defined mainly by the attitude toward the Israeli-Arab conflict, but if Labor is centrist in this respect then what does centrism mean.

Under Yacimovich's leadership it means the systematic ignoring of the topic. The Labor Party defines itself by its attitude toward an issue that it refuses to address seriously. It is legitimate to put socioeconomic issues at the top of the agenda, but not to ignore the Palestinian issue. It is true that a search of the archives will show that Yacimovich supports the Clinton Parameters, but in her public pronouncements she has made the issue of the peace process not just secondary, but marginal and almost nonexistent. If that is what "center" signifies, then it is only in the most negative sense of the word: centrist meaning indifferent, neither here nor there, leave me alone. It is a total absurdity for Yacimovich, a natural-born fighter, to be sending such a message, but she is.

For part of the public the term "left" denotes, in addition to specific positions, the very desire to fight for justice and the refusal to accept injustice. Of course no political label is sacred, and not everyone interprets "left" this way, but there is a public for whom repudiating the concept of "left" means abandoning the commitment to fight for freedom and equality. The Labor Party's natural role is to represent at least part of that public. Just as we must not abandon Zionism to the nationalist right, we should not abandon the "left" to the "Israel is always to blame" crowd.

But even if Labor has decided to give up on those with an emotional tie to the "left," it must bear in mind that there is also a large constituency that has no such tie and for which the centrist label may indeed be appropriate, and that this group also adheres to basic democratic values and expects its elected representatives to fight for them.

No social democratic or "just" democratic party has a moral right to refrain from saying out loud that it vehemently rejects the occupation. Rejecting the occupation does not mean that one should mislead the Israeli public by telling it that the 1967 occupation is the only issue between us and the Palestinians; but Israel must do its part in ending the occupation, first and foremost to stop expanding the settlements.

There is no need to demonstrate tribal hatred toward the settlers as human beings and as a group, but anyone with a democratic worldview must unequivocally reject an enterprise whose overt goal is to prevent the division of the land, without granting rights of citizenship to all its inhabitants. The border between those who support and condone such an enterprise and those who reject it is not supposed to pass between the left and the center; it is supposed to pass between a democratic right and a nondemocratic right. And in fact, since the Bar Ilan speech the leaders of Likud have supposedly adopted the two-state principle. They don't explain how accepting this principle aligns with the present map of settlements and with their expansion. Nor does Shelly Yacimovich bother to explain; apparently the subject bores her. You call this centrist?