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And What if Israel's Zionist Left Joins Forces With the Joint List's 15 Seats?

A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el
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Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh speaks at a press conference in Shfaram, March 2, 2020.
Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh speaks at a press conference in Shfaram, March 2, 2020.Credit: Rami Shllush
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

There are 15 Knesset seats rolling around in the street that no one wants to touch; 12.5 percent of the seats in Israel’s next Knesset will remain unoccupied. True, flesh-and-blood people will sit in them, representatives who were voted into office in a free election, but they have a fatal flaw that disqualifies them from Israeli politics. They’re Arabs. Not only do they belong to the lowest caste in Israel’s economic and social hierarchy, they’re untouchables; anyone who touches them is contaminated.

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This fear of association isn’t limited to the right, in its many shades. The self-styled left, too – and I don’t mean Kahol Lavan – takes great care not to be tainted by the Arab blemish. It is puzzling how the left – which should welcome all of Israel’s minorities, whether they be Christians, Muslims or Ethiopian Jews, has fumigated itself against these “pests.”

Imagine, however, if the seven measly Knesset seats won by the Labor-Gesher-Meretz hodgepodge had been joined by the Arabs’ 15 seats and by the Ethiopians’ two. All of a sudden, the left would have become an actual bloc – not just in terms of size, but in its ability to offer an ethical platform that honors leftist ideas. It could have even trimmed a few Knesset seats from Kahol Lavan, in whose branches many voters without a political home reluctantly sheltered.

It’s easy for the left to bemoan its election loss and to pin the blame on Israeli society, on Mizrahi culture and on the right’s savagery, vulgarity and loss of values. It’s not the left’s fault. At the same time, the left happily parrots the new jargon of “the second Israel” and “the first Israel” and the former’s victory over the latter, which allows it to charge at the right, which had cultivated that same discourse and set Israel’s economically and geographically marginalized populations against the left. The leftists are wringing their hands over their failure to win over “the second Israel,” forgetting that they did nothing to challenge this divisive right-wing paradigm.

Bewildered, the left went through its closet and didn’t know which dress to pick. Should it go with patriotism and Zionist ultranationalism, or with principled leftism? The left ignored the fact that ultranationalism was successfully appropriated by the center and the right and that it can’t hope to wrestle it back from them, but it also grew tired of being deemed unpatriotic and of carrying the badge of “Arab lover.” The left, which cried out against the inherent contradiction in the term “Jewish and democratic state,” gave a significant boost to the ideology that enables it by cozying up to Labor Party Chairman Amir Peretz and his political partner and rejecting the potential alliance with the Arabs.

The election results demonstrate clearly and sharply that the left has nothing more to lose. Politically, it has absented itself from the Knesset, where its representatives now have as many seats as in an intimate family dinner. But the left is still breathing, and it could even get back on its feet if it decides to truly fly the leftist flag. The Arabs and their 15 seats won’t roll out the red carpet, but they will be willing to forge a partnership with the left if the left takes off the makeup with which it had hoped to draw a few more votes.

The left no longer needs to worry about what people will say if it joins with the Arabs. It’s all been said before. Thanks to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his cronies, the left’s public legitimacy is now almost as low as the Arabs'.

If Israel is hit with a fourth election, the Jewish left might find itself shunned, isolated like a coronavirus patient – even by Kahol Lavan, which will undoubtedly seek to evolve from a centrist party to a “sane” right-wing party, a retro-Likud of sorts. The left can quit wooing the consensus and return to the avant-garde. It can be itself again.

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