A River Battle Proves the Israeli Left Is Actually Right-wing

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The Asi Stream, as it runs down the middle of Kibbutz Nir David
The Asi Stream, as it runs down the middle of Kibbutz Nir DavidCredit: Ofer Vaknin
Carolina Landsmann
Carolina Landsmann

If the political categories “right” and “left” still retained any of their original meanings, then the struggle over the Asi Stream would undoubtedly be a leftist one. But the struggle has not gained widespread support on the left, to put it mildly. The left-wing parties have not pounced on it as political gold, although they are at an electoral nadir and this was an opportunity to highlight leftist values, to stand with the protesters in their just struggle and decry the racist talk against them.

The banners against the theft of natural resources and racism, and for distributive justice and equality were not unfurled this time, and the few who dared stand with the protesters were silenced in one way or another. A similar fight against the decision by the Afula municipality to close its municipal park against non-residents of the city swept up the left and its parties, organizations and writers.

Perhaps because in that case the protesters were Arabs or because standing on the other side of that controversy were those whom commentator Avishai Ben-Haim calls “the second Israel.” How easily the superlatives came out of the mouths of the leftists then: the decision was “racist, segregationalist and apartheid-like.” For some reason, this time the left wing can’t get behind the issue. It seems that the moment Arabs are taken out of the equation everything becomes distorted, resulting in a mirror image of Israeli politics, where right and left are reversed. Suddenly we hear the kibbutzniks echoing John Locke – defender of the right to private property. After all, the members of Kibbutz Nir David are in fact arguing that we (our parents and grandparents) drained the swamps and so the stream is ours. In the spirit of Locke, they say that everything they attained thanks to talent – that of their parents and grandparents – is theirs by inheritance.

'The Asi belongs to everyone,' says a protester who managed to enter the kibbutzCredit: Gil Eliahu

But that is what anyone says who wants to take what belongs to the general public if thanks to their talent they accumulated some wealth, whether it be from potash, spring water, or natural gas. While the voices of representatives of the left are not heard, Likud MK Keren Barak has asked for a debate on the issue in the Knesset Interior and Environmental Protection Committee, joined by MK Moshe Arbel, of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party in defense of the right to enjoy a public resource. This backwards reality is what led cultural studies scholar Merav Alush-Levron to wonder, and rightly so, why Ashkenazim aren’t protesting at the Asi Stream. The comments in response to her article were flooded by the sewage of ethnic division. In Israel one can ask a million times over why the Mizrahim vote for Benjamin Netanyahu, but one must absolutely never generalize about Ashkenazim. The lack of appeal the fight over the Asi Stream has for Ashkenazim is symptomatic of how the left is now the home of the wealth (and the Arabs). When Haaretz editor in chief Aluf Benn analyzed the results of the election he found a clear correlation between voters’ bank accounts and the choices they made at the ballot box. After that people still wonder why the left wing can’t reach new audiences, that is, the Mizrahim.

The answer is not only in the wallet, it’s at the Asi Stream, and the fear kibbutzniks have of “the roughnecks” who will dirty up their little piece of paradise.

If the left has ceased being an ideological home and become more of a political home to the wealthy of our society, then this means that all it has left is to wait for is for the Mizrahim to get rich or turn into Ashkenazim. The change Israel needs is comprehensive, deep and requires rethinking what is left and what is right. Ashkenazim and Mizrahim, Jews and Arabs, secular and religious. But treatment of the Israeli identity crisis will have to wait for the post-Netanyahu age.

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