If only Israel had a Jeremy Corbyn or an Alexis Tsipras, at the very least a Bernie Sanders, to stand out against all of our gray monotony. We can only envy the soaring fortunes of these exceptional politicians in their respective countries. Our spare political map contains not a single representative of the species.
One needn’t agree with their views to be jealous: What’s impressive is the very success of people who don’t hesitate to be drawn in bold ideological colors, radical, courageous and independent against all odds. They have upset the political establishments in their countries, telling the truth while presenting their worldviews — precisely the things that are so lacking in our own political morass. If there were even one Corbyn here, there would be a shred of hope. In its absence, Israel will continue to wallow in the mire, heading nowhere.
The new head of the British Labour Party is the mirror image of Israel’s center-left. The veteran parliamentarian from Islington North has nothing in common with the politicians emerging from Tel Aviv’s tony Tzahalah and Ramat Aviv Gimmel neighborhoods. Just look at their political biographies: Whereas Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid are the pampered sons of safe, boring, middle-of-the road politicians, who never had to struggle for anything in their lives, Corbyn is second-generation to struggle and protest. His parents met at a solidarity rally for Spain’s Republicans during that country’s civil war. He spent two years doing humanitarian volunteer work in Jamaica and he met his second wife, a Chilean, while working for Amnesty International when the organization was trying to bring the dictator Augusto Pinochet to justice. What did our opposition leaders do in their youth? One presented odious sweet-talk on television, the other dabbled in political machinations.
Corbyn voted against his own party 553 times in parliament, including voting against the war in Iraq. Once he was arrested, while demonstrating against South African apartheid. What have our opposition leaders done? When did they vote against a war? When did they demonstrate against anything, not including the death-and-kitsch memorial rallies for Yitzhak Rabin? In a country where a “reformer” is someone who reduced the cost of cellphone calling plans, one can only turn green with envy in the face of these fascinating figures.
Whereas Sanders doesn’t flinch from presenting himself as a socialist — which in American is tantamount to being a communist and a traitor — Herzog repudiates all leftist attributes. While in Israel any expression of a hint of leftism is considered political suicide, the new Labour leader, the newly reelected Greek prime minister and the rising U.S. Democratic presidential candidate have proved what Israel never learned: that it is possible to succeed in politics with qualities such as courage, integrity and a consistent, even radical, worldview. It is possible to offer alternatives, not only the same old slogans. These politicians show that it is possible not only to survive this way but even to thrive. Barack Obama started out this way; they are his heirs.
There is nothing of the kind in Israel. The conversation is shallow and shockingly uniform; everyone supports the ambassadorial appointment of Dani Dayan; everyone always supports war. When Israel looks at these three rising politicians, it judges them by the only criterion it cares about: Are they “good for the Jews,”? “pro-Israel”? How pedestrian and pathetic. No, at least two of them aren’t crazy about Israel. Even Sanders, who is Jewish, is critical, albeit less than the others. There is no decent politician in the world today who supports Israel. That would be an oxymoron. But all three are courageous and conscientious, each in his own way.
And we have falafel, as the song goes, as well as Herzog and Lapid, and even Gabi Ashkenazi — the general whose positions, if he has any, no one knows — in the role of the harbinger of hope.
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