Opinion

Despite Despair, Israel's Left Must Pick Up and Move On

Rami Livni
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Protestors protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu serving as prime minister while facing criminal indictments in front of Israel's Parliament in Jerusalem, April 30, 2020.
Protestors protest against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu serving as prime minister while facing criminal indictments in front of Israel's Parliament in Jerusalem, April 30, 2020. Credit: AP Photo/Ariel Schalit
Rami Livni

Supporters of the center-left camp are in despair. Many of them have said they’ve stopped being involved in politics, stopped reading newspapers or taking an interest in what is going on. This is not the first time they’ve felt dejected, and ostensibly, there is nothing new here. It’s just one more depressing phase among many others, one that is well-rooted in today’s reality. And yet, the current despair has a new aspect.

This time, it stems not just from the results of the election, from another dashed hope that’s culminated in another right-wing government, and not even from the painful gap exposed yet again between the idealistic self-perception of the left, so pure and bold, and the constantly repeated pathetic conduct of its elected representatives. This time, the feeling is heavier, more discouraging. It’s a feeling of a dead end and a blocked future, as if all avenues have been pursued, with no one having a clue as to how one continues from here on.

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Bibi swears in his colossal coalition and readies for a courtroom showdown Credit: Haaretz

What hasn’t the left tried in recent years? It’s tried to have a sharper focus, with a social-democrat agenda led by Shelly Yacimovich and a sharper diplomatic focus with Tzipi Livni, on both occasions faltering at the ballot box. It has tried the converse, moderating and blurring its stand (with Isaac Herzog and Yair Lapid), also ending in failure. It tried appealing to centrist and right-wing voters (Avi Gabbay and Benny Gantz), a move that ended in a fiasco. It then tried again to emphasize its leftist principles (through Meretz), but this too had no takers.

The left tried to make some inroads in Israel’s peripheral areas and disadvantaged population, spiced up with some identity politics (with Amir Peretz, Orli Levi-Abekasis), but the anticipated voters were not impressed with this initiative. The left tried at the same time to base itself on its veteran voters, termed the so-called “white tribe,” only to discover that there aren’t enough of them to defeat Likud.

The left put former generals at its helm and failed (they joined the right), as well as civilian personalities, who also failed to deliver the goods. It tried a decentralized model, with Labor and Meretz running separately, and hit a wall. It learned its lesson and ran as a united front of multiple parties (Labor and Meretz, Kahol Lavan), also meeting no success. It flirted with a post-Zionist concept and a state of all its citizens (Meretz) or, alternatively, highlighting its Zionist image (the Zionist Union), failing both times in garnering public support. It tried (through Labor and Yesh Atid) to demonstratively distance itself from the Arab party, Joint List, thus losing the support of Arab voters. For a moment it did support a political partnership with Arab parties (Gantz), quickly realizing that this is not feasible in our era without losing Jewish voters.

The left has good reason to be in the doldrums. There is no redemption in the offing, and it’s not looming over the horizon either. There is no magic recipe or single person who will salvage this camp and solve its problems. But with all due understanding for the difficulties and disheartenment, the left cannot give up. The mission at hand continues to be fateful, a sacred mission: to extricate Israel from the grip of the right at the first opportunity that offers itself. The right is disastrous for the lives of us all. It’s not just the ultra-Orthodox, Miri Regev, or even Netanyahu. It’s the right. And it’s not invincible. The game goes on.

And what’s in store for the left? For the umpteenth time, it has to start from scratch. It has to build a new movement, even a party, building institutions and an organization. It has to sort out ideologies and create a vision, train leaders, make alliances. It has to abandon fantasies and messianic dreams, adopting instead patience, diligence and solidarity. Even if this can’t be envisaged at the moment, the next political opportunity will arrive. And when it comes, we have to be prepared.

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