Opinion

For Real Change, the Zionist Left Must Drop Its Sense of Jewish Supremacy

Electoral billboards bearing a portrait of retired General Benny Gantz and Meretz Party leader Tamar Sandberg in Jerusalem, on April 3, 2019.
AFP

The real surprise of this election was that so many people anticipated a change, then found themselves brokenhearted the moment the results came in. Hope is apparently an existential resource, like food and oxygen; there’s no other logical explanation. It was clear that an unreasonable number of scenarios were necessary to remove Benjamin Netanyahu from power. That this one wouldn’t get in; that others would manage to steal enough seats from the opposing bloc without losing any from their own, and that that one from the left would join a coalition with the racist from the right. And sure enough, this didn’t happen.

The future looks dismal and the temptation to blame someone is great. But it’s unfair to lay most of that blame on those who voted strategically for Gantz and his partners, who indeed marched to the beat of a false drum of self-persuasion into a forlorn but predictable fate. The left has been in a deep crisis for decades. That includes the Zionist left, whose representation in the 21st Knesset through Labor and Meretz will be very slim, and the left-in-denial, who ran in the election in the blue-and-white disguise, reinforced by a few right-wingers who don’t like Bibi. It’s not just Avi Gabbay or Tamar Zandberg or a few leftists who thought for some reason that a vote for Zvi Hauser would get them somewhere. It’s the trap of the Zionist left, which is at best stuck and, at worst, constantly losing electoral support, guaranteeing defeat after defeat.

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The Zionist left has attempted to widen its circle of voters in several ways: It has tried to win hearts and minds by embracing social-minded platforms to help the weaker classes, to suck up to the Mizrahim in an attempt to weaken their historic enmity to Mapai, and to win over right-wingers through racist demographic arguments about preserving a Jewish majority in the land of Israel. All these efforts have failed. Those who spoke of possible cooperation with the Haredim in the heyday of Shas during Rabin’s second government, weren’t at all familiar with the ultra-orthodox street. Besides their great personal love for Benjamin Netanyahu, many ultra-Orthodox Jews are simply right wing. They willingly suckled the Zionists’ distrust and racism toward the Arabs.

This brings us to the last group of potential partners – the Arabs. There is room for criticism of the Arab public in the last election. Instead of trying to improve their dismal situation by going out to vote, they chose not to vote. But the alienation of the Arabs from the Zionist left is understandable. It’s not only the weight of the past – take, for example, the military rule over the Arabs in the early decades of the state, or the riots of October 2000, which all took place on the left’s watch. It’s also the present.

It’s true that the Zionist left treats the Arabs much better than does the right under Netanyahu, which thrives off despicable incitement against them. But the left has also not yet abandoned its sense of Jewish superiority. Forging a partnership between the Jewish left and the Arabs cannot be done through an “integrate the Arabs” slogan. It must involve a total change of DNA that involves giving up that sense of Jewish supremacy.

Years after the state of Israel’s establishment and 52 years since the start of the occupation, Zionism has become a racist perversion of people like Bezalel Smotrich who told me in an interview that “Ben-Gurion fought the Arabs more than I do. He expelled them in ’48 –not me, not the right, not the religious people or the settlers.” It’s hard to see Meretz voters in the kibbutzim, Labor supporters or certainly those who disguise themselves as the bourgeois center, who are afraid to even get caught in a photo frame with Arabs, recognizing this genealogy.

Most of the Jewish public prefers the increasingly racist right that backs the nation-state law to the left which also embraces Jewish supremacy, but denies its existence in the form of the Law of Return. The Arabs aren’t rushing to the aid of the left and Esawi Freige had to pull people out of their homes in Kfar Kassem on Tuesday to rescue Meretz.

Reality, in the form of painful election losses, is colliding head on with the formula of the Zionist left. If the Zionist left wants to return to power, there’s no other way but to forge a real alliance of Jews and Arabs. This can’t happen without waging an all-out war against the nation-state law – and not only for the sake of the Druze, who are so photogenic in their uniforms. You can’t explain to the Arabs that the Law of Return doesn’t discriminate against them and expect them to accept it with understanding. Certainly not in this era, when a single state is emerging and there’s no Palestinian state on the horizon that could absorb any Palestinian refugees. Business cannot be done between a slave without any privileges and their master, no matter how cultured and polite they may be. Business can only be done among equals.