How the Left Can Earn Back the Public's Trust

Fear of immigration and terrorism and the ideological subversion of Western achievements have generated resistance to the left’s policies

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A left-wing demonstration, 2015.
Preparing for a left-wing demonstration, 2015.Credit: Moti Milrod
Tzvia Greenfield
Tzvia Greenfield

Half a year after Yitzhak Rabin was elected prime minister in 1992, Bill Clinton and the Democrats came to power in the United States. The policies of these two left-wing governments reflected the burst of global optimism at the time.

On November 9, 1989, the Berlin Wall fell, and in December of 1991, the Soviet Union surrendered to the economic and ideological power of the United States and ceased to exist. In 1994, a young Tony Blair was elected to lead the Labour Party and went on to serve as British prime minister for 10 years.

So in the early 1990s, the prevailing feeling internationally on the left was one of general euphoria. It’s no wonder that Israel, including the skeptical and dour Rabin, also responded to this strong sense of a new and energetic world that preferred peace over war.

The sensational essay published by political scientist Francis Fukuyama in 1989, “The End of History?” best expressed the spirit of the times. The essay argued that liberal democracy embodied the height of Western culture, and that no more sophisticated an ideology or system of government could be imagined. The world was preparing for an era of total goodness. It was in this atmosphere that rabi9j began to take shape.

Not a lot of all of that remains, but the most immediate and serious break from that era’s optimistic atmosphere occurred, of course, in Israel, when Rabin was assassinated by a follower of rabbis and leaders on the extreme right. In the aftermath of the murder, that same extreme right that had madly incited against the elected prime minister, came to power, and today, led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, it is leading Israel toward the destruction of the Zionist vision.

When one looks at what has happened, it is impossible not to be amazed at the political and ideological upheaval that has taken place in almost the entire Western world — a shift from the liberal and left-wing optimism of three decades ago to U.S. President Donald Trump and a right wing that is growing stronger nearly everywhere. The prevailing feeling is that the left has failed. But since living conditions in the West have improved considerably during that period, the natural question is — why are the masses so angry at the left?

An initial answer might be found in two important intellectual attacks on Fukuyama’s conclusions that were quick to come. Samuel Huntington argued in his article “The Clash of Civilizations?” that the Western way of life was in fact threatened by non-Western cultures. For his part, the major leftist philosopher of postmodernism, Jacques Derrida, argued that Western liberal democracy was not an achievement but a deception.

The lethal combination of the growing fear of the cultural threat posed by immigration and terrorism from the outside and the internal ideological subversion of the legitimacy of Western achievements have gradually generated strong resistance to the left’s policies of acceptance and inclusion. It will be impossible to stem the mass abandonment of the left without first dealing with these two major obstacles.

To overcome the problem, first of all, there is the need to respectfully and seriously acknowledge the masses of people who are afraid, whether they fear the immigration threat bandied about by the right or the self-criticism of Western capitalist life coming from the left. The two actually converge.

The self-criticism undermines the innocence and legitimacy of masses in the West who simply want to live their lives in peace, and leads them not only to vehemently oppose the absorption of refugees but to harbor a strong hatred of the left. To regain the public’s trust, the left must stop blaming the white West (and Israel) for being responsible for ongoing colonial injustices against non-Western societies, and must also reaffirm Western (and Jewish) legitimacy.

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