Opinion

If Zionist Union Wants to Save Itself

The alliance must drop internal elections in the old format, with senior figures in the grouping building a roster of Knesset candidates as they see fit

Illustration: Zionist Union hesitantly planning memorial rally for Rabin's assassination.
Eran Wolkowski

The ad urging people to support Zionist Union and even the sparsely attended demonstration for the High Court of Justice at the end of the week are further signs of the travails of the Labor Party, which is losing its hold on the public.

The polls show that support for the leftist bloc is dramatically shrinking, but this political phenomenon – the left’s loss of influence over important decisions – is true not only of Israel. Most Western democracies are experiencing a similar trend – in France, Britain, Germany, Italy, Spain, the Netherlands and Denmark.

Then of course there are the East European countries, and what happened in the last election in the United States, where the destruction is fully underway. In the coming years we’ll certainly see sharp political fluctuations in the United States, but the historical trajectory of the American left losing its impact already seems clear.

It’s a fateful question: the meaning of the increased opposition of millions of people in the West to the leftist heritage. This isn’t just a question of shedding new light on the debate between the left and right in Israel; it seems the social-democratic left is losing its political impact almost everywhere in a broad, continuing process. If the left doesn’t try to address the reasons for this, it could disappear entirely from the political arena, which is what happened with the communist parties.

The lessons that Zionist Union should learn from this historical process are extraordinarily important. People who suffice with a marginal political position, fighting for a party’s life without any real hope of influencing decisions about life in Israel, can let themselves stick to an ideology associated with the name of the contemporary left. They’ve apparently gotten used to the fact that political power that’s shrunk over the years has shunted them to the sidelines.

But Zionist Union, which seeks to represent those who have remained loyal to a democratic worldview, and unlike Meretz doesn’t make do with slogans but seeks to influence the big decisions – peace or war, poverty or welfare, tolerance or zealotry – must recalibrate.

The Labor Party in its current iteration is a burden on Zionist Union, of which it’s the senior member. Most of its elected officials are busy with old debates and no longer relevant to the Israeli reality, and it’s no wonder Zionist Union is taking a nosedive in the polls. To save its positions, Zionist Union must drop internal elections in the old format, with a small group of senior figures in the alliance – let’s say Isaac Herzog, Tzipi Livni, Shelly Yacimovich and Avi Gabbay – building a roster of Knesset candidates as they see fit.

This big bang would let the old-new organization define itself anew around three basic principles: complete equality for women, Israel as a democratic state of the Jewish people, and Israel as a fair society. These three clear principles contain all the issues important for Israel society, including the occupation and the attitude toward the ultra-Orthodox and the Arabs; these principles could unify voters.

Such a new organization requires time, so it will be best, ahead of the next election, if Zionist Union focuses all its efforts on replacing the right-wing government via Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. And if supporters of the pragmatic left still want a clear political manifestation of their own, the new organization can ensure that, at the very least, they’ll still have a party after the next election.