Israel's Left and Right Are Destined for Defeatism

Without a focal point around which to unite the whole left against the whole right, without a real war that could call all the camps to their flags, the political brigades have disintegrated into independent militias

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Left wing Israelis hold signs during a demonstration against the situation in Gaza in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, May 15, 2018.
Left wing Israelis hold signs during a demonstration against the situation in Gaza in Tel Aviv, Israel, Tuesday, May 15, 2018. Credit: AP/Sebastian Scheiner
A photo of Dr. Zvi Bar'el.
Zvi Bar'el

Once upon a time, when Israeli governments were busy torpedoing the peace process, erasing road maps and haggling with the American administration and Israeli public over every little neighborhood and outpost, the division between left and right was clear and simple: The left was in favor of the “process” and the right was against it.

Meanwhile, the diplomatic process has collapsed and road maps are the domain of Waze. Settlements and illegal outposts are being whitewashed, as is worthy of dirty laundry, and the theoretical dispute is over the number of settlers who would need evacuating under a diplomatic solution.

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Without a focal point around which to unite the whole left against the whole right, without a real war that could call all the camps to their flags, the political brigades have disintegrated into independent militias. The right-wing ones move along the scale between Bezalel Smotrich and Naftali Bennett to Avigdor Lieberman and Moshe Kahlon, while the leftist ones, which are clinging to thin pillars to stabilize their torn tent, adhere zealously to the distinction between Zionist left and radical left, as if this could give the persecuted Zionist left a political haven in the right’s State of Israel.

The left is now debating whether to establish a joint Jewish-Arab party. Indeed, it’s a dilemma. Running with Arabs would be considered non-Zionist, not nationalist and not patriotic. But what about the principle of equality? What about joint citizenship? What will happen to the opposition to the nation-state law? The radical left has no problem joining an Arab party, because it opposes the occupation, like the Zionist left, but wants one state for two peoples. It’s an attractive idea, but full of classic lordliness. After all, the radical left isn’t asking what the Palestinians want, and seems to forget that the French tried to do this in Algeria when they turned that country into a French province.

Both the Zionist left and the radical left wave the anti-apartheid flag, but while the Zionist left still distinguishes between apartheid and occupation, whose discrimination is inherent in its very existence and even established in international law, the radical left states that what’s going on in the territories is apartheid; that is, if the rights of the occupied people were made equal to those of the occupiers, the term occupation would be superfluous. The Palestinian aspiration for an independent nation-state doesn’t interest the radical left; all that matters is the pure hands of the Jewish state, even if this purity would turn the entire country into an apartheid state.

The dilemma of the right-wing camps is no less difficult. They wonder: annexation or status-quo? Annexation means losing the Jewish character of the State of Israel and denying political rights to around half of the civilians who would live in the extended state, which would lead to constant confrontation and the state’s violent cantonization. The status quo, on the other hand, means giving up the messianic dream that seeks to unite the state with the Promised Land under one sovereignty.

Seemingly, then, the basic difference between the radical left and radical right is the question of the rights of the Palestinians who would join the Zionist national unit. But reality has already provided the answer to this gap. The nation-state law enshrines the inferior status of national and ethnic minorities who are citizens of the State of Israel. It doesn’t take much effort to guess what kind of law the government would pass to protect the state’s Jewish identity from the 3 to 5 million new Palestinians who’d be joining it.

It is therefore hard not to be impressed by the amount of rhetoric that has emanated from all these camps; futuristic theories that relate to the political reality, to the nature of the leadership and to the wild public discourse as if they were only background noise. The tragic part is that all the camps are assuming that what exists now is what will continue to be. The right is sure of the eternity of its rule and the left embraces this thesis as if it were an axiom and is only trying to find itself a good parking space nearby. In this situation, all that’s left is to prattle.

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