Israel’s Left Will Lose if It Doesn't Have a Plan to End the Occupation

Zeev Sternhell
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Benny Gantz delivers a premature victory speech after the Israeli election, Tel Aviv, April 9, 2019.
Zeev Sternhell

It’s hard to understand the sense of crisis engulfing the left after the general election. After all, to anyone willing to open his eyes to the reality created by 50 years of occupation, colonialism and apartheid in the West Bank, the results were pretty much expected.

All told, the warnings and doomsday prophecies, which for years have been reflected in this newspaper, come true again after every election. The nationalist politics of hate are successful here as in Europe. The weaknesses regularly demonstrated by the center-left don’t stem from mere mistakes or a random result of “bad campaign management.” They lie in the broad common denominator – the famous consensus – leading Israeli society to an apartheid state or a binational state that faces the danger of civil war every day.

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Those were our fundamental problems until April 9 and will remain so in the future. Anyone who has no solution but the right’s for the future of our society must not expect power to fall into his hand like ripe fruit on a good harvest day. Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan failed on the threshold of power not only because it came to the arena too late, but because its leadership wasn’t willing or able to seize the bull by the horns. Anyone who doesn’t want to cry out that virulent nationalism, racism and Arab hatred are an existential danger to Israeli society will never be a real alternative to the right.

Indeed, too many center-right voters told themselves that if Kahol Lavan’s three leaders had nothing new to offer beyond integrity and decency, it was better to preserve stability and not change the government. Also, since when in recent years has the defense of liberal democracy – including ensuring the standing of the Supreme Court, the linchpin of Israeli democracy – been a mobilizing force capable of getting most Israelis fighting in the trenches?

The truth is, Gantz and his colleagues didn’t make an exciting offer. It’s astonishing how similar the new party is to the ultimate supermarket once called the Alignment, the left-wing alliance from decades ago. All the left’s weaknesses were embodied in it: the right wing of Mapai that withdrew and returned in the form of Moshe Dayan and Shimon Peres’ Rafi; the United Kibbutz Movement and Ahdut Ha’avoda, led by Yitzhak Tabenkin, a founder of the Kibbutz movement in the 1920s and after the Six-Day War of the Movement for Greater Israel; Yisrael Galili and Yigal Allon with their own annexation plans; and the Moshavim Movement delegates who were no less radical than most Likud people.

Dayan was the patron of Rabbi Moshe Levinger – who led the settling of Hebron – and classified himself as closer to Menachem Begin than to Meir Ya’ari of the left-wing Hashomer Hatzair movement. Dayan and Peres, father of the settlement of Elon Moreh, had just as absurd plans for the West Bank. Compared to those activists, Mapai’s moderates didn’t have anything concrete to offer – no ideology, no leadership – and were gradually wiped out.

And let’s not forget the first Lebanon war in which Yitzhak Rabin served as an unofficial adviser to Ariel Sharon, and people from the Histadrut labor federation refused to take part in demonstrations against the war. In this way the decisive quarter century after the beginning of the occupation was wasted by the time of Rabin’s second government.

Kahol Lavan is something similar: It’s a sort of a more pleasant, more civilized Likud, but it  adheres to all the security issues without a word about peace, dividing the land and a Palestinian state. So, just as the Labor Party rolled for the past half century, with brief interludes, from defeat to downfall, so Kahol Lavan, and with it all of Israeli society, have no rosy future.

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