Opinion |

Labor-Gesher Candidate Embodies Bid to Unify Israel's Left and Mizrahim

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Carmen Elmakiyes speaks at a political event, Tel Aviv, May 23, 2019.
Carmen Elmakiyes speaks at a political event, Tel Aviv, May 23, 2019.Credit: Meged Gozani

Although this election campaign has men and former generals leading the major parties again, the main worldviews before the voters will embodied by three women: Ayelet Shaked of Yamina, Stav Shaffir of the Democratic-Union and Carmen Elmakiyes of Labor-Gesher.

Despite her relatively young age, Shaked offers us a conservative Israel, in which north Tel Aviv is connected to the southerners by the Jewish tradition common to most Jews and the affiliation to the Greater Israel. She may be energetic and ingenious, but in many senses she represents a high-tech version of Menachem Begin, who knew how to take advantage of the traditional aspect in his worldview to bring diverse groups under Likud’s umbrella.

Shaffir will likely object to this definition, but she too is conservative in essence. It’s no coincidence she chose the Knesset, rather than social, NGO activity, immediately after her activity in the social protest. Her joining the white men and the rest of the elitists manning the Democratic Union and its supporters speaks to the old politics imprinted on her.

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Opposite them stands Elmakiyes, who grew up and was shaped in the periphery and dedicated her life to protecting the weak, and not from the speakers’ podium. She was placed only 10th on Labor-Gesher’s ticket and according to the polls it will take quite an effort for her to make it into the Knesset. But Elmakiyes is the only one who proposes a revolutionary approach.

Shaked and Shafir boast of partially Iraqi roots, but since Mizrahi-ism isn’t necessarily an ethnic origin but a worldview, she is also the only real Mizrahi of the three. In her teasing but graceful manner, and in the decision to join the party that symbolizes the establishment she fought against, she is the refreshing phenomenon in politics.

The connection between Labor and Gesher, even if it doesn’t succeed in this election, is the only option to break the identity politics and generate a sea change in Israeli society. Simply, this connection was intended to direct most of the left’s efforts to invest in the periphery and the Mizrahi community. Both as a historic reparation and compensation and as a promise of another future, more egalitarian and with more social welfare, in keeping with the social vision of Zionism’s founders from Theodor Herzl and Zeev Jabotinsky to Berl Katznelson and David Ben-Gurion.

But such an investment requires biting into the economic and symbolic capital of the left-supporting elite. Hence its objection to Labor-Gesher, under the pretext that it is betraying the peace cause. What more proof do they need on the left to realize that in any case they don’t have the power to lead the country to peace?

And this is no coincidence either. Why expect the periphery or poorer people to support peace, if the Oslo days proved that the process mainly benefited the elite and business people, who detected in it more opportunities for growth, while the dangers it posed threatened mainly the lower classes, who took the busses that exploded? Not to mention that it’s hard to explain to a rightist why it’s more pressing to look after the Palestinians than his own country’s poor, who are supposed to be closer to him.

The way proposed by the union between Labor and Gesher will put an end to these dilemmas, thus the new format doesn’t abandon the cause of peace but does the opposite. Only investing in social reparation that removes the stains of the past and joins communities with opposing identities will in the future enable broad, community-spanning support for compromise with the Palestinians.