Opinion

Labor Is the Israeli Right; It’s Time for the Left

Avi Gabbay’s election to lead the party is the end of the right wing's campaign of conquest. Now they have it all, and all to lose

Avi Gabbay gives a speech after being voted in as the new leader of Israel's main opposition Labor Party on July 10, 2017 in Tel Aviv.
JACK GUEZ/AFP

It’s true there are no substantive differences between what is known in Israel as “the left” and the steadily growing right. Nevertheless, Avi Gabbay’s election as head of the Labor Party is another sign that Israeli society is racing rightward.

Granted, the Labor Party was never seen as a true left, but rather more as a state-oriented centrist party that managed to unite within it hawks and doves, liberals and conservatives, capitalists and socialists. Nevertheless, it always emitted a whiff of leftism.

Granted, it embarked on more than a few wars and supported every military operation, began the process of privatizing the economy and initiated the unholy Economic Arrangements Law that accompanies the annual budget, enabled the establishment of the first settlements and turned organized labor into a synonym for corruption. Nevertheless, in contrast to the right, which announced its policies openly and without qualms, with terrifying confidence, Labor always spoke in doubletalk and covered its hawkish deeds in the rhetoric of equality and brotherhood between nations.

And this cost it dearly. Its voters, who wised up to its characteristic hypocrisy and double standards – since every political lie is fated to be exposed in time – began deserting it for those who told them the truth, even if it wasn’t pleasant. First as a protest, and then as a policy.

Things would presumably have looked different if the Labor Party had ever done a true stock-taking and realized that it’s impossible to dance at every wedding, and that a major political party must offer a clear, sharp, comprehensive vision, even if this initially leads to defeat. But this didn’t happen.

Granted, every so often a given candidate would issue an empty statement about how he’s proud of his leftism and the time has come to pose an alternative to the right. But it always drowned in a sea of winks to the right, based on the deeply internalized assumption that in order to be elected, Labor must resemble the ruling party and steal votes from it. Steal, not persuade. Divert the voters’ attention, not offer a path forward.

In this sense, Gabbay, Labor’s new prime ministerial candidate, is the best possible choice from the party’s perspective, the one that will finally take it out of the ideological closet. Even though almost nobody knows what his diplomatic or economic positions are, he’s viewed as some kind of rightist.

He’s a Mizrahi Jew who rose amid capitalism’s colorful feathers and went out into the political world from Kulanu. That party, as readers may recall, arose from within Likud – the mother of the avowed, unapologetic right, the right that sees the left as an existential danger and does everything it can to make it illegitimate, even if this destroys democracy, which needs at least two strong political camps.

Now it’s no longer necessary to bury our Palestinian partner, ostensibly after in-depth investigation (Ehud Barak), or to zigzag between the diplomatic right and the socioeconomic left (Shelly Yacimovich), or between the security right and the economic left (Amir Peretz). Now it’s possible to tell the truth and say out loud that Labor is removing the masks and moving openly and avowedly to the right.

If, as I proposed last week, Gabbay also asserts his complete recognition of the ongoing oppression of Mizrahim, presents a Mizrahi and pro-Mizrahi team, and announces operative steps to reduce the gaps between Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, or between the center and the periphery, he will instantaneously become the unassailable prophet of the expanded right and someone who’s truly capable of posing a serious threat to its unassailable representative, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who will instantly become the representative of yesterday – Ashkenazi, wealthy, apparently corrupt, elderly, outdated and with a dark cloud hanging over him.

What does this mean? First, that the Israeli right has finished its campaign of conquest, and Gabbay’s election is the last stop, the moment before it begins to withdraw its forces, because from a peak like this, there’s nowhere to go but down.

Second, that an effective, popular, exciting leftist organization must now arise, comprised of both Jews and Arabs, Mizrahim and Ashkenazim, ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews. This organization must carry two banners – socioeconomic, which means recognizing the shocking inequality in Israeli society, and diplomatic-security, which is based on the understanding that even today, at the height of the right-wing wave that’s sweeping the country, most of the public still wants peace with our neighbors and secure integration into our region.