Time and again, the so-called left fails the civil test. This left seems to be stuck in the same nationalist muck that it claims to oppose. Here and there it presents positions that have the appearance of opposition to the right-wing Netanyahu government, but then it unwittingly reveals the depth of its attachment to the same ethnocentricity that the right expounds.
A prominent example of this can be seen in the type of views that Professor Zeev Sternhell expresses from time to time in this newspaper. In his most recent column, Professor Sternhell sought to delineate the opposition in the Knesset, which is supposed to constitute an alternative to the Netanyahu government. In theory, he says, “The opposition stretches from the social-democratic wing of Meretz to what’s left of Labor to Yesh Atid voters.” Professor Sternhell also calculates the potential Knesset seats that such an opposition could amass: “On paper, we’re talking a potential of 40 seats.” Though he then qualifies that estimate by saying that some of those he is counting as potential members of the opposition “are close to being radical nationalists and would refuse to join forces with the Arabs.”
It is precisely in this theory where the inherent problem of the Israeli “left” is found – the opposition in Israel is always reserved just for Jews. This theory is part of a deeply rooted philosophy within the left’s political discourse.
In despair over the bleak state of the opposition, in May of last year Professor Sternhell called upon the leaders of the “center-left” to look in the mirror and think about who is the leader that could save Israel: “Everyone in Yesh Atid and Zionist Union should look in the mirror,” he urged, insisting that they need to recognize that Ehud Barak is “their best chance, perhaps their only one” to gain power and save the country from an apartheid government.
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It’s as if only on paper are there 120 Knesset seats, for in the Israeli political discourse, on the right and the left, the 13 MKs from the Joint List are never counted. They essentially sit in the Knesset as a fig leaf to adorn the Jewish state with the look of democracy.
Sternhell’s leftist theory of the opposition ascribes a separate category – Arabs -- to a fifth of the country’s citizens. Into this basket are poured all the “Arabs,” with no differentiation whatsoever, as if their number did not contain a mix of social-democratic, secular, traditional, nationalist, leftist and rightist voters. All are assigned a single label: Arabs.
Arab MKs have always sat in the opposition, but theirs is a simulated opposition, and will never be a real part of Israel’s democracy. This is an ostracized opposition – even the “left” isn’t ready to count it.
Instead of talking about Israeli parties in the Knesset that represent citizens from different social and political streams, the left also uses the generalizing term “Arabs” that perpetuates the built-in exclusion. Therefore this left, which purports to present an alternative to the current government, repeatedly falls into the trap set for it by the nationalist right under the leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu.
This is not how you break down walls between citizens in the name of equality and replace the government. Quite the opposite. Instead, it looks like this kind of opposition theory from the left essentially embodies the spirit of the recently passed nation-state law.