Leftist Parties Have Abandoned the State

A long list of ideological battles that were once the life’s blood of this political camp but have now been 'outsourced.'

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MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) at a finance committee meeting in the Knesset, in July 2016.
MK Erel Margalit (Zionist Union) is one of the few left-wing MKs actually doing something.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi

Hey, has anyone seen the MKs of the “Jewish left” at all lately? There are 24 of them in the Zionist Union, and five more in Meretz. Also with them in the opposition are 11 MKs from Yesh Atid, who call themselves “centrist” but certainly aspire to represent liberal values. Altogether – 40 people who were elected to the Knesset on behalf of the secular-democratic camp. That’s a lot. They may not be a majority, and they also have the misfortune to be serving their electorate from outside the coalition, but still – 40 seats. That’s a third of the Knesset. Where are they? Has anyone seen them or heard from them? There were times in the past when just a couple of MKs like Uri Avnery or Shulamit Aloni did more for this camp and its values.

The battlefields are being abandoned one after the other. No one wants to get near the ruins of Umm al-Hiran; that’s exclusively for the Arab MKs. No one wants to touch Amona either. The rule of law and the authority of the High Court of Justice are apparently a private matter for the police and the Civil Administration. Avigdor Lieberman is the one fighting the hardali (ultra-Orthodox-national religious) threat to the army. Moshe Kahlon is the one fighting for the formation and independence of the new public broadcaster, and contending with Ayelet Shaked over judicial appointments. And he was the one who started a party of disappointed Likudniks to tackle housing prices and the cost of living.

Where are the leftist parties and the opposition? Where are they when the Jerusalem municipality closes down an art gallery as punishment for hosting Breaking the Silence? Where are they when Gilad Erdan starts setting up a database on settlement opponents, and Naftali Bennett creates an intelligence apparatus in the Education Ministry? Where are they when the Knesset of which they are members passes an outrageous law to bar political critics from entering Israel? Why aren’t they going all-out, raising a public outcry and making parliamentary life hell for their political adversaries, rather than let them go on enjoying such a comfortable life both inside and outside the legislature? Opposition activity has to go beyond Facebook and Twitter. It has to consist of more than appearances at weekend cultural events in Kiryat Ono and traveling to endless conferences abroad.

The causes for this paralysis run deep. Meretz is primarily focused on itself. Yesh Atid is doing its utmost to look right-wing. Zionist Union is doing its utmost not to anger the right. Shared interests and any sort of partnership with the Joint List are out of the question in this cowardly, groveling climate. As are any clashes over religion and state, so as not to upset future coalition partners.

The increasingly blatant religious tilt of the public school system is being fought by parents’ associations, while a host of other hard-working organizations are taking on a long list of ideological battles that were once the life’s blood of this political camp but have now been “outsourced”: Yesh Din is fighting illegal construction in the territories; B’Tselem is fighting the occupation’s damaging impact on the Palestinians; Breaking the Silence is fighting the damage being done to Israeli society. There are Physicians for Human Rights and Rabbis for Human Rights, Combatants for Peace and Bereaved Families for Peace. How about a few MKs for peace and human rights? Where are the MKS against the occupation and the settlements?

Of course, there are exceptions here and there. Like Erel Margalit, who stands out for his concerted efforts to shine a spotlight on the corruption investigations of Benjamin Netanyahu. And there are others. But these are the exceptions that prove the rule. Generalizations are usually to be avoided, but sometimes they fit the bill.

It was nice enough that a Haaretz editorial this week called for “elections now,” making the logical argument that the present Netanyahu-Bennett government is the worst in Israel’s history, and that all efforts should be made to get rid of it. But before going to new elections, the “alternative” needs to acquire some real substance. This camp needs to be able to go back to the voters with a proven record of opposition. As things are now, asking for the public’s trust verges on chutzpah, and is surely a fantasy. You can’t completely abandon the state and society to the right, behave as if the entire Israeli public is comprised of right-wing voters, and then call for new elections to replace the right-wing government. Forget that idea.

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