Opinion

Livni Is Bibi in a Dress

If the Labor movement is at a stage where it’s at the mercy of a Jabotinsky heiress, maybe it would be better to cut her loose

Tzipi Livni during Prince William's visit to Israel, 2018.
Ofer Vaknin

Tzipi Livni is the head of the opposition to Avi Gabbay. Her threats demanding that the Zionist Union chairman appoint her opposition leader to replace Isaac Herzog lest she sunder her partnership with the Labor Party are the best proof that Gabbay shouldn’t grant her wish.

Why are you making threats? This “could be a wonderful opportunity for strengthening our partnership and making decisions about our future,” she smeared him at a meeting of Zionist Union’s Knesset members. Undoubtedly this is a great opportunity for Livni.

It’s no coincidence that the discussion about her candidacy has been accompanied by background noises considering scenarios for dissolving Zionist Union. How can Gabbay award Livni that post given that she may exploit her position to promote a new political platform that undermines him? What will people think of him if they believe that his fear of her made him to yield to her threats?

There’s an urban legend, backed by surveys – the same ones that predicted a Zionist Union victory in the last election – under which Zionist Union can’t do without Livni. If the Labor movement is at a stage where it’s at the mercy of a Jabotinsky heiress, and where it believes that “only thus” can it win, maybe it would be better to cut her loose.

Tzipi Livni and Avi Gabbay at a meeting of Zionist Union Knesset members, June 2018.
Emil Salman

The disintegration of Zionist Union – of the Labor Party and its predecessor Mapai – is an allegory of the disintegration of the Zionist project and the embracing of the Diaspora-oriented project led by Benjamin Netanyahu. The code for this new project is the concept of “a Jewish and democratic state.” People using this term – and Livni is its public face – and demanding that the Palestinians recognize Israel as a Jewish state (a demand that killed negotiations) are trapped in Netanyahu’s worldview even if they don’t realize it, even if they oppose Netanyahu.

In Haaretz’s Hebrew edition last month, my colleague Zeev Sternhell recalls a Zionist truth that seems to have been repressed: “For the founders, Zionism wasn’t the solution to the distress of Eastern European Jews, many of whom went to America, but the solution to the moral decay the Diaspora had inflicted on the Jews.” Sternhell quotes Labor Zionist A.D. Gordon (1856-1922), for whom the Jewish people, because of the Diaspora, had become a “parasitic people.”

Zionism understood that Jews needed to overcome something within themselves and start over. Denial of the Diaspora was a crucial element of Zionism as well as the formation of a new man; the goal was to create a sovereign framework where the Jew was reborn as an Israeli.

In Netanyahu’s project this new man has been killed. The new man is a traitor. Netanyahu is offering a Diaspora-style mode of existence with one difference: Instead of being a parasite living off other nations, it’s parasitic on the State of Israel. As with any parasite, the more types of citizenship the better.

More than anyone, Netanyahu is identified with the saying that “the left has forgotten what it means to be Jewish.” He denies that it was the Zionist ideal to enable a Jewish existence that “forgets” that we’re Jews; that is, an existence unafflicted by split identities and in which Jewishness becomes invisible. This couldn’t have happened in the Diaspora without us being reminded of it by force. Israel succeeded in this – this was its great achievement: creating Israelis.

Now there’s real tension between Jewish and Israeli identities, almost as in the Diaspora. It’s not for nothing that current political debates revolve around who’s a traitor. In this respect, Livni and Netanyahu represent the same derailment, the renunciation of Israeliness to fantasizing about a Jewish and democratic blonde, as it were.

Hence, ideologically, you can say Tzipi is merely Bibi in a dress. Who’s willing to say an Israeli and democratic state?