Looking for an Alternative to the Messianic Right

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Tzvia Greenfield during her days as a member of the Meretz party.
Tzvia Greenfield during her days as a member of the Meretz party.Credit: Dan Keinan

After Tzvia Greenfield’s series of “J’accuse” articles aimed at “extreme” left-wingers for hijacking the Israeli Left, all we’re left with – please note – are professors Hannan Hever, Adi Ophir and Shlomo Sand, along with the Van Leer Institute and Yitzhak Laor (Haaretz Hebrew, May 20).

These all comprise the demonic entity with the magical powers that prevents Israel from ridding itself of the perennial rule of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the right, and from bringing an end to the occupation and promoting a just Jewish state. Hever woke up one morning to find he had become Lord Voldemort. Still, good on Greenfield for having the courage to say his name out loud.

It’s also gratifying that she’s finally deigned to give some concrete substance to that “extreme” left – the one that not only opposes the continued apartheid regime, but is also against the existence of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state within the 1948 borders while supporting the Palestinians’ right of return.

She ignores some fundamental questions, such as the meaning of “Jewish and democratic” in the context of the personal and collective status of Israel’s Palestinian citizens. Or, in the context of state and religion, blithely declaring: “One possible implication – perhaps a necessary one – of this conception is the recognition of the right of return as part of an effort to level the playing field, with respect to the Jewish law of return.”

So much for discussing principles. Throughout the course of her article, there are several excursions into the realm of Realpolitik – the greatness of Yair Lapid; the vacuousness of Moshe Kahlon; the purism of Meretz – while playing at building and demolishing potential coalitions as the mood takes her.

In anticipation of her next series of articles, here are a few questions that remain unanswered for those leftists (“Zionists”? “Extremists”?) who wish to see an end to the occupation, and who support the (Jewish) law of return but oppose the Palestinians’ right of return...

What exactly is that middle road between “Jewish” and “democratic,” and how is this expressed in terms of the state’s attitudes to its Palestinian citizens? When should democratic principles yield to Jewish supremacy and when – if ever – would Jewish supremacy yield to democratic principles in the spirit of the Declaration of Independence? More concretely, in Greenfield’s Altneuland, will it be legitimate – in order to ensure Jewish supremacy – to impinge on democratic principles such as equality, freedom of expression and the right to a family life, as expressed in laws such as those regulating community admission committees, the so-called Nakba law and amendments to citizenship laws?

Does the ideal solution lie in demanding that a Supreme Court justice or university student at his/her graduation sing “with a yearning Jewish soul,” or is the idea of an anthem that Arabs – one fifth of the population – can also sing automatically disqualified? Does Greenfield’s yearning to live in Israel – “the fulfilment of the moving journey” of the Jewish people – justify discrimination against Arab citizens, in contrast to commitments made in the Declaration of Independence? Does this justification stem from the very existence of a Jewish majority, or from other reasons that would continue to apply even if this majority became a minority (and maybe it’s legitimate to take steps to ensure the demographic majority)?

And what about the “Jewish” aspect in its purely religious context and in relation to religion and state? Will Greenfield’s state permit freedom from religion? Will the religious establishment rule in civil status matters? What will the rights of the LGBT community be? Or those who wish to marry non-Jews? Will there be public transportation on Shabbat? Will the “Jewish” (or “democratic”) state as envisioned by Greenfield have any obligations toward refugees and asylum seekers?

All this rests on the unproven assumption that Greenfield is right in asserting that the “center” and “Zionist” left’s only dispute with the “extreme” left revolves around the supremacy of “Jewish” over “a state for all its citizens.” Her words imply that the “center” and “Zionist” left agree with her in stating that not only is the occupation “an intolerable moral wrong and a terrible existential error that will bring to an end the Jewish people’s democratic state,” but that they are willing, like the “extreme” left, to pay the price for terminating this situation: Withdrawal from the settlements and a division of Jerusalem. It is also implied that they are committed to values such as human rights and the legitimacy and importance of organizations such as B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence. Is this really the case?

The “center,” “Zionist” left and “extreme” left could hold a real discussion on the core issues and come out with an alternate vision to that of the messianic and settler-dominated right, which bases itself on Jewish supremacy between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea, to be achieved through population transfer or apartheid while eliminating any agent or institution that stands in its way.

Greenfield has yet to hold such discussions. As is usual with the “center,” there isn’t – and never has been – any positive proposal to have a discussion with the “extreme” left. Its definition is always a negative one, always bearing a holy symmetry: Neither far right extremists Lehava nor B’Tselem.

If only Greenfield had given more thought to the “Jewish and democratic” concept, which for her has devolved into “the democratic state of the Jewish people” (let Joint List chairman Ayman Odeh use the Declaration of Independence to wrap fish in), maybe there could be room for a real discussion and compromise with the “extreme” left, which insists in its purist pursuit of “full and equal citizenship” for Arab citizens. At least then one could strive for an ad hoc alliance that would try to end the occupation, whether for the “extreme” left’s humanist reasons (“An intolerable moral wrong”) or for the “center” and “Zionist” left’s ethnocentric ones (“The end of the Jewish people’s democratic state”).

Before finishing, I have two requests for Greenfield. First, could we tone down the demagogic language? Second, there’s no need for an elaborate and flimsy construct that ties a discussion of principles, aimed at the “extreme” left, to a personal discussion of Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s greatness. (Was it Kahlon who made a “brotherly” pact with Naftali Bennett in Netanyahu’s previous government, until he was fired? Is this in contrast to Isaac “Not an Arab lover” Herzog? The only ones not tempted to join Netanyahu coalitions were MKs Shelly Yacimovich (Zionist Union) and Zehava Galon (Meretz).) Indeed, it seems that Lapid will be able to add lots of public figures to the back benches of the next Knesset. Ahead of her next article, one can assume that the message of Greenfield’s suitability to his party has been received loud and clear.

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