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The Israeli Left’s Broken Backbone

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Democratic Union leaders Barak, Shaffir and Horowitz, announce their joint run, July 25, 2019.
Democratic Union leaders Barak, Shaffir and Horowitz, announce their joint run, July 25, 2019.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum

Left-wing party Meretz would have disappeared in the upcoming election. In the spring, it was saved only thanks to more than a Knesset seat’s worth of Arab votes.

Thus its leaders were forced to choose: either extend a Zionist hand to the majority of the Israeli left, meaning the country’s Palestinian minority, or strike a Faustian bargain – salvation in exchange for selling its soul in the not-so-distant future. It chose the latter.

Its Knesset members and activists will be saved, and now they’re dancing the movement’s wild dance: “We have a goat, and the goat has a beard” – Ehud Barak. Without pathos, the curtain has fallen on the Zionist left.

Meretz activists were fed up with former party leader Tamar Zandberg, so they replaced her with Nitzan Horowitz, about whom there is nothing left-wing aside from his long-standing admiration for Hugo Chavez. The strategy he forged for the upcoming election is the one that has guided Meretz since the ‘90s – assail the ultra-Orthodox. The party’s fade-out looked more like a bonfire before it’s finally extinguished.

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That’s where Barak stepped in. Under cover of the moral panic of “we must first get rid of Bibi,” he helped Horowitz conceal the party’s commitment to a two-state solution in the 1967 borders, its opposition to the settlements (not just to “illegal outposts”) and its ties with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas.

More importantly, Meretz was the last representatives of the Jewish peace camp. But aided by the panic over “uniting the left,” to the tune of “the shtetl is burning” sung by MK Stav Shaffir, its past has disappeared. Maybe this was the necessary end of a historical process: There can be no left in an apartheid state.

The chances of ousting Netanyahu “due to his corruption” are slim as well. If they do replace him, it will be with Yair Lapid, Moshe Ya’alon, Zvi Hauser (father of the nation-state law) and Barak, inventor of the slogan “there is no Palestinian partner” for peace. Meretz MK Esawi Freige didn’t bother to ask Barak whether he regrets this terminal assertion. But Barak couldn’t be sorry. He’s the one who destroyed the partner.

Yet Meretz, which has been swallowed up by the panic-driven “anyone but Bibi” coalition, isn’t all that interesting as the border running through Israeli society between the left and what is no longer the left. This is rightward drift, this is how it’s happening at this minute, this is an opportunity to watch it happen. There is no anchor for the left other than the Arab community.

Opposition to Meretz’s move isn’t “purism,” as the petit bourgeois currently like to deride it. They aren’t “purists,” they just don’t like corruption. Yet every true leftist understands that what’s at stake is the Israeli war machine and the collapse of domestic opposition.

No alternative is being offered to Israeli voters by these “joint tickets.” Meretz has redrawn the border, just as it did in October 2000: On one side stood Israeli society, led by Barak with support from a strong Meretz, and on the other stands the Arab community. Back then it was a tragedy. Today it’s a farce.

And tomorrow, when a new day dawns, the Arab parties’ Joint List, with its 7,500 Jewish voters, will still remain. It will have to go back to basics: Israeli colonialism, with Western backing, is the real issue. It’s demolishing homes in Sur Baher, far-right organizations are demolishing Arab Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip is suffocating and its demonstrators are being slaughtered every week, the West Bank is being trampled every night under Israel’s jackboots, refusal to serve in the army has become a rarity, and there is no opposition to the next war. Even the Warsaw Ghetto didn’t boast a Jewish consensus this solid.

And those who were once the radical left, instead of reaching out to Meretz activists and extricating them from Barak’s trap, continue to blather on Facebook. As the late poet Tali Latowicki wrote about them: “With a broken spine / They sit / Weighing the wheat and the chaff / Like counterfeit money under neon light.”