Forget Taking Power — the Center-left Must Become a Real Fighting Minority

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Fight, center-left, fight!Credit: Dreamstime

We are again witnessing the ritual in which the center-left raises expectations only to have them dashed in an election. This time will we finally understand that we have no prospect of returning to power? When will we finally realize that we have become a minority and that control has shifted to the other side — a process Menachem Begin began in 1977 and Ehud Barak concluded in 2000?

Anti-Netanyahu rally at Rabin SquareCredit: AFP

This time another delusion was dispelled; we learned that focusing on the cost of living, including housing, and the corrupt behavior of the prime minister and his wife wouldn’t work. Benjamin Netanyahu proved that three days of racist anti-Arab fearmongering were enough.

Efforts to curry favor with the weak and people living in the country’s outskirts didn’t earn us a thing. Our power center remains Tel Aviv and its northern suburbs, Haifa, Modi’in and the kibbutzim. That’s it. No one will vote for Meretz or Labor because they look after his needs.

Likud is brilliantly exploiting the Israeli tendency toward victimization. The fact that the Jews were victims throughout history has been exploited to justify aggressive and militarist policies. Likud and the right extract every drop from this ethos and add an Israeli dimension. They have been in power for nearly 40 years and still mention oppression at the hands of Labor’s predecessor.

But the Zionist center-left bloc — now Labor, Meretz and Yesh Atid — has been a minority for 40 years and still refuses to acknowledge it. We delude ourselves into thinking we’re still in control. The fact that most of us are in the country’s nerve center and consume media focusing on our bubble only strengthens the illusion that we can take the reins of government.

In the process, we lose on every front. The right wing is not only in power but has the advantage of victimization. We are not only the losers but are still perceived as the landlords.

And we aren’t taking advantage of our minority status, one without real political power and discriminated against in terms of government funding. Most notably, we become prey to the real forces at work, particularly the settler right.

Instead of choosing fighting politicians, we choose leaders like Isaac Herzog who blur their positions in order to curry favor with the other side. We don’t vote for a party that represents us, we employ strategy. In the end we lose on all fronts and lack any ability to see to our own interests.

Thus the time has come for the center-left to adopt a completely different agenda. First, we must recognize that we’re a minority without the ability to rule. We will thus be forced to abandon wonderful ideals that are no longer attainable — our leaders won’t be able to end the occupation and make peace with the Palestinians.

Second, we must understand that we can be the most powerful minority — both in size and resources — only if we adopt a strategy of a minority. Third, we must realize that our lifestyle and values are in danger — and we must save them.

In other words, the first change is to concentrate on ourselves. First, we must save our deteriorating education system, where today the right and religious are augmenting their power. We need to improve the level of studies, strengthen the teaching of liberal and democratic values, encourage intellectualism, imbibe Western culture without shame, and protect the system from the right wing and religious.

The Education Ministry from above and religious NGOs from below are trying to turn our children into more religious right-wingers. We must stop this. We must also make our geographic power bases more pleasant and ethical — we must strengthen their secular character; for example, public transportation on the Sabbath.

Sadly, economically too we must first take care of our own interests. We must ensure that our children will want to live in areas under our control and do so at reasonable prices. We must ensure that fewer budget allotments — via our tax money — go to the settlements, yeshivas and other powerful interest groups.

We must even find a way to prevent businesspeople from suffering because of the deterioration in Israel’s standing around the world. We must therefore promote our own interests, even if we need a radical solution; for example cantonization.

But we must not let this focus on ourselves turn into separatism. What unites us is values, not our origin or socioeconomic status. We must ensure that everyone who wants to join can do so — whether from the country’s outskirts, the poor, Arabs, foreign workers or people who have left religion.

We must not abandon our nation, but rather free ourselves up for battles as a fighting minority. The demonstration of the 400,000 against the first Lebanon war is an ideal example.

We must fight the occupation and settlements from a position of a fighting minority, not out of illusions that our leaders will ever receive a mandate to deal with the problem. We must cooperate with the Israeli Arabs in their struggle against discrimination as a minority showing solidarity with another minority, not as lords of the manor.

The good news is that we already have a leader. Stav Shaffir grew up in the social-protest movement and proved her abilities in the Knesset. She must unite Zionist Union with Meretz, and if possible with Yesh Atid, to forge a new common path.

Dr. Ram Fruman heads the Secular Forum.

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