The Israeli Left’s Bleak Lesson After the Defeat

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Avi Gabbay, head of Labor, addresses supporters after a poor showing in the election, April 9, 2019.
Avi Gabbay, head of Labor, addresses supporters after a poor showing in the election, April 9, 2019.

It’s hard to dull the sorrowful feeling of the bitter defeat. It’s hard to escape the painful reality that has left us stunned.

Ever since I received a platform in Haaretz, I have urged the leaders of the center-left camp to join forces, to anchor the Israeli democratic camp. If a single political party can include Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, why can’t the same thing happen here? Why not Meretz’s Ilan Gilon and Kahol Lavan’s Meir Cohen? Why not Labor’s Omer Bar-Lev and Kahol Lavan's Ofer Shelah?

But not here. Our camp is made up of people whose courage begins and ends on the battlefield, the literal one. That’s a lot, but it’s not enough. People who’ve looked our biggest enemies in the whites of their eyes are afraid to join forces with Tzipi Livni, Labor or Meretz, lest they, God forbid, incur the wrath of people who write in the comment thread under online articles.

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I’ve listened to some of these heroes, not the heroes of the keyboard, but the real decorated military heroes. I’ve met with some of them over the past year and was amazed to find how much we speak the same language and envision the same thing. But they’re struck dumb with terror at the possibility of being labeled leftist. How bleak, how pathetic.

Did the Kahol Lavan folks really think anyone would believe their “we’re the soft right” nonsense? That people on the generic right would vote for them because they inserted a few backers of the loony nation-state law onto their ticket?

And now we’ve awoken to a reality in which most of the new legislators in our camp have never staked out a political position, risked anything for the sake of the camp, or displayed the courage that shows they’re worthy of sitting in the Knesset. And no, sincerely hoping that we’ll all be okay and united doesn’t count as a political position, assuming you’re over 13. (Apologies to the seventh-graders out there.)

On the other hand, as someone who once ran for the Knesset for Labor, I remember when we were accused of not being ideological enough, when it was said that our plans weren’t accessible enough. But now, for the first time in 20 years, Labor had the most ideological campaign – no sly winks at the right, no groveling, no sugarcoating our positions and values. And despite everything, we got bitter defeat, the result of the strategic voter who dreamed of replacing the government, while the bloc’s largest party failed to attract votes from the right.

As for the Arabs – and here I differ with some of my fellow members of the camp – we must stop treating them like some sort of electoral pet, with all that implies. Israel’s Arab citizens have the right and duty to elect their representatives, and it’s our duty to fight for their votes just as we fight for the votes of all Israelis as we battle the other parties. 

How did it happen that the parties of the camp, with the possible exception of Meretz and recently also Labor, ceased to talk with Israeli Arabs and started regarding them as worthless, or as votes to be ashamed of? How could the leader of the camp, Benny Gantz, talk about Jews and those “who are not Jews,” as if “Arab” were a dirty word?

Are political parties meant to serve online readers who add their opinion underneath articles, or to serve the people? Do some leaders of the camp really think that these would-be pundits truly represent the people? It’s probably best to leave that one unanswered.

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