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How the 'Traitorous Left' Sneaked Into an Israeli Independence Day Speech

It will take years to recover from the divisive and destructive right-wing rule that has made Israelis hate each other

Emilie Moatti
Emilie Moatti
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Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, center, at the main Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem, May 1, 2017.
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, center, at the main Independence Day ceremony in Jerusalem, May 1, 2017.Credit: Olivier Fitoussi
Emilie Moatti
Emilie Moatti

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, whose address preceded the remarks of the torch-lighters launching Independence Day, gave a pathos-filled speech about Israeli society and the glory of Israeli democracy. Like his predecessor, Reuven Rivlin, who’s now president and left the speaker’s office with some pretty big shoes to fill, Edelstein spoke of society’s resilience and the unity of the people sitting in Zion. He spoke of both the material and the spiritual. It was really a lovely speech, full of intelligent references to the sources.

But unlike his predecessor, who’s a proud democrat, an enthusiastic patriot and a compassionate lover of mankind, and unlike any of Rivlin’s predecessors, Edelstein found it necessary to insert the concept of the “traitorous left” into the language of the ceremony. True, he said it by way of negation, that “the entire left isn’t a traitorous left.” Let’s thank Edelstein for acquitting part of the left from treason, a concept that once only courts would determine, cautiously, while today every online commenter uses it freely. On the eve of Independence Day 5777, it made its way into the Knesset speaker’s address.

To inculcate the concept “traitorous left,” the Knesset speaker went further; in a press release he quoted this sentence from the address. One assumes it was in the hope that the information brokers, the journalists, would get the hint.

WelI, they got the hint and more. Some among those “accused” of being leftist hurried to quote this sentence as if it were a seal of their patriotism. Indeed, in the current right-wing government, which follows journalists online, draws up blacklists and decides who gets favored and who gets rapped on the knuckles, it’s nice that the Knesset speaker makes concessions to leftists and considers only some of them traitors. The next step will be to mark them so that we won’t mix with them, lest some of their treachery stick to us and we unintentionally find ourselves traitors.

“Historically, the right and the left had ugly and bad sides,” Tomer Persico, an activist for freedom of religion, wrote immediately after the address. “But neither is particularly characterized specifically by treason. The right has indeed been fascist, the left has been Bolshevik-tyrannical (who would know better than Edelstein),” Persico added Edelstein was born in the Soviet Union. “Traitors, on the other hand, were of all kinds.” Thus Edelstein managed with sly elegance to link the left to treason without any legal or historical context.

Once, it was clear to both camps that the main basis for organizing by camp was concern for the future of the homeland. No one imagined that people would invest in political activism to destroy the structure in which they lived, or even to undermine it. When we spoke about “us and them” it was clear that “us” meant Israelis and “them” meant the other party to the conflict, the Palestinians.

To Yitzhak Shamir it was clear, as it was to his rival, Yitzhak Rabin, that the foundation of their political mission was the same foundation, and only the vision was different. But it wasn’t divided between the vision of “lovers of the homeland” and the vision of haters of it, or even worse, a vision that had motifs of treason.

It will take years to recover from the divisive and destructive right-wing rule that has made Israelis hate each other. The years needed to heal the pain will be long and arduous, but I believe they’ll end with repair and light.

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