Wheezing of Israel's So-called Left

Over the weekend, songwriter Yehonatan Geffen, a representative of the authentic left wing, spoke, and the essence of the pathology cried out in his words.

Assia Ladizhinskaya
Assia Ladizhinskaya
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So much for the old Israeli left.Credit: Amos Biderman
Assia Ladizhinskaya
Assia Ladizhinskaya

In the last work interview I had, about five years ago, I was asked whether I was a leftist. “No,” I answered. It was the first time I had said aloud what I had always felt — that there is no left wing in Israel. The well-known, widespread left wing is an ideological movement that aspires (theoretically) to liberate the Palestinians from the occupation, but is not willing (practically) to lift a finger to make it happen.

Pardon me, my friends who are truly involved activists, but as a rule, we are witnesses to a left wing that sighs and suffers, that is not willing to pay a price for its declared goal and acts in financial comfort in its nationalist country. Its leftist views are only a thin summer blanket: condescending, sanctimonious and hollow. This is the left wing that abhors violence, so it turns inward in constant wars, insulted that it has been shot at and bombed again, and wakes up to protest only when “the conditions are ripe for it” — in other words, once Israeli military superiority has been attained and the enemy properly humiliated. It is possible that a country like Israel has no way to develop ideologically in different directions. A lethal combination of habit (we have become accustomed to living in an occupying country, and we have learned that it is actually possible), de facto segregation (out of sight, out of mind), international acceptance of fake negotiations that go on forever, and greedy capitalism. Everyone is responsible for the moral bankruptcy.

The left is afflicted with a mortal illness. It has atrophied utterly. Over the weekend, a representative of the authentic left wing spoke, and the essence of the pathology cried out in his words. Yehonatan Geffen addressed Penelope Cruz and “explained” to her, with well-known, condescending authority, how disappointed he was that she had chosen to support the anti-Israel boycott (“An open letter to Penelope Cruz,” August 15). In his op-ed Geffen depicts the boycott, a serious and calculated tool, reasoned and broadly influential, as a childish and egotistical act. He gives a breathtakingly chauvinistic reason for addressing a woman who expressed a political opinion, calling her the most beautiful woman in the world. We would not have expected such an ugly statement from a beautiful woman, his words seemed to say.

Geffen isolates himself at this point from the rest of the elements that disturb and disappoint him: He is a secular and refined person, not “a thug with a rusty Iron Dome on his head.” He is a man of principle who is depressed, “carrying the burden of disgrace and the shame of the occupation on [his] weak leftist shoulders.” He belongs to the enlightened camp that includes, to his horror, dubious elements such as MK Haneen Zoabi and columnist Gideon Levy, of whom he says, “You wouldn’t last for 15 minutes with them, Penelope.” And he breathes a sigh after whispering those words in her beautiful ear.

Who are those loathsome creatures of whom Geffen warns? Zoabi and Levy work outside the boundaries of the consensus into which the left and Geffen himself have been swallowed up, and they insist on calling the thing by its proper name. They have difficulty with Israel’s public diplomacy and falsehoods because they are part and parcel of the Israeli experience, and they cannot be accused of anti-Semitism. They call for a boycott with clear voices even though they are well aware that doing so carries a price, and they are willing to pay that price. They hold up a mirror to the face of the conventional, hedonistic, sated left wing and challenge Geffen and those like him. Worst of all, by following the path that they do, they influence beautiful people like Penelope.

In the last part of his op-ed Geffen comes out against other artists, such as Roger Waters, accusing them of vulgarity, anti-Semitism and hypocrisy. He claims that these artists have abused their positions: They sang (about peace) without standing beside the Jewish homeland (which pursues peace) even as their fans here were falling in battle. Geffen and his friends on the left believe that their amorphous, comfortable dream of peace is meaningful even when it has had no effect on reality for decades. Geffen calls Waters a “grouchy and rich old Brit,” asking, “Hey, Penelope, when was the last time Roger wrote a good song?” A paean to the moral, isolated Jewish nation that stirs peace into every cup of espresso would be welcome.

Throughout, Geffen addresses Penelope Cruz by the nickname “Pen” — diminishing her and finally reminding her of her natural place by using the story of her namesake from classical mythology, a woman who worked at the loom and cared for her baby son as she waited patiently for her husband’s return from the Trojan War. Shut up and wait like she did, he tells her.

Without an authentic left wing or governmental alternative, it seems “the world,” which in any case had to mediate every step that Israel ever took, will have to decide now as well. When it chooses a strict and global boycott of Israel, it will do so as a last resort, as the last step before stopping the occupation project by force. Cruz and her friends are only a sign of things to come.

The writer is a member of the editorial board of the news program “Mabat Sheni” on Channel One.