Opinion

With Israel’s Left-wing Big Bang, It’s Not Bigotry, for a Change

Orli Levi-Abekasis at a press conference announcing her joint run with Labor, July 18, 2019.
Nir Keidar

It’s natural and understandable to view reactions to the recent decisions by Labor Party chief Amir Peretz through an ethnic prism. Former Labor MK Daniel Ben Simon told Galey Israel Radio that David Levy, the former foreign minister who served in the Knesset continuously for over 37 years, had warned Peretz of the Labor Party’s anti-Mizrahi bigotry, adding, “As soon as you bring in my daughter, no one will remain.”

According to Ben Simon, Peretz answered Levy with “No, count on me. Count on me.” It’s sad to think that Peretz is now telling himself that Levy, famously the target of terribly humiliating insults, was right. This time, however, it seems that what has driven Labor members to post on social media their resignation letters with the righteous fury for canceling a Haaretz subscription isn’t the ethnicity issue but rather a sense of missed opportunity.

>> Read more: For Israel’s left it’s ‘anyone but the Mizrahim’ | Opinion ■ New Israeli center-left alliance should take a page out of the American politics playbook | Analysis ■ Center-left merger leaves Barak, Shaffir and Meretz smiling on the life raft | Analysis

Peretz should be heading Israel’s democratic camp. His alliance with Orli Levi-Abekasis was natural from the perspective of social welfare issues and hard to swallow politically, but nearly every supporter of the great partnership of all the left-wing parties has had to digest nails and broken glass.

That said, two things reeked of hypocrisy: One, the reports that one of Levi-Abekasis’ conditions for teaming up with Peretz was to bar any additional partnerships – partnerships that Labor voters and lawmakers wanted. The political self-regard of Levi-Abekasis, whose Gesher party failed to meet the electoral threshold in the April election and who wasn’t offered a place in Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan for either the April or the upcoming September election, is infuriating.

On the other hand, it’s ridiculous for a woman who grew up in Avigdor Lieberman’s corruption-tainted Yisrael Beiteinu party to claim that Ehud Barak’s business ties with Jeffrey Epstein prevented Labor from merging with the former prime minister’s Democratic Israel party. This is a woman who sheltered beneath the fascist slogan “no citizenship without loyalty,” whose political patron Lieberman escaped prosecution, according to the prosecutor who oversaw his investigation, Avia Alef, after “one witness disappeared, another died by suicide.... There were all kinds of peculiar incidents in the case.”

Levi-Abekasis’ sudden fit of ethical squeamishness in the face of a business partnership, along with the willingness to join a Netanyahu government that she has reiterated in recent months, point to double and even triple standards at best, and a questionable moral yardstick.

In this instance, then, there’s the sense that Levi-Abekasis is “not one of us,” that Ashkenazi sentiment that anyone who was raised in a mixed family doesn’t refer to her Mizrahi origins. Levi-Abekasis didn’t come to the Labor Party after an ideological transformation, as Tzipi Livni did; she’s offering one of her organs, her “social-welfare” organ, leaving a different organ outside the frame, her right-wing politics, which includes full-throated support for the nation-state law.

Peretz isn’t an enemy of the left, God forbid, he’s a treasured member of this small fellowship, but if his gamble on being able to charm new constituencies in Israel’s geographical and social periphery and increase the left’s power fails, the damage will be unimaginable.

If he fails to pass the electoral threshold, he will give Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the 61 Knesset seats he needs for a majority while erasing the Labor Party. That’s the source of the rage and protests on the left. For a change, they have nothing to do with the old bigotry.