Opinion

To Counter Netanyahu’s Jewish Chauvinism, Zionist Union Should Change Its Name to Israeli Union

The party must fight for Israeliness, not because it is hostile to the Jewish State but in an emergency effort to save it

Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev
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Avi Gabbay and Tzipi Livni at a press conference in July 2018.
Avi Gabbay and Tzipi Livni at a press conference in July 2018. Credit: Meged Gozani
Chemi Shalev
Chemi Shalev

Labor Party leader Avi Gabbay announced Sunday that former Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni would henceforth serve as opposition leader, a role he cannot fill because he’s not a Knesset member. Analysts observed that the arrangement should suffice to keep the alliance between Labor and Livni’s Hatnuah party from falling apart. Thus, the united party known as Zionist Union will continue to exist, unfortunately. If its leaders are already joining forces and preparing for the next elections, they would do well to throw their party’s name into the dustbin of history.

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The Zionist Union label was born in sin from the outset. Livni and then-Labor leader Isaac Herzog adopted it in December 2014, when they established their partnership in a failed effort to respond in kind to the powerful “national camp” moniker of Likud and its allies. Their slogan was “a Zionist center against an extremist right.” Look at us, they said: We’re no less pure, unadulterated Jews than you are. We know just as well how to wave the Zionist flag and to exclude, in essence, anyone who doesn’t revere it.

The trick, as the elections held two months later showed, didn’t work. The Israeli public, as usual, steered clear of imitations. When Benjamin Netanyahu declared on Election Day that the Arabs were moving in large numbers to the polls, he showed how well he knew his flock. If we’re already locking out the non-Jews, and implicitly tagging them as a fifth column, nobody does it better than Likud and the right. They’ve proved themselves over and over since the elections, in spades.

The nation-state law approved by the Knesset last week is just the jewel in the crown, the pièce de résistance in a long line of laws, regulations and statements meant to bolster Jewish hegemony. Enough with all the mumbo jumbo of the Declaration of Independence, the right is signaling, with its grandiose pledge to ensure “complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex” and its pompous promise to “guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture.” Under the leadership of the so-called national camp, a congenitally lethal Knesset is slowly but methodically poisoning that Israel to death.

The only ray of sunshine in the overwhelming gloom is that masks are being removed. The Israel of the “national camp” will promote its Jews, insult its Arabs and ignore its Druze. It will fight the media, stifle criticism and crush dissent. It will champion settlements, advance theocracy and enshrine the Orthodox monopoly, even at the risk of schism with North American Jewry. It will turn off the switch on those values that allowed Israel to pretend that it is a “light unto the nations” and plunge the state that was, and soon might not be, into darkness.

The proper response to the right’s metastasizing malignancy is clear: Not Zionist Union but Israeli Union. Not a wretched effort to prove that the left is no less Jewish than the right, but an unequivocal assertion that it is more Israeli. That it will fight against attempts to dismantle the foundations of the Third Jewish Commonwealth by combating nationalism, extremism, discrimination and incitement and by fiercely defending democracy, freedom of expression, religious pluralism and true equality. And yes, that it will strive to achieve an arrangement with the Palestinians, without which, as events have proved, good ol’ Israel doesn’t stand a chance.

All the polls show that a majority of Israelis, including Jews, still support a liberal and enlightened Israel. If the right attacks the change of name to Israeli Union as proof that its leaders support the maliciously tainted concept of “a state for all its citizens,” it will show that it views the State of Israel itself as a threat to its chauvinistic values.

Facing it, the national camp should confront a proud and patriotic Israeli coalition that fights for Israeliness, not because it is hostile to the Jewish state but in an emergency effort to salvage it. Israeli Union doesn’t even need a platform: The Declaration of Independence, with all its deficiencies, can do the job lock, stock and barrel.

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