Recipe for Labor's Fall

Shelly Yacimovich is correct in claiming that the Labor Party, which she heads, was never a left-wing party. The occupation has eaten away at everything here that was good.

zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell
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zeev sternhell
Zeev Sternhell

Shelly Yacimovich is correct in claiming that the Labor Party, which she heads, was never a left-wing party. Indeed, it was one big jumble in which all kinds of positions and opinions found a place, and after the Six Day War, it lost its direction completely and became a helpless entity. Yet even before the Six Day War, beginning with the establishment of the state, its famous pragmatism has been nothing but blatant opportunism that blinded its eyes. Since it did not take its own ideology seriously, the Labor Party was convinced that the various sorts of right-wing parties would also betray their principles.

Among the former prime ministers, Golda Meir's expression "socialism for our time" very soon turned into a joke, while what David Ben-Gurion called "the rule of the workers' movement" was nothing more than a creation of dependence between the workers and the power structure of the Histadrut labor federation and the Mapai party. Another prime minister, Menachem Begin, waited 30 years until he won the elections, but did not give up the principle of Jewish sovereignty west of the Jordan River; yet 35 years after the political upheaval of 1977, the Labor Party is still wandering in the desert without a compass. For this it can thank Shimon Peres, the party's well-known deserter, and Ehud Barak, who instead of continuing from the point where Yitzhak Rabin stood at the time he was assassinated, returned to Meir's blueprint from the Yom Kippur War.

For many long years, the Labor Party has believed that since the nation has moved toward the right, it must slide down the slippery slope with it. Instead of trying to curb the process, it merely accelerated it. Its leaders did not think of the possibility that in addition to ideological weakness, the reason for the continual defeats at the poll since 1977 lay with them - their lack of courage, of intellectual integrity and of inner conviction.

Now Yacimovich is trying to follow in their footsteps. According to her way of thinking, if she is obsequious toward the settlers, she will be received with open arms by the right, and the Likud voters will swarm to her tent. It did not cross her mind that her end will be the same as that of the hero of the Elon Moreh settlement, Peres. Victory in elections can be achieved when one presents an ideological and personal alternative that is moral and worthy of governing, and not when one presents a copy of something else and tries to flatter people.

But the truth of the matter is that Yacimovich and Lapid are not fighting over the votes of right-wing Likud supporters, but rather over the reservoir of floating votes from the Kadima party. The real struggle is within the center bloc. As it usually happens here, the elections will be about the next war and the influence it will have on the territories. A substantial change will take place only if another quarter of a million Israelis begin to realize that there is a connection between the struggle against neoliberalism and on behalf of a just society, and doing away with the occupation.

"Socially oriented" people like Yacimovich can be found in abundance on the right of the political map too - bringing down the price of food, cheap mortgages, and annexing the settlements go together in their minds. From Labor, too, we have heard that there is consensus over the settlements. That was the reason why after Rabin's assassination, it was nothing more than a shadow of a ruling party. Therefore, divorcing itself from the settlement enterprise is, for the Labor Party, not only the right thing to do but also a matter of survival.

When compared with Western countries, Israeli politics is so distorted that in wide swaths of the Israeli public, the word "left" has become a derogatory term. Why is it that in the whole of the Western world, from Oslo to Buenos Aires (but excluding the United States ), authentic socialist and social-democratic parties, both in power and in the opposition, are proud to carry a left-wing banner, while here it is only Meretz that bears that flag aloft?

The occupation has eaten away at everything here that was good. Social democracy does not tolerate selective justice, and the fight against neoliberalism is not just over bread, but also over the dignity of man. That is the real, proper consensus - and without it, the old-time Zionism will turn into a passing episode.

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