There Has Never Been an Israeli Left

The facts do not corroborate the common belief that the state was founded by the left.

anat saragusti
Anat Saragusti
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anat saragusti
Anat Saragusti

The attempt by Israeli political parties to appear centrist to the public is not unique to the 2013 election campaign. Labor under Shelly Yacimovich is simply following in the footsteps of all of the leaders of the Israeli left who came before. The only difference is that she frankly admits that Labor is not left-wing. Yacimovich's desire to position Labor in the virtual space between Hatnuah, Yesh Atid and Kadima is not unusual. Her predecessors did exactly the same thing, and we mistakenly considered them leftists.

The main topic of debate in Israel has always revolved around the dilemma between being a Jewish state or a democratic state; the choice has always been for the Jewish state.

The facts of history do not corroborate the common belief that the state was founded by the left, which is therefore effectively invalid.

Ever since the late 18th century, when seating in the French National Assembly was by political affiliation, certain values have been understood to be leftist: The left champions a secular worldview and the separation of religion and state. The left promotes universal values and places them above nationality or nationalism. The left believes in negotiation, whereas the right believes that military power is an agent of security and national cohesion.

When it comes to economics, the left believes in equality and social democratic policies, while the right believes in liberalism and capitalism.

Have these values ever been tested? Has there been a ruling party here that promoted the separation of religion and state? Has there ever been a Labor leader who did not prefer to form a coalition with the religious and ultra-Orthodox parties, sacrificing pluralism and secular values?

Can a party call itself leftist when it consistently promotes a policy of institutionalized discrimination against 20 percent of the country's citizens, those of Arab nationality?

To what extent can a party or a leader consider themselves part of the leftist ethos when at best they ignore one-fifth of Israel's population and at worst they turn their backs on it?

Can the Labor Party see itself as a member of the Western world's family of leftist parties, when its leaders over the generations created, fostered and nourished inequality toward Mizrahim?

Can a party like Labor lay claim to the left-wing title when it is responsible not only for the creation of the development towns, in Israel's periphery, but also for the ongoing policy of weakening the Mizrahim who live there?

Could Labor ever be called a left-wing party when its leaders and the governments in which it served promoted and in fact encouraged the establishment of settlements on occupied land belonging to another nation?

Can Yacimovich be blamed for not opposing the settlement enterprise when the Labor government under Levi Eshkol signed off on the first settlement, established in 1967, just three months after the Six-Day War, without conducting any public debate on the issue?

How is Yacimovich any different from Elyakim Haetzni, a former member of Mapai, Labor's precursor, who moved to Kiryat Arba and claimed to be carrying on the settlement enterprise that began before Israel's establishment in 1948? (Haetzni speaks about this extensively in the new Channel 8 television series "Al Tzad Smol". )

Is Yacimovich any different than the Labor Party leaders before her, David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Ehud Barak and others, in ignoring Israel's Arabs? Her predecessors treated Arabs as second-class citizens. They remember them every four years, when they want their votes, but never when they are forming coalitions, handing out honors, appointing ministers or earmarking funding. Yitzhak Rabin's government was the sole exception to this rule.

These issues, some of which are raised in Ron Cahlili's series, merit more attention than they currently receive.

This should be a discussion that does not give in to the rhetoric of the leaders of various parties, each of whom is trying to convince the public that in fact all of them are in fact only centrist.

The writer is executive director of Agenda, the Israel Center for Strategic Communications.

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